of Acle

Return to
Millwrights page

Chesney William England

I was born in Ludham on 21st June 1919 in one of the terraced cottages in the High Street. I have heard it was on this day, just 7 months after the end of the First world War that the Germans scuttled their navy at Scapa Flow. My mother used to tell me that I was born in a thunder storm at about 1.30 p.m. that day. My father was killed in a mill accident at Waxham in November 1920 when I was 17 months old. He was renewing the leather seals on the sluice doors when the dam holding back the river water collapsed and he was crushed between the sluice doors. I know my mother had a struggle to bring up my sister and myself. There was no compensation in those days, just 3 shillings a week allowed for each of us, and her 10 shillings a week widows pension. I am now the last of the Eng1and family living in Ludham, with my wife Beryl, and one daughter Gillian, who lives in Norwich.

One of the first things I can remember is the carrier’s carts, which were our means of transport before the busses came to Ludham. These were owned by Arthur Beaver, who lived in a house towards Fritton. I think this was in about 1924,and one would have to book up for a journey to Yarmouth or Norwich, and you had a choice of three days a week, either Mondays, Wednesdays or Saturdays. We would always go round to our neighbours in those days, and ask if they wanted anything from town.

On one occasion I remember Mother took us to Yarmouth on Carnival Day, and in the crowd, I can remember that I had to hang on to my mother's skirt for dear life, but my sister became separated from us, and we eventually found her in the lost children's enclosure on the beach. This was the first and only time my mother took us to Yarmouth on Carnival Day.

After the busses came in 1926, the old carriers carts were left to rot in the corner of a field at the end of Latchmoor Lane. I can picture them now. They provided a play area for us kids for a long time afterwards.

Life for us in the 1920s, some 70 years ago, was vastly different to what it is today. We were then, I think, a more closely knit community, and everyone knew everyone else. In those days several people kept a few chickens, for eggs.

I can just remember the old playing field on the back road going towards Fritton. This was near the huts, prefabricated bungalows that were erected at the end of the First world war for those with small holdings. Two of the families there I knew, the Adams and the Haygreens went to Ludham Schoo1. The p1aying field was in use until the village Hall was opened in 1926. This was a big event in the village, and those of my age can remember it quite well. I can remember the bran tub in the corner of the hall, and the sports on the playing field in the afternoon, and at the end of the day there were three cheers for Mr. William Wright from Ludham Hall who did such a lot to make all this possible.

Us boys used to enjoy birds nesting in the spring, and I used to go with Alec Gibbs and Turkey Beaver, to name just two; and after school we would make our way down to St Benet’s Abbey looking for sparrow hawks eggs. We never found any, as the birds nested high up in the mill tower and it was impossible for us to get at them. We would find linnets eggs in the gorse bushes.

The sand hole at Coldharbour was another favourite spot for birds nesting. We used to take our shoes and socks off and paddle about in the water-filled pit, looking for water hens eggs. One day I slipped and fell in up to my neck and almost drowned. Edith Parfitt, (later Arnup) heard my screams and took me home. Kenny Grapes, who lived two doors from us, said, "That will take some explaining, boy, your shoes are still dry." I remember it resulted in a good spanking, and being put to bed.

I can recall wandering down the garden in May, and listening to the boom of the bitterns from the How Hill marshes on a still evening. Sometimes there would be almost a continuous boom. The sound would carry right up into the village. It was at this time that Christopher Boardman was taking his now famous photographs of bitterns nesting in the reed marshes.

Talking about birds, I must mention this. Shortly after the last war, Russell Fulcher and myself and some members of the British Legion were invited for an evening at Edward Seago's house, to meet Field Marshal Claude Aukenleck. On our return home at about midnight we heard a bird singing in a thicket near the church. We stopped to listen, and Russel said to me, "That's a nightingale". This is the only time in my life that I have heard this bird at Ludham, and I think this is perhaps an experience that will never happen again.

We always looked forward to the annual fair on Latchmoor field, with the swinging boats and the steam horses. I loved the steam horses, but not so much the swinglng boats, as they used to upset my stomach. We had free rides before the fair opened. It was paid for by Mr. Charlie Green, instead of him taking rent for the field. There were also stalls on Stocks Hill and outside the Kings Arms, selling rock and fair buttons. A travelling circus visited the village during the summer, on the same field as the fair. One year I remember an elephant coming with the other performing animals. When his turn came, he refused to do his tricks. Everyone thought the tent was coming down when he let out such a terrific roar. Fortunately everything passed off alright when the circus master insisted he finish his act, but I know one or two of us made a quick dash for the exit.

We used to play various games in the High Street, spinning tops and bowling a hoop along with a stick. All these games were played in season, and there would be a sudden craze for one game, and then after a few weeks another one would take its place.

We shared our outside toilet with our next door neighbour, and this, I remember, had twin seats. I can remember it being embarrassing at times in the mornings, when in a hurry, only to arrive and find the door locked. Mother would keep an eye on the window and tell us when she had gone. We complained about this to our landlord Mr. Tom Slipper, who was a farmer and one of the church wardens. He had Lenny Bush, the carpenter, build us one all to ourselves.

The fresh water pump was also shared by our neighbours. The pump would have to be well covered up during the winter months with sacking and straw. When it did freeze,the temptation was to put hot water down the pump to thaw it out. But this would inevitably perish the leather on the pump plunger, and the pump would pack up. When this happened, water would be fetched from the Pulk, about 300 yards down, School Road. This was a shallow well along side the road, built over a spring, and although the water was crystal clear, we had to boil it because the odd frog would sometimes get in the well. We kept rainwater in a tub outside the door for the weekly wash, and during the summer months, we would have our morning wash outside. I think there is nothing more refreshing than awash in the morning with rainwater.

Several of the villagers I knew by nicknames, Putty Debbage, Mun Cook, Thumb Slaughter, Cloche Pollard, Highty Wright, Loonie England, who was my grandfather, and Fattle Grapes and there were many more. Mr. Wright of Ludham Hall, we always knew him as Hunchy this is an old custom which is now dying out.

We looked forward to the socials in the Church Room on Saturday nights, and the concert parties with Sydney Grapes and Donald Wright I can still remember his signature tune;

There is a young man named Wright

Who's trying to amuse you tonight

He hopes he succeeded

With just what you've needed

And he hopes you've enjoyed it alright.

From an early age, our mother would show us how to make mats and this helped to occupy our time during the winter evenings. Old items of clothing we'd save and cut up into strips to make the thrums. We'd then thread them through hessian sacking, and lay them down on the coconut matting. Tatting was another pastime with a cotton reel and old wool.

My mother usually had a cure for our minor ailments, like rolling up pieces of butter in sugar to ease a sore throat. My grandmother had a magic cure for any cuts or bruises, which she called her oberdildock. This was a mixture of Friars Balsam and iodine and another ingredient which I can't remember. We kept away from the doctor as much as possible. There was no waiting room, and we had to wait outside in all weathers for our turn to go in. Dear old Dr. Brown; his advice was always, "Take this, go to bed, and keep warm". I can remember too, the menfolk covering the High Street with litter and straw to deaden the noise of the horse and carts if anyone was seriously ill at home.

When I was 8 years old, we moved to Fleggburgh to look after my aging grandparents. We lived in an old thatched cottage there, dated 1735 and I can remember the ticking raft spiders keeping us awake at night. The school there was quite different to Ludham School. It was a Church of England school and we had to learn the catechism, your duty towards God, and your duty towards your neighbour, all off by heart.

The recent earth tremor at Swaffham brings to mind the earth tremor of June 1931. This was early one Sunday morning about 1.30. I was awake at the time when I felt a terrific shaking, and a noise which sounded like branches breaking off trees and gravel being tipped off a lorry. I slept then in a bed next to my grandfather. He jumped up in his bed and said, "Stop shaking my bed, boy". I said, "It's not me, there's something happening outside'. The next day it was all in the papers.

My grandfather lived to quite an old age, he was 92 when he died. He used to enjoy smoking his old clay pipe. Mother used to put a candle along side his bed so that he could light the candle if he wanted to have a smoke in the night. One night, I smelt something burning, and wandered what was going on. I found he had filled his pipe up to have a smoke, leant over the candle, and set fire to his old woolly hat, that he was wearing at the time. It was half burnt away. I grabbed it off his head, and he said, "I thought I was getting a bit warm, boy".

In 1931, while I was still at Fleggburgh school I can remember the R101 airship passing over the village during its maiden voyage before its journey to India after which it crashed in France. It went over the school, and then disappeared over Norwich.

After the death of my grandparents in 1933, we returned to Ludham, and I spent my last term at Ludham school. I left school later that year, and my first job was at Ludham Manor, which lasted just over a year. During my time there, I planted the fir trees alongside the footpath in Yarmouth Road. I had a keen urge to learn a trade, and one evening I called to see Mr. Herbert Woods of Potter Heigham, with a view to becoming an apprentice boat builder. After about two or three days, I had a reply which said, "we can take you on at 6 shillings a week". After paying my Mother, this left me with 2 shillings for myself. I was having music lessons with Dolly Grimes, (the church organist) who lived down Coldharbour Road at the time, and her fee was a shilling a lesson, which left me with a shilling. Six pence I spent on fish and chips from Harry Grapes's on Saturday nights and the other six pence to pay for my cups of tea at work at dinner time.

Then in 1963, I became interested in my family history, and I decided to carry out a thorough search of the parish registers. This took me about 7 years to complete. The first England I found recorded at Ludham was David England, born 1715. He was the son of David and Ann. David England born 1715 had a brother called Robert born 1716, and they both reached adult life. I found evidence in the church wardens register that Robert (possibly the son of David) supplied building material for Ludham Church from time to time. I think it is safe to assume they were millwrights from the turn of the 17th century. The Englands have been millwrights in Ludham from that time.

I can still picture the old workshops in the High Street in the 1920s. The entrance was opposite the police House and just back from the road was a tall building which stored the pony carts and the harness gear. The top storey was accessible from a wooden stairway on the outside. This storey contained some carpenter’s benches and a hand operated lathe for wood turning and at the end of the building was Dan's office. At the foot of the stairway there were some old traction engine boilers which Dan had used in his experiments to convert his turbine apparatus to steam power. The blacksmiths shop was further at the back and there was a diesel engine which provided power for the other large workshops. When this diesel engine started up, the whole building would shake until the gear had gathered speed. I remember seeing the saw pits in use when the whole tree trunk would be cut up into planks all done by hand. Dan England was the first man in Ludham to generate and use electricity in his millwright workshops. Dan England, 1823 to 1897 was the inventor of the turbine drum, which would lift half as much water again as the scoop wheel for draining the Norfolk marshes. (He was also licensee of the King's Arms). It has been said that if this had been patented at the time, it would have brought him a fortune.

Ludham had 3 corn mills. The great gale of 24th March 1896 did much damage to the mills and the post mill in Lovers Lane was completely destroyed. Albert Warner, who was a lad of 8 at the time, told me the High Street was covered with tiles and thatch from the houses, and Arthur Newton, the son of Ebenezer Newton of the Crown House, told me the same story. It was a gale that was long remembered by Ludham people.

I can just remember the High Mill working, about 1926. There were a few vanes left in the sails, and as these fell out, the mill finally ceased working. It was recorded by the late Mr. H. 0. Clark, the Norwich historian, that this mill had an interesting feature. He said whereas the sails of a mill rotate opposite to the hands of a clock as you face them, this mill rotated clockwise, and was one of the very few in the country built this way. I can't remember anything about the corn mill at How Hill. I know it was built in 1823 and was working until 1890, and Mr. Boardman had water tanks installed in the tower for use on the fruit farm.

Ludham had 7 wind pumps; two on the Horsefen Marshes, and one at Coldharbour. Then there were two at Ludham Bridge, and two at How Hill. I can remember four in working order, Goodwins Mill on the Horsefen Marshes near the boundary with Potter Heigham, and then one at Ludham Bridge, and two at How Hill. The recently restored trestle wind pump at How Hill was originally Dan England's own design. The earliest wind pumps were of wood construction, and had cloth sails. These required constant attention, and in a strong wind they were very difficult to control, and if the brake wheel failed to hold, sparks would fly. The mill could easily catch fire. To overcome this, brick towers were built, but they were still using the cloth sails. The remains of one of these mills is on the Horsefen Marshes, opposite the sailing school. In 1807, a Norfolk man, William Cubit (he later became Sir William), invented the shuttered sail, and this enabled taller and more powerful mills to be built. Englands were closely connected with William Cubit, who had a business then at Horning Lower Street, and together they experimented with this new idea, and the first patent sails were fitted to a post mill at Horning, by Willian England, 1770 to 1830. The last wind pump was built by Dan England at St. Olaves in 1910 for Lord Somerleyton. Dan England's working drawings of Norfolk windmills are still in existence.
Chesney William England - 1994

If you have any memories, anecdotes or photos please let us know and we may be able to use them to update the site. By all means telephone 07836 675369 or

Top of Page
Copyright © Jonathan Neville, Norfolk Mills 2008