Past events 2018-2019




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LIMESTONE COUNTRY - Talk given to BLHG by Jacky Heath 21/3/2019


The British Geological Survey - -


Limestone and chalk are sedimentary rocks formed from the calcareous skeletons of organisms such as corals, molluscs, and marine plankton. Maps show deposits from Dorset to Lincolnshire and across the channel to France - where there isn’t much limestone apart from a small amount around Caen in Normandy. [Normand / Men from the North / Vikings!] These rocks form an aquifer that holds our main water supply and is the source of the chalk streams of Norfolk. See

Norwich buildings of note built in limestone by the Normans in Romanesque style are the Cathedral and the Castle keep, which was completely refaced with Bath Stone in 1835 – 39.

Locations of limestone quarries – Roman/Medieval/Modern periods - include Bath, Rutland and Portland. The stone of choice for carvers was Oolitic Limestone [the name derives from the Ancient Greek word for egg] a sedimentary rock formed from ooids, spherical grains composed of concentric layers.

It is a 'freestone', so-called because it can be sawn or 'squared up' in any direction.

Locally, the owner of some carved stones- which clearly were once part of a window frame - took one along to the Stonemason’s Guild, Colegate, where the master mason confirmed that the stone was an oolitic limestone from the Stamford area. Ann- Marie Simpson and I think that they come from the nearby ruins of Saint Clements Chapel demolished in 1820 – with gunpowder – by Thomas Tuck, to provide roadmaking material for the recently enclosed Brundall Common.

The name “quicklime” derived from old English for alive/lively and was given because of its reaction with water. The mixture appears to writhe about generating great amounts of heat. Once this reaction is complete, the product is called “slaked lime” – because the water has slaked the thirst of the quicklime.

It is the product lime – Calcium Hydroxide – that I believe has made this country one of the powerhouses of the agricultural and industrial revolutions.

Limewash and lime mortar ‘cure’ by absorbing carbon dioxide from the air (carbonation). Crystals of calcite form that reflect light. These processes take time – see Guelderon, the Building of a Castle for medieval lime production and uses.

There is a limit to how high the course of a wall can be built with lime mortar before it collapses under its own weight. Then it takes time to cure before the next course can be built. Work could not continue through the winter months, because rain and frost would damage the walls. This problem was not solved until the 19th century when Portland Cement was invented – which cured chemically and could be used in any weather.

 However – cement/concrete/render is impervious to water and leads to walls which cannot ‘breathe’; most noticeably found in our medieval churches which were mistakenly repaired with cement.

I should mention the erosion of limestone buildings caused by acid rain, which has always been in our atmosphere – from volcanic eruptions – but increased with the coming of the Industrial Revolution. See the Limestone Project – for more details.

We know now that use of lime produces a dry and alkaline environment in which bacteria do not readily multiply. In the Middle Ages, quicklime was often used over plague or cholera burials to prevent the spread of disease. It is still used today as a disinfectant and insecticide in lambing pens and in fruit orchards.  And although Marl [a natural form of chalky clay] was used for centuries to counteract acid soils; it was during the Agricultural Revolution that it was replaced with Lime and Lime burning kilns were built all over the country.

Here are some non-building applications of lime – preparation of animal hides for leathermaking [shoes, parchment, vellum] Neutralising acids and removing impurities in Sugar refining, papermaking, wastewater treatment. Lime is essential for the modern production of iron and steel. It forms a slag with impurities present which can be run off the steel beneath.

It is all a question of balance. Lime absorbs carbon dioxide gas. It is used for this property in food preservation, counteracting acidity in lakes in Sweden and on ‘scrubbing’ chimney exhaust fumes. But the manufacture of concrete from limestone produces 8% of the World’s CO2 emissions and our built environment is increasing all the time . . .

Here are some things you can do

  • Visit the Bridge Hotel restaurant and sit inside the remains of a Lime kiln!

  • Visit Braydeston Church, see the new Lime mortar pointing. Walk around to the South side and look for filled-in scaffolding holes in the tower walls. How many courses were needed to build it?

  • Go to the cathedral and look again at the massive Romanesque columns.

  • Take the train [on a summer Sunday] to Berney Arms Station and walk to the windmill which ground clinker to make cement from 1821 to 1880.  

Jacky Heath

February:  NORWICH CASTLE: The Past, Present and Future of a Treasured Landmark - Dickon Whitewood, Norfolk Museums Service

Standing atop the largest man-made motte in the country, Norwich Castle has dominated the city’s skyline since the 12th century. The successful 'Square Box on the Hill' exhibition told the
story of the Castle and the exciting plans for its future.

Norwich Castle was designed to be a royal palace rather than a fortification. However, no Norman kings ever lived in it. The only time Henry I is known to have stayed at Norwich Castle was for Christmas 1121, as the castle was completed.

Originally the ground floor walls were faced in flint, in stark contrast to the white limestone of the Royal Palace on the upper level. The upper floor (where the balcony now stands) was divided into two sections. On the north side was the Great Hall, and on the south were the royal quarters with a large parlour, bedrooms and a private chapel.

In 1883 the county gaol moved to Mousehold Heath in Norwich and work began on converting the building into a museum. Edward Boardman was commissioned to convert the keep and prison. His work involved ripping out Soane’s prison cell block and removing rubble from the lower two metres of the keep. To support the new roof, Boardman built two fine open arches down the centre of the keep and installed a balcony at the level of the original Norman floor. In 1894 Norwich Castle opened as a museum.

Dickon also told us about the plans for the Castle's future. Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England, is a major Heritage Lottery Fund-supported project which will reinstate the medieval floors and rooms in the Keep and create a new entrance for visitors, cafe and shop.

January A MOVING STORY Mary Fewster


Mary Fewster told a story of travellers and the roads travelled in a 'Moving Story' of East Anglia. She spoke of the Roman roads - one of them being the A140 ("It's not altered much," she joked).
From the Roman roads she moved on to pilgrims in medieval times, and to the pack horses and the pack horse bridges often built by monasteries for the ease of crossing fords, and with a hermit stationed by the side of the structure. That's why a house named The Hermitage is often found near a bridge, she explained, as at Acle.

Mary's use of maps was very useful, enabling her to indicate how crossroads became "skewed" as people cut corners.

The Middle Ages was a period when people were often on the move - pedlars, traders, drovers bringing their animals down from Scotland, and religious travellers either on pilgrimage or moving between religious houses.

Wheeled vehicles made an early appearance in East Anglia, she suggested, because the land was flat - imagine getting an early cart on the move up and down the mountains and hills of more northerly areas.

One of her many fascinating slides was that of John Ogilby's 1675 map of the route between London and Norwich, with landmarks shown on the route through Thetford, Attleborough and Wymondham. Ogilby had been appointed "His Majesty's Cosmographer and Geographic Printer" and his Britannia atlas of 1675, with 100 strip maps, set the standard for the road maps that followed.

Turnpike roads and toll houses came next in her story, with their accompanying milestones, many still visible today, and the talk concluded with a look at more modern transport - the Royal Mail with its post boys, the stage coach, steam cars, trams, the charabanc and the motor car.

In all, it was a  fascinating excursion...

Celia Sutton

Mary Fewster taught history and was head of history at Hewett School in Norwich for many years. Her MPhil research was into the Great Yarmouth herring industry and her subsequent doctoral research in 2004 was into East Anglian goldsmiths.


October 18  NORFOLK COAST IN THE GREAT WAR   Stephen Browning

The first talk of the new season saw author Stephen Browning visit Brundall to talk about Norwich and the Norfolk coast in the time of the Great War.

His book 'Norwich in the Great War', was released in 2016, with 'The Norfolk Coast in the Great War' following a year later. Next to come is Norfolk at War, telling the story of the second world war and due to be released shortly after he visited us.

It was a picture-based talk, which kept the audience on their toes to demonstrate their Norfolk knowledge, as Mr Browning asked for the identification of various photographs from the past. He also checkStephen Browninged how the audience pronounced Stiffkey. They chose ‘Stookey’. What do you think?

He explained how Norwich was known as ‘the city of the dreadful night’. Not describing Prince of Wales Road on a Saturday, but the years when the threat of zeppelin raids loomed and all lights were banned. People were, he said, recorded as going into the wrong home as they battled the darkness.

He told the story of the city’s industries: Boulton & Paul made Sopwith Camel aircraft which were tested on Mousehold Heath; the boot and shoe industry was vital for manufacturing marching boots for the army, Chamberlin's made uniforms for the troops. He also mentioned Caley’s chocolate factory which burned down in the next war – leaving one member of the audience recalling blocks of melted chocolate in the street.

It was an entertaining evening packed with anecdotes. Did you know about the links between cordite and King’s Lynn? Or how pennies were paid for the collection of conkers to make acetone at a King’s Lynn factory? Or when a radio ham sat on the clifftop at Hunstanton monitoring the movements of German submarines?

Yes, the vicar of Stiffley, the much-maligned ‘prostitutes’ padre’ who was mauled by a lion, made an appearance… as did Rupert Brooke, whose evocative poem was recited by heart from the floor.

November 15   ESCAPING HITLER   Phyllida Scrivens

Joe and Phyllida at the Jarrold
                                  book launchPhyllida Scrivens, who came to Norfolk 15 years ago and has lived at Thorpe St Andrew since 2016, gave a fascinating and enthusiastic talk about Joe Stirling, whom she met in 2011 at the UEA when she studied for an MA in Biography. Joe was taking part in an Open Library event and was able to offer to students the subject “I Escaped From Nazi Germany”. She continued visiting Joe for the next three years until the book she was writing was finished on his 90th birthday. Joe and Phyllida are pictured, right, at the Jarrold book launch.

Jo and JeanJoe (Gunter Stern) was born in Nikenich,  a farming village near Koblenz in 1924 and he went to the village school in 1932. His father, Alfred Stern, was a cattle dealer in Koblenz and was a dispatch rider in the First World War, winning The Iron Cross and was wounded four times, with shrapnel lodged in his neck.

When Hitler took over Germany in 1933 Jewish people started to lose their businesses, although Alfred thought that Hitler would not last very long. Gunter lost friends and teachers made fun of him because he was Jewish and on 9th/ 10th November 1938 Hitler had synagogues and businesses burnt down all over Austria and Germany.

Alfred was arrested and hit, contents of cupboards were thrown on the floor and he was taken away.

Gunter and his mother, Ida, went to Koblenz looking for him, but he had been taken to Dachau camp, where he contacted pneumonia. They were told that they could leave Germany, but they had no money to do so. Between 1938 and 1942 they moved to Gorgenstrasse, Koblenz.

Gunter heard that children were being allowed to go to Britain on the Kindertransport scheme, so he decided to walk there. Although he got to the Luxembourg border and was given food by a Dutch policeman, he was told that he had to make an application by letter and so a Dutch farmer put him on a train home. He eventually did get to Britain on a train with 300 other children and was given a home by the Free family of Birmingham.

When the war started he then went to Wales, to a Welsh school where he learnt more Welsh than English. He then went to live with the Alsopp family in Lydney, Gloucestershire.

He volunteered for the British Army in 1944 and trained in Scotland for the Ordnance Corps.

Whilst in the army he met a girl, Jean Skitmore, and they got married. The couple are pictured left. As she came from Attleborough they moved to Norwich, where, in 1949, he got a job with the Labour Party. The couple were very happy and had four children, but his wife died of cancer in 1994.

Peter Ayers

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