Sunday, 28 July 2013


The Shell Museum, Glandford, Norfolk.
(They don't come much more charming than this.)

Deep in the Glaven Valley, North Norfolk is the tiny Shell Museum built in 1915 by eccentric local landowner and ardent philanthropist Sir Alfred Jodrell. He knew little about conchology but, with his sisters, he created a brick and flint Cabinet of Curiosities to house his collection of shells and objects made from shells.


Danson House, Bexleyheath, South East London. 

This is a small but perfectly formed Palladian building dating from the 1760s and situated near William Morris's Red House. The ground floor rooms have been restored to their original Italianate splendour, while the upper floor amazes with its brilliant contemporary art exhibitions.


Cromer Museum, North Norfolk.

We came to Cromer in search of Olive Edis Galsworthy, 1876 - 1955, who had a photographic studio in nearby Sheringham in the 1910s and who took autochrome photographs - portraits and local scenes. Autochromes are early colour photographs, the technique having been patented by the French Lumiere brothers in 1903. They have a muted, dreamy beauty. Cromer Museum has a collection of Edis's photographs but, sadly, few were on public view when we visited. Perhaps we should have asked to see more...


Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

This is a vibrant museum we'd not previously heard about. We discovered it hiding behind Max Miller, on the way to the more famous Pavilion. Its clever curators have managed to keep it full to the brim with collections of pottery and archeological and zoological specimens, as well as mementoes of Brighton life, at a time when many larger museums seem to have thinned out their displays and packed away the exhibits. (Some say that dumbing down is a condition of government funding.)

Mod or Rocker?


Saffron Walden,
with its pretty pargetting, is home to one of the oldest museums in Britain. It's doors first opened in 1835 and it retains the higgledy-piggledy charm of the museums of our childhood. With traditional displays and plenty of local interest, it also houses a collection of rare early 19th century tribal clothing and artifacts. Right up my street!

We still have these modest treasure houses at the moment, many of them as full of interest as their larger, more well-known cousins. In every town and in many villages they are waiting to inspire you. Open your eyes and minds - and occasionally your purses - quickly, before they disappear.


Saturday, 20 July 2013



Getting his own back...

...getting my own back!
(Mums are allowed to embarrass you - it's part of the deal.)


Sunday, 14 July 2013


Once upon a time, in 1886 to be precise, Mousehold Heath, a large scrubby heathland in Norwich, was given to the people and a new house was built for the Park Keeper or Ranger. (Those were the days!) It was called Ranger's House and was quite grand. The land was by this time in the charge of the Mousehold Heath Conservators whose job was to maintain and preserve the Heath. The Ranger, who by the early 1900s was my great grandfather Benjamin Burdett, had to be resident within the bounds of the Heath so that he could patrol it and supervise its use, prevent damage and ensure that "the Heath was available for orderly enjoyment by the people of Norwich."

He was a kind-hearted man, a Quaker, and Granny said that during WW1 he turned a blind eye to young soldiers from the nearby barracks playing cards for money in the long grass, though this was illegal at the time. There would be no fun for them soon enough.
He made a garden at the back...

...and generations of his family were photographed around his happy home.


1910s - 20s


His tenure spanned 30 years and he was the longest serving Ranger. I recently found a reference to him in the memoirs of an old Norwich resident - to her and her childhood friends he was "Mussel Man", "Mousehold Man" in Norfolk dialect. I never met him (he died in 1949) and I didn't visit Ranger's House until 2008 when the house, having been empty and neglected for several years, had been bought by an enthusiastic local man with a view to saving it for the city. He hoped he could raise funds to renovate it and turn it into a local and natural history study centre for Mousehold Heath. A huge task.

A favourite photograph, above, shows my Granny and her brothers on the front porch with their cycles, in the early 1920s. The view below shows the house with this porch as I first saw it in 2008.

Last week we were in Norwich once more and, sadly, there is no happy ending for the house yet. I found a link which shows the devastation vandals have left inside - here.


I believe Ranger's House has recently been sold again at auction - as far as I know I'm the only family member left who cares about what happens next.


Sunday, 7 July 2013


I'm in the middle of reading Jenny Uglow's biography of Thomas Bewick, "Nature's Engraver", and I have fallen in love with the man. Handsome, in a sturdy Northern way, as a young man his character was a mixture of the mischievous and the strongly moral - irresistible! He was an early campaigner for the kind treatment of animals, he had a great dislike of unfairness and he thought all war utterly pointless.
He also walked a lot - all over the North of England, sometimes with friends, though he was alone when he visited our neck of the woods and saw our local  Neolithic standing stones "called I believe the Devils Arrows".
He was right - they are called that. Legend has it that the Devil once stood on a nearby hill and shouted,
"Borobrigg keep out o' the way, for Aldborough town I will ding down!"
However, he missed and his great stones landed in Boroughbridge.
Their setting now is not quite so picturesque as in the print above. They stand in a line, one tucked behind a gate in somebody's garden, two in a field of wheat beside the A1.


Our visit to the stones whetted our appetite for more mystery tours and I suggested a trip to the famous Druid's Temple - not very far away and popular with local teenage boys looking for a bit of quiet contemplation, including, once upon a time, Mr N himself.

It's good walking country up on Masham Moor, though I doubt that Bewick made it this far and if he had he would not have seen this view - this is no lake, it's a Yorkshire Water reservoir.

This is what we came to find - the Druid's Temple, a mini Stonehenge.
Hobbit homes?

This looks rather like an altar... anybody there?

You may have guessed by now that whilst the Devil's Arrows are the real thing - genuine monoliths dating from around 2700 BC - the Druid's Temple is a folly, built by William Danby of nearby Swinton Hall in 1820. Perhaps hoping to create a tourist attraction, he offered food and an annuity to any man willing to live a hermit's life in the temple, speaking to nobody and allowing his beard and hair to grow. I'm quite surprised that only one man tried and he only lasted for four and a half years. Northern softie!