EJ Rudsdale on Twitter from 3 September 2019

31st January 1945 - Wisbech

Not quite so cold.  Thin clammy fog.  Wakened by the sound of men clearing snow.  Busy all morning getting out Committee notices and preparing for the meeting next week.  Girling came in to say old Mr Pearson had telephoned to ask why the notices were not out already?  Don't like Girling.  He seems very hard and cold.

This afternoon rain came on, a thin drizzle.  Took our Committee notices to various addresses. Streets filthy with melting snow, and cakes of dirty snow swimming down the swiftly flowing Nene.

Went over to Edward’s to tea.  Talked about the sale of his typewriter.  I can't offer him more than £10, but if the Committee buy it officially, I shall suggest £15, say £20 for the machine and his small cabinets together.  Poor old man is a bit hard up, I think.  He told me that Mr M.H. Osborn, the house furnisher, died on Monday.  He was one of the Museum subscribers, and old Edwards seemed very worried at the idea – that we had lost one – we apparently have only about 45!

Also learnt this evening that we own the charming little house next door to the Museum, which was given by Algernon Peckover about 70 years ago to serve as a Curator’s house.  The place was at once lent for the sake of making a few pounds a year rent, and the daughter of the original tenant, a Miss Pooley is still there.  Edwards at one time lived in the Museum flat, but Mrs Edwards objected to various things, particularly the ringing of the church bells, and they moved.  Mrs Edwards warned me to be “very careful” with Miss Thompson, (the caretaker) who is apparently very unstable.  She was Edwards’ housekeeper before she came to the Museum, and still works for them 2 or 3 nights a week, but her manners are so bad they would almost prefer that she stayed away.

Back to the office tonight.  A dance in St Peter’s Church Hall, a lot of noise of jazz on loud-speakers.  Soon after 7, eight or nine cars drove into the Square and parked there, while the occupants went into the dance.  Seems to be no check here on the use of cars for pleasure.

Occasionally, among the dreary strains of the dance-band, the sound of Walsoken church bells came drifting on the wind.  Then the sound of girls’ voices in the street, a drum and fife band somewhere not far away.

And so I come the end of the first month in the Fens.  How many more months shall I stay?

30th January 1945

Another big fall of snow, and still snowing hard, blowing in before a strong SW wind.  A lot had blown through the window cracks into the bedroom.  Had a delicious breakfast, so utterly different to what I am accustomed.  How kind Miss Bentley is – she charged me only 12/- for the whole weekend.

Snow so deep, and gale so strong, had to walk all the way into town.  Called on Les Watts at the stables, and heard that all my stuff is now locked up in the slaughter house.  Cannot bring myself to sell, as it seems to break a final link.  Left the matter over for another month.  

Called at the War Agricultural Committee office.  Saw Terkelson from Writtle, as he happened to be there, and told him about the man Taylor’s ditching scheme.  Also saw Culley, who told me that Pulford had taken all my stuff from Bourne Mill, so I am afraid I have lost it.

While talking in Capt. Folkard’s office, suddenly saw George Farmer and Maisie come out of their house opposite and slush away through the snow.  Strange to see him like that, and he not knowing I was there.  Have not seen him for over 4 years.  Called at home, and had another chat with Father.

Up town, crowds all over the streets.  Bought some paint brushes, poor quality, but 9d each.  Used to be 4d.  Went over to see Hervey Benham, and got from him a dozen sheets of coloured paper for labels.  He told me that some film people had been asking for old Colchester Theatre bills for a film of “Nicholas Nickleby”.  Museum deny all knowledge of them, naturally.

Strange, dream-like feelings in the town – keep expecting to see Mother come out of Baker’s shop or Jacklin’s café.  Cannot realise that I too am a ghost, and that I belong here no longer.

To station for 5.25.  Fog coming up, and trains from London 2 hours late, but the Edinburgh train started only 10 minutes after time.  A woman in the carriage, about 35, was telling a man opposite that she was going to Ipswich at a moment’s notice to her mother, in answer to a telegram, but had no idea if the mother was ill or what was the matter.  She looked very worried, and repeated her story over and over again.

Felt very depressed at the way the weekend was wasted – I might have done so much.  Hardly dark when we got to Ipswich, but had a long wait there.  No feeling of alarm until, near Stowmarket, the guard came through the train and demanded all blinds to be drawn, while the train slowed down considerably, but at Stowmarket the station lights were on, so presumably there was no alarm.  Two Americans got in there, a young man with a girl carrying a vast bouquet of scarlet flowers, talking about a wedding they were going to at Bury tomorrow.  They got out there and two Scots soldiers got in, Pioneer corps men, going on leave to Glasgow.  They said they had missed the morning train by 5 minutes, and had been waiting about Bury all day with no money.  The elder, about 40, went to sleep at once, mouth open.  Then a whole platoon got in, fully armed, rifles, bayonets, tin hats, gas-masks.  Talk with the Americans about “calibres” etc, all gibberish to me.  They were on their way to Edinburgh.  Wonder why?  The Americans were going to Huddersfield, of all places, on 7 day leave.  Said they get no travel warrants or food allowance.

Got to March just before 9.  Fog getting very thick.  Stood watching romantic looking freight trains pulling slowly through the station, some from the North, some from the south, the glare of the engine fires casting great crimson patches on the fog banks.  When the Edinburgh train had gone (and how I longed to go with it) all was very quiet.  Went into the refreshment room – no tea, no coffee, no food.  Had half a pint of bad beer with a lot of drivers and firemen, who were grumbling about the fog and the long delays.  A young Welsh porter said the Wisbech train would be about 45 minutes late.  He then took one of the girl porters into a dark railway carriage and shut the door.  All quiet again.  Here and there crates of chickens, clucking sadly.  

Train at last arrived at 10.30, and we got into Wisbech just before 11, one and a quarter hours late.  

The moon was now riding high above the fog.  No aircraft about.  Streets quite silent, not a soul about.  House of course locked, and had to knock them up.  Mrs. Shepherd came down furiously angry.  Went straight up to bed, without any supper.

28th January 1945

Snow very deep.  Horses and carts working silently past the church.  Spent a wasted but delightful day.  Could not force myself back to Wisbech, and after a delightful breakfast with the Sissons, went shopping for them and then heard Mrs. Sisson talk about a scandal on the Colchester bench, about a young girl being sent to a home for prostitutes.  Cr. Maurice Pye is concerned, and Miss Jose Blomfield.  Mrs. Sisson apparently sent a report to the Home Office in her capacity as a Child Guidance officer, and there is a great to-do.

At 12 cycled over to Sherebourne Mill.  In Pound Lane saw Moorhouse’s men carting muck, with 4 horses, 3 of them Suffolks, moving slowly and the snowy fields under the grey snowy sky.  As I turned in at the drive gate, a boy was driving cows over the ridge of the hill, his cries of “hup! hup!” very clear in the cold silent air.  Mrs Belfield and Penelope were there.  She has recently come back from Paris, where she was with the Admiralty.

Joy very kindly gave me a drink of milk, (now such a luxury to me) and a small pot of home-made marmalade to take away.

Home to tea, stayed talking for a couple of hours, went over to speak to dear Mary Ralling, left at 8, having said ‘goodbye’ to Father, and went once more to Holly Trees.  Apparently Poulter’s relations with Hull get worse.  A long and rather pointless discussion, in which I emphasised my willingness to come back, and he urged me never to do so while Hull is there.  In these discussions I always begin to feel a rising resentment against Alderman Blomfield – had it not been for his stubbornness, I should never have left my home.  Yet is that really true?  Was it not time for me to have gone in any case?

Back to Boxted at 11 p.m. and went to bed, hoping for a quiet night.  Few ‘planes about, and an occasional explosion, one sufficiently near to rattle the windows.

27th January 1945

Bitterly cold, and more snow in the night.  Feel excited at the prospect of going home.  Put in an hour and a half at the office, caught 11.10.  Changed at March, and while carrying my cycle up the bridge steps, felt a hand helping me.  Turned to find a tall, handsome woman with dark hair, about 30, in a fur coat.  Thanked her, and chatted a bit, and then travelled to Cambridge with her.  Train from March 30 minutes late, so we had plenty of time to talk.  Another change at Ely, and the next train so full we had to travel in the van.

She told me her name was Margaret Coulter, and she is a farmer’s wife from Elm.  Mentioned that her husband is a Conscientious Objector, but if I didn’t mind, would I please call?  Said I didn’t mind in the least, in fact I admired him, and that I certainly would.  She sounded very bitter about the war.  Among other things told me that A.R.P. organisations were to be improved and increased, as “the Government don't know how far the Russians may go.”  This was said by the Norfolk County A.R.P. Controller at a recent meeting of A.R.P. personnel at Elm.

In the carriage at March was an American, who started talking about cows in California, whereupon Mrs. C. rather startled the whole coach by explaining that she was on her way to Cambridge to collect a bottle of semen which was being sent express from Oxford from a Jersey bull – her husband is trying to build up a pure bred Jersey herd, and is much in favour of artificial insemination, in spite of the fact that the nearest suitable registered bull is 100 miles away, and the fact that each service, including a vet’s fee of £2.2, costs him £5.  Was there ever such madness?

Much talk in the train between the American on the (to him) unsatisfactory state of English milk production.  Left the charming lady at Cambridge, after giving her coffee, and caught the Colchester train.  Very late in leaving, over an hour late, because there was no engine.  Another long wait at Bartlow.  A railway guard got in, coming back from March to Easthorpe.  He had been up to March for a train which had been cancelled because there was no engine, and so was on his way back.  We got talking about the present decay of the railways which he blamed upon “the higher-ups” and the enormous amount of troop trains going through with men on leave from Europe.  

Got talking about farmers.  Said he had a bit of land of his own at Kelvedon.  Complained that the War Agricultural Committee had never paid him for a ditching scheme, so I got his name – Taylor – and promised to make enquiries.  He said that rockets were now falling very commonly in the Chelmsford area, but nothing very near his house so far.  There was also a warning for ‘divers’ last Thursday night, but nothing came his way.

Very little snow on the ground south of Sudbury, but very cold.  The sun was setting in a clear golden sky.

Colchester at last at 5.  Hurried through the dusky familiar streets, the roads quite clear of snow, home to tea.  Father seemed very well, although he hadn’t shaved today as he thought it was too cold – he still washes and shaves in cold water.

Stayed a couple of hours, and then went to Holly Trees.  Poulter glad to see me.  Poulter says he thinks Hull will bring his eldest daughter into the Castle as soon as she leaves school, and he also thinks that Mrs Slaughter, who is doing a good deal of amateur archaeology, will also come on the staff.  

In course of conversation he said that he was now quite unable to find a Morant’s “Colchester” anywhere in the building, so, when I said this was ridiculous, we went down to the Muniment Room to show him one.  The place was in a terrible state, books and papers thrown about all over the floor, Wire’s Morant lying twisted and warped with its cover torn off.  

Told me various local stories – a short while ago, a boy of 15 was arrested outside Holly Trees, carrying a loaded revolver and a bomb, tied to his belt with string.  Somebody passing by saw the bomb under his coat and went down to the police station to tell them.

Left just before 9, hurried through dark and crowded streets (lights in High Street and North Station Road, nowhere else) and went out to Lt. Rivers.  The Roses were only moderately well, the baby very ill again, and the lovely Siamese cat is dead.  Carter was there.  Much general talk, but oddly enough no war talk, and we did not hear the 9 o’clock news, which is unknown in Lt. Rivers.  A few distant explosions from time to time, but no ‘divers’.

Home to Woodside at 11, and so to bed in the front room, after a glass of milk and cake.

26th January 1945

Still very cold, and the snow lying solid.  Girling, whom I dislike, came over with some bills, but refused to tell me anything about the business side of the Museum.

Woodgate phoned to ask me to lunch on Sunday, but refused as I am going to Colchester.  Should have gone tonight but the train was very late, and as we stood shivering under the glaring white moon I became very nervous, and decided not to go until daylight tomorrow.  Went back to the lodgings to tell Mrs. Shepherd who was absolutely furious.  Then went to an address I had seen in the paper, a Mrs. Lynn, Hereward Road, a cul-de-sac near Norwich Rd.  Offered me a room which was only accessible through her son’s bedroom, and there is no bath, in fact the only tap is in the kitchen sink.  Declined politely.  When I mentioned Colchester, she said she lived there 40 years ago, when her husband was in the army.  She had a house in Butt Road, and said that at that time Sims Reeves the singer lived round the corner in Essex Street.  He must have been a very old man.  

Crept to bed at 10 o’clock, very cold and not feeling very well.

25th January 1945

Bitter, black cold.  Misery, but a pleasant day full of surprises.  Soon after 10, a charming young woman came in, dark and handsome, in a fur-coat, blue slacks.  Said she was a writer and wanted information on the Fens for a new book.  Apparently married to a Frenchman in the R.A.F. – spoke of the anxieties she suffers when he is over France on low bombing attacks.

One of the bakers here uses the old fashioned “hansom” type of 2-wheel carts.  Very ugly type, and would imagine not very convenient for delivery work.  Two have been converted to pneumatic tyres, and look even worse.

Letter from Captain Folkard today, to say he is leaving the War Agricultural Committee at the end of this month.  Very glad I left when I did, as I should certainly not have stayed after him.  Don't know who is taking over, but I expect Maidstone will.

Fog coming up this evening.  Went across the Park to tea at old Edwards’.  Groups of shivering Italians standing at the Park gates, children sliding on the frozen canal, people hanging over the bridge, faint blue mist towards the river, the white snow, dogs leaping and barking, the whole scene looking remarkably like Brueghel.

Poor old Edwards rather depressed, but we had a cheerful tea party.  After tea went round to the Old Market to see little Dorothy Ellis.  Met Miss Morgan, another Welsh teacher from Gwent, very pleasant.  A Mr. Stevens, Grammar School Master, came in with his wife, an extraordinarily loud woman.  Talked about dancing in the Corn Exchange and that sort of thing.

Unfortunately, the landlady, a Miss Fletcher, came in and was so rude that all conversation came to an end and the party dissolved.  Went to the cinema to see “Champagne Charlie”, quite well done.

Got back to the Crescent at 10, and was grudgingly offered supper which I refused.  Good mind not to come back here after the weekend.  Really must make efforts to get somewhere else to go.

24th January 1945

Bitterly, icy, cold, and a thin fog. Dawn at 10 to 9, and Mrs. Shepherd began nagging at me again.  No hot water, and the tea much too strong and stone cold.

To office at 9.30, much to Caretaker’s disgust.  She said very pointedly that Mr Edwards never came in before ten.  However, on the desk a letter from Inverness, from dear Ann.  She’s been ill in bed for a week.  Wants my photo, but have no such thing as far as I know.

Looking through boxes in the Library this morning.  Found a beautiful deer-skin jacket, Cree Indians, Canada, and a grass skirt, rather oddly labelled: Nubian Woman’s Girdle collected by Mr Algernon Peckover, c.1865.”

Coming back from lunch met Girling, in top hat, long heavy black coat and “spats”, and ebony stick, going to a funeral at the church.  Museum Square full of opulent looking cars, and the passing bell tolling.  Stream of top-hatted black figures hurrying over the frozen snow towards the Tower arch, where the white surpliced choir were waiting. 

Dark very early today.  Work in office until 9.

23rd January 1945

More snow in the night, a few ‘planes flying through it.  Wrote to various people to say I will be in Colchester next weekend.  Moved a few things in the Museum this morning.  Dreadfully cold day.

Slight thaw set in, but traffic, horse and motor sliding about in all directions.  Odd how few milkcarts there are in this town, and hardly a single coal trolley.

Set off to go to a Workers' Education Association lecture tonight, but was tempted to go to a cinema and did, then wished I hadn’t.

This evening came across half a dozen youths, with hair as long as girls, chatting in the public lavatory, which they apparently use as some sort of club.  Dance on at the church hall tonight, horrid wailing music and drunken shouting until midnight, then much noise of cars leaving Museum Square.

Soon after I went to bed, about 11, Mrs. Shepherd got up, went downstairs, and turned the lights off at the main, to stop me from reading in bed.

22nd January 1945

Up at 8, snowing steadily.  Poor breakfast, egg bad again.  The Irish waitresses talking about passports to Ireland, and how to smuggle money in their skirts.  My bill came to £1.14.6.

Town had an arctic appearance, people hurrying about silently over the snow.  Managed to get a haircut.  Snow stopped, and sun came out.  Bought some paints and brushes.  Several horse vehicles about, coalcarts milkvans and greengrocers. Hozell & Sons have neat 4-wheel carts for milk, and so do Peterborough Co-op.

Set out at quarter to 11, sun shining on crisp snow.  Several interesting buildings at Eye, and a good windmill in working order.  Thorney at 11.25, Guyhin 12.15, and had some cider at the “Chequers”.  Reached Wisbech at ten to one and went to lunch.

At office found letter from Fisher, enclosing £23 for Robin, from £5 notes and £3.  How I wish I had never sold him.  Did very little this afternoon except look at books in the Library.  What a delightful life this is, or would be were it not for the caretaker, whom I dislike intensely.

Went out to tea at 4.30 with the teacher, Dorothy Ellis, then walked with her to Walsoken and along the Nene almost to Walton Dam, under a cold bright moon.  Haze over the river, flowing quick and silent, and a train on the opposite shore.  She comes from Leeds.  Took her back to her lodgings at 8, and then went to office until 9, when the caretaker came up to ask me how much longer I should be, as she wanted to go to bed, so with regret over to No. 3.  How I loathe this little house.

21st January 1945

Not a good night, and woke with a sick headache to the noise of bombers going over low.  Fine, but bitterly cold.  The breakfast was quite decent, but the egg was bad.  Got a “Sunday Express” – Nathaniel Gubbins, who has recently been publishing a lot of gloomy truths and jibes in his column is being criticised as “mischievous”, but this week he is quite tame.  In the “Sunday Dispatch” were headlines – “Drastic Call-up” “Medical Standard to be lowered”.

Found that I had a flat tyre, but pumped up and cycled around the town, which seems a dull place.  Only decent view of the Cathedral is that from the railway bridge to the south.  At the station nearby saw men unloading and shunting – horses at work.  Felt so cold and sick could hardly enjoy anything.  Streets crowded with wandering Americans, Poles, Czechs, Italians, Land Girls and local working girls.  Back to Hotel for lunch, quite good, but cost 4/6.  Wish I had bought sandwiches yesterday.

This afternoon the sun came out, so went round to the Cathedral again.  Remains of the monastery buildings are quite extensive, very gracious and lovely all tipped with snow, but somehow one has no feeling that this is a cathedral town.  The main streets have hardly a single building of any merit except the Town Hall, the Bull, and the Museum.  There is an old stone-built thatched house by the New Inn, and some cleared areas near the Corporation Depôt.

Several old names survive – Cowgate, Priestgate, Midgate, etc.

Went into the Cathedral, very quiet, with the afternoon sun streaming through the windows, children running about.  Handsome, rather made-up blonde came in with an American as I went out, and said “Do you think it would be O.K. for me to come in without a hat?”  Said I thought so.  The old rule about women covering their heads in churches is hardly ever enforced now.

Carl Rosa Opera Company still at the Embassy Theatre.  There are two theatres and five cinemas here – but not a single place to get a cup of tea on a Sunday.  Went to a cinema, and saw a Rosalind Russell film, which I always enjoy, and a very good film on English canals.  Both these films had been cut, so that occasionally the action was jerking and a few words would be missing out of the dialogue.

Had a meal at the Hotel, the extraordinary conical landlady hovering about, and the place very full.  Afterwards went for a walk in brilliant moonlight through the crowded streets, hundreds of squealing, shrieking girls.  Went to the station and had two cups of tea in the Refreshment Room, then back to bed.

Men in the lounge talking about agricultural wages, gone up to £3.10.0 as from 5th January.

20th January 1945

Blizzard during the night, and woke to find two or three inches of snow.  More snow showers during the morning, but decided to go to Peterborough whatever happened.  Telephoned the “Grand” and got a room without any trouble.  Drew another £5, rather guiltily – only £23 left in my account now, and nothing coming in until the end of March.

Got the cycle ready, and the sun came out, glittering on the smooth snow.  Waited until after lunch to see if there were any letters, and got a long, kind, delightful epistle from the Biggams, written on January 13th.  How far away in space and time they seem to be.

Essex County “Standard” also came.  Hervey Benham is making a great fuss, wrongly in my opinion, about compensation for the houses blown up in Ipswich Road last June.  This affair does not rank as war-damage, but the claim would have been settled long ago had it not been that the claimants solicitor had refused to accept the award, which was a fair one.  Hervey Benham is much stronger on some pension scandals which he has unearthed – some are very bad.

Left for Peterborough at a quarter to 3, bright sun glittering on the crisp snow.  Freezing hard, roads an ice-sheet, but had little difficulty.  Went along South Brink to Guy Line Bridge.  Many lonely little brick houses along the edge of Waldesea, some neat farms, and at one place a little cattle yard full of polled Anguses.

Clouds came over again, and near Thorney snow began, fast, in big heavy flakes.  Suddenly two very loud explosions came through the mist from the direction of Whittlesey, perhaps a rocket.  This was about 4 o’clock.

Went into Thorney Abbey to shelter, the snow falling so fast that it was impossible to see the top of the towers.  What a curious place, with the lovely Norman arcades made into the outside walls.  Too dark to see any details.  Some fine carved tombstones. 

The snow ceased, and went on to reach Peterborough just after 5, when it was snowing again.  Found the hotel, quite a pleasant place, had a meal, went to a cinema, and then back to a warm, clean bed.  Dance on down below.  Lay for a time wondering whether any “divers” might come in over the Wash tonight, and whether rockets would reach as far as this.

The landlady of this place is the most extraordinary shape I ever saw – quite conical, and immensely fat.

In the lounge found a copy of “Country Life” for 27th October, 1944, containing a letter from M.G. Phillips, of Trust Houses Ltd., 53 Shorts Gardens, W.C.2, who writes about two Colchester tokens – Richard Rich, 1656, and Richard Boyse, 1660, (a halfpenny).

19th January 1945

Tremendous gale between 2 and 4 this morning, doors rattling and house shaking.  Fine when I got up, but freezing.  The sun shone brightly until 2.30pm, when suddenly without any warning thick snow clouds came sweeping down from the NW, it became dark as night, and a hurricane of snow covered everything within 10 minutes.

No hot water at all this morning, so could not shave.  Intended to shave before tea, but found the house locked and could not get in.  Really cannot stand this sort of thing much longer.  When old Doble and I were having breakfast this morning we were edified by the spectacle of the daughter, stripped to the waist, washing herself at the scullery sink.  He and I are the only people in the house who use the bathroom at all.  Where the mysterious Miss Sparrow washes I have no idea.

This afternoon called at Gardiner’s office to see a “copper plaque” which he had, but it was only Victorian rubbish.  Feel that he is going to be a very difficult man to handle – very obstructionist, against school-work, lending books, or making any improvements.

After tea went to see old Edwards, and stayed until 7.  Talked about allowing subscribers to use the Library and to borrow books, but he is dead against it. 

Back to the office for a couple of hours.  Don't know what on earth I am going to do this weekend – perhaps might go over to Peterborough

18th January 1945

Scudding clouds and came on to rain, a torrential downpour by this afternoon.  Very cold.  Busy all day going through drawers in the Museum, having considerable difficulty in finding the right keys among the hundred or so which we have here.

Mr. Gardiner came in this afternoon at 4, and stayed until after 5, so that I nearly missed my tea.  Talked a good deal of nonsense about the Kirke pictures, which are mostly very bad, but which he regards as being first-class.  Yet he appreciates Rushbury’s stuff, too.  I dont feel I can like him, but he is a mine of information about Wisbech.

Mrs. Shepherd seems to be in a thoroughly bad temper tonight, the atmosphere of the place very strained.  Just before midnight there were two or three heavy explosions, which seemed a good way off.  Perhaps rockets somewhere near the Norfolk coast.  Wonder what is happening at Colchester.

17th January 1945

Lovely fine day, sunny, and almost warm.  Spent most of the morning sorting photos and negatives in the so-called “Smith” Collection, but notice that a large number of the negatives are not by Smith but by “T.C.”.  Asked Edwards who this was, but he has no idea.  Have now got the whole lot stored in proper cases.  Opened a great chest in the Library, and found it to be full of maps of the district, most useful.  All very dirty, and will want a lot of cleaning.

Letter from Poulter, to say that yesterday there was to be a stormy meeting of the Museum Committee regarding Hull, who has written one of his insulting letters to an American major.  Instead of ignoring the rudeness as most people have done in the past, this man has written a complaint to the Town Clerk.  The Committee have, at the same meeting, arranged to receive from Hull a report as to what he proposes to do with regard to the Post-war development of the Museum.  What a farce!

The last of old Doctor Laver’s stuff has been sold by auction, and his Bale watercolours have been bought for the town at about £5 each.  Not clear whether they will be kept in the Museum, the Town Hall or the Art Gallery.

Left my money behind today, and so could not pay for my lunch, but was trusted until tomorrow.  Feel that I am indeed a citizen of this place.

This evening went round to a Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) exhibition of “Home Design”, advertised as being held at the Youth Club, Norwich Road.  Found the place to be a grim private house, tightly shut and locked.  Lights on inside, but no answer to my knocking.

Walked back along the Canal Bank, and out through a maze of little lanes and alleys to the Market, each lit with a glowing gas-lamp, looking very weird and mysterious, with tall, dark, dirty brick buildings.  Must do some research into the proper names of these places, before they are all lost and forgotten.  It is proposed to fill in the Canal, and make a road on it – such a pity, as it could be made so fine.  If cleaned, and the banks lined with decent buildings, it could be made as fine as the Brinks, and Wisbech would look like some Dutch town.

Noticed today that the great breeze-block wall in Hill Street, in front of Dr Groom’s house, has been taken down during the last few days – I saw a gang of ARP demolition men working on it.  Apparently Wisbech has decided that the war is over.

Went to the cinema for a couple of hours, to see “Mr. Emmanuel”.  Parts quite good, and interesting to see the people of “Magnolia Street” in the flesh, as it were.  At one part a notice was flashed on the screen to say that a Mr Cooper Jackson was wanted.  My heart leapt at first as I though it was a raid-alarm notice.

Sky overcast when I came out, and nobody about but a few people hurrying homewards.  Some American trucks parked in the Market Place.  Some soldiers trying a weighing machine, one saying, “Go on, put one of those Irish pennies in.”

Back through the church-yard, as the clock chimed the half-hour, the gas-light flickering in Museum Square.

Was thinking tonight that I am really determined to start drawing again – feel sure that I could.

16th January 1945

Foggy, but warmer.  Busy all morning sorting out old negatives, and find we have quite a number from which no prints have been taken.  Must get a complete set as soon as I can, otherwise it will be impossible to mount a series.  Old Edwards has simply regarded these things in the light of curiosities, and in no other way.

Went to a Workers' Education Association lecture at Queen’s School this evening, and as I was walking along South Brink heard several heavy explosions to the South, ‘divers’ I should think.  This was about 7 o’clock.

The lecture was not very good – early art.  The lecturer, a Cambridge girl, was rather weak, and seemed nervous, which made her lisp a bit.  Sat thinking about museums – are we not in very much the same position as the monasteries?  Centres of art and culture, doing no practical good, housing people who might well be made to do something more useful – sweep the streets, cart manure, etc.  Is not the time approaching for our “Dissolution”?

15th January 1945

Fine, almost warm.  Old Doble had a Beckenham newspaper today full of accounts of damage by flying bombs and rockets.  A lot of damage in Burnhill Road, Lea Rd, etc. and at least 12 people dead.  In spite of this, the paper is full of all normal suburban activities – concerts, cinemas, meetings, etc, and there is a long editorial on the prevalence of robbery and burglary in the district.

At the office found a letter from Father, saying that a flying bomb went over the town at 2.00am on Sunday.  Also got the Essex County Standard' – Hervey Benham attacking compensation and pension scandals with great vigour.  He quotes my journal in his “Colchester & County Notes”.  Regret that I never accepted his offer of £12 for the war year extracts.  Seems strange to sit her and read about the old town, feeling very remote and ghostlike.

Busy all day in the Library, still sorting books.  They seem to be arranged not only according to size but according to whether they have leather bindings or not.

Beautiful evening, clear stars and a pale blue sky.  Quite light until well after 6.  New moon yesterday, and for the next fortnight it will become lighter every night.  In the Museum until 9.30, and then out delivering letters.  Found a gang of gas-men digging up North Street by the light of an orange flame.

Feel I cannot stand very much more of Mrs Shepherd’s rudeness.  She really is an abominable woman, and poor old Doble has a terrible time.  There is very little heat here, and I am not allowing this woman to tell me what time I am to go to bed.

Reading tonight until 11.30.  Could hear somebody kicking a tin can along Market Street, very lonely and solitary.

14th January 1945

Lovely morning.  Warmer.  Up at 9.30.  Went over to the Museum, and into the office.  Stayed in the office all morning and wrote a long letter to darling Ann, which I think she will enjoy.  Ate some sandwiches which I made myself, and then went down to Warby’s, at Elm.  Saw Elm church, lovely 13th century stuff, fine elaborately carved table tombs in the churchyard – really must work on these.  Elm and Friday Bridge look like some part of the Balkans after an unsuccessful revolution.  Quite a number of new houses, some dated 1915 or 1916.  Nothing, on either side, but wet, flat fields, and the muddy weed covered canal.  Hardly anybody about except a few leering boys and youths.  A very pretty girl at Friday Bridge, and a fair young girl on a black horse, cantering along the edge of the road.  A modern church here, which leans over at a most extraordinary angle, and a grotesque war-memorial in the form of a clock-tower, in the middle of the road.  A lot of ruinous cottages, some still lived in, other derelict.  Every house surrounded by a sea of mud.  Noticed the name “Bardell” on a shop.  “Girdlestone” also occurs in Wisbech about 100 years ago.  Perhaps Dickens came through some time or another.

Found Warby’s house, Oldfield.  His collection is really excellent, and he is a most charming old man.  It is painful to hear how little interest has been taken in archaeology during the last 20 years – Edwards would never give him the slightest encouragement, and made no records of finds at all.  Warby had to force him to take the Emneth hoard (for which he finally paid £1!)

In the collection here are no less than 12 potters’ stamps, yet in the Museum there are only 4.  All 12 come from the Fens around Coldham, Needham, and Stays Holt.

The quantity of pottery found is enormous.  Warby has at least 50 complete or nearly complete vessels, and boxes of fragments, yet he admits that owing to lack of enthusiasm he has been in the habit of saving only what he considered to be the most interesting.

Had a cup of tea with him, then back to Wisbech, washed, changed, and went to dinner at the White Lion – 4/- - but worth it.  After, went round to Levers in Sandringham Avenue, very pleasant people, and had a couple of hours very pleasant talk.

Very dark tonight, and no ‘planes about, but I nightly expect some more flying bombs.

Bed 11.  At nearly midnight heard the murmuring voices of a man and a girl below my window, the sound of a kiss, and then two lots of steps hurrying away in opposite directions.  A swan came flying overhead, and flew croaking round the church two or three times.

13th January 1945

While reading at about 1.00am suddenly heard something bumping and scuffling against the window.  Looked out to see a sparrow there, standing on the sill.  Opened the window and put out my hand, but he slipped away in the darkness.

Better night, and not so much pain as yesterday.  Warmer this morning, and the snow almost gone.

Looked in at the market – big crowd, but hardly any stock.  According to advertisements, there is supposed to be a market for fat cattle on Mondays, but I never see any sign of it.  People crowding all over the streets, doing their shopping, walking alone almost ankle-deep in slush near the Bridge.  Pony carts driving in, and endless streams of cars.

Went to the LMS station and found there was a train to Peterborough at 1.27, so decided to go, although not feeling at all well, sickness again.

Hurried to catch the train, but no train arrived.  After nearly half an hour, enquired what had happened? and was told nothing, trains generally later than this.  Half a dozen growling passengers on the platforms, stamping their feet to keep warm.  Fog stealing up from the sea.  At last the 1.29 came in at 5 past 2, and away we went, through Murrow, Wryde, past the brickworks, and so to the very edge of Peterborough Station, where we stuck for nearly half an hour in a sea of rails, trucks, dirty, steaming engines, cold, miserable, and in considerable pain.  Several RAF men jumped out onto the track, and ran along towards the station regardless of the shouts of the guard.  At long last, when all hope had been given up, the train slowly moved into the platform, and the train-announcer called for “L.A.C. Somebody-or-other to report to the Booking Office.”  Probably he was one of the men who jumped out 20 minutes before.  We were just over 1 hour late in a journey of 20 miles.

Walked outside, and almost at once saw a noticeboard directing to the Museum, in Priestgate, only a few hundred yards from the station.  It is a large, massive, stone fronted building, three storeys high, with a Doric portico, and was formerly a hospital.  The front is propped up with timbers, but whether through age or as a raid precaution I don’t know.  Several cars were parked under a notice: “Members only Car Park”, these presumably belonging to members of the Society who own and maintain the Museum.  The railings have been taken from the forecourt, and there is rather an air of decay, but perhaps unavoidable in wartime.

Had to pay 3d to get in, a thing I always dislike.  There was a green-uniformed attendant at the door, and the whole place was filled with intense gloom, owing to the foggy day, but there was hardly a light anywhere, nothing but a few low-watt bulbs under cheap tin shades, hung very high.  In most rooms it was literally impossible to read the labels, but there were not many to read, in any case.

There are some handsome modern bronze framed cases in the entrance hall, with new internal lighting, but this was only switched on when a visitor looked at the cases.  These hold a good collection of china and porcelain, and what labels there were are clear and neat.

On the right of the hall is a room of local archaeology, very dark and dreary, with only 2 small lights, both painted blue and draped with blue cloth.  These seem decent wall cases, fairly modern, with table cases in front.  In the middle, an island case, containing Roman, Saxon and Mediaeval pottery all together, labelled as “The Walker Collection”.

At the far end of the room is a small Roman altar, quite perfect, with no inscription, which is labelled as a Roman milestone.  It was found at Upton.  Nearby is a nice little column, beautifully shaped, about 3’ high, found at Castor-on-Nene, and a finely modelled torso found at Bannack.  All three are of Bannack stone.

In this same room is the tracery of a small double window of 13th century date, from a house in Goodyer’s Yard, destroyed in 1915.  A photo exhibited nearby shows it to have been a most interesting example of an early domestic building.  Scandalous that it should have been wantonly destroyed. 

There are a few stone implements in three or four cases, - Chelleans from Cromer quite good.  Also some of the usual “Flint Jack” specimens, and, to my surprise, several small implements from the Laver Collection, from Ipswich, Thame, and Bathwell.  Can't quite see why it was though appropriate to send these particular specimens to Peterborough.

Several Bronze Age beakers, and a very fine B.A. collared urn, and some B.A. implements, all local.

And, on one wall, almost covering it, Landseer’s “Off to the Rescue”.  Upstairs, a long corridor, intensely gloomy, hung with pictures – water-colours, prints, oils, etc., some local but by no means all.  Too dark to see them clearly.  Staircase walls hung with large engravings, etc.  Nice lot of the Bucks.

At one end of the corridor is a small room containing relics of John Clare the mad poet and Worlidge, the engraver.  Nice print specimens. 

A large, high, gloomy room, lit by four tiny electric lights, contains Norman Cross material, very good indeed, bone, straw-work etc.  How very clever those Frenchmen must have been.  There are also a few uniforms and a dress in the wall cases.  Unfortunately most of the labels are very dirty and practically illegible.

Another small room is devoted to Mary, Queen of Scots – prints of Fotheringay Castle etc. and a huge and frightful painting of her head, alleged to be by Zucherus.  Could only have been painted by somebody with a great sense of the historic.

Large “bird-room”.  Very depressing, specimens badly mounted.  Among them a flamingo, shot at Blakeney, Norfolk.  Two magnificent fossil crocodiles, from the Oxford clay near Peterborough, and the skull of one horn of bos longifrons.  Elephants tusks, teeth, etc, antlers of the Irish elk, all excellent.  Off this is a tiny ante room, supposed to be for wild plants, but now unused and very dirty and depressing.

Another tiny room, a mere cupboard, contains excellent lace and lace-making material, of which there was a great industry.  Wants showing properly. 

Then a “children’s’ room”, with two fine rocking-horses, dolls’ dresses, dolls, children’s dresses and so on, and a very fine doll’s house.  In the same room are some Lambeth ware apothecaries’ jars, very nice but out of place.

There are photos, prints and drawings in almost every inch of wall-space, but very few labels indeed.  On one wall is a plaque in memory of Nurse Cavell, who was at school here.

At the very top of the building is a good collection of “folk material” – a plough, costumes (shown in cases too high), a mangle, hats, smocks, (both very good indeed), Boston Gaol whipping-post, two branks, a birchrod, (with no labels), an excellent series of early cameras, including a quarter-plate of about 1860, Gramophones an Edison Bell phonograph, 1893, with earphones, and a fine lot of musical instruments.  The labels here are good, and in modern style.

Nice lot of dairy appliances, model steam plough, hand-tools from the Fens, etc.

In what was obviously once a lavatory, the white tiled walls still remaining, is a landau, used up to 1934, the last to ply for hire in Peterborough, boneshakers (one for a child), and an old Sunbeam motorcycle, a manual fire-engine, and a set of horse-shoes, without any labels at all.

The whole collections are really very fine, and represent the efforts of many years hard work, but the place obviously needs a great deal of over hauling.  Some fresh paint and some reasonably powerful light bulbs would be most helpful.

Peterborough itself is rather shabby, with nondescript streets, looking very much like one of the less genteel London suburbs. But there is a lovely stone market-hall, time of Charles II, the fine arches now blocked with bricks to make an air-raid shelter, the same as at Shrewsbury.  The space round it was filled with stalls, and the market was just packing up when I walked by.  Big crowds pushing about, mostly Americans. 

On the other side of the street, the Cathedral towered up above the shoddy buildings, vague and shadowy in the gloom.  Went through the Norman gateway into the quiet sanctuary of the cloisters, now nearly full of surface shelters.  The west front is enormous, but curiously squat.  Pushed open the door, and heard the organ playing softly far away down the nave, the music drifting through the fog slowly and gently, as if the organist was thinking of the remote past.  Amazed at the immensity of the Norman arcades, the pale-coloured stones of which seemed to glow with cold light in the gloom.  Voices echoed afar off in the choir, and the roof was invisible in the foggy dusk.

Near the West door was a larger “crib”, flanked by two Christmas trees, and here and there along the aisles are huge, sizzling coke-stoves.  On one wall saw a monument smashed by the Puritans, just as they left it, and on a column in the North Aisle, by the choir, is the tablet indicating the first burial place of Mary, Queen of Scots, two banners hanging over the spot.  Saw the fine effigies of the early abbots, and the so-called “centotaph of the Monks”, a most remarkable piece of work.  Noted with interest that there is a “Toot hill” on the North side of the Cathedral.

The floor of the choir is marble, and the High Altar is under a columned marble canopy.

There was nobody in the building but two vergers and a few children.

Out into the close again and noticed that some of the buildings on the south side are occupied by Poles, with “No Entry” notices over the gates and words in Polish chalked up.

Had some trouble to find a café, but at last got some tea, a slice of ham, and a few pieces of bread and butter, for which I was charged 3/3.  The place is full of war factory workers, who don't care what they pay for anything.

There are three or four cinemas, and two theatres, one quite new, called the Embassy, where the Carl Rosa opera company are at present performing.  The other is a repertory theatre.  The Embassy advertised a pantomime next week.  The place seems to be oddly situated, adjoining the cattle-market, while a huge modern cinema, a little further along the road, incongruously faces a line of shoddy villas.

Almost opposite the Embassy is the Public Library, but I found that the Reference Room is shut for the duration of war as, according to a notice, it is “being used for educational purposes”. 

The Reading Room shows clearly that this place is at the beginning of the Midlands – they have Peterborough papers, London dailies, “Manchester Guardian”, “Birmingham Post”, “Yorkshire Post”, “Eastern Daily Press” from Norwich, and the weekly “Scotsman” – nothing from Essex.  Read more newspapers in an hour than I have seen for a week.

To the station – hardly a light, yet the town lights are quite bright.  Great delay there, and a big crowd waiting.  A Leeds train came in, with a lot of empty carriages, so some RAF men got in.  A railway inspector came roaring up and abused them roundly, shouting and swearing that they must get out, as those were reserved.  Very meekly they did, and forced themselves and all their equipment into the tightly packed corridors further up.

The 7.10 eventually left at 8 o’clock, and crawled into Wisbech at a quarter to 9.  Crept into the Museum – Miss Thompson already gone to bed.  Hazy, a quiet night.

12th January 1945

Ghastly night.  Never had such pain for years.  Began to wonder if I had pneumonia, as the whole thorax was tender, and felt restricted.

Rain began about midnight, and was soon running in through a hole near the window.  Felt too bad to bother about it, and lay hour after hour, listening to it dripping on the floor.  At last fell asleep for a couple of hours about 6.  Would like to have stayed in bed all day, but did not dare.

To office at 9.30, and crouched over the fire.  Bought apples for Father.  Went round to see the Town Clerk about the Town Library books.  He admitted quite frankly that he regarded them as valueless and said: “Any books which are not read ought to be pulped.”  He seems to be a complete fool.

Streets in a dreadful mess, full of mud, water and slush.  Saw an American convoy, travelling very fast, full of bombs, going towards Lynn.  Each lorry had a red flag flying from the cab.

Went round to Edwards’ with some books, then back to the Museum from 6-9.30.  Looked through a lot of maps.  Curious that although the Fens are remarkably well mapped, there seems to be no plan of Wisbech prior to that by Wood in 1830.

To bed at 10.30.  Old Doble says that he hears from various people that the rocket attacks on London are now very bad indeed, and keep up intermittently day and night.

Am beginning to dislike Mrs. Shepherd very intensely.  She is incredibly rude, although allowance must be made for local manners, of course.

Thick tonight.  No ‘planes.

11th January 1945

A bad night.  Could not sleep, suffered great irritations all over me.  Heard snow beating against the window.  About 7, heard a ‘plane go over very high, almost like a diver, and lay sweating.  Dozed off, and then woke again to the sound of shovels clearing snow.

My trunks of books arrived from Colchester this morning, delivered by horse trolley.  Put the books in the Library for the time being.

Emptied the safe today, to see what was in it.  Found a file of applications for the curatorship, and was surprised to see there were 16 others besides mine, including 2 teachers, 2 M.A.’s, a Colonel, writing from the Author’s Club, and the Curator of Batley Museum.  Yet I was chosen unanimously, and without an interview.

Found also a file relating to the ARP business in 1939 [when the Museum basement was requisitioned by the ARP].  What a disgraceful scandal.  The County Authorities show in a very bad light indeed, especially this man Ollard, the lawyer, He seems to be ruler of all Wisbech, and everybody is terrified of him.

More snow during the day, but slightly warmer.  There was a wedding this afternoon, just outside the window, going down the steps into the church by the west door.  The bride was tall, dark, and very handsome.  Relatives, making rather forced gaiety, showering confetti etc.  Office tonight until 9.30, writing letters, and preparing report for the next Committee meeting, etc.

Bed, 10.30.

10th January 1945

Up very late – 9 o’clock.  Felt quite guilty, but managed to get to office by quarter to 10.  Letter from Letchworth Museum, to say there will be a meeting of the South East Museums Federation at Aylesbury in March.  Think I might go, and perhaps stay a couple of nights at Shurlock Row.

Old Warby from Friday Bridge came in this morning.  He apparently has a large collection of Roman pottery from the Fens between Elm and March.  It seems that the stuff comes from rubbish pits, and the ruins of wattle and daub huts, particularly in the Needham Hall area.  Must confess that I have never heard of the places, and have so far failed to find any reference to the finds in the Cambridge Antiquarian Transactions.

Heavy snow at times all day, and quite 4” on the ground now.  Still no heat at the Museum.  Bitterly cold.  Throat a little queer today but may pass off.

This morning watched some men unload a lorry with scenery for the Upwell Players show in St. Peter’s Church Hall tonight.  (Had half a mind to go but even this weather is not an absolute assurance against a diver raid).  Very quiet all afternoon.  Nobody came in the Museum, and there was no sound of traffic on the snow-covered streets.  Only an occasional ‘plane, flying between snow showers.  Faint shouts of children snow-balling at the far end of the churchyard.

Walked round to old Edwards’ to tea.  He is a little better, and had come downstairs.

More snow this evening, big fat flakes swirling down in the lamplight.

Went to the cinema for a couple of hours – quite a good show.  Very interesting film of Selbourne, showing Gilbert White’s house and gardens, and the woods were he walked, the animals and birds he knew so well.  A few Wisbech hooligans ki-yiked the whole time.  A proportion of the public should be permanently excluded from all cinemas, theatres, etc. and they should be clearly marked with the letter “H” in bright yellow, standing for “Hooligan”.

Walked through the Market just before 10, snow hard and crisp.  Dark figures passing under the lamps in twos and threes, on their way home.  Lights in the bedroom windows in the Crescent and Ely Place, and the church a black mass picked out in white.  At No. 3 found that old Doble had come back from London.  Quite a pleasant old chap, but most talkative.  Had been down to Beckenham, and says that rockets are falling in South London every day, 10 or 12 most days.  He was in a bank there this morning when one fell sufficiently near to shake plaster from the ceilings.  He said: “It was most amusing to see all the girls dive under their desks like a lot of rabbits.”

Bed at 10.30, in all my clothes, with coats piled on top of the bed.  Cold simply frightful.  Lay reading till one, listening to the clocks on the church and the institute chiming and striking.

9th January 1945

Wakened by the howling wind driving the snow against the window.  Quite 3” fell during the night.  Lay listening to the chiming of the clocks in the church and the Institute, the two mingling together every quarter hours.  At last dragged myself out into the cold at 8.30, rather later than I intended.  Found we all have breakfast in the basement kitchen, with no fire.

Busy all day, typing and trying to make sense of the old library catalogue.  Heavy showers of snow, with intervals of clear sky.  A few ‘planes going over.

Not a soul came in all day.  Bitterly cold, but we cannot have the furnace on because the damper has broken.

View from the windows is one of breathtaking beauty – the pure white untrodden square, the lovely sweep of the Crescent, the churchyard, where each tombstone and tree is lined with snow, and snow sticking to every crevasse of the church itself, white over all and a fine net of the falling flakes, falling softly, silently, and seemingly everlastingly.  Once again remembered the old rhyme of childhood days:

Faster, Faster,
White alabaster.

Nobody about except an occasional hooded figure hurrying with silent steps through the churchyard.

Called at the “White Lion” and got the man who is mending the boiler there to promise to do the Museum boiler as soon as he can.  Back to the Crescent to tea.  Conversation rather difficult. The daughter here teaches dancing in a sort of bicycle shed in the back yard.

Back to the office until 9.  Still snowing hard.

[Pasted into Rudsdale's Journal for this day, was a letter received from Colonel Round, Chairman of the Essex War Agricultural Committee for Lexden and Winstree, congratulating him on his appointment as Curator of Wisbech Museum and thanking him for his work for the Essex War Agricultural Committee.  Colonel Round wrote: “A Tiger cannot change its spots” with reference to Rudsdale's wish to resume his museum career.]

8th January 1945

Awake half the night with the noise of heavy bombers coming in, very low.  About 1 o’clock there were two very heavy explosions, like bombs, shaking the building.  Suppose them to be either ‘planes crashing or else rockets.

Up very late, and had to rush through breakfast to get to the office by 9.30.  Bitterly cold, with clouds driving before a strong northerly wind, looking like snow, and sure enough at 10 o’clock it began.  There was a horse drawn lorry in the Square, with a load of sand, which an elderly man was industriously spreading on the frozen ground.  Within a few minutes the driving flakes had quite covered up his work, but he still continued round the Crescent scattering the sand in spade-fulls.

Snow fell thicker and faster, a wild, glorious sight, the great white flakes driving into ever crevasse and corner.  Church, trees, grave stones all gradually vanished under the smooth white sheets.

Left the “White Lion” today and moved round to 3, The Crescent, only a few yards from the Museum, and most convenient.  Very nice to live in these charming Regency surroundings, and I think I shall be happy here.  The household consists of Mrs Shepherd, her daughter Mary, and two other lodgers, one a woman and the other an old gentleman of the name of Doble.  He is a Wisbech man, but lived many years in Beckenham.  His house there and his wool business in London have now been destroyed, so he has come back to Wisbech and lives here while his wife, who is an invalid, is in the nursing home next door but one.

Had letters today from the Sissons and from Penry Rowland.  

Had a cup of coffee and climbed up to my little attic.  Very cold, and had to put all my coats and mackintoshes on the bed.

7th January 1945

Lay in bed until 9.30.  Warmer, wind gone to the west, but soon veered north, and it froze again.  Still felt a bit queer this morning, but it went off.

Very anxious American at breakfast, who had lost his companion.  The two had been to a dance last night, after which the companion had disappeared.  He had not been to the hotêl and his bed had not been slept in.  American discussed various possibilities, drugged, fallen in river, gone back to camp on his own, etc., and at last set off alone, looking for a lift back to Swaffham.  Mystery remains unsolved.

Cycled out to Leverington, to see the church.  Leverington Hall, where Mrs. Munday lives, is very fine.  Long row of bicycles outside the village pub.

Stopped to see the mound on Leverington Rd. called “Rabbit Hill”.  Has been much damaged by excavations, but can find no record of any discoveries there.

Went out to post this evening, and walked round the Crescent.  The Square looked lovely, with lights in the chapel and the church, the sound of the organ and singing, and the stars shining brilliantly.  Just as the clock struck 8 there was a heavy explosion, and windows rattled.  Expected an alarm, but nothing came.  There were ‘planes about, so I expect it was a crash.  Night before last there was a terrible crash near Moreton Hall, Bury, and a lot of damage done.

Tonight the news spoke of more German advances in many places.  The Manchester “commercial” began saying that the Germans would fight for years, that a “blood bath” would now begin, - submarines a great menace, - gas will undoubtedly be used.  He asked very earnestly as to where he could get a gas-mask, so that he could carry it in his car, and said that when he was at home he always did “mask drill” with his wife and child, making them wear the things for half an hour at a time.  Wonder if he is right.  The moon is waning fast, and there will be no new moon until next week.

Got the “Sunday Express” today.  Very outspoken article by Nathaniel Gubbins, quite surprised it should be printed.  Also a paragraph about a soldier charged at Southend with stealing a German’s camera, saying what about Montgomery’s caravan?  Didn’t he steal that?

6th January 1945

Still freezing, and a little fog about.  'Essex County Standard' came this morning.  Old Canon Rendall is dead at last – another vacancy on the Museum Committee, and one not likely to be filled.  Poor old man, he had lived through much during the last 90 years.  Wonder if he would have liked to have seen the end of this war, or whether he was sick and tired of the rotten world and glad to go.  Fugit irreparabile tempus.

Old Cater of Billericay is dead too.  He was a Freeman of Colchester, and related to the Caters of East Hill.  I met him and his daughter in 1928 or 1929 when they came to Colchester to see the Mithraic Temple.  He was over 80.

Writing letters until eleven, then went over to the market, where the only stock offered consisted of two old worn-out cows, a half-bred Jersey with calf by her side, two heifers, an old carthorse and about a dozen chickens.  Stall in Old Market, offering old china – quite a nice white-and-gold dog – knives and forks, and very second-hand furniture.  A railway box-van on the track outside Peatling’s, looking quite incongruous.

In the New Market, vegetable stalls, with broccoli and cabbage 6d and 4d, and any amount of good apples at 8d a lb.  Boys selling shoddy clothing, and an old man with tin bowls, clothes-pegs, linen-lines, and so on, with a white paper in his hat, and a tremendous swash-buckling sort of ruffian wearing riding breeches and a red tam o' shanter, selling cabbages.  Crowds of plain, shabby looking people, women wearing shawls over their heads, and thick boots, the whole scene with the snow looking like something in Russia or the Balkans.  Heard one woman say to another “Ah, I knew he’d not come yesterday with the roads that bad, he’s got too much consideration for his horse.”

Ate bread and cheese for lunch and decided to go to King's Lynn, although not feeling too well.  Caught bus at 2.15 in the Horsefair, very cold and miserable, and in 10 minutes wished I had not gone.  Just before we left saw an old fashioned horse drawn carrier come into the Horsefair, green painted.  The name on the van was G.F. Bell, from Terrrington. 

Haze over Marshland, and the tower of Walsoken Church on the right.  Lots of small farms, and little square fields.  Huge potato clamps (called “graves” up here), two boys leading a chestnut horse on the grass verge, the road covered with ice.

Through Walpole, with a lovely mill peering up above the trees.  Tilney Street, several good but rather dull brick houses, large brick barns, etc.  Land Girls getting on to go into Lynn.  Great suspension bridge over the Ouse, handsome and majestic.  Got to Lynn at 3 o’clock, under a fine town gate.  Quite a shock to see it, as had never heard of the existence of town gates here.  Nice Georgian terrace near the gate, crowded streets, lot of traffic.  Twin towers of the huge church above the houses, a hideously ugly library building.

Lovely streets of Queen Anne and Georgian houses, the Guildhall near the church of fine diapered flint work, the great house with the twisted columns a little further along.  Wandered along to the Customs House by the Purfleet, lovely 17th century work.  Posters on the board there regarding the registration of refugees from the Channel Isles.

Went through to the old Tuesday Market, wholly delightful, a great airy space, bitter wind.  Turned into St. Nicholas Street, and saw a derelict site with a fine house still standing bearing the name “Bennett’s Yard” over a stone archway on the w. side of it.  The lower part of the building is brick, with stone quoins, and the arch in fine stone blocks, while the upper floor overhangs, timber framed, with brick nogging.  All the windows are broken and there are holes in the roof.  The place is in a terrible state but appears to be left standing while adjoining houses have all been pulled down, so perhaps it is intended to preserve it.  Must make some enquiries, but felt too ill to do anything today.  Glanced at St Nicholas’ Church, then back through Tuesday Market, through Water Lane, to the Quay side – misty, the tide running out, grey buildings on the far bank, seagulls crying, cattle lowing, but a strange remote quietness everywhere, and not a soul to be seen.  Nearby to the Pilots’ Office, with notices about “Harbour Dues”, “Warning to Master Mariners, Fisherman and Others.”  Four huge buoys lying under a crane.  Further down, above the Customs House, a few solitary railway trucks alongside some fine Georgian warehouses, and one of apparently earlier date, partly built of stone.

Found the Museum next to the Cattle Market, with a notice “Temporarily Closed”, so as to arrange an exhibition of Royal Academy pictures which is opening on Monday next.  This is quite the most hideous building I have ever seen used as a Museum, and appears to be a disused Baptist chapel.

Had tea, but found that every café in the town shut at 5 sharp.  Did not eat very much, as felt so sick.  Heard some women talking.  One said “Three big bangs yesterday, one at 8 o’clock.  Nothing on the wireless though.”  Wondered if there are any rockets as far as here. I know they have been falling in the Norwich area.

Went to Smith’s bookshop, and managed to get a 1” O.S. of the district.  Tempted to buy Margiad Evans’ “Autobiography”, 8/6, which I can't afford, but glad that I did as it is such lovely writing.

To the Library, which is apparently constructed of lumps of brown coke, only to find that the Reference Library shuts at dark, as there are no black-out arrangements.  To think that this town has existed for 5 and a half years without any reference library facilities in the evening.  Quite incredible.  There are no street lights here at all.

There are bomb-damaged buildings in some of the main streets, and the fire damage to the Greenland Fishery Museum is particularly tragic.  Some of the exhibits were looted within a few hours of the place being damaged.

Wondered whether to go to a cinema, but decided that I did not feel well enough, so found the bus back to Wisbech.  Got a seat in front, but felt terribly bad, worse every minute.  Two Land Girls on the seat opposite, talking about the farmer for whom they worked.  I began the awful yawning and gasping for breath.  Headache too.  Walked about Wisbech for half an hour, and had nothing all evening but a cup of tea at 10, then bed.  Just as I was leaving the lounge, a very drunk American came in, with blood trickling from a cut in his nose, and insisted on getting paper and ink to write a letter, but before he could start he had fallen asleep.  There was a “commercial” from Manchester there, quite a young man, who said apropos of the American: “Well, I like drinking.  Not beer, mind, that’s no good, spirits is my poison.  After all, there’s nothing else to do in places like this, and I’m not one to run around after somebody else’s wife.  I like to keep myself decent even when I’m away from home.  As a matter of fact, I don't like women, I like to get among men, and where can you do that better than in a pub?”  Then he told me a filthy, silly, pointless story, so stupid that I did not bother to tell him a really funny one in reply.

Mr Briggs, the professional pessimist here, said tonight that in his opinion the war in Europe won't be over this year or next, while all the others wag their heads and say “Ah, yes indeed.”

Bitterly cold.