The twin villages of Loddon and Chedgrave have ancient roots. Both are listed in the Domesday Book of 1086, that great asset register commissioned by that great asset stripper, William the Conqueror. Bill the Bastard wanted to know how much tax he could squeeze out of his newly acquired kingdom.
The earliest written mention of Loddon (Lodne or ‘muddy river’ in old Celtic) was before the Norman conquest, in the will of Ælfric Modercope written around 1042. Ælfric was a wealthy Anglo-Danish theyn (high-ranking retainer), a favourite of Emma of Normandy, consort to Cnut the Great, king of England, Denmark and Norway (and quite a few Swedes too). That would also be the legendary King Canute who tried to order back the tide. Sadly, that’s just a tall tale. Yes, I have spelt ‘Cnut’ correctly.
It’s not known just how intimate Alfie was with the serial Queen (she was the widow of Cnut’s predecessor) but he was one of the richest theyns in all East Anglia and by far the biggest landowner in old Lodne. Not that I’m one to gossip. A thousand years later, Alfie lives on with his rather butch bronze effigy standing on top of the village sign on Farthing Green.
Chedgrave’s sign features three different spellings of the village name – Chedgrave, as now, Scatagrava, the old Danish name and Chattegrava, the Latinised version used in Domesday.
The name is thought to derive from some Anglian bloke called ‘Cheatta’ plus either ‘Grove’ or ‘Pit’ (depending on the original pronunciation). I prefer ‘Cheatta’s Pit’. Sounds a bit more dark ages and vaguely pagan. I have fanciful notions of Cheatta and his kin dancing naked round a fire pit to celebrate the summer solstice. And the fact we live on Pits Lane next to a recreational space called ‘the Pits’ adds a little spice to the fantasy.
Our little house is one of a small row of four workers’ cottages standing proud next to the 12th-century parish church of All Saints. Built in 1852, each dwelling once consisted of just four rooms – the original meaning of a ‘two up, two down’ – with water supplied by a well at the end of the row and, in all likelihood, a single outside latrine shared by all and sundry. There must have been quite a queue when cholera struck. The well’s still in full working order but, these days, only used for watering the roses.
One of our neighbours, a sucker for genealogy, obtained the entries for the 1911 national census. It provided a tantalising glimpse into the lives of the residents of our little terrace at that time.
While Liam was lapping up a concert by a local ladies choir at our spitting-distance church, I took a look through the documents. I really hope Mr Jackson the wherryman*, widow-woman Maria, James the omnibus driver, Mr Kerry the jobbing gardener and all their assorted families had happy and fulfilling lives. I guess we’ll never know, but the chances are their day-to-days were hand-to-mouth, horribly insecure and plagued by illness or the fear of it. Life expectancy at the time was about 56 for women and 52 for men, though this average was skewed by high child mortality rates which meant if you did manage to survive to adulthood, you had a better chance of growing grey.
Still, this was a big improvement on the situation when the houses were first chucked up. Back in the 1850s, life expectancy was only 42 for women and just 40 for men. As life was short and often grim, it’s little wonder people took to religion for solace. Thank God for the doorstep chapel.
*a wherry is a shallow-draught barge with a large single sail once used to transport cargo on the rivers and broads hereabouts.
Generally, I don’t like war films. They tend to be way too violent or jingoistic (or both) for me. I don’t do gore or mindless nationalism. But then we read a five star review of ‘Dunkirk’ which told us to go see it on the biggest screen possible. So we did as we were told and took our seats at the local multiplex. From the opening sequence to the closing credits, we were on the edge of our seats, teeth clenched and knuckles whitened. Utterly mesmerising and amplified by a devastating Hans Zimmer score threaded with Elgar, the film has ‘epic’ stamped all over it. The story of Dunkirk is the stuff of national legend – hundreds of thousands of allied troops trapped on the beach and rescued by a flotilla of hundreds of small civilian boats. But this film isn’t about plucky Brits snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. It isn’t about the gung-ho glorification of war or the sins of the enemy – not a single German is seen. It’s about survival by the skin of the teeth. It’s about a miracle. And it’s brilliant.
Our flat is like a weather chamber. When Mother Nature decides to throw a wobbly, we hear every eruption. So last month when Storm Doris (Doris?) huffed and puffed with 90 mph winds, we feared she’d blow the house down. We decided to abandon the microloft and seek refuge elsewhere. Usually this would be the pub but on this occasion we choose the Bridewell Museum. The Bridewell charts the civic and social history of Norwich – from its modest beginnings as a few Anglo-Saxon huts on the muddy banks of the river to the pillaging Vikings, conquering Normans, religious glory days of spires and steeples, economic salvation by Flemish refugees, a spectacular rise to become England’s second city, a slow industrial decline and the city’s renaissance as a financial centre, cultural hub and UNESCO City of Literature. It’s a ripping yarn of churches and chapels, friaries and priories, martyrs and merchants, weavers and cobblers, chocolatiers and mustard makers, fire and flood, black death and blitzkrieg. Norwich was the first British city to build social houses and the first to have them flattened by the Luftwaffe – two of the many things catching my attention as we meandered through the exhibits. And what fun we had dressing up.
I really like this. Okay, it says nothing about the evils of empire, world plunder, the subjugation of the Celtic Fringe by the perfidious English or the challenges of twenty-first century multiculturalism, and it’s narrated by a fast-talking Yank. But as a five minute history lesson for the modern, short attention-span generation, it ain’t half bad. The message to my overseas friends is that England isn’t Britain.
Cheers to Angela in Turkey for this one, my ever helpful dolly-drop Bodrum Belle.