12th October 1941: A Visit to Flatford

Glorious, warm sunny day, with great fleecy clouds floating across the sky. The first tints of autumn are appearing in the trees.

Set out this afternoon to go to East Bergholt, and arrived there about quarter to 4. Cycled down the long lane to Flatford, and looked across the glorious Stour Valley. When I stand in Suffolk and look across to Essex I always feel that Suffolk is really a foreign country to us. Quite a lot of people at Flatford Lock, fishing and sitting about on the grass, and there were two boats on the river. The “16th Century Cottage Tea Rooms” were doing quite a lot of business, and I thought at first that this must be where the lady [who EJR met on 3rd October 1941] was living. However, before making enquiries I thought I might as well have a look at Flatford Manor again, so I went there. Noted several interesting details of the construction which I had previously overlooked.

Went back to the tea rooms, and discovered that my lady did not live there but at another tea room opposite, which is kept by old Richardson, who used to have Flatford Manor when it was a farm. He is quite a naturalist.

There were a lot of people about, and quite two dozen cars on the Car-Park. The tea room was a long wood shanty with an earth floor, furnished with a few forms and tables, all deeply embowered among trees and bushes. I enquired of a woman outside, and was told that “Mrs. Prior” was in, immediate calls for “Betty” giving me the other part of her name. She came out, very pleased to see me, and we had tea in this curiously ramshackle shed. The air was becoming cool, and the sun was sinking as a golden ball behind the Essex hills. Some people came in for tea, and then a youth and a girl, who sat talking about bombs which fell at Ipswich last night. Heard them say that one fell in Brook Street, and did a good deal of damage, although it seems nobody was killed.

After tea, was shown the pigs and poultry, all housed in a few derelict sheds behind the tea-house. There were also a couple of cows. The whole place was terribly decayed and neglected.

EJR included a postcard of Willy Lott's Cottage in his journal to mark his visit to Flatford so here is a photo of the same view today.

Mrs. Prior agreed to walk back to Dedham with me, across the meadows. She told me many sad things about her life, and I was amazed to hear that she has three children, the eldest a boy of 14. I had imagined that she was under 30. Her husband has treated her very badly.

We got to Dedham in the gathering dusk, and waited for Miss Richards to meet us, but she did not come. As we waited it grew dark, and RAF planes began to fly over towards the sea, some dropping crimson flares as they crossed the coast. The sky was full of searchlights. At last left her at the “Marborough”, made a hurried call at Sissons’, where I saw Miss Richards, and then rushed back to Colchester.

Just past the “Wooden Fender” I noticed what appeared to be a considerable fire towards Ipswich road. There were dozens of blazing points, which I took to be incendiary bombs, so I went to a cottage nearby, intending to get help. As I knocked hard on the door I heard the voice of Wee Georgie Wood, the comedian, singing on the radio “Who's that knocking on the door?” and the more I knocked the more this idiotic song was bellowed back at me. At last I attracted attention, but by this time the fire had died to a glow, so that nobody felt inclined to tramp across the muddy fields to investigate. As a result of all this, reached the Castle 10 minutes late, and found Miss Oldfield waiting, cold and angry. She was extremely rude. However, as soon as she had cleared off I went over to the cafĂ© for supper, as there was no alarm.

About a quarter before midnight when I was on the Castle Bridge I heard far away the sound of alarm hooters at Paxman’s and Brackett’s, and then the noise of a plane coming from the west. I jumped inside and shut the door just as there were a number of tremendous explosions, and I could see shells or bombs bursting in the air. I put my helmet on and went onto the roof. The noise of the plane was dying away, and there were no sign of any fires. I could hear voices outside the ARP Headquarters and somebody said something about “fire at the Queen’s” so I presumed there had been some damage in the Berechurch Road. The explosions were in that direction. The night was very chilly, and I was shivering with cold and fright, so went down to a warm bed. I expect my poor old people were frightened.

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