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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


From his descriptions of the town and the people you begin to wonder why ER took the job in Wisbech!

The cost of what he saw and bought are little different from today - the vegetables 97p and 64p, the apples £1.29 and the book £16.43.

Mike Dennis