Cross Keys Swing Bridge, Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire






I wonder how many folk in Sutton Bridge remember the wood train that used to go from Wisbech to Travis and Arnold’s yard at Sutton Bridge? - Quite a number of long-standing residents of the town, I’m sure 92 year old Mister Jack for one..

He arrived in Sutton Bridge when it was entirely an ‘agricultural village’, when most people worked on the land, often doing back-breaking work. He came to work for Travis Arnold, timber merchants, and worked his way up to become the manager. He recalls sitting in his office looking out across the river at between 3.30 and 4pm every day to see bicycle upon bicycle streaming along East Bank towards the Bridge, as the workers left the fields to return home.

The Wood Train at Sutton Bridge

The photograph above shows timber in wagons crossing at the gates at New Road, Sutton Bridge. You can make out the roof line of Cindy’s (top left). This was a private line and British Rail engines could not haul the trucks directly into Travis Arnold’s yard (BR regulations) so the engine was unhitched and the trucks shunted into the yard, where they were unloaded.

Jack said the import of wood at the port was stopped during the War and afterwards there were fewer ships using it. Sutton Bridge was an NAA (Not always afloat) port, which meant that ships had to rest on the silt in the middle of the river at low tides and were not so stable as in other ports where deep water ensured boats had a good anchorage. Even today, the boats moored at the modern port are not floating, but resting on clay.

The railway crossing across Bridge Road, Sutton Bridge
The railway crossing across Bridge Road, Sutton Bridge, near New Road.

Photo taken early 20th century. Notice the man and his son and their handcart - could he be a knife-grinder? The man seems to be sitting at his cart.

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Jack Earley, one of Sutton Bridge’s long-standing residents, remembers the dinner-dances that were held at the Bridge Hotel. The hotel was the social centre for the district and the functions that were held were attended by people from miles around. It was owned by Soames Brewery (Norwich) and the manager and his wife – Tom and Sadie Burns – would greet their guests in evening dress. Dancing was popular in the fifties and people like to dress up when they went out. It was probably a reaction from the austerities of the war, when everything was rationed. Clothing rations continued until 1949.

The Bridge Hotel, Sutton Bridge
The Bridge Hotel, Sutton Bridge

Jack and his wife Olive like dancing. He recalls that they met at a dance – in 1942 at a Regimental Dance in the Rink Ballroom, Sunderland. His eye had been caught by a young lady in a blue lace dress and he decided he’d like to have a dance with her. Each time the music started for the next dance, he was beaten to it by others with the same intention as himself. This happened three times and by that time, Jack said ‘he was getting a bit mad’. However this made him all the more determined and as soon as the music started again, he was there, and ‘pounced’ on Olive and led her on to the floor. This was in February 1942; in December, they married.

Bridge Hotel staff in 1953
Staff at The Bridge Hotel, Christmas 1953.
Backrow right: Mrs Richardson (next to gentleman in patterned pullover)
Seated in front of her, left, is Mrs Wally Taylor.

Can anyone say if the couple seated centre are Tom and Sadie Burns, the managers of the hotel? Is anyone able to name other people?

Jack said another venue for dancing was the Barn Restaurant in Bridge Road, in what had previously been the cinema, on the site between the old school and the hardware store. He and Olive regularly went dancing here too.

The old cinema in Bridge Road, which later became the Barn Restaurant
The old cinema in Bridge Road, which later became the Barn Restaurant.

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Wharf Street School

Albert Cooper and his brothers, Alfred and Ernie all attended the boys’ primary school in Wharf Street, as did Leslie Garner and his brother David. Both Albert and Leslie were in the same class and remember clearly Miss Mitchell, who was the head teacher at the time, and Miss Bevan, who took the infant class.

Apparently, Miss Mitchell was a stickler for hygiene and would regularly inspect her pupils’ fingernails. If she found a trace of dirt, she would give the boy a pin to clean his nails! Hair inspections were routine. If a boy was found with nits, he would be told to use a comb with fine tooth to get rid of them. Leslie said he made sure he never got nits!

Looking at his school reports, recently, Leslie recalls that he liked crafts but not languages but that he was reasonably good at Maths.

Leslie also remembers that many of the children came to school in ragged clothes and some wore no shoes.

Both men remember times when Father Christmas came round to the school. Albert was able to shed light on the photograph below. It was taken during the fifties, he said, long after his and Leslie’s time as pupils! Albert said a garage proprietor from Holbeach, Geoff Parker, used the Morris Cowley (disguised as Father Christmas’s sleigh), which he had adapted to take Father Christmas’s house and chimney on top . He had also installed two extra levers inside the car to enable the driver to move the reindeer’s legs to make it look as though they were galloping along. Clearly the pupils at the school were delighted when Father Christmas came to call.

Wharf Street School, Sutton Bridge
Father Christmas visits the Wharf Street School, Sutton Bridge, in the fifties

Perhaps someone, still living in Sutton Bridge was one of the children in the photo and remembers either themselves and the occasion, or the names of the teachers. If so, please contact us at

Girls attended a primary school in Church Street. The two schools were built by the Guy’s Hospital Trust for the children of the dock workers. Both Leslie’s father and his grandfather went to the school, his grandfather attending from when it first opened in 1895. Both schools have long since been pulled down. Some say that the girls’ school became the Village Hall when a new hall was built near the Memorial Park and the Church Street building became the Salvation Army Hall. It was later demolished to make way for a house.

The boys’ school is now Leslie’s home and his back garden has been made from the original playground. The playground perimeter wall is still there and the entrance from it to the three air raid shelters beyond has been bricked up and a gate made further along to give access to the space behind which is now a vegetable plot and fruit garden. The air raid shelters were built during the war to provide a safe refuge for the children. They were so well constructed that they are today clean and dry and have the original distemper on the walls.

Bridge Road Council School

After leaving Wharf Street School, Albert went to the Council School in Bridge Road when a Mr Hepenstall was the Head Teacher. The school was built to accommodate 150 boys and 150 girls. Albert recalls Mr Hepenstall as being ‘the most horrible man he had ever met’. Explaining, he said that children like him, from poorer families, would get belted for everything.

Bridge Road Council School, Sutton Bridge
The Council School in Bridge Road around 1900

When Mr Hepenstall left the new headteacher was Mr WR Dicker (known locally as ‘Billy’) and things got better especially when another teacher joined the school – Mr Lol Mallett, who took the top class. Albert described him as a ‘perfect gentleman’.

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Hans, the Barber of Sutton Bridge

There’s probably not a person in Sutton Bridge who does not know Hans, the barber of High Street. His premises are now closed since Hans retired nearly three years ago, when he was 82.

Hans Heib arrived in Sutton Bridge after the war. He had been a prisoner of war and was released in 1948. He had the choice to return to Germany or to stay here. To stay in England, he had to have a guarantor and a job and work on the land. He was living in the hostel for POW’s on West Bank, near where Travis & Arnold had their warehouse, and worked near Gedney Dyke. He was able to come and go as he pleased.

A group of the German POW’s at the Sutton Bridge Camp
A group of the German POW’s at the Sutton Bridge Camp on the West Bank, near what was Travis & Arnold’s warehouse and offices. Audrey, Hans’ girlfriend (later to become his wife) sits on his knee. The couple are surrounded by four friends: Helmut Folket, Johnny Rill, Tibor Kasat and Emery Kurt.

In 1950 he got a job as a barber at the USAF air bases at Sculthorpe and Lakenheath. Hans said it was good pay. For twenty years he travelled back and forth to the bases in his car. He said there were twelve barbers at the American bases. When asked why so many, Hans said: ‘With several thousand airmen who had to have a haircut every week, that would be a lot of work for just one man!’

Sutton Bridge had three barber shops then and when one of the barbers decided to close, Hans opened up his own shop. He said now that he was his own boss he could buy himself a better car than the older one he used to travel between Sutton Bridge and Lakenheath and Sculthorpe. He said it was 41 miles there and back to Lakenheath and took about an hour each way.

Hans Heib and some of his friends from the Sculthorpe US Base
Hans Heib and some of his fellow barbers from the US base at Sculthorpe with their wives and girlfriends on a night out at a Fakenham Hotel. Hans and his wife Audrey are the couple in the centre.

Hans had always wanted to be a barber, ever since he was a small boy living in Romania, where he was born in 1924. His uncle was a barber and rather than work on the land, Hans decided he, too, wanted to follow in his uncle’s footsteps. So after leaving school at fourteen and a half, he was apprenticed to a barber in Timisoara. His uncle told him that when he had finished his apprenticeship, he could come home and work for him. ‘It never materialised,’ said Hans, ‘War broke out in 1939 and I went into the German army.’ He was just seventeen and a half.

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Samphire is a delicacy enjoyed by many local people and the folk of Sutton Bridge are no exception. If you enjoy freshly harvested, freshly cooked samphire with butter and vinegar, have you ever wondered how it got you your plate? You may have bought it locally from a fishmonger, a market stall or farm shop, but how did it reach these places in the first place?

A plate full of Samphire
A plate full of Samphire

It has been the tradition over the generations for local people to harvest samphire around the Wash and North Norfolk coast. It grows on the marsh and is gathered at low tide. That means getting up very early — often in the middle of the night for some — to go down to the shore and gather it in.

I met one such gatherer — I’ll call him Bill — one morning recently, at half past six. He was returning from his labours trundling several sacks of samphire bundled precariously on his small fold-up bicycle. He told me he had left his home at 2.30am and was out on the marsh by three in order to catch the low tide. I told him we used to pick samphire ourselves but it seems to have disappeared from where we picked it.

‘Samphire is a long way out now,’ said Bill, ‘you have to go farther out.’

Bill used to be a fisherman off the North Norfolk coast and has been harvesting from the sea ever since he was a lad and used to collect a few cockles and ‘sell them for a few bob’ so that he had ‘enough money to go to the pictures on a Saturday afternoon.’

Bill exercises Common Rights. Traditional activities, like samphire collecting, remain sustainable because casual/recreational harvesters gather only enough for their own needs or to share.

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Community Service – a personal view

Jack Earley, who at 92, is one of the oldest residents of Sutton Bridge, remembers a time when public service was considered to be a noble activity. Although he was not born in Sutton Bridge, he has lived here since 1946. At one time he was the Chairman of the Parish Council at the time when Arnie Broughton was the Vice-chairman. He said he didn’t always see eye to eye with Arnie, but he respected him enormously. Jack was interested in civic matters and thought serving the community where he had made his home very important. So much so that he found time to act as Chairman of the British Legion as well. Today he is the President of the British Legion in Sutton Bridge.

Jack remembers being responsible for organising various events in the village, including, in the early fifties, a big Gala Day, now part of folk memory! It was held in the Memorial Park. Jack recalled the big tent where fruits and vegetables were displayed and judged. There was also a central ring where children’s sports took place, as well as the usual side shows, and of course, a very popular beer tent. Jack remembers that one year he ‘won a pig’ in a skittles contest. He was a bit worried as he had no idea what he would do with a whole pig and just as he was deep in thought about it, someone offered to buy it from him for £5! He said that back then, lots of people kept pigs on their allotments, or in their back gardens.

Jack said the Gala Days continued for a few years, but as the organisation of it was left to a few people and there were fewer and fewer people willing to take on the running of it, it was discontinued after a few years. He said there are still a few people living in the village who remember the Gala Days with fondness.

Over the years different people stepped forward to organise other Gala Days, and in the nineties, the Country Fayres. These will be the subject of a future article. There have recently been suggestions that perhaps the ‘Gala’/Country Fayre/village fete idea should be resurrected. The Memorial Park is a good local amenity and offers an excellent place for the community to gather. Such an event could have displays of flowers, fruit and vegetables on show as well as giving opportunities to local businesses and volunteer groups to showcase their activities. It would build on the village’s entry into the East Midlands in Bloom Competition.

Asked why he thought Sutton Bridge had never developed a strong sense of community, Jack suggested it was because the village grew up along what was originally a track from Long Sutton, which travellers and merchants used on their way to and from King’s Lynn, Norwich and the east coast ports. The travellers used Sutton Bridge as a staging post waiting for the tide and the guides to take them across. The railway and the bridge served the same function.

Over time, he added, a few houses and shops were built along the roadway and the linear development we see today began. Unlike Long Sutton, Sutton Bridge does not have a centre. Rather it has two ends: the East End and the West End. Today, according to Jack, it follows the same pattern. Sutton Bridge is squeezed in between the new A17 and farmland and traffic passes by or through.

However, some community events have taken place in the village during the recent past: the long-running Art Exhibition at St Matthew’s Church, The Big Bloomers tremendous efforts to improve the image of Sutton Bridge by entering into the East Midlands in Bloom Competition; past and present Community Centre Committee’s fundraising events, including the recent Community Centre Fund’s big sale to raise money to build the new village hall; an event organised by the Bridge for Heroes’ project — a Family Fun Day; as well as the on-going PlaceCheck Project, which is already beginning to generate community spirit in the part of the village centering on the school.

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Holiday Playscheme - Community Spirit Starts Young

In 1975 a two-week Holiday Playscheme was started in Sutton Bridge during August and aimed to give children aged between 7-14 opportunities to play in a safe environment. The idea was to provide a place where children could ‘do their own thing’ under the ‘benevolent eye’ of a Play Leader. It was organised by a Voluntary Committee with funding from South Holland District Council and Sutton Bridge Parish Council and donations from local people. The money bought play equipment and was supplemented by other donated items. It also paid for the services of a trained Playleader. It was so popular that it continued for at least twelve years.

Sutton Bridge Holiday Playscheme photo taken in 1976 by the Wisbech Standard

The Playscheme took place in Memorial Park and the Scout Hut and the Church Hall were also used. In the later years, a caravan was used to store equipment. Among the activities organised were football, cricket, team games, fancy dress and talent competitions, tug-o-war, trips to Hunstanton, Mablethorpe and Wicksteed Park, and other places, as well as local visits to the Bridge and the Church Tower. Visitors to the Scheme were the Lincolnshire fire Brigade and the Lincolnshire Road Show community theatre. Money was raised, by among other things, organising discos, which were very successful.

An article in the Lincolnshire Free Press of May 17th 1976 reported that the Playscheme was ‘one of the most successful to be run throughout Lincolnshire’ the previous year and as a result, SHDC had agreed to finance 50% of the costs for 1976. It was generally agreed that the Playscheme helped to cut down on the amount of vandalism caused by young people. “ Playschemes took children off the streets and provided them with creative activities,” said Mr Trevor Muhl, deputy secretary of the Lincolnshire Association of Local Associations, speaking at the Sutton Bridge Annual Assembly.

Sutton Bridge Holiday Playscheme photo taken in 1979 by Lynn News

Parents agreed. One mother was pleased because it meant she didn’t have to take her children to work with her. Another said her children didn’t have to work in the carrot-topping factory. For children living on outlying farms, it meant they could play with their school friends during the holiday. Another boy was kept occupied and didn’t get into trouble with the police. Children, too, were full of praise: an eleven-year-old boy went every year because the games were good and thought the playleaders were great for joining in. A thirteen-year old girl enjoyed the outings and said she would like to help the following year if she were too old to join when she would be fourteen.

Sutton Bridge Holiday Playscheme photo taken in 1985 by the Lincolnshire Free Press

A film was made showing the children of Sutton Bridge and other Playscheme centres participating in a variety of activities. Mr Muhl said that Playschemes not only created a ‘tremendous amount of community spirit’ amongst the children, but also engendered a sense of ‘get-togetherness’ among the organising committees, who also achieved a great deal of satisfaction from running them.

Sutton Bridge Holiday Playscheme photo taken in 1985 by the Spalding Guardian

Those organising the Playschemes recognised that play is an important aspect of growing up. Over the years a number of people helped to run the scheme. It requires time and commitment to keep such schemes up and running. The people who organised the playschemes for the children of Sutton Bridge deserve to be congratulated.

Perhaps some of the children in the photographs may recognise themselves and if so, Bridge Watch would like to hear from them. Contact us at and we would be delighted to include your comments under this article.

Acknowledgements: Mr Jim Stratton, whose wife Christine, was one of the Playscheme organisers in the later years.
Photographs courtesy of : Wisbech Standard, Lynn News, Spalding Guardian, Lincolnshire Free Press — 1975-1987

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The Cheese Shop

The Cheese Shop sign

The Cheese Shop in Hospital Road, off East Bank, has been closed now since 2004, and we are very saddened to learn that the owner, Mr. Ronald Bedford, passed away in May 2010. I am sure many of his old customers miss him and his shop very much.

It was always a pleasure to visit the Cheese Shop. If Ron was not already in the shop, he would soon appear wearing his spotless apron and straw boater hat. It was a most popular establishment. If another customer was not already there when you arrived, there usually was by the time you left.

Mr. Ronald Bedford in The Cheese Shop
Mr. Ronald Bedford in The Cheese Shop

Mr. Bedford’s account of how he and his wife came to open the Cheese Shop in 1986 is both interesting and amusing. They used to run a very busy public house in Wymondham in Leicestershire, and looking to their eventual retirement, they decided to buy a house in Wingland. How this came about was when one of the delivery men to their pub left them his local newspaper, “The Spalding Guardian”, and looking through the newspaper saw the house on Wingland advertised and so decided they would like to have a look it at. Their son, Clive, managed the pub for them while they came to view. On viewing they immediately liked the house with its large garden and the range of outbuildings, and decided it was just what they wanted.

On moving into the house, they then wondered what they were going to do as they were so used to being very busy. After considering what type of work was available they decided that perhaps they could convert one of the stable blocks into a small shop, and using their knowledge of cheese, so the idea of a cheese shop was born.

They made their planning application to the South Holland District Council, and they believe that the SHDC were so surprised and thought it such an unusual idea that they gave the consent for the Bedford’s to go ahead. In fact Mrs. Bedford says that SHDC people were probably laughing at them for having such an idea as to open a specialist shop such as this, in the middle of the countryside, off the beaten track. They also applied for and were successful in being granted an “off licence” so they could stock wines and beers for their customers to purchase to go with their cheese.

The Cheese Shop 'Off' Licence
The Cheese Shop 'Off' Licence

Once the shop was opened, and it was a success from the start, Mrs. Bedford used to go to Melton Mowbray as and when to select more cheeses for stock. She also made cakes to order and they too were delicious. The refrigerators in the shop always held a mouth watering display of cheeses, some well known brands, some very unusual. It was a delight to visit the shop, always welcoming, and of course, no matter how busy he was, Ron would invite you to taste any new cheese they had in stock. If you were undecided what to buy, he would say “Have a try of this” and proffer a small chunk of cheese from the cheese board.

Mr. Ronald Bedford
Mr. Ronald Bedford ~ “Have a try of this”

Mr. & Mrs. Bedford used to travel all over the local area giving talks to various organisations, such as Womens Institute, and always taking with them a variety of cheeses to be sampled after the talks. This too was a successful part of the enterprise, as it brought even more customers to the shop.

Like other people who have moved to Sutton Bridge, we found it amazing how many friends we had who wanted to come and visit. We took all our visitors to the Cheese Shop and it became an essential stopping point on our tourist route.

Our local MP was a regular visitor, as well as some from further afield. Another snippet Ron told us, was that eminent consultants from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital used to come into the shop to purchase cheese to go with the fresh bread rolls they had already bought in King’s Lynn before they went out for a few hours bird watching on the marshes, north of the East Bank Lighthouse.

[The photographs shown above are the copyright of the Bedford Family and they are reproduced here by kind permission]

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Sutton Bridge Airfield was situated in what is now known as the Wingland Enterprise Park. The history of the airfield is mostly confined to the archives although there are still some villagers in Sutton Bridge who remember when the airfield was a hub of activity and a training site for would-be pilots in the Second World War.

RAF Sutton Bridge hangars and landing ground
RAF Sutton Bridge Airfield: hangars and landing ground.

There was a strong bond between the village and the airfield. The airmen enjoyed their posting at Sutton Bridge because of the good food they were served – fresh vegetables, grown locally and generous rations of meat from local farmers. Inevitably the young women of the village were soon dating the dashing young men who were stationed there. Many romances flourished and after the war several servicemen returned to marry local girls they had met before and during the war.

Sutton Bridge Armament Practice Camp opened in 1926 and its first commandant was Flt. Lt. A. R. Mackenzie. It was his job to set up a firing range on the marshes near Gedney Drove End, about five miles from Sutton Bridge, and to establish and maintain ground targets for the firing range and bomb-dropping by aeroplanes.

Accommodation was very basic: bell tents and wooden huts for the men: officers were billeted in Sutton Bridge. The runway was grass reinforced by pierced steel planking.

RAF Sutton Bridge Airfield
RAF Sutton Bridge Airfield - showing the wooden huts and bell tents accommodation

Air gunnery practice took place from April to the end of October, Monday to Saturday midday. By 1929 aircraft from almost the entire RAF squadrons had completed a two-week stay. The success of the Camp and Range brought about the expansion of the aerodrome and the enlargement of the range. Accidents sometimes happened during training: a pilot and a gunner were killed in two separate incidents.

Throughout the thirties Sutton Bridge Airfield flourished and in 1933 the Officers’ and Airmen’s messes were opened and telephones connected the Camp, the Range and the wireless Station. In 1934 the ground firing range was operational. Towing aircraft had cables that had targets attached and flew at heights of between 1,000 and 2,000 feet. It must have been a dangerous exercise as pilots had to rely on hand signals from the observer in the towing vehicle. Crashes were inevitable and with loss of life.

During the Second World War, Supermarine Spitfires arrived at Sutton Bridge and pilots were prepared here for the Battle of Britain. In August 1940, the Luftwaffe attacked RAF Sutton Bridge but were beaten back at the Terrington ‘Q’ site , which was a decoy site. After many attempts over several weeks, a single Heinkel He111, probably guided by the River Nene, suddenly appeared out of cloud and drizzle and dropped nine bombs on the airfield, attacking it with machine gun fire, before flying off. The Luftwaffe came again in May 1941 as part of nationwide raids against UK airfields.

RAF Sutton Bridge: pilots and Spitfires
RAF Sutton Bridge: pilots and Spitfires

A visit to the War Graves in St Matthew’s Church reveals many servicemen who lost their lives whilst serving or training at Sutton Bridge. Many came from Canada, Australia and Poland and what is now the Czech Republic. Lack of pilot experience, due to being trained so quickly, contributed to loss of life. Most accidents, it seems, were mid-air collisions caused by inexperienced pilots becoming disorientated or simply by showing off. One Hurricane crashed near the Bridge and the unfortunate pilot was burned to death. Injured airmen were taken to Peters Point House which was used as a hospital.

Churchyard of St Matthew, Sutton Bridge
War Graves in the Churchyard of St Matthew, Sutton Bridge

A huge number of squadrons passed through Sutton Bridge because the airfield was an important pilot training site. Guy Gibson, of ‘Dambusters’ fame was one of the trainees at Sutton Bridge. The airfield’s greatest moments occurred during 1940-42 when it became Operation Training Unit 56, and after 1942, when the Central Gunnery School moved in to use the nearby target ranges. With it came Wellingtons, Spitfires and Hampdens. When the gunnery school moved to a permanent base in Kirton in 1944, RAF Sutton Bridge was closed and the Ministry of Agriculture took it over. The Potato Marketing Board re-ploughed the land. Today there are few remains of the old airfield to be seen.

The Royal Air Force Memorial at Sutton Bridge
The Royal Air Force Memorial at Sutton Bridge

In September 1993 a memorial dedicated to all who served at RAF Sutton Bridge was unveiled near the Cross Keys Bridge, within sight of the old airfield. Ernest Mottram, who was the first airman to arrive at RAF Sutton Bridge in 1926, performed the honour.

Airfield Focus 65: Sutton Bridge by Alistair Goodrum ISBN 1-904514-15-4 (GMS Enterprises, Peterborough)
‘Airfield of Memories’: article in Lincolnshire Free Press, January 7th 1986

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The railway between Sutton Bridge and King’s Lynn was built in 1864 and the Midland and Great Northern Railway (M&GN)* bought the road bridge that had been built by Robert Stephenson in 1850 and used the southern section for the rail track, which saved the cost of building a separate railway bridge. When improvements to the line were carried out at the end of the nineteenth century, the railway company decided to replace this bridge with a combined road-rail swing bridge. It cost £80,000 and was operated by hydraulic power. The tall green tower that can be seen as the A17 meets the roundabout at Sutton Bridge once housed the hydraulic machinery. (See also the article on the three bridges on BW’s Listed Buildings page.)

The road and rail crossing over Cross Keys Bridge looking East towards King's Lynn
The road and rail crossing over Cross Keys Bridge looking East towards King's Lynn

The Third Cross Keys Bridge was built in 1894-7 and was sited 100 feet south of Stephenson’s bridge. It was a busy line: 60-80 trains crossed the bridge every day and opened to allow shipping to pass through about five times a day. The Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway enabled many other separate lines to be joined up so that Nottingham, Leicester and Peterborough could connect with King’s Lynn, Cromer Norwich and Yarmouth and Lowestoft. All in all it was Britain’s largest joint line, covering a total of 183 miles.

A painting by The Reverend Ivan Lilley of one of MG&N's engines passing over the Cross Keys Bridge at Sutton Bridge
This is one of MG&N's engines passing over the Cross Keys Bridge at Sutton Bridge. Its livery is a practical brown rather than the 'golden gorse' of earlier engines. The painting by The Reverend Ivan Lilley was painted in 1978, 30 years after the nationalisation of the railways.

Interestingly, Sutton Bridge was where the line from Peterborough met the line from Spalding and the west. Sutton Bridge Station was also notable in that it had two platform faces serving one railroad, similar to that at South Lynn.

Aerial photograph showing railway track layout at Sutton Bridge
This photo shows the line of the railway from King's Lynn and the east and the diverging lines to Wisbech, Peterbough and Spalding and beyond. It also shows the 'Wood train' line to the port in the centre of the photograph. Also visible is the station platform between two lines.

The M&GN had its own engine works at Melton Constable, where it built its own engines, which in the early days were painted in ‘golden gorse’ (yellow) but which was later changed to brown. Today, there is some evidence to be seen of the railway’s existence at Melton Constable in its station, characteristic railway lamp standards and the water tower that served the Railway Works; the cutting to the west and nearby and the flat grassed-over area where the turning table was situated.

The Stanier LMS 43142 locomotive heading  westbound from South Lynn
This Stanier LMS 43142 is westbound from South Lynn.
Credit: Dr Ian Allen, reproduced in M&GN by MD Beckett & PR Hemnell (Becknell Books-1981)

This was a busy line, not just for holidaymakers and business traffic, but also for freight such as coal, fish, flowers, fruit, sugar beet and other arable produce. Cattle were also brought by train to the slaughter house at Sutton Bridge from the cattle market in King’s Lynn.

It was also a line that had among its main features many bridges that crossed dykes and drains, and our own bridge at Sutton Bridge and the one at South Lynn being the most notable. However, the largest bridge of all was the one at Yarmouth that crossed Breydon Water. It was built with five spans, one of which opened to allow water craft to pass. It was the system’s largest engineering feature.

At Murrow, two lines crossed each other on the level, the GN&GEJR (Great Northern & Great Eastern Joint Railway), March-Spalding section. This resulted in an interesting flat crossing.

In 1923 four large railway companies were formed: the London Midland & Scottish (LMS); the London & North Eastern (LNER); the Great Western (GWR); and the Southern. The M&GN remained ‘joint’, the Midland becoming the LMS and the Great Northern, the LNER.

Cross Keys Bridge, looking west showing both a train and a car crossing the river Nene
Looking west showing both a train and a car crossing the river Nene.

So the railway that passed through Sutton Bridge from Bourne, Spalding, Peterborough, Wisbech and across country to Norwich, Yarmouth and Lowestoft remained ‘joint’ until the railways were nationalised in 1948. It continued to operate until British Railways closed it in 1959. As most of the larger centres (Cromer, Sheringham, King’s Lynn and Norwich) were already served by rail, it was uneconomic to duplicate routes. Many felt its closure was a ‘dry-run’ for Beeching in 1963/4. The instability of the bridge over the River Ouse may have contributed to the closure of the Sutton Bridge section.

However, some sections survived due to the importance of the railway for transporting freight. This included the long line from South Lynn to East Rudham which was used for carrying grain.

It was during the 1950’s that the railway was at its peak. Many folk in this area still remember taking the train to Hunstanton and would walk with their families carrying buckets and spades and other accoutrements for a day at the seaside from their village to the stations along the line between Sutton Bridge and Kings Lynn and beyond to the North Norfolk coast.

An eastbound train about to cross the bridge before the railway was closed in 1959
An eastbound train approaching the Cross Keys Bridge at Sutton Bridge. We have been told that the two people waiting to cross are Robin Scott and Mrs Bliss.
( If anyone can confirm this, or correct it if we are wrong, we should be pleased to hear from you.)

*(It is affectionately known to some local enthusiasts as the Muddle and Get Nowhere Line!)

In 1912, Hilare Belloc** made his way to Sutton Bridge from Wisbech by train and marvelled that Wisbech had two railway lines and two stations. From one of these stations, he travelled to Sutton Bridge. His plan was to cross the River Nen (as he described it) and walk along the shore of the Wash to Lynn. However, when he got to Sutton Bridge, he discovered it (the bridge) to be ‘a monstrous thing of iron standing poised upon a huge pivot in mid stream.’ He noted that ‘it bore the railway and the road together’ and that it had been designed to swing open on its central pivot to let the boats pass and swing back ‘exactly to its place with a clang’ but when he reached it he found it was ‘neither one thing nor the other’. It was ‘twisted so much that the two parts of the roads (the road on the bridge and the road on the land) did not join.

Expecting to see a boat pass, he was surprised to find that it was open because a man was cleaning it. The man did not hurry his task and did not answer when Hilaire Belloc asked how long it would take. And so he waited and people gathered on both sides: men with bicycles, men in carts, on foot, on horseback, young men, old men, women and little children; ‘they gathered and increased’ becoming as ‘numerous as leaves.’ Once more, Mr Belloc, being nearest to the gate, asked when they might pass. He was told by a Fenland man on duty there that he could pass when the bridge was shut again. Once more, Mr Belloc asked when that would be. The man asked if he ‘could not see that the man was cleaning the bridge?’ After making a bit of a fuss the bridge was shut and the gate opened and ‘in a great clamorous flood, like an army released from a siege,’ everyone ‘poured over’ ‘into Wringland’ (as he called the area)

**Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) was an Anglo-French writer of essays and poetry, among other things.

To see a journey John Betjeman made on the Great Eastern Railway connection from King’s Lynn to Hunstanton: ‘King’s Lynn to Hunstanton, a film made by British Transport Films try

For keen railway buffs, who are interested in the engines, an interesting book to read is M&GN in Action by MD Beckett and PR Hemnell, (Becknell Books, King’s Lynn) ISBN 0 907087 04 3 (1981)

Other information gleaned from Sutton Bridge – an Industrial History by Neil R Wright with help from Beryl Jackson Society for Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, ISBN 978 0 903582 37 7

• From Hills and the Sea: the Sea-Wall of the Wash, H. Belloc ** — Methuen & Co. Ltd. 1910

We have attempted to trace the copyright of the above images, but some without success. If anyone knows to whom they should be attributed, we shall be glad to acknowledge this.

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Every Spring our Village Green is carpeted with a display of golden daffodils glowing beneath the walnut trees, that are about to burst into leafy greenness and welcoming shade in the hot summer months.

Daffodils on the Village Green at Sutton Bridge
Daffodils blooming on the Village Green at Sutton Bridge

Sutton Bridge is fortunate in having a number of green open spaces, some of which have children’s play areas on them; others are places where people walk their dogs, or engage in recreational activities. We need to preserve these and cherish them.

Tom's Wood in Sutton bridge
Tom's Wood

I wonder how many people in Sutton Bridge know that a Sutton Bridge schoolgirl, Eliza Ireland, recalls that in 1875, she, as a local schoolgirl, danced beneath the maypole on the Village Green, near the Bridge Hotel. This Green was thoughtlessly swept away to make room for the approach road to the third bridge to be built across the river Nene in 1897. That was in the days when public opinion was neither sought nor considered. Today there would have been an outcry against such an action. So how fitting that when the railway disappeared that the village Green should be resurrected almost on the same site to become the attractive space it is today.

View of part of the Memorial Park
Part of the Memorial Park

This part of Sutton Bridge is the oldest part and where most of its interesting history is centred—from the earliest settlement made up of itinerants who earned a living guiding travellers across the dangerous Cross Keys Wash, to the development of the present-day port, and the industries that grew around it. This is where the church, St Matthew’s, formerly known as Sutton St Matthew’s, was built and where the railway station and Station House were erected. Nearby the old secondary school was sited, opposite the parade of shops and the coaching inn (the New Inn). The Village Green is included in this conservation area.

View of the Lime Street Play Area
Lime Street Play Area

This area, that encompasses several listed buildings, including the Cross Keys bridge itself, is part of the planned conservation area, which is almost at the completion stage and is currently in the hands of the South Holland District Council awaiting finalisation. Unfortunately, the project is on hold because there is no Conservation Officer in place and while other officers are currently dealing with conservation projects, this is done on a priority basis.

There are some people in Sutton Bridge who want to turn the Village Green into a car park! This is an outrage and an offence against environmental sensibility. What Sutton Bridge does not need, especially at this end of the village, is more car parking spaces! What for? Whom would it serve? Anyone can see that this would totally destroy what is an amenity for the whole village as well as a pleasant oasis and a welcome sight for travellers approaching the bridge from the west. The magnificent bridge is complemented by the Green and its trees. We must preserve these just as we need to preserve all the beautiful areas of Sutton Bridge against every unthinking invasion.

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On August 22nd 1893, a group of trippers from Sheffield arrived in Sutton Bridge, probably by train. They had come to fish in the fenland drains and decided to take a pleasure trip on the River Nene. They hired a boat to take them down the River Nene to the Wash Estuary beyond the lighthouses.

The boat owner was Edwin Burton and his 12-year-old son, Bernard, acted as his crew. The boat was a small open sailing yacht, not particularly big for eight people, plus two crew.

They set off from the riverside at Sutton Bridge and sailed past the port and the moored ships, no doubt enjoying the thrill of being on a fast flowing river. They had not gone very far, when the wind quickened and a squall from the west from the direction of Petts Lane funnelled through a copse of nearby trees and caught the boat as it sailed past.

The boat overturned and the occupants were thrown into the water. Everyone, apart from a woman from the Sheffield party, was drowned. She was fortunate in that David Longlands, who lived at Nene Lodge, was nearby and saw the accident. He was able, with the aid of his horse whip, to haul the woman ashore.

Drawing of the boat that capsized

Edwin Burton and his family had lived in Sutton Bridge for generations and this story was told to me by one of his descendants, our local historian, Beryl Jackson. After the tragic event, Edwin Burton’s friend designed and distributed a pamphlet to commemorate the boatman and his son.

pamphlet to commemorate the capsized boatman and his son

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The coast of Lincolnshire, The Wash and North Norfolk coast are particularly prone to sudden storm surges which if the coastline were not defended, would result in inundation.

The January/February 1953 storm surge caused the worst floods in living memory at that time and affected the East coast of Britain and northern Europe. Three hundred people were drowned and thousands were left homeless. Nearly 100,000 hectares of agricultural land were under water from Lincolnshire to Kent and included some parts of London.

Custom House Street flooded IN 1953
Custom House Street flooded in 1953

Mr Richardson inspects the flood damage in his home in Custom House Street after the 1953 floods
Mr Richardson inspects the flood damage in his home in Custom House Street after the 1953 floods.

Since then the sea defence systems have been strengthened and raised and are regularly monitored for breaches and repaired when necessary. Rising sea levels (due to climate change) have resulted in improved defence systems including more public awareness of the flood risk of living in these coastal areas.

The Environment Agency has two Shoreline Management Plans (SMP) which cover the Lincolnshire coast over the next 100 years. The intention is to 'hold the line' and keep pace with rising sea levels and by maintaining sea defences.

In January 1978 another sea surge of similar levels to the 1953 storm surge caused considerable damage on some parts of the East coast between north Lincolnshire and North foreland (Kent) but the results were less severe than those of 1953.

Sea surges along this coast and in northern Europe have been documented since 13th and 14th centuries but more recently, in 1897, 1906, 1928, 1949 and 1978, severe storms caused widespread flooding and damage.

Nobody knows when the next big storm will hit. More recently, in 2006 and 2007 major storms affected defences in the Norwich/Lowestoft area and there was a flood risk warning given in our area too. However, the Environment Agency (EA) monitor river and sea levels 24 hours every day and offer a free service—Floodline Warnings Direct— to provide flood warnings to property owners.

Fortunately for us the Wash has a good coastal defence system, partly due to the effect of the mud flats and the salt marshes which give extra protection by reducing the energy in the waves. There is a co-ordinated programme of supervision and maintenance carried out by the EA and the Inland Drainage Boards. We live in a well managed and maintained area. However, we should all remain vigilant and aware.

There is a possibility that if sea levels rise significantly, 'coastal squeeze' will result in loss of foreshore and/or coastal erosion and threaten the sea defences. The EA's SMP is flexible and limited managed realignments can be taken where necessary.

Local people remember stories told to them of sea surges and some remember the 1978 one very well.

One resident recalls that her great grandfather was a sluice keeper at Guy's Head before the sea defence wall was built and being well versed in visible weather warnings, he knew that a sea storm was likely soon. So he quickly organised his family and they left their cottage and hurriedly made their way inland. Fortunately for them they survived but their home and all their belongings were lost in the flood.

Since the above paragraph was written, more information about this event has come to the attention of the writer.

Early in the spring of 1883, an exceptionally high tide: over 17ft (approx 4½ metres) occurred at Sutton Bridge and blew round the ‘Hospital Bank’( Guy’s Head) to about ½ mile from the West Lighthouse. This was before the existing bank was built. It exposed the sluice (known since then as the ‘Outfall’) and destroyed the Sluice keeper’s cottage.

Apparently the sluice keeper, a Mr George Burton, had been watching the flow of the tide and shortly after eight o’clock went indoors and told his wife that as the tide had begun to turn, they were safe. However, almost at the same moment, he heard a rushing of water and from his front door, he saw the water surging from the bank towards his home. He quickly hurried his family out and led them towards the lighthouse where they found refuge from the flood. Within an hour their house had vanished.

This surge caused a breach in the bank and consequently the sea quickly overflowed into the marsh behind that had been enclosed in 1865. As the cross bank had not been maintained, the water quickly spread. The contents of George Burton’s home were carried through the breach by the ebb tide and some of it was later found on the Wingland outer marshes, having been washed up by succeeding tides.*

Another local man, George Barton, who was born in the East Bank Lighthouse in 1915, wrote in his memoir that his father was engaged in building to 1917 sea bank. They used wheelbarrows and planks and the bank was completed using steam dredging machines owned by Mornement and Ray. This involved two engines, one on the land side and one on the sea side. They pulled a dredging bucket between them and tipping the contents out to make the bank. This bank extended to Terrington Marsh.

Sea defence banks
Map to show the development of sea defence banks between the River Nene and the River Great Ouse (1775-1974)

In 1953 more land was reclaimed from the Wash. The bank had just been completed when on the night of January 31st/February 1st a fierce storm blew up with gale force winds and high tides. For the next few nights, twelve men had to patrol the bank to look for damage. George and his friend walked along the top of the bank and it was as he said, 'as if we were paddling in the sea'! George and his friend decided that if the bank slipped, they would go with it and they both headed quickly back towards the Lighthouse. Fortunately for them and Sutton Bridge, the wind suddenly eased and by the time they got back to the Lighthouse, the tide had turned, and the bank was saved.

However, the next morning a big shock awaited them. The spot where they had been walking the night before had been washed away leaving just the inside casing less than two feet wide. The next three weeks were spent sand-bagging the holes.

George said that if the 1953 sea bank had not held, then the enclosure behind it and the 1917 bank would have flooded. The 1917 bank is 9 feet lower that the 1953 sea bank and this might have been breached too.

Another resident recalls the January 1978 flood. Her account can be read below:

The Floods of January 1978

We had moved to Bridge House East in April 1977 and had been assured that there was no risk of flooding.

One dark evening, the following January, around 7 or 8 pm, the north wind blew straight down the river rushing the high tide inland. I remember looking out at the river and thinking that I had never seen it moving so fast. Motorists across the other side of the water had parked and aimed their headlights on to the river to see it more clearly. Being so new to the area, I was unsure what to expect.

My brother, who lived in Essex, telephoned to see if I was all right, as the extreme weather had been reported on the radio news. I assured him that I was but described the fast flowing river and he suggested I phone the Police. I did and was told to stand by. Stand by, for what, I asked? Evacuation, they said.

My husband was at that time working in Wisbech and I phoned to leave a message for him to return home as soon as possible, advising him to take the country route, via King John Bank, as it seemed likely that the bridge itself would soon be impassable. I assembled the cat and dog, fetched the cat basket out of the shed, put on a warm coat and watched the water still rising fast.

By the time my husband arrived home, the tide had turned, just skimming the bottom of the bridge. We walked across it to look down on the very high level of the water, where it was still almost touching the bottom of the bridge. At that time we didn't realise that Wharf Street and Custom House Street, on the west side of the river, had already been flooded, the river overflowing the banks near the Quay Flats, which I believe were still warehouses at that time. We were thankful that the tide had turned at this particular time, otherwise our home might have been flooded too.

The following morning we travelled to Wisbech, to Isle College, where we both worked and walked into the building to find scores of refugees filling the rooms. We made our way to the staff room and found my mother-in-law sitting in the corner—herself one of the refugees.

We were naturally shocked, not realising that Wisbech had fared much worse than Sutton Bridge. The River Nene had breached the banks and flowed into the housing estates on the east side, where Mum lived. She had been rescued when the water had reached a depth of three feet in her ground floor flat and had first of all been taken to a school and then transferred to the College. Naturally we asked her why she hadn't got in touch with us. She said she thought we would have been in worse straits than her, living as we did even closer to the river.

The aftermath of the flooding for her was a lot of mopping up. The waters receded and left a thick muddy sludge and many ruined household items. The College closed for the remainder of that week and we helped Mum to clear up and fill in insurance claim forms. The Council provided large blower heaters to dry out the houses but Mum remained in her flat with peeling wallpaper for several months before eventually getting back to normal. The flat needed redecorating and new carpets and furniture.

Soon after, flood barriers were erected in Wisbech, King's Lynn and Sutton Bridge.


Storm Surge of 11 January 1978 on the East Coast of England (Introductory paragraphs Steers, Stoddart, Bayliss-Smith, Spencer and Durbridge –The Geographical Journal July 1979)
Flooding (South East Coastal Group —
Memoirs of G. R. Barton
The January 1978 Flood (Peter and Maureen Hunt)

*This information was extracted from ‘A History of Long Sutton (South Lincolnshire): FW&BA Robinson: published 1965(printed by Warners (Midlands) Ltd, Bourne, Lincs. (which in turn had been extracted from Interesting Gleanings: published by May & Co. Market Street, Long Sutton, 1906)


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At Guys' Head, where New Road and Guy's Head Road meet, known locally as 'Chapel Corner, is where the Lutton Marsh Methodist Chapel is situated. The foundation stone was laid by Sir Richard Winfrey on August 26th, 1936. It was built with money from local residents and other beneficiaries, whose names or initials are on stones placed above the foundations and run the length of the four walls.

Lutton Marsh Methodist Church
Lutton Marsh Methodist Church at 'Chapel Corner'

Travelling along Guy's Head Road, towards the West Lighthouse, about a mile between Leam Sluice and the West Lighthouse, where the road bends sharply towards Gedney Drove End, is where another chapel once stood. This is St Philip's Mission Church.

St Philip's Mission Church
St Philip's Mission Church, which once stood near the West Lighthouse.

It was built in 1869 as a Chapel of Ease for the labourers working on the making of the New Cut of the river Nene towards Crab Hole. It was later called St Philip's Mission Church and was affiliated to St Matthew's church at Sutton Bridge. St Philip was one of the twelve apostles.

Before that it was known as the Mission House and is mentioned in A History of Long Sutton by FW and BA Robinson. In the March 1883 flood, the Gedney Common enclosure bank gave way and was over-topped by flood water, causing serious flooding of the marsh. However, the Leam Sluice held and consequently the West Lighthouse and the Mission House were saved.

approximate position of St Philip's Mission Church
The approximate position of St Philip's Mission Church

The Mission House later came into disuse and became derelict. One local resident, Arthur Edgley, remembers that as a twelve-year-old in the early 1930's going inside the Mission House. He was walking with his mother from his home at Lutton Marsh to see his aunt who lived at Walpole St Andrew. The rain came on and they took shelter inside the Mission House, which even then was no longer in use. He remembers the inside as being dark and dank and that there were hymn books on some of the pews, although many were badly nibbled by mice.

Arthur Edgley
This was the small boy who took refuge in the church in the 1930's!

The Mission House was demolished sometime during the Second World War, probably shortly after the army occupation in that area. Another local resident, Ida Neal, remembers cycling in 1940 towards the West Lighthouse with her sister and an evacuee who was billeted with them and she can confirm that the Mission House was no longer there then.

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LAND GIRL 1942-1945

Nita R. has lived in Sutton Bridge since 1947 when she moved here after marrying her husband, Bill. They met in 1942 on a Wings for Victory* Night at a local pub, while she was working as a Land Girl at Honington, near Ancaster. Bill was in the First Airborne Division at Carlton Scrope. The met in 1942

(* Wings for Victory' was part of the Government's way of encouraging people to contribute to the War Effort. Each of the Services organised National Weeks. The army had 'Salute the Soldier Week', the Navy had 'Naval Week' and the Air Force had 'Wings for Victory Week'. The public were encouraged to organise fund-raising activities locally as well as buying War, Savings and Defence Bonds, and Savings Certificates, as well depositing cash in local Post Offices and Banks.)

Nita was born in 1926 at Gedling in Nottinghamshire where her father worked as a Deputy in the mine there. Her grandfather was a market gardener and also ran a greengrocery business from the front room of his house. There was always plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables available as Nita was growing up, a fact she attributes to her good health and strong bones today!

After they married, the couple moved to Sutton Bridge because her husband didn't want to live in Nottingham even though they had the opportunity of buying a house from her grandfather. When her grandfather gave up the market garden, he built four houses on his land and offered one to Nita and Bill, but at that time, they couldn't afford to buy it, so they came to live in Sutton Bridge and moved in with her in-laws at No 2 Custom House Street.

Nita remembers her first visit to Sutton Bridge. It was during the war and in mid-winter. There was snow on the ground and a gale was blowing. The train from Nottingham was cold and badly lit. Wind whistled through a broken window in Nita's carriage and there was only a tiny blue light for illumination in the compartment roof. She had come on a visit to her husband's family. When she got out of the train at Sutton Bridge Station she said the wind nearly blew her back in! She thought she had come to the end of the world!

She was shocked to find that the family home had no bathroom and a vault toilet (a wooden seat over a hole with a back trap that was emptied every six months) out at the back. Nita thought it was disgusting, never having lived in a house without a bathroom and indoor toilet.

After living with her in-laws for seven years they managed to get a council house in Allenby's Close (now Royal Close). They lived there for five years and then decided to buy her present home because they worked out that it would be cheaper to pay back a mortgage than to keep paying the rent, which had recently been increased. Bill's trade was a decorator and plumber, so making their home warm and comfortable was not a problem.

Nita spent her time raising her family of four boys and doing various jobs locally that fitted in with her full-time job as a mum. She worked at the carrot-topping factory at Wingland and the Potato Marketing Board, as well as doing other jobs on the land.

The Land Girl

When war was declared, Nita was called up to do 'work of national importance'. She was not eligible for the forces because as a child she had had diphtheria and was in hospital for six months. The disease left her with a heart murmur and so she was ineligible for the women's services.

So she went to her local Labour Exchange to sign on and was sent to the Honington Hostel. This was part of a system known as 'War Agg'—War Agricultural Executive Committee. Local girls lived at home but those from further afield lived in a hostel. It provided labour for a number of villages in the area. Nita said they weren't even given a medical.

The girls were given their uniform of corduroy breeches, a green jersey, bib-and-braces overalls, smocks and a pair of Wellingtons. The hostel girls were also given a bicycle and some had to learn to ride them! Nita remembers that she was not issued with Wellington Boots like the other girls because her feet were too big!

Land Army girls
Nita's fellow Land Girls at the hostel at Honington. Nita is missing from the photo because by the time she got home from work, the photographer had been and gone!

She was one of two girls living in the hostel who became tractor drivers and she worked on her own for a local farmer. She was probably not given much instruction and no doubt, like many other land girls, had to maintain the tractor and implements herself. Her day was long: she had to set off to bike 3 miles to get to work for It was double summer time working during the war and sometimes she did not get home until 10pm. As part of their rations, each pair of girls was issued with a flask of tea, but because Nita worked on her own, she had to make do with a bottle of tea which had become cold by lunchtime! She got so used to cold tea, that even today, she still prefers to drink her tea cold! Ploughing and sowing was a monotonous job, but required a great deal of concentration; no time for 'larking about', but the hostel often put on social events and dances for relaxation and to keep up morale.

The Women's' Land Army first came into being during the First World War and was resurrected in 1939. It was not disbanded until October 1950. In 2007 DEFRA decided to present a commemorative badge to the Land girls who did so much to help the war effort. In July 2008 the badge was presented to over 3,000 former Land Girls. Nita is very proud of hers.

Nita left the Land Army when she got married and moved to Sutton Bridge.

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ARTHUR EDGLEY - P.O.W. 1104451

It was natural that young Arthur William Edgley, known to his friends as 'son' Edgley, born at Gedney Dawsmere on Easter Sunday, 1921—the 27th March that year—should join the RAF as a young airman in 1940.

Arthur and his grandmother
Arthur and his grandmother

When Arthur was five years old, RAF Sutton Bridge Armament Practice Camp was opened and its job was to set up a firing range on the marshes near Gedney Drove End, about five miles from Sutton Bridge. So it is not surprising that the young Arthur became very familiar with the many aircraft that flew above the marshes every week, from Monday to Saturday, from April until October.

By the time his family moved to Gedney Drove End in 1928, Arthur and his friends had got to know many of the airmen, especially those who played in the local football team. By 1929 almost every RAF squadron had completed a two week stay at Sutton Bridge, practising at the firing range and carrying out bomb-dropping exercises, Arthur recalls that empty shells fell on the roof of his home!

After five attempts to join the RAF, Arthur and his friend 'Smed' were finally accepted and after their medical at Lincoln they were sent to Blackpool in July 1940, where they were issued with uniforms and kit, On arrival at the railway station a RAF corporal who was on duty shouted out for new arrivals to 'fall in'. Arthur and his pal said they were not due until the next day, but the Corporal retorted: "Well, you're here today. So fall in and we'll have you now!"

Arthur volunteered for gunnery training and after several postings, including his first flight over the Holbeach ranges and several months in Canada, he returned to England as a Gunnery sergeant in September 1942.

During two of his missions, Arthur flew over Sutton Bridge and just before he was sent on his first 'op' in May 1943—to drop mines off the Dutch coastline at Terschelling, in Friesland—he flew over the house of his fiance, Joan, near Guy's Head. This successful mission was followed by others until the end of May when they were sent to Dusseldorf, This time the plane was hit by flak and they were given the order to bale out. What follows is Arthur's own account:-

Our skipper was having great difficulty holding the aircraft level, so he gave the order to bale out. My turret was out of action as it was driven by the starboard inner engine. I unplugged my oxygen pipe, intercom and electric wire to my flying suit, turned the turret with the hand control to centralise it, locked it, and opened the doors and got out. The slipstream blew the escape hatch panel away. I let myself out feet first. The slipstream hit me with terrific force swinging me sideways. Once out I could see old BK116 flying fairly level. With one mighty effort I pulled myself back into the aircraft thinking we might be able to ditch. I got back into the turret and told the Skipper I had been out and had struggled back again. "Good fellow, we may getaway." I told the Skipper that my turret was u/s and eventually got into the mid/upper turret and found that the two guns were ok.

Although the port wing was slightly low and the rudder over to one side, the two port engines were running well. As the plane's altitude was 9,000feet, the crew thought they'd make the coast, However, they lost altitude and the wireless operator began to throw equipment overboard. Despite this, the Skipper said they wouldn't make it and ordered everyone to bale out. The Navigator said that as the plane had crossed the German /Dutch border, they might stand a chance of escape.

Arthur continues:

I got to the front and saw Skipper and the Bomb-aimer struggling to hold the aircraft. I went down the steps to the front escape hatch, found the handle and turned. To my dismay, it broke off. I made signs to the others to go back, holding up the broken handle. As I passed the dials, I saw that the altitude was 1,500 feet. Skipper pointed to the back and Arthur opened the rear hatch. The navigator went first, slipping through into the night, I bent to go next but saw the flight engineer and let him go first and I got down, just going out when we hit the ground. The aircraft turned over and then sideways a number of times before coming to rest. I could hear fire burning and ammunition exploding. I picked myself up found I could walk, and then shouted to see if anyone else was there. The wireless operator answered, saying his leg hurt, but he found he could walk.

Arthur and his companion took off their flying gear and parachutes, threw them into the fires and set off to search unsuccessfully for the other members of the crew. The wreckage was strewn over a wide area. They decided to make their escape.

For the next couple of months, they were helped by Dutch and Belgians, who gave them food and shelter and passed them from safe house to safe house and finally made their way to Paris, arriving by train on July 9th 1943.

Believing they were finally safe and going home, Arthur and his comrades were to be disappointed. They were tricked and found themselves being searched and arrested by German soldiers who took them to the Gestapo for interrogation. Despite being in civilian clothes they were recognised as being 'English fliers'.

The four men found themselves prisoners in the notorious French prison—Fresnes—and were allotted to cell number 484, which became their 'home'; for the next six weeks. The cell (12 ft x 9 ft) was very basic: a toilet, basin and top, a folding bed fixed to the wall and one window of frosted glass. In the door was sliding eye hole for the guards to check up on them. Food consisted of soup, three thin slices of bread and a small amount of margarine, and sometimes jam, meat paste or cheese and coffee twice a day. Every two weeks the four men received a Red Cross parcel.

Fresnes - a Prison cell
Fresnes - a Prison cell

After further interrogation by the Gestapo, Arthur and his companions (eighty-eight airmen) were sent to a prison camp in Germany—Dulag-Luft—where they arrived on August 22nd 1943. A week later, Arthur was moved again, this time to Stalag IV B in Muhlberg, Saxony, where they were searched again and had their Red Cross parcels taken from them. They were showered vaccinated and had their hair shaved.

The Main Gate, Stalag IVB

POW 1 104 451
P.O.W. 1104451
POW Edgley - after his haircut
P.O.W. Edgley - after his haircut

Life there was miserable. The guards were not service personnel like themselves, but civilians who viewed the men as 'the Barbarians' who had mercilessly bombed their homes, killed their wives, parents and children'. These Germans were not aware of the air raids on England during 1940-41.

The camp was surrounded by wheat fields, but to the west was a large plantation of fir trees and three miles east of the camp was the River Elbe. The camp was divided into compounds designed to keep the different nationalities separate. The compounds were separated by a double row of barbed wire and the main road divided them. The barracks were large wooden huts that housed about 400 men. After Italy capitulated, more and more prisoners were brought to the Camp, and the division lines were relaxed and the inhabitants of the compounds mixed freely.

Plan of Stalag IVB, drawn by a fellow prisoner
Plan of Stalag IVB, drawn by a fellow prisoner

Discipline was not as strict as Arthur expected it to be. The day started with roll call at 6.30 am and from then, until 8.00pm (when the second and last roll call was called, the day was the men's. There were the occasional hut inspections, but not many.

The huts were dirty. No cleaning materials were supplied and makeshift brushes of bundles of twigs tied together were the only means the men had of sweeping away some of the dirt and debris. Each barrack room had a wash room but water was not supplied until late evening and then through a single tap. Sanitary conditions were very primitive and although there were outside latrines, these were designed to seat forty men in four rooms, with no privacy, each latrine being only about two feet apart.

There was a bath house, with hot and cold showers and, said Arthur, a very effective delousing unit. He said it was a pity that they could not take advantage of these conveniences more than once in three weeks.

Surprisingly there was no lack of sport, or space for sport, in the Stalag. The French compound was used as a football pitch and rugby was sometimes played in the large transit compounds. Each compound had its own Volley ball court.

Prisoners also devised their own entertainments: the French and the British had their own theatres and, during the winter, concert parties toured the huts and provided good in-house entertainment.

The British POW's also put on lectures, with subjects ranging from big game hunting (!) to the cost of dry cleaning (!). Lectures kept a hut quiet for an hour or so. Men kept themselves occupied with planning meetings on a range of subjects, including organising imitation horse racing and card games including a bridge 'league' for which cigarettes were prizes. There were also outdoor band concerts.

One of the huts, the Recreation Hut, was used as a Barber's shop, a sports store and for table tennis. When the Germans discovered a tunnel leading from this hut to six feet beyond the wire, they closed it down. Arthur said it would have only taken a break to the surface from this tunnel to take would-be escapees clear of the camp. The German punishment was to fill the tunnel with human excrement before handing the hut back to the men. It proved to be an effective way of discouraging tunnel diggers!

Other attempts to escape were made, and one of his 'muckers' went through the wire with several others one evening at seven o'clock but by 8 o'clock, they had returned , saying "It was too bloody cold" and they would not survive.

Parcels from home were most welcome,

Arthur remained in Stalag IV B for fifteen months until the camp was 'liberated' by the Russians on Aprl 22nd, 1945, who did not free the men immediately. Prior to that, and by March, conditions inside the camp had deteriorated. Men were very hungry; getting out of bed too quickly could bring on a black-out. But the occupants of Stalag IV B knew the war was nearly over. They knew that Dresden had been bombed in February. In March, three Mustangs machine-gunned the camp putting holes in several barrack blocks and knocked the searchlight off one of the German look-out perimeter towers. This was followed by American aircraft daily machine-gunning anything that moved, including one wood gathering party, killing and injuring eleven prisoners. Three-quarters of a mile away, a goods train was attacked and caught fire.

Then on Sunday 22nd April, the Camp Commandant called a meeting of the 'Head' men asking them if they wished to take their men to the west side of the River Elbe. Only the Poles left. Later that night the Germans left too.

When the Russian Cossacks arrived the next morning, all the inmates were paraded at 7am for a roll call. Orders were given to stay in the camp. There was to be no looting etc, but within hours most of the camp was out searching for food. Anything edible was foraged; potatoes, onions, wheat, pigs, cows and bullocks were brought into camp. Unfortunately, after being starved for nearly three months, the rich food left a number of men feeling ill. The following day, a visit by the prisoners to the local village found it almost deserted and supplies of porridge, flour, tinned and powdered milk, sugar and bottled fruit were brought into camp.

On April 30th, the inmates of Stalag IV B were taken by the Russians to Riesa where they were housed in the large brick houses once occupied by the German army. After three days of nothing happening, Arthur and two friends decided to try and reach the American lines. When the guard was not looking, they made a run for it. They walked for about thirty miles to a German village where an elderly German took them into his home where they were given food and a bed. The elderly German and his daughter slept on the floor.

After being given food, the three set off again the next morning and reached Wurzen by midday, where they found the Russians guarding the bridge over the river. Believing them to be American, the Russians let them pass and after crossing another bridge, they found themselves in American territory.

Hitching a lift on an American lorry, himself sitting on the front wing, Arthur and his companions reached Halle, and from there were taken to an airfield. After a couple of hours waiting, thirty-three Dakotas airlifted all the returning servicemen and landed in Nivelles, where RAF lorries awaited them and took them to Brussels.

The following afternoon, Arthur landed at Ford airfield, in Hampshire. After disembarkation and delousing and showering, they were given new uniforms and sent on to Costard where they were officially given paid leave for nine weeks.

Arthur arrived in Sutton Bridge on Sunday May 19th and went straight to his fiancé's home. A month later, Arthur and Joan were married in St Matthew's Church, Sutton Bridge.

Arthur and Joan on their wedding day - June 1945
Arthur and Joan on their wedding day - June 1945

Arthur rewrote this account in 1987 and it has been abridged by JB for the Bridge Watch Website in August 2011.

We are unable to acknowledge the orginal source of the photographs of Fresnes Prison despite efforts to find out. If anyone is able to do so, please let Bridgewatch know via

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A relative of William Burns Morris tells us that Thomas Burton was born in 1875 into a very successful business family in Hull. At that time there were a number of Swedish fish packing businesses that used similar containers to chip baskets to pack their salted fish in, so, given the business acumen of the Burton Family, it was not a huge step, using the same type of wood and method of construction, to take the production to one of the centres of the soft fruit growing areas. About 1910/1911 Thomas Burton, together with his Sewer and Foreman William Burns Morris and William's family, moved to King's Lynn as that was the port where the timber of the poplar trees, grown in Northern France and Southern Belgium, was imported.

In 1912 Thomas married Ethel Marian Baker, a newly qualified doctor and surgeon. They had two sons, Thomas in 1915 and Edgar in 1921. In October 1917 William Morris was called up and by February 1918 he had been killed in action.

Chip basketAs the war was being fought in France and Northern Belgium where the timber was coming from, most if not all the timber was full of bullets and shrapnel making it useless for making the chip baskets, so this meant a new source of timber was needed which would mean longer sea journeys and much larger ships. These larger ships would not be able to get into the docks at King's Lynn, so the only answer was to move to Sutton Bridge where the ships could unload.

With the war taking so many men from their employment, a wife, if she had the skills, could fill her husband's job until the husband returned, or as in this case did not return. This is what William's wife, Frances Ann Morris did. When the factory moved to Sutton Bridge, Thomas Burton and Frances took the train from South Lynn station to Sutton Bridge and walked to the factory. Thomas, in his bowler hat was referred to as "Chippo" Burton by all the local people.

Even before the Second World War there were few opportunities for working in Sutton Bridge, the main ones being the canning factory (now Premier Foods) Travis & Arnold (Wood Importers/cabinet makers and carpenters) Thomas Burton's Chip Basket Factory and, naturally, agriculture.

small chip basket punnetThe "chips" referred to in this article were made of very thin strips of wood which were made into baskets to be used by strawberry pickers on farms, or allotments, where strawberries were grown on a commercial basis. The filled baskets were then sent on their way by train from Sutton Bridge Station.

Originally the Chip Basket Factory was located in King's Lynn, but later moved to the west bank of the River Nene, in the place now occupied by the offices of KFF Potatoes. During the Second World War the factory was closed due to its being a non-essential industry. The poplar wood used to make the chip baskets was imported from countries such as France, Belgium, even Russia and Canada, eventually arriving in Sutton Bridge by goods train. Here the train was split and the wood transferred to the relevant companies by being shunted across Bridge Road by the Travis & Arnold tractor.

Men did the heavy work, unloading the logs with the use of a crane and piling them high. In order that the piles of logs remained stable, they were held together by "dogs" which were pieces of wood with spikes that were then placed in strategic parts of the pile. It was not an altogether pleasant job as flies were attracted to the sap. Large wood ants were often found in the logs and a bite from one of them was quite a painful experience. One way the men would amuse themselves was to catch flies and carefully tie a thread around their necks and then pin the thread to the end of the logs where the flies, unable to escape, would then attract wasps which ate them! Many of the men who worked at the factory started there straight from school until they did their national service, some returning for a time and others moving on.

Burtons Besto Chip Factory staff
Burtons Chip Factory Staff with Mr Charnley, Manager

When the girls were going out for the evening, they would go to work with their hair in curlers and wear a turban. It looks as if a couple of the girls were expecting to go out in the evening when the above photograph was taken.

At Burtons, the imported poplar trees were then cut into logs about 3 ft in length. As mentioned earlier sometimes these logs would be rejected as they were full of bullet holes; some still had the bullets in them from the First World War. The first process to making the baskets was to strip the bark off the logs and this was done by hand.

Poplar trees cut into logs

The logs were then soaked in water prior to being placed in a revolving lathe machine that cut them into very long, very thin strips.

In March 1960 the then Bishop of Lincoln, the Right Reverend Kenneth Riches, paid a visit to Sutton Bridge, and in particular visited the work places of J. R. Bateman & Co. Ltd (Plants), Thomas Burton & Co, Travis & Arnold and the granaries of S. Garner & Sons Ltd.

Les Scoulding, Rt. Rev. Kenneth Riches, Rev. Knight, George Crisp
Les Scoulding, Rt. Rev. Kenneth Riches, Rev. Knight, George Crisp

In the early days the baskets had rigid wooden handles, but these were later superceded by metal ones that could be folded down, also smaller punnets were made in which strawberries were sold in shops.

Before electricity was brought in, the power to run the machinery was by way of a boiler and this was fuelled by all the off-cuts and rejected logs.

In the days of the chip factory there was little in the way of Health and Safety measures, and there were many accidents, a few even fatal.

A large number of girls were employed using large machines to sew the long strips of wood into the baskets. Often their fingers would be bandaged or have plasters where they had suffered cuts while working at their machines. (Photo) These girls were always full of fun, and it was a brave man that walked into their workshop. They worked at machines in long assembly lines making thousands of strawberry punnets. The girls worked on a piece rate basis and turned out 150 gross of punnets per week. Rumour has it that one young lad was debagged as he went into the workshop and refused ever to go in there again; he was not the only one to refuse to go into that workshop either. It would seem that this was a very happy band of girls as they were always singing, especially to the popular tunes of the day played on the radio. It was amazing they could hear it above the noise of the machinery all around them.

Hettie Richardson (Ritchie) putting a handle on a chip basket
Hettie Richardson (Ritchie) putting a handle on a chip basket.

In the late 1960's the factory was sold to Besto in Wisbech, but the end of the wooden chips was then in sight with the coming of lighter, cheaper plastic punnets.

With the help of Mr. Button and friends, we have been able to name a lot of the people in the group photograph, but would like to be able to name a lot more. If you can help, please do not hesitate to contact Bridge Watch.

Mr. Harold Scott of King's Lynn, Family History of William B. Morris
Messrs. Tony Button , Ken Crane, and Mrs. B. Jackson of Long Sutton
Photographs: Courtesy of Long Sutton Civic Society, Mrs. N. Richardson.

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In 1875/6 a company was formed by special Acts of Parliament—the Sutton Bridge Dock Company. It was set up with a capital of £115,000 made up of £10 shares. The object of the company was to provide dock facilities at Sutton Bridge (part of the Port of Wisbech) in order to make it easier to export manufacturing goods and coal from the Midlands to Northern Europe. Sutton Bridge was chosen as it had a deep water channel access to the sea and a safe anchorage in the Wisbech Roads in the Wash. Up to this time, ships had anchored at the quayside and at low water cargo was off-loaded via pontoons.

Ships alongside the Quay 1866-81
Ships alongside the quay (1866-8).

Unloading wood at the Quayside
Unloading wood at the quayside.

The length of the new dock was to be 250 feet (approx. 76m), the water area of the dock itself would cover 8 acres (approx. 3 hectares, and the length of the quays 720 yards (approx 660 m)

At that time, coal was loaded onto foreign ships at one of the northern ports after taking on ballast (emptying a ship of its cargo and proceeding with an empty hold) at the eastern ports of Harwich, Yarmouth, Lowestoft, Ipswich, Lynn and Wisbech. This was costly and took longer. It was therefore considered more economical to have coal-loading facilities for their return trip at Sutton Bridge. For this purpose, it was decided that three 'state-of-the-art' coal staiths, capable of discharging 100 tons of coal per day, would be erected. It was further anticipated that this would result in Sutton Bridge becoming as profitable as the northern coal ports with an excess of exports over imports.

inside the new dock, showing the coal hoist
From inside the new dock, showing the coal hoist

Among the big investors was the Great Northern Railway, which up to that time had no direct access to any port along the East Coast. The Railway Company bought £10,000 of the shares which entitled it to use of the dock, although it had to pay for its own dockside facilities.

The other main investor was Guy's Hospital Trust, which owned most of the land where the dock was to be erected and subscribed £5,000 of the share capital.

In 1878 work began, but from the outset the project was beset with difficulties. Local opinion was sceptical, predicting that:"nothing would ever come of it", because of the danger of silt, on which most of the dock would be constructed. Some even said that excavation deeper than 12 feet (3½ m) would result in 'men, engines and horses being swallowed up'.

There was difficulty in engaging a firm of contractors after the original one withdrew. There was naturally strong opposition from the Port of Wisbech. In addition, one of the initial promoters, Mr G F Young, resigned before the docks were finished. It soon became evident that much of a vessel's cargo would have to be unloaded first to enable it to tie up in the new dock. It was even rumoured that some captains refused to allow their ships to dock there.

The noise and hubbub of the works, which took place night and day, must have been deafening. There were at least fifty horses and carts on the riverside and barges and other craft on the river. The steam dredger alone would have disturbed the peace and quiet of the residents. The foundations were laid between rows of pitch pine, 20 feet long (6 m) and 1 foot square (0.3 m) and driven eight feet (2½ m below the foundation level. The whole basin was lined with concrete, faced by blue bricks (manufactured on site) and fixed with Portland cement (not the usual lime mortar) as this was more durable in water. The dock gateposts were constructed from a very durable hard wood (greenwood from Demerara) and each gate weighed 35 tons. Although at first the gates were opened manually, it was intended that they would eventually be worked by hydraulic power.

On the dockside, a grain warehouse was erected. Railway lines connecting the Great Northern and Midland Railway systems covered the entire dock area, as well as over the swing bridge, giving access to all parts. On the eastern corner of the docks stood the 'Dock chambers'—the offices.

Successful passage of the 'Garland' into the basin

On May 14th, the local papers (the Lincolnshire Free Press, the Spalding Guardian and the Wisbech Standard) reported that on this particular fine Saturday hundred of sightseers gathered at the mouth of the dock to await the arrival at 6pm of the Garland, one of the largest and most valuable ships at that time. However, it was soon realised that there would not be enough clearance for the vessel to access the dock entrance because of the depth of mud and silt. In order not to delay the Garland's entry into the dock by too much, it was decided that some 300/400 tons of her cargo should be off-loaded before entering the docks.

With only 25 feet (7.6m) of water in the basin, the dock gates were finally flung open and the Garland, towed by the tugs Pendennis and the Isle of Ely, amidst the 'hearty cheers of the crowd' and with a pipe band playing Rule Britannia, 'quietly, majestically and successfully… went gliding in without a single hitch, right into the lock basin'.

'Immediately, the gallant barque was brought into position at the mouth of the dock…the spectators assumed a quiet and respectful attitude whilst the Revd. H T Fountaine, the respected vicar of Sutton Bridge, made a few remarks and offered a prayer.'

Ships anchored inside the new dock, showing the entry of the Garland
Ships anchored inside the new dock, showing the entry of the Garland

During the following month four ships left the dock loaded with coal or ballast and the first grain ship arrived with a cargo of maize.

A grand opening was planned for June 29th with a full day's entertainment for the general public. There was to be a 'contest for the pig', a flower show, a swimming match and a duck hunt, as well as an athletic contest. Tea for 12,000 inhabitants would be provided and the whole event would be capped by a firework display on the riverbank in the evening.

Disastrous occurrence

However, on June 9th, a Sunday afternoon, one or two strollers noticed that some earth had slipped near the dock. Naturally rumours soon began to circulate that the sides of the docks had collapsed; that the basin had emptied and the engine house and all the other valuable equipment had been destroyed. Immediately people flocked to the area to see this 'terrible disaster' but it turned out to be nothing like the 'wild and sensational stories' that were being spread.

What actually happened was that two huge pumping engines suddenly subsided into the silt to a depth of about 10 feet (3m) on the far side of the lock outside the walls near to the bridge. Within half an hour, a huge hole appeared, followed by a large fissure on the near side of the lock. Although the structural works of the dock basis were largely unaffected, the surrounding area must have looked like a mini-earthquake had occurred. Attempts were quickly made to repair the breaches but the water rapidly scoured away the silt so that water in the basin could be seen from the bank. Consequently the water found a course and drained, taking silt with it which soon piled up in the dock mouth.

Remedial action was undertaken, using gangs of navvies, to place sandbags in the 'weak point', followed by trainloads of London clay, tons of limestone clunch, rubble and lime. The situation was not helped by the high tides that occurred at that time. By Tuesday the damage was worsening and spreading beneath the entire length of the foundations. Ebb tides brought more and more silt into the lock sill at the riverside and no amount of labour or attempts at filling the hole could prevent the silt from escaping.

By Wednesday, all the concrete on three-quarters of the length of the dock on the north side had cracked and subsided. More trainloads of limestone clunch were thrown down the side to form a protective heap at the base. On Thursday the decision was taken to keep the lock gates open so that the tides had free passage. By Friday, the situation was easing and it was optimistically felt that the works would be restored within a few days. In the meantime, ships bound for Sutton Bridge were diverted to Lynn and other ports.

Crowds of onlookers still flocked to the area: '100 excursionists from Boston arrived in the steamer'. They had originally intended to share in the celebration, but eventually came to offer condolences. Local papers were filled with letters of outrage, advice, commiseration and scepticism. In one letter to the Free Press, dated 6th August, the writer, who signed himself 'Observer' stated:

I have observed for half a century that we have three classes of engineer, viz, the scientific, the amateur, and the practical and my experience has induced me to put most faith in the last.'

Another stated:

All the evidence and the deductions therefrom, point unmistakably to the fact of the basin having been excavated in a moving silt. It was signed: An Outsider.

Twenty-five years later, another letter writer was bemoaning the fact that the cause of the collapse was concrete, adding that the engineers took out eight feet of sand and replaced it with eight feet of concrete. If they had listened to the local 'old fashioned 'engineers, they would have learned that:

'eight feet of sand well piled and tied would be kept in place and held firmly, because no better foundation is when sand is held firmly, adding that when there is the least escape, it is almost like quicksilver, and may well be called quick sand.'

A lesson, too, for modern engineers working today in the Wash!

The cost of the disaster fell upon the shareholders. Even though the docks were made safe by the end of the week, the workforce was laid off until such time as a new plan had been worked out by the engineers and approved of by the directors.

Of course this plan never materialised and the entrance to the dock is now used by today's longer vessels (entering the River Nene astern) bound for Port Sutton Bridge, to turn round either before or after docking

The writer wishes to thank Mrs Ida Neal for the loan of her copy of 'A History of Long Sutton' by FW&BA Robinson, printed in 1965 by Warners'(Midlands)Ltd, who in turn used material published in the Lincs Free Press, the Spalding Guardian and the Wisbech Standard, and a local publication 'Interesting Gleanings, 1906)

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Sutton Bridge United Football Club was inaugurated in 1908 and affiliated to the Lincolnshire Football Association. Since that time many local people have supported the football club, serving on its committees, sponsoring and helping to raise funds.

Among them, George Milligan, who, although he was born in Clenchwarton and played football for Clenchwarton Rovers until he broke his leg in 1938 and had to retire from playing, gave nearly fifty years' service to SBFC. When he could no longer play football, he switched to refereeing instead.

After his marriage to Lilian in 1939, whom he met while passing her home on his way to work as a nurseryman in Terrington St Clement, the couple moved to Sutton Bridge and George continued refereeing and became Chairman of Sutton Bridge Football Club. He held this post for 20 years and was also a member (and later, vice-chairman) of The Peterborough District Football League's Management Committee.

George and Lilian Milligan celebrating their Golden Wedding anniversay 1989
George and Lilian Milligan celebrating their Golden Wedding anniversay 1989

One of George's most treasured possessions was a silver plate that was presented to him in 1983 by the Lincolnshire Football Association in recognition of 45 years service to football in the county.

At the Club's AGM following this, it was announced that the Sutton Bridge Supporters' Club had been resurrected after six years and that they had raised £145 for the club.

Before the war, the football club used to play on various 'pitches' in the village. Among them were Coopers Field (off Railway Lane), the RAF Camp and a field at the end of Wright's Lane. It was here in 1922 that the team had smart changing rooms, judging from the photograph below which shows the team posed alongside.

SBUFC 1922 team posing outside the Wright's Lane Pavilion
SBUFC 1922 team posing outside the Wright's Lane Pavilion

(Back row, third from left): Ted Guy, aged 22 and next to him, George Garner and at the end of the row, Fred Aubun.( Later, Peter Guy, Ted Guy's son, was to give long service to the SB Football Club, just surpassing his future father-in-law, George Milligan by six years! ) Also featured are (middle row l-r) Charlie Wright and 'Darkie' Burton (centre). (Front row) Two players Peter also remembered were (1st left) 'Tuppeny' Arnold and (3rd left) Dickie Moore

During the war, young airmen stationed at RAF Sutton Bridge would play for the team. Young Peter became friendly with them and often invited them home to take a bath after a game of football, or to have tea with him and his family.

The Memorial Park, known as 'The Rec' at that time, was not suitable for playing football, or any other game, because there was a pond in the middle. However, according to Peter, "this did not stop the village lads kicking a football over/under/through it, and getting themselves wet through into the bargain."

It was not until 1953, that the Football Club were playing on pitches in the Memorial Park and to commemorate Queen Elizabeth's coronation on June 2nd 1953, a new pavilion was erected in the Memorial Park by public subscription and built with volunteer labour.

Volunteers building the Memorial Park Sports Pavilion in 1952
Volunteers building the Memorial Park Sports Pavilion in 1952
George Crisp (carpenter), George Milligan (organiser) and Peter Bone, whose father kept the New Inn.

Some of this money was raised through a village collection using a bucket for people to throw in their spare change. Peter Guy remembers as a young lad, together with his friend, fetching sand and bags of cement in a wheelbarrow from King and Eyre's Builders' Yard (situated where Sedlec Mews now is). Among the volunteer labourers were also Freddie Rose (builder), Boy Reader (carpenter), Stewart Gilbert , Eric Warner and Tom Ransom. There was also a plasterer and a plumber. No doubt the men were well supported by plenty of cups of tea and sandwiches!

When the Pavilion was finally finished a commemorative plaque was placed on the Pavilion. Unfortunately this was later removed by vandals, but is now in the safe keeping of Peter Guy, ready to be reinstated if and when the Pavilion is renovated or rebuilt.

Peter Guy holding the Sports Pavilion 'Coronation' Commemorative Plaque
Peter Guy holding the Sports Pavilion 'Coronation' Commemorative Plaque

A furnace was installed when they built the pavilion and early every Saturday morning, George Milligan would light it so that the footballers could have a hot shower after their match.

In the early 1950's the team wore 'squares'. The team at that time were:

SBUFC wearing their 'squares' strip (early 50's)
SBUFC wearing their 'squares' strip (early 50's)
(Back row l-r): Trevor Burton, N Hubbard, Roy Burton, Ivor Burton, Dennis Wright, Mr Swift (who owned the Cinema & was a sponsor), unknown, John Pankhurst, Mr McAll and George Garner.
(Front row l-r): Megginson, Eldrigde, Friendship, Hallan and Broughton.

By 1954, the team was wearing 'stripes' and the line up for that year was:

SBUFC wearing their 'stripes' kit in 1954
SBUFC wearing their 'stripes' kit in 1954
(Back row l-r): Ted Guy, Charlie Gilham, Roly Burton, Ivor Burton, unknown, Mike Garner, Len Ogglesby, Mr Swift (owner of the Cinema and a sponsor).
(Front row l-r): Mike Gilham, Peter Guy, Dennis Wright, Scanny Waters, Reg Halham, Keith Garner.

At that time football kit was washed by the players but this caused problems when a footballer could not play the following Saturday. Mr Milligan then had to go round to the player's house, collect the kit and take it to the substitute. So it was decided to pay for the laundering of the kit. A subscription from the players paid for this service and the referee's fees. Mrs Milligan and Mrs Burton washed the kit and made the tea. They also formed part of a team that scrubbed out the pavilion.

In 1975, the club held its 75th Anniversary celebration football match with a game between fathers and sons. Needless to say, the sons won.

The 7th Anniversary Fathers and Sons match 1975
The 7th Anniversary Fathers and Sons match 1975

Among the 'son's team' are: Paul Guy, Peter guy's son and Ken Burton, son of 'Darkie Burton (see 1920 team posing in front of the Wright's Lane pavilion (photo 2). The match was played on the pitch in the Memorial Park and a shield donated by Mr J Carnell, of Carnell's Coaches, was won by the under 12's team.

SBFC under-12's team 1980's - shield winners
SBFC under-12's team 1980's - shield winners
photo - Wisbech Standard

Peter Guy

Peter Guy was born on October 5th 1931 and lived with his family in Railway Lane. He went to school in Sutton Bridge and when he left in 1946, aged 15, he joined Travis & Arnold as an apprentice joiner. He did his national service in the army and spent time in Egypt and Germany. On completion of his national service he returned to Travis and Arnold and gained his qualification as a bench joiner.

At school, Peter had always been keen on sport, especially cricket and football. In March 1952 he joined Sutton Bridge United Football Club, playing for the Reserves but soon became team captain and then played a few games for the first team. He continued to play until 1968, the year he married the daughter of the Chairman, Georgina Milligan. Their son Paul continued the family tradition by playing for Sutton Bridge football team.

After he retired from playing, Peter continued supporting the Club acting as linesman and physio and helping with the junior teams. After being made redundant in 1981, Peter was employed by the Parish Council to keep the Memorial Park and the Churchyard in good order. He also became the grounds-man and a committee member of the football club. In 1986 he became its Chairman and remained so until the end of the 2004/5 football season. Among his other roles was making the half-time tea for the players and acting as fixture secretary for the Peterborough & District Football League.

When he eventually retired in 2005 and in recognition of 53 years service to the Club, a special football match was held in the Memorial Park between the then present team and former players. Naturally the present players won 8-1! However, the former players' goal was scored by the present Chairman (2007-), David Earth, who said it was the first goal he had every scored!

Peter Guy's 53-years service commemorative match
Peter Guy's 53-years service commemorative match

Unfortunately, due to a nominations error within the Lincolnshire Football Association, Peter and his fellow long-service colleague from Holbeach United, Bryan Stamp, did not receive their long service awards to mark 50 years service to football within the county. However, thanks to the intervention of the Spalding Guardian and Lincolnshire Free Press Sports Editor, Nigel Chapman, a special commemorative certificate and cup was presented to both men in May 2005.The following year, both Peter and Bryan were awarded their engraved goblets and special badges by the Lincolnshire football Association.

Although he is no longer officially connected with the club, Peter still goes along to watch matches and he and Georgina still wash the kit!

Tony Judd

At some time in its history, during the late 60's/early 70's, Sutton Bridge United folded. But it was soon reformed, and after its resurrection changed its name to the Sutton Bridge Football Club. During the early 70's a young man, who was born and brought up in Holbeach, came to live in Sutton Bridge when he married his sweetheart, Carol Heib, the daughter of Hans Heib, the barber of Sutton Bridge. He was Tony Judd. Tony was a keen footballer and had refereed for some time in Holbeach and because he was a qualified referee, he soon got 'roped in' to help run the Sutton Bridge football club, particularly coaching the youngsters – 14/15 year olds, who Tony remembers as being 'boisterous, but good players'

After their reformation, the club went from strength to strength and enjoyed a 'meteoric rise' to success. One of the outcomes of this was to encourage the formation of a Youth team and in June 1980 the Club wanted to form an under-14 team and an under-16 team that would be able to play in the Nar Valley League the following season. Parents were asked to encourage their boys to join. This was at the time when Tony Judd became the new Chairman. On the Committee with him were Jerry Lowery, David Dewsberry, Martin Wayman, L. Knight, Douglas Minns, B. Smith, E. Warner, M. Aldhous and Pete Radeloff. George Milligan was re-elected President.

Relaying the turf in the goalmouths at the end of the season 1980
Relaying the turf in the goalmouths at the end of the season 1980
photo - Wisbech Standard

Tony Judd also recalls that at one time during that period, they had up to fifty players, enough for three teams and substitutes. Of all the fifty players, only three lived outside of Sutton Bridge. It was disappointing to Tony that when the new pavilion was built in Long Sutton twenty-one of his players left Sutton Bridge to join the Long Sutton football team. Clearly, the chance of a beer after the match was a great incentive. More left the following season.

Tony was Chairman for five years and he enjoyed it very much. His job included putting the nets up before matches, marking the pitch, washing the kit, writing up the match report for the three local papers, picking the team and 'running the line' (linesman's role). In addition, he also acted as coach – all this and a full time job as well.

A great deal of effort went into fund-raising events and finding sponsors for buying and maintaining kit and paying the ref's fee, which then was £7/8 per match. Among the fund raising events were dances, bingo sessions and raffles. In addition the players contributed between 50p/£1 per match to play, but this included the cost of the kit and it being washed afterward.

Some of the sponsors over the years have included: D&H Builders, Martin Wayman, Douglas Minns, Martin Baxter, the Garwell twins, Bill and Don)

Today the football Club is still going strong and is under the chairmanship of David Earth, with secretarial support from Jenny Sutton.

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To commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977, a Gala was held in the Memorial Park, Sutton Bridge. It was a great success which was repeated for many years afterwards. However, the tradition of holding a ‘gala’ in The Memorial Park goes back to the fifties and maybe even earlier. Resident Jack Earley remembers the wonderful displays of fruit and vegetables and particularly the year he won a pig in the skittles contest!

Over the intervening years there were more than a dozen galas put on by local enthusiasts for the benefit of the village. The Galas were organised by volunteers from the village and attracted people from a wide area. Local groups would enter floats which assembled at The Bridge Hotel before wending its way along Bridge Road, down Allenby Chase, and then to New Road via Princes Street before crossing Bridge Road into the Memorial Park, where stalls were set up and displays took place. Other events included a tug-o-war and a children’s fancy dress competition.

One Sutton Bridge resident, Tracey Crisp, remembers one particular year, 1984, when she was chosen to be the Gala Queen. Traditionally, the Queen was chosen from the pupils at Westmere Primary School. That year, they chose a Prince, too—Andrew Barnes. Tracey recalls the anticipation and excitement she and other children at the school felt as they prepared decorations for their float, which represented the Maypole dance, especially the flowers which trimmed the lorry lent by Watsons Coal. She remembers how excited she felt when sitting on the Gala Queen’s float along the route to the Memorial Park.

Another year, the Sunbeam Playgroup‘s float was on the theme of ‘Letterland’ and the Greyhound Pub entered their version of ‘The Rover’s Return’

In 1986, during the May Bank Holiday weekend, there was an Old Time Music Hall entertainment, a dance and barbecue and dance and a sports events for the children. On the Bank Holiday Monday, there was a colourful a parade along Bridge Road and included one representing the Girl Guides.

(Bridge Watch would be pleased to hear reminiscences from the organisers and participants in these earlier events.)

After the fourteenth 1990 Gala, the then Committee decided it could no longer carry on. In his opening address, the Chairman, David Dewsberry, appealed for more volunteers to help with the organisation of the Galas, or face the fact that the current Gala may be the last.

It was then that the South Lincs Environmental Group SLEG, who had entered floats in previous years and who won the award for the best original float for 1990, decided to take on the organisation of the popular annual event. They renamed it the Sutton Bridge Country Fayre. All the profits from the Country Fayres were ploughed back into the Community.

So it was that on a windy Bank Holiday Monday , May 27th 1991, over 3,000 people attended the first Sutton Bridge Country Fayre.It was opened by the then new vicar of St Matthew’s Church, The Reverend Graham Williams.  Over 20 organisations entered floats in the parade ranging from the Sunbeams Play group, Royal British Legion Ladies Group, the Methodist Playgroup and the Long Sutton & District Veteran Cycle Club.

There was also a display of veteran cars, motor cycles, tractors and a prototype bubble car. Other events included a fancy dress competition, a gymnastics display, a dog show, pony rides, fun sport include Taekwondo (Korean martial arts) and Sumi wrestler and gun-dog demonstrations by the Gedney Dyke Wildfowlers. A micro-light aircraft demonstration was also given. And something new then: laser shooting which was a new take on clay pigeon shooting.

The Memorial Park was packed with stalls and side shows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight made a special fly past in honour of the occasion. At the end of the day a family disco was held in the Bridge Hotel. The fly past was organised by Tom Rowe and one year, after the RAF had flown over, Lindsey Walton took up his red Messerschmitt!  He was lucky he was not to have been shot down!

The chairman of the SLEG country Fayre Committee, Mike Barton, who still lives in the village, said that everyone had worked hard to create lots of entertainment for all the family. The event raised nearly £6000 and the money was distributed among local charities.

The event continued annually for five years and each year a new ‘theme’ was adopted. A ‘Princess’ was selected with her attendants and her float followed the Breaston Highland Pipe Band which led the Parade.

The theme for the first year was ‘Country Bumpkins’ and committee member, Margaret Gower and Jenny Rowe, made 25 costumes for the stallholders and entertainment organisers. The signs were made by John Barker.

The following year the Fayre took on a ‘Medieval (1992) look’, and in 1993, the theme was the Wild West!

Despite high winds (again!), the Parade brought the crowds out to line both pavements on Bridge Road) which was led by the Breaston Highland Pipe Band Among the floats was one from Baxters fish shop on the theme of Captain Birdseye! On this particular occasion, Westmere CP School’s float, on the theme of Anthony and Cleopatra, received a runner’s-up cup. Also in the Parade was as a steel band as well as the display of vintage cars and a miniature covered wagon pulled by two huskies and a steamroller!

In 1994, Fairy Tales and Nursery Rhymes was the theme chosen and the Fayre was opened by Norfolk Radio Presenter, Wally Webb. The highlight of the Fayre in 1994 was again when a special fly-past by a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, again organised by Tom Rowe, took place. However, another incident occurred which was not planned.

The Country Fayre Princess, Sally-Anne Bedwell, was riding in her horse-drawn carriage with her attendants, when the horse shied, startled by the Breaston Highlanders Marching Band music and the Kirton Majorette spinning batons. It reared up and then fell to the ground, breaking one of the carriage shafts.  Fortunately, Arnie, the horse, was not injured nor were the young passengers who said later that they were a bit scared thinking the horse might get up and bolt, taking them with him! The girls were transferred to Wally Webb’s car and the Parade continued.

The fifth and final Country Fayre in 1995 was organised and this time the committee and stall holders wore a variety of fancy dress, ranging from a nun, a St Trinian’s schoolgirl, a town crier, a dog and a cat!  Again it was opened by Wally Webb of Norfolk Radio and this time the Princess, Leanne Barnes, was driven to the Memorial Park in a white landau.

The winning float was Disney World, entered by Mrs Warwick and the Suttonians. The usual attractions and sideshows again brought out the crowds, although not so many people turned out to wave to the Parade as it passed along the route. An extra exhibition was a display of vintage prams in the village Hall.  At the end of the day a disco with live music was held at the New Inn.

The SLEG Country Fayre Committee are still making awards from the monies raised by the Country Fayres.

It takes a lot of hard work, commitment and enthusiasm to organise and run such an event as this.  Hopefully, the building of the new community centre will inspire the next generation of Sutton Bridge residents to take up the challenge!

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by Maureen Hunt

The first week-long Art Exhibition was held at St Matthew's Church, Sutton Bridge, in August/September 1997, as a celebration of the Dedication of our church on 29th August, 1843. The Vicar at the time was the Revd Eileen Bangay and the exhibition was her suggestion. We are pleased to welcome her as our guest of honour at this year's exhibition in 2012.

There were several members of the parish who were amateur artists and belonged to Wisbech Art Club at that time, including myself. It was this group plus a few other friends we knew to be artists who exhibited their pictures at the first exhibition. These included the late Ena Caney, Sylvia Sayer, Cynthia Tilley, Mary Youngman, the late Dordie Cooper, and many others. The Sutton Bridge Art Club was set up after this first exhibition and our first meetings were in the old scout hut, now demolished.

I had myself made a habit of taking my own pictures to church events during the previous year, for instance, the Flower Festival, Christmas Bazaar and Spring Fayre. Members of the parish had been kind enough to buy my pictures, including Eileen and John Bangay, and I gave 50 per cent of my takings to the church.

In July 1997 a meeting of interested people was held to organise the Art Exhibition and by 8th August I recorded that I had received 30 titles for the catalogue. This, our very first exhibition was organised on a shoestring. We used any boards we could find on which to hang the pictures, even using an old door!

In the event, a funeral was held in the church at 11 am on Friday, 29th August, so we were not able to get into the church until 12 noon to hang all the pictures. I have no record of how many pictures were on display that year, but the church seemed quite full of them. We had invited a local council official as the guest of honour, but he did not arrive and our vicar did the honours! We sold 6 pictures that evening and by the following Tuesday 24 had been sold. I believe the total number sold that year got into the upper twenties.

On the following Sunday morning the death of Princess Diana was announced, which was a great shock to everyone, and we put a Book of Condolence in the church for visitors to sign. The event was to be closed the following Friday and artists and buyers were invited to come to collect pictures on the Saturday coffee morning. This, however, was the day of Princess Diana's funeral and the event was cancelled as a mark of respect and I telephoned all concerned to ask them to come in on the previous Friday evening. When this was happening, our missing guest of honour arrived, a week late! His name I cannot just recall.

Eileen Bangay was delighted with the success of this exhibition and proposed another one the following year, and so the precedent was set. I know of no other churches who held art exhibitions in the area at that time.

I organised the succeeding exhibitions until August 2000 and then handed over the reins to Janet Blundell, who carried on until 2005. Janet had in fact taken over the job of compiling the catalogue in 1998 before she took over from me completely. The new vicar, David Woods' wife, Veronica, took over from Janet, and then Jenny Milborrow assumed the role of organiser until last year. This year, 2012, Geoff De Roux has kindly taken on the job.

In August 1998 we had 232 pictures on show and sold 14 of these at the Preview. From my records it seems that approximately 54 of these were sold that year. As the years went on we tried to improve the way we displayed the pictures, buying new boards etc, and gathering a good number of extra artists on the way. We also had a collection of pottery on sale and some photographs, but have mainly stuck to original paintings.

In 1999 we sold 89 pictures and in 2000 about 86, so things were improving. By 2004, exhibiting artists came from within a 45 mile radius of Sutton Bridge – from Boston in the north to March in the south and Castle Acre in West Norfolk and Sleaford to the west. In 2004-5 the local MP John Hayes exhibited at St Matthew's and continued to do so under Veronica's stewardship.

One year, David Joel, who used to own the East Lighthouse, loaned paintings by Sir Peter Scott, which provided an added attraction. The following year paintings by local personality, Kenzie Thorpe, who used to work for Peter Scott and who later copied many of his paintings, also attracted visitors to the Exhibition.

The rector of Grimston Church in Norfolk visited our exhibition with a member of his parish who was an exhibiting artist at St Matthew's, and was much taken by it. He invited me to a meeting at Grimston to advise on the organisation of their exhibition in January 2000. Their first exhibition was held in April/May 2000, since when they have held regular yearly and most successful events. Many other churches in the local area now hold art exhibitions.

This year's exhibition will run from Saturday 25th August to Friday, 31st August 2012. Around 300 paintings in various mediums by approximately 100 local artists will be displayed. Most pictures are available for purchase with a percentage of sales going to church funds. Opening times are 10 am to 6 pm except for Sunday from 12 noon to 6 pm, and Friday 31st 10 am to 3 pm, when the exhibition closes.

Light refreshments and lunches will be available. We have WC and disabled access. Admission is free. Many artists will be painting in the church during the event.

Organiser: Geoff De Roux, telephone: 07826843611
Enquiries:  (Sue)   (Geoff)

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by Janet Blundell

In 2003 when I was the St Matthew's Art Exhibition co-ordinator, we held a side exhibition of a few paintings by Mackenzie 'Kenzie' Thorpe, a well-known local personality. Kenzie was an admirer of Sir Peter Scott, well-known as an artist and conservationist, who used to live and work in the East Lighthouse.

Kenzie, like Peter Scott was a wildfowler — among other things — and his interest in painting developed when he began to emulate Peter Scott, and like his employer, began painting the wild fowl that used to flock and gather around the lighthouse.

Two years earlier, in 2001 we had held an exhibition of some of Peter Scott's own paintings that had been loaned to the St Matthew's Art Exhibition by Commander David Joel, who at that time owned the East Lighthouse, keen on conservation and a painter himself and an admirer of Peter Scott. The exhibits were part of his personal collection of Scott paintings.

Both exhibitions proved to be very popular and to celebrate the Kenzie Thorpe Exhibition, I produced a small pamphlet about Kenzie's life and interest in wildfowling and conservation issues before and after he met, and began to work for, Peter Scott. The information was gleaned anecdotally from residents who knew Kenzie and from Colin Willcock's book Kenzie: the Wild Goose Man (full references given below)

What follows is the text of the pamphlet, the proceeds from the sale of which, at that time, supported St Matthew's Church.

Before the war Kenzie was occasionally employed by Peter Scott to—among other things—lure and net wild fowl for Scott's collection. Kenzie had much to teach his employer about geese on the Wash and the marshes. And in turn, Kenzie learnt much about the comings and goings of pinkfoot geese.

One of Kenzie's tasks was to paint the wooden uprights of the wildfowl pens. One day, when Kenzie was busy with his green paint, the local bullock man came down to the Lighthouse to check his animals that were grazing on the marsh and left his bicycle leaning against one of the pens. While he was gone, Kenzie painted every part of the cycle except the saddle, green! The man didn't notice until the next day because when he went home it was quite dark. However, he was not upset and even thanked Kenzie for doing a 'smart job' on his bike.

On another occasion, Kenzie tried his hand at paining of a different kind. PeterScott was abroad and had left Kenzie to keep an eye on things for him. Not being one to miss an opportunity, Kenzie went into Peter Scott's studio and decided to emulate his employer. He used his brushes & paints and copied one of the paintings resting on an easel. Pleased with this first effort, Kenzie continued painting for many years afterwards. Later, his wildfowling clients often bought his oil-paintings, which have an appealing primitive quality about them.

Kenzie Thorpe and two of his paintings

To most local people, the name Kenzie Thorpe conjures up not an artist & odd-job man, but a wildfowler and poacher. Born of Romany stock, he grew up near the marshes and soon learned to differentiate between pheasants, pigeons, magpies, hares & rabbits. His first gun was a rusty old muzzle-loader but it wasn't long before young Kenzie got hold of 'proper' guns then known as 'farm guns' and usually kept in barns for shooting vermin. What Kenzie wanted, he generally 'acquired'. His series of stolen guns were eventually replaced by one legitimately bought— a single-barrel 12 bore. Naturally the game Kenzie brought home was a much welcomed addition to the Thorpe pantry.

Kenzie had no regard for private property—he went wherever he wanted to and many times he was caught poaching. He was frequently fined and on one occasion, in Norwich, in 1945, he was sent to prison for attacking a gamekeeper and knocking him down. The charge was 'causing grievous bodily harm'.

On another occasion, Kenzie and a friend had been poaching pheasants in High Norfolk and had almost reached Heacham, when they were stopped by the local bobby. Foolishly the two men threatened to run down the policeman with their lorry unless he moved out their way. Naturally the policeman didn't budge and Kenzie and his mate were duly arrested. The King's Lynn Magistrate fined him £7 and confiscated his gun.

He also appeared many times at Holbeach Magistrates' Court and was repeatedly fined, but none of these appearances deterred him. His most daring action was to poach the covers on the Sandringham Estate. Mr Amos, the keeper and his under keeper, stopped and challenged Kenzie and his accomplice. There was a struggle and both poachers were overpowered. They were prevented from escaping because their car failed to start!

The result: Kenzie was fined again and his rifle was once more confiscated.

Kenzie was proud of his 'craft' and boasted about his cunning—he knew the ground, the cover, every bush, tree or haystack; he outwitted gamekeepers & farmers; and didn't get caught too often.

His local knowledge of the marsh creeks enabled him to escape quickly from gamekeepers. Once he shot a hole in the bottom of a gamekeeper's boat, and escaped across the wide creek in a punt he just happened to find moored nearby.

Rationing during the war meant that meat was scarce and Kenzie took this as an opportunity to increase his income. He shot anything with flesh that could fly and later sold it from the rusty wheelbarrow in which he used to cart it to the weekly market.

Today, naturalists & environmentalists would be horrified and shocked to see his catch: Brent geese, shelduck, gulls, ruffs, reeves, waterfowl of all kinds, as well as rabbit, hares, pheasants & partridges. Indeed Peter Scott wrote to him after the war suggesting that Kenzie stop shooting geese. Kenzie wasn't too pleased with this suggestion, especially, as he said, came from a man who one time shot more geese than he himself had!

He obtained his cartridges from the RAF—not legitimately, of course: he took their training supply, used by pilots practising air gunning over the Holbeach Marshes.

Kenzie was considered unfit for military service during the War, due to a wound he had received during a family fight. So for him the War was business as usual, and he continued to supplement the local meat trade with supplies of wildfowl and swans from Spalding and the Lincolnshire Fens.

For some time, before he met Scott, he had acquired a reputation as a guide and wildfowler and often led 'gentlemen gunners' out on the marshes just before dawn to shoot. Among them was the young Peter Scott, who learned a lot about the wildfowl on the Wash marshes from Kenzie.

Locally, Kenzie was dubbed a 'lovable rogue', but he was the plague of gamekeepers and landowners; he cared little for authority and even less for the law. And yet, he became a celebrity too. Later, after he became interested conservation, he took to 'shooting' seals! Only this time it was with film. He also appeared on TV and radio and once he entertained Prince Charles to tea in his house in Sutton Bridge!

The Prince, having heard about him (and possibly about his poaching antics at Sandringham) wanted to meet this wild fenman and called at his home in Sutton Bridge. Afterwards, Kenzie wrote to the local authority asking that his street be renamed in honour of this royal visit: Charles Road.

There are some people who live in Sutton Bridge who remember Kenzie well.

The late Ena Caney, for example, recalled the time she and her husband Wallace took Kenzie and his wife to Norwich to make a broadcast. It coincided with a grand reception to launch his biography (see notes below) and a fabulous lunch was laid on. Kenzie refused to eat any of it, but on the way home, he made them stop in Dereham to buy fish and chips—the cheapest food available at that time!

Another memorable occasion was when Ena and Wallace were out courting—walking near the West Lighthouse. Kenzie was on the opposite bank working for Peter Scott at the time. He saw Ena and Wallace and called over, challenging Wallace to swim across the river. In those days, many local people swam in the river despite the strong undercurrents. Wallace hesitated at first, knowing it would be a difficult swim, but Kenzie chided him & offered to row him back. Not wanting to appear cowardly in front of his ladylove, Wallace took up the challenge. He swam across to the East Bank and true to his word, Kenzie rowed him back.

Roy Claxton diving into the River Nene at Sutton Bridge in September 1949 at the start of his eight mile swim to Wisbech.

As a young man Kenzie was employed as a farm labourer for Lindsay Clarke at Westmere Farm. It was Easter time and as usual, Mrs Clarke had baked two egg custard tarts, which she placed on a shelf in the kitchen near a window to cool. Sometime during the morning one of the tarts disappeared. Kenzie, who was working on the garden near the house at the time and his reputation being what it was, became the prime suspect! Nothing was ever proved but the suspicion remains to this day.

On another occasion, Lindsay Clarke caught Kenzie hiding in the dyke with his gun—not surprisingly poaching was suspected!

Jack Earley also remembers Kenzie Thorpe well: "By a standing agreement with the manager at the time, it was the custom for Kenzie to work in Travis & Arnold's timber yard during the summer and leave in the autumn to carry out his main pursuit of wildfowling. And this arrangement carried on until he retired."

After Kenzie had left the yard every September, an inspection of the premises would reveal that every available space had been decorated with chalk drawings of wildfowl. They were everywhere—in the toilets, in the mess room, the engine room and even on stacks of timber! Obviously, Kenzie's thoughts were occupied more with his beloved birds, than with the work in hand!

He died on September 28th 1976, aged 68 and is buried in the churchyard together with his wife, Cis. A commemorative seat is nearby, dedicated to 'The Wild Goose Man.'

Kenzie Thorpe's gravestone in St Matthew's Churchyard, Sutton Bridge


Kenzie: the Wild Goose Man by Colin Willock published Andre Deutsch Ltd Oct. 1962 ISBN 0 85115 245 7/9; Best loved Tales of the Countryside

Collected images of a bygone era - Kenzie: Master Poacher by John Humphreys published by David & Charles (2002) ISBN 0 7153 1458 0. The cover photograph: source unknown but if notified, we will acknowledge it at the foot of this article.

Thanks are also given to:

Squadron Leader John Beard of RAF Holbeach who kindly loaned two paintings by Kenzie Thorpe;

Members on Kenzie Thorpe's family for the loan of the third painting;

The residents of Sutton Bridge who told us their anecdotes about Kenzie Thorpe

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Part 1

If you were a visitor to Sutton Bridge in 1870, you might have found the description below familiar:

Sutton Bridge: a small town and chapelry in Long Sutton parish. The town stands on the river Nen, three miles above its influx to the Wash and on the Wisbeach and Lynn railway, nearly eight miles north-east of Wisbeach.

The town originated when the first bridge was built in 1831, but there had been a settlement there since medieval times and perhaps even earlier.

It is a sub-port with a good quay and warehouses; consists chiefly of a long one-sided street, with one or two streets and several genteel detached residences; carries on commerce in corn, coal, timber, and other goods; and has a post-office under Wisbeach, a railway station with telegraph, a hotel, a custom-house, and a coastguard station.

This information appeared in John Marius Wilson's Imperial Gazeteer of England and Wales (according to the website

In 1870 you would have crossed the river by a second bridge (constructed in 1850), a large iron swing bridge (Photo1). John Marius Wilson stated that the depth of water 'in the river was sufficient to float a man-of-war.' He describes the 'lofty embankment road that goes from the bridge along the Cross-Keys Wash' and that this enabled 'many thousands of acres of land to be reclaimed from the sea.'

The 1850 Bridge
The 1850 Bridge

In 1906, in his book Hills and the Sea, Hilaire Belloc describes 'a long wandering' he and a companion made 'upon the desolate edges of the sea to the bank' which they intended 'to follow right round the to the mouth of the Ouse.' He described this as 'a bank that runs not straight, but in great broken lines, as in an old-fashioned fortification, and from which far off on the right ones sees the famous churches of Wringland, far off upon the left a hint beyond the marshes and the sands of the very distant sea.' This description is not unfamiliar to us today, although further sea reclamations have taken place since then.

The church of St Matthew was built in 1843 and is in the early English style (Photo 2a) . The chapelry (Photo 2b) was constituted in 1845. At this time there were also three dissenting chapels and a national school.

St Matthew's Church

Bridge Road c 1920, showing the two chapels.

In 1861 the population of Sutton Bridge was 1,565, approximately half of today's population. There were 319 houses and about two-thirds of these, and nearly all the land, belonged to Guy's Hospital, London.

Subsequently, much of the land had been sold to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and divided into smallholdings.

Part 2 — Bridge Road — the heart of the village

On Wednesday November 26, 1919, there was a sale at six o'clock in the evening in the Bridge Hotel of '8 Villa Residences and 36 Dwelling houses in New Road, Princes, Street, Queen Street and King Street.' The properties were advertised as being 'an excellent opportunity to Investors, being let to very good tenants at very low rents.' One of the properties, 35 New Road, on the corner of King Street was described as a villa residence and shop. (Photo 3)

New Road, looking north and the grocery shop on the corner of New Road and King Street.

Three years later, on Thursday 21st September, 1922, at 11 o'clock, there was an Auction Sale at the Oddfellows' * Hall in Sutton Bridge, of many residences, business premises and building sites and about 100 cottages and included the houses in King Street, Queen Street and Princes Street. One purchaser, a Mr George Hewison of New Road, purchased 20 Wharf Street , and took possession in October 1922. (Photo 4)

Plan No. 2 showing the properties for sale by the Ministrty of
Agriculture & Fisheries in 1922

*According to Wikipedia, the name Oddfellows refers to a number of friendly societies and fraternal organisations operating in the United Kingdom since the 18th century and were set up to protect and care for their members and communities at a time when there was no welfare state, trade unions or National Health Service. Their aim was (and still is) to provide help to members when they need it. The friendly societies are non-profit organisations owned by their members. All income is passed back to the members in the form of services and benefits. The Oddfellows are also fundraisers for both local and national charities. Branches raise money for local causes and the Societies as a whole raise significant amounts for charities.

The Oddfellows Hall was one of the properties offered for sale in 1922 (Lot 95). It no longer exists. It occupied the plot next to the Old School (still standing) and close to where the Dock Railway crossed Bridge Road. It later became the Old Cinema, then the Old Barn restaurant. It was later demolished. (Photo 5)

The Cinema in what used to be the Oddfellows Hall and later became the Old Barn Restuarant. It was demolished and a pair of semi-detached houses now occupy the spot.

Part 3 — Shops and businesses in and around Bridge Road c 1922

At the time of the 1922 Sale by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, there were about twenty shops and a number of other businesses in Bridge Road, High Street (Photos 6 & 7) and Wharf Street.

Jakes, the butchers, opposite Railway Lane, now Railway Stores.

Warrenders, hardware and Philip White, butchers

These businesses included two banks—Barclay's (Photo 8) and the National & Provincial Bank, one of two smithies, a wheelwrights (Photo 9), a garage and motor engineering works, warehouses and granaries offices, saw mills and a timber yard, stores and stabling, a hotel—The Bridge Hotel, a Parish Room, a doctor's surgery, and the Gas Works (Photo 10) and a dairy.

Bridge Road looking west with Barclays Bank on the left before it moved to the corner of New Road

Lot No 35 (1922 sale) - No 4 Wharf Street,  showing Wheelwright's Shop and Yard, with Dwelling House

The Gas Works showroom, now the Post Office.

The shops (Sale Lot 99) described as 'six modern shops' contained a Printer's and stationer's shop and warehouse, the Post Office, a tobacconist's shop, a grocer's, a clothier's and a milliner's and draper's shop.

This terrace now comprises of 'Green's carpets, Tracey's Fresh Choice', Smith's Bakers and Reworx hairdresser, the remaining two being empty. Other shops at that time included a boot-maker's, two butchers', several grocery shops and general stores and a hardware shop.

There were several gardens and orchards in wharf Street and at the western end of the village that were seen as potential development sites.

The visitor of 1870 would find that the Post office, the Railway Station, the Custom House, the Police Station and two chapels and the Parish church of St Matthew's still standing. The Infant School in Wharf Street and the 'big' school in Bridge Road were still in use. Two houses also contained schoolrooms. There was also a Reading room near Sutton Bridge Station. (Photo 11)

A later photograph of the back of the Railway House showing the gardens and footbridge to the station.

Next to Barclay's Bank, No 8 Bridge Road contained a dwelling that had been converted into a shop and warehouse. Back from Bridge Road was a shop on the corner of New Road, selling groceries and sweets, (Photo 3) and another shop—a grocer's shop—on the corner of Wharf Street and High Street and another, Creasey's, on the corner of Bridge Road and High Street. The High Street also boasted three other shops.

Later, Barclay's Bank moved to the corner of Bridge Road and New Road until it closed a few years ago.

Some residents remember the shop on the corner of New Road/King Street was a baker's shop before it became a grocer's.

In 1922, there were approximately twenty-two shops and several businesses including two banks, two smithies, a police Station two chapels in additional to the Parish church and a Reading Room near the Station. There were many grocery and general stores as well as clothiers for all the family. The shops reflected the times: there was no family car: people either walked or cycled or used a horse and cart. The railway was the main form of public transport, taking people to Wisbech, Spalding and the Midlands, as well as across two rivers into Norfolk and the coast for days out. Law and order was kept by the full complement of policemen from the Police Station in Wharf Street.

The War changed things. The building of RAF Sutton Bridge brought newcomers into the village, creating a market for goods as well as opportunities for entertainment and romance. People's horizons widened and labouring jobs on the land done by women — some from the Land Army — during the war were replaced more and more by machines. Men returning from the war either supported their families growing produce on smallholdings, or found employment using new skills learned in the armed forces. Aspirations rose too and some found jobs in offices and factories.

By the sixties, the number of shops had declined but still offered a wide range of goods. These included the electrical goods of the Affluent Society — televisions, fridges, washing machines and of course, the motor car. According to the Parish Magazine of April 1964, (Photo 12) it was still possible to buy a suit, clothing for women and children but another kind of shop was in demand in Bridge Road—that of the hairdresser for men, women and children. More shops also stocked sweets and cigarettes, more widely available after rationing finished in the fifties. Individuals were beginning to set up in business from their own homes: painters, decorators, carpenters, joiners. But the needs of the land were still supplied by S Garner and Sons, millers and suppliers of all kinds of grain and fertilizers. Milk was still supplied by the local dairyman and the supermarket had not yet arrived in Sutton Bridge.

Cover of St Matthew's Church Parish Magazine, March 1964

By 1996, the number of shops had reduced to thirteen (according to those advertising in the May 1996 Parish Magazine (Photo 13)). These still included the now renamed' convenience store', that a wide range of goods — a smaller version of the larger supermarkets, that had mushroomed in every major conurbation. Even more individuals were becoming self-employed working from their homes and offering services such electrical goods repairs, car valeting, carpentry, joinery, building, and painting and decorating. The two haulage companies and a coach hire firm offered driving jobs, and the food processing factory at Little Sutton provided many jobs for both men and women. There were also jobs in the food packaging industry, providing supermarkets with pre-packed fresh and cooked goods, as well as flowers grown under glass.

The cover of the Parish Magazine, now called 'The Bridge', with a design paintied by Maureen Hunt, dated May 1996

Sixteen years later — in 2012 — Bridge Road still has several shops providing goods and services among them a post office, four licensed convenience stores where newspapers and stationery goods can be bought. It has two fish and chip shops, a butcher's, a baker's, a hardware store, a carpet shop, an estate agents, two florists, a pharmacy, a dress shop, a furniture store, three take-way food premises, several hairdresser's, including a barber's, and a second-hand goods shop. Bridge Road also boasts a music shop and restaurant.

The number of small businesses conducted from homes rather than business premises has increased. The mobile phone has given tradesman immediate access to new business while working in any location.

Goods bought on line and the family weekly shop to the out-of-town supermarkets has not only increased availability and 'choice' of goods, but offers much more in addition to food. Many such supermarkets have a café, sell clothes and electrical goods, as well as DVDs, flowers, and also have a in-store bakery, butchery and fishmongery departments.

As a consequence, while many of the small local shops of the first half of the twentieth century that supplied most of Sutton Bridge's needs have disappeared, the ones that now exist provide an important local service.

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Pam's parents outside their home in Wharf Street

Pam was born at the end of 1942 at the Holbeach Hospital to Betty and Tom Wilkinson of 4 Wharf Street, Sutton Bridge. Pam’s father had come to live in Sutton Bridge from Southall, Middlesex, shortly after he had joined the army.

Pam’s mother, Betty Margaret Mills, had been born in Sutton Bridge and joined the WAAF when war broke out. It was at this time that Betty and Tom met and married. Pam has two sisters — Rae and Jackie — and a brother, Robin, who has since died.

Number 4 was next door to Dawson’s the wheelwrights. Pam remembers watching Mr Dawson, who was also a blacksmith, and his men making wheels and shoeing the horses. Number 4 was shown on the 1922 Auction Sale Map as Lot 35.

Pam said the Wharf Street house was creepy: it didn’t have an indoor toilet – there was a hut at the bottom of the garden and a deep hole where everything went down. It never got emptied, Pam said, and it smelled awful and there always lots of flies buzzing about. There was no electricity in the house – just gas mantles downstairs and she had to have a candle to go upstairs to bed. She recalled that the kitchen area had to be lit by candles, too, and they were set in metal candle holders all around the washing-up bowl where they had to wash as well as do the dishes. The candles gave off a very bad light and it was not very nice, she recalled.

Dawson's, the Wheelwrights shop, next door to the Wilkinsons

Pam, as a small child, playing in Wharf Street - 1944

So, when, in the early fifties, the family were offered one of the new council houses in Nenelands (number 16), Pam’s parents jumped at the chance. Pam said her family was one of the first to move into the new houses. It was all electric and there was a bathroom and toilet – so different from Wharf Street.

Pam remembers that her next door neighbours in Wharf Street were Mr & Mrs Edwards and Mr & Mrs Dawson. The Linehams lived on the corner of Custom House Street with Wharf Street. They were fisher folk, said Pam, and used to fish from the River Nene and sold the fish locally. Pam talked about ‘going down below’ (which was local parlance for going out to sea fishing for cockles and shrimps). She recalls one occasion when she went out with the Linehams and their daughter Margaret and son Tommy. On the way out, Pam lost her balance and slipped. The boat was wet and she fell down and landed on her back and bumped her head. The fishing boats (about 4 or 5) were moored at Sutton Bridge near the prisoner of war camp. To get aboard the boats, you had to walk along the jetty and climb down the steps. The riverside was a favourite haunt of Pam and her friends and they would often walk along the jetty and daringly climb down the steps to put their feet out to touch the water!

Pam recalls moving away from Sutton Bridge for a while during the war, with her mum, to Castle Rising. Her mother went to work in a big house there as a housekeeper. However, after the war Pam returned to Sutton Bridge young enough to attend the Infants School.  She then spent the most of her life in Sutton Bridge until she moved to Long Sutton about ten years ago.

Mrs Farmer made my dress

Pam said that as a child she was a bit of a tomboy and a bit ‘naughty’, always getting into mischief and into trouble with her mum and dad for not doing as she was told. She loved climbing trees, going near to the river; she even slipped on the mud once on a daredevil escapade. In fact she admitted that she liked the company of boys better than the girls because she liked boys’ games better. Her special friends from this time were Roger Wagg and Nigel Portass. Nigel now keeps the music shop near the village green.

Despite being a tomboy and climbing trees, Pam also liked dancing and went to tap and ballet classes when she was about eight years old.

The classes were held in the Church Hall, which became the village hall, The old village Hall (now demolished and the site of the Curlew Centre. Classes were also held at The Bridge Hotel and at the Con Club in New Road. Pam was a good dancer and won a certificate for tap, ballet and cha-cha-cha.

The dance troupe

Pam still loves dancing and remembers an occasion recently where she and her granddaughter, Amy, ‘danced the night away!’  She also used to go dancing as a teenager at the Bridge Hotel and the Old Barn in Bridge Road, which originally was The Oddfellows Hall, before it changed use as a cinema as well as the Old Barn Restaurant. It was situated between what is now the hardware shop and the Old School.

Pam said the Cinema in Sutton Bridge was owned by Ron Swift, who also had a little shop next door, where she worked for a while, which sold vegetables and sweets. People would pop in there before going to the Cinema to buy their favourite confections. She said that there were usually two films shown each week, and the changeover day was Thursday. Apparently musicals and cowboy films were very popular.

Pam remembers clearly the Big Freeze of 1963 when both the Nene and the Ouse at King’s Lynn were frozen over. Pam recalls the occasion when her husband Graham, along with other adventurous young men from Sutton Bridge, walked across the ice to the other side. Apparently Leslie Garner was one of the first to cross. According to a newspaper report at the time (The Lynn News) he said: “I gave a friend a piece of rope and tied myself to it. I told him to stand on the bank in case I went through so he could pull me out.  I’d got about three-quarters of the way across and when I turned around, I saw he was coming over as well!”

The big Freeze of 1963 when the River Nene was frozen over - Lynn News

Like most of the youngsters in Sutton Bridge, Pam went to the Infants School in Wharf Street and remembers that one of her teachers was called Miss Clarke.

Sutton Bridge Infants School, Wharf Street, c.1947

She confessed she didn’t like school very much because she was bullied and in those days, you didn’t tell. One particular girl (she doesn’t remember her name) used to wait for her after school and threaten her with “I’m gonna bash you.” Pam said this girl made her life a misery and as a result she didn’t want to go to school. However, things improved when she was eleven and moved to the Old School in Bridge Road where she stayed until she was fifteen. One thing Pam remembers particularly about this time was that when you first went to the ‘big school’ you were put into ‘houses’ named Danes, Normans, Stuarts and Tudors. You stayed with that house for activities like ‘Sports Day’ for all the time you were at that school.

The class photograph: Pam is second from the right in the second row front.
The class teacher is Miss Clark

Pam's school report for July 1953. She did well at school!

Another of Pam’s early memories is of the railway before it was closed. She remembers one occasion when the airmen going on leave, streamed along the road from the airfield to catch the train at Sutton Bridge station.  She also recalled that, as teenagers, she and her friends would take the train to either King’s Lynn, for shopping, or to Hunstanton, for a day at the seaside. She said travelling in coaches that had a corridor were best because you could run up and down the corridor, adding with a twinkle in her eye, causing annoyance to other passengers!

The corner shop where Wharf Street and the High Street meet was called Mr & Mrs Fishers and it was here that Pam would go to spend her pennies on sweets.  The sweets were sold loose in large tins and you would buy a scoop of sweets in a paper bag, which was twisted at the corners, for a few pence.

Another corner shop near where she lived was the fish shop that was owned by Mr & Mrs Plumb, where they lived with their daughter Trixie. In those days you could buy ‘two-pen’orth’ of chips.

After leaving school, Pam went to work for Lenny Latus, who kept two shops the–one in Bridge Road, near New Roadand the other on the corner of Bridge Road and the High Street (where KP Plasterering now is). Pam worked in this shop for a while and she said it embarrassed her when men would come in asking for ‘funny things’!

This was 1957 and Pam earned £1.18.6d per week–not much by today’s wages, and not so good then either. Then a friend suggested she should go and work for Eastern County Preserves – the factory at Little Sutton that was once owned by Lockwoods, which then became HL Foods and is now owned by Princes Foods. Here Pam earned £5 per week—a fortune for a young girl then. She worked in the factory until she married and began her family. Later she went back to work at HL Foods for a while in the shop, not in the factory itself, and she said she really loved it there.

It was while working at Eastern County Preserves that she met her first husband Graham, who came from one of the Walpoles. They got married in 1961 at the Registry Office in Long Sutton. Pam and Graham lived in a small flat that had one living room, bedroom, kitchen and a bucket toilet on the other side of the yard. She also used a ‘copper’ that boiled water and washed clothes and had a mangle to squeeze the water out before and after the clothes had been rinsed. After their daughter Karen was born, they were offered a council house in Nenelands.

When the children (Karen, Andrew & Richard) were old enough to go to school, Pam went to work for Fred Short at the Carrot Topping Factory in Grange Road, at the bottom of Garner’s Lane. She said Fred was a good employer and used to drive round Sutton Bridge and the surrounding villages to pick up his employees and return them home at the end of the day. He had the reputation of being a bit of a ‘ladies man’, but he paid decent wages and looked after his staff. He provided a lot of jobs for the women and children (who liked to earn pocket money in the holidays. Pam said that every Christmas Fred organised a dinner/dance for his employees, usually at the Old Barn and that they were good fun. However, everyone had to pay for their ticket!

Shorts dinner dance for 1977, Mr Short and his wife surrounded by their staff.

Two dinner/dance tickets for 1977 and 1978

One of the highlights of Pam’s childhood was the annual visit of the Fair to the Memorial Park. There were swings, roundabouts, waltzers and other attractions like side stalls where you could ‘hook-a-duck’, or try to win a coconut, as well as buying candy floss and toffee apples. Amy, Pam’s granddaughter, also remembers the Fair, reminding Pam that it used to also go to Wisbech and King’s Lynn.

By her own admission, Pam is a hoarder and she has many albums full of photographs of her family as well as of people and events that took place in Sutton Bridge during her time living here. She has press cuttings and memorabilia (like dance tickets, programmes etc) that remind her and others of things past, which her grandchildren like to share with her..  She has also begun to write her own story for her family.

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Sutton Bridge Prisoner of War Camp

A walk along the public right of way on the West Bank of the River Nene at Sutton Bridge, will eventually take you near the port entrance. On the left, near the roadway that led to the old dock and what was once the Travis and Arnold timber yard and offices, is what is left of P.O.W. Camp No 254, (Working Camp) - the location is indicated by green marker on the Google map detailed below. Behind the fence, close to the barbed-wired gate are the ruins of the wooden barracks. It is roofless but still has window frames and a door intact.  On the opposite side of this entrance is a similar building. The site is derelict and overgrown with brambles and long grass.

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Sutton Bridge Prisoner of War Camp
Sutton Bridge Prisoner of War Camp
Sutton Bridge Prisoner of War Camp

The camp was set up during the Second World War and continued as a POW camp until 1949, when the internees were freed to return to their homes, or stay to work on the land. It was built to house up 250 POWs and consisted of wooden barracks and Nissen huts. There was no electric light, nor heating stoves until after the war ended. Toilet cubicles had no doors. However, after the war end, conditions improved with stoves and electric lighting being installed. Each dormitory had between eight and 14 single beds with lockable lockers and doors were fitted to the toilet cubicles.

Whilst in captivity, POWs were hired out to local contractors from the Ministry of Agriculture to work on the land or to build farm roadways and similar constructions. It was common practice through the UK to use POW labour under the Geneva Convention rules, although to some, it was seen as ‘slave labour’.

The POWs became a familiar sight in Sutton Bridge, getting to know local people through working on farmland. Conditions for the prisoners were quite relaxed after the War finally ended and prisoners were awaiting repatriation. They were allowed to organise dances and attend dances in the village.

Some local people used to go to the camp to attend Mass at the Catholic Church on the site. In the photograph taken from the wood yard, the church building can just be seen towards the middle left ‘between’ the two Nissen huts.

Sutton Bridge Prisoner of War Camp
Looking down on the camp from the wood yard tallest building.

For some POWs, returning home after the war ended was not an option: Ukrainian POWs feared repatriation, but for others it was their choice to remain here in sponsored employment, especially after meeting their future wives. At least three POWs stayed in Sutton Bridge and married local girls: Hans Heib, Heinz Radeloff and Stefan Artanan (Spalding Guardian 31st January 2013). All three men are now in their eighties and have lived happily in Sutton Bridge, working at their trades, or on the land.

The POW’s were formally freed in late 1948 and early 1949. The camp remained functional until the early 1950’s, serving as a hostel for girls working with the Land Army and a few POWs who were still waiting to be repatriated.

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Heinz Radeloff The young Heinz

Heinz Radeloff - P.o.W. in Sutton Bridge
1945 - 1949

Heinz was born in Turchau, on the Czech border, in 1925. He excelled at school being almost the top scholar when he left. He enlisted in the German Navy when he was 18 years old and after his initial training he was selected to become a submariner.

The submarine he was serving on was captured in the North Sea in 1945. After the surrender of the submarine by the Captain, the vessel was escorted into dock in the North of Scotland, and Heinz, along with the other crew members, became a prisoner of war. For many of the following months he was transferred from camp to camp, before finally coming to Sutton Bridge.

Heinz, second from right at the Sutton Bridge Prisoner of War Camp.

Also on the left of the above photograph is another prisoner of war who stayed on in Sutton Bridge, Luftwaffe Pilot Erich Pawellek (alias Eric Powell), sadly no longer with us. (photograph courtesy of Oliver Pawellek)

One of the camps where Heinz was interned was in Derby, where he was sent to work in a car manufacturing company. There his skills as a sign writer were discovered and it was his job to paint the signs for the storage of many of the components used by this company.  Another talent Heinz had was the tinting of black and white photographs, colour photography not being available to the ordinary man in the street and many of the workers at the factory asked Heinz to colour photographs for them. He also had many invitations out to tea with local families.

While interned at the Sutton Bridge camp, like many of the other prisoners, Heinz was allowed out to work on the land as well as attend the local dances. It was at one of these events that he met Rene, the girl who was to become his wife.

Heinz and the 16 year old Rene.

They have now been married for 63 years. Both he and Rene are very proud of the card they received from the Queen on the occasion of their Diamond Wedding Anniversary.

Heinz and Rene with their card from the Queen

Naturally Heinz was most concerned about his mother and sisters back in his homeland and it was several years after the end of WWII before he was reunited with them. After returning to Germany and unable to find work there, he came back to Sutton Bridge, as he puts it ‘for a year or two’ until he thought he would be able to go back home to find work. In the meantime he found seasonal work on the land, strawberry and potato picking, and of course was courting the lovely Rene. 

Rene’s family were initially concerned about her going out with Heinz, but as they got to know him as the hard worker he was, they welcomed him into the family. Now they have a family of their own, a son, two grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Eventually Heinz was able to take up his own trade as a painter and decorator and also a sign writer. From the 1950’s on, many of the shops in Sutton Bridge had their signs painted by him. One of the first shop signs he did was in King’s Lynn, where his employer left him to get on with it by himself on his first day of work. After that he painted many other shop signs in local towns such as Wisbech and Holbeach. He also did the sign writing on many local businesses vehicles as well as buses. One of his many achievements was the painting of the Coat of Arms in St. Matthew’s Church, as well as the prayers on the boards of the east wall. 

St. Matthews Coat of Arms
(above photo courtesy Laurence Fitt-Savage ©)

Not being eligible to get a council house, Heinz and Rene bought a small piece of land in Sutton Bridge and had their own home, which Heinz had designed, built on it.  They moved in even before it was completely finished, and have lived there happily ever since.  Rene had a small shop on Bridge Road, a general store selling everything from cakes to candlesticks and paint. Heinz is very proud of what he has achieved and also having become accepted as a ‘Sutton Bridge Boy’. He says Sutton Bridge was a lovely little village in those days.

(The images above [unless otherwise indicated] were provided courtesy of the Radeloffs ©)

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In the late 50’s and early 60’s there was a flourishing Quoits Club in Sutton Bridge. The members met to play in the pitch that was set up behind the Peacock Inn in Bridge Road.

Plan showing where the Peacock Inn was situated.
(The Peacock Inn was situated on the north side of Bridge Road, roughly midway between New Road and Allenby's Chase. It was built between 1851 and 1861 and ceased to trade around 1985. It was demolished for new houses that are now known as Peacock Court.)

It was a very popular game in Sutton Bridge and the surrounding villages in the period between WW1 and WW2, especially at Lutton, who were the All England champions in 1958.

The club was started by the landlord of the Peacock Inn, Jerry Lowry, a well-known football goalkeeper who played for Newcastle United and Wisbech Town and other clubs during his career. Born in Newcastle in 1924, Jerry Lowery may have been familiar with the game played in the north, especially as played in Northumberland

Jerry became the landlord of the Peacock Inn after he retired’ The Peacock Inn was a pub belonging to Elgoods Brewery, the well-known family run brewery situated on the North Brink of the river Nene at Wisbech

Elgood's Peacock Inn, Sutton Bridge
The Peacock Inn before and after renovations in the late 50’s/early 60’s
Elgood's Peacock Inn, Sutton Bridge

Elgoods supported Wisbech Town Football Club and frequently offered one of their tied pubs as tenant/landlords to interested footballers when they retired from the game. At that time, footballers did not earn the astronomical sums of money that today’s players command.

The history of quoits goes back to Ancient Greece and may have been brought to Britain by the Romans. The first quoits were probably made from horseshoes, bending them into a round disc. Nowadays a quoit is specially made and looks like the in the photo

Quoit stuck in the mud!

There is some evidence to suggest that quoits was popular in the 15th/16th century and had become well organised.  However, because it was deemed to be unseemly, it was barred from pubs and taverns at the time.

By the mid 19thC it was growing in popularity again and the first rules appeared in 1881 and was derived from the game played in Northern England. As it became more popular, many variations of the game were played, including an indoors version, making it popular with women and children. Indoor quoits were also played in pubs to keep the clubs going during the winter months.

The object of the game is to throw the steel disc across a set distance at a metal spike (also called a pin, hob, or a mott) that is positioned centrally and upright in a 3 foot square bed of moist clay. Quoits are about 5½ inches in diameter and weigh about 5½ pounds, although for the ‘long game’ (see below), the quoits are 9 inches in diameter and weigh up to 11 pounds.

The game is played in several parts of the UK, but with variations. The East Anglian version is a variation of the ‘long game’ which is played in Wales and Scotland. In the long game, the distance between the spikes is between 18 yards. In this game, the top of the spike is flush with the clay, so the aim is not necessarily to encircle the spike, but to get close to it. In the East Anglian version the tops of the spike protrude above the clay and a player’s quoit landing over this earns him 2 points.

The game played behind the Peacock Inn was different again. There were four clay beds not less than 4 feet x 4½ square each of which had a pin buried in the centre. The aim was to hit the pin. Near misses were calculated after the round using callipers to ensure accurate measurements. Two teams used to play alongside each other, using two pitches each.

For the International Match (England v. Scotland) hosted by Jerry Lowery, Travis and Arnold set up two of their Artic trailers in the car park behind the Inn yard, to make a ‘grandstand’ for spectators. They stood behind a sturdy low wooden wall made from old railways sleepers, which had been erected as a safety measure.. Spectators could either sit on chairs in the front row or stand and watch the game, usually in concentrated silence, watching keenly every action of the game.

Plan showing the Quoits pitches in the Peacock Inn yard—courtesy of Cyril Bridgland, who attend the International Match while on leave from National Service in the Army

Spectators were able to replenish their glasses from the beer tent erected in the pub garden. (See plan 1) Later Jerry Lowry put up a large shed behind the pub car park, which he called the ‘Coffee Shop’ and his daughter Viv served coffee to young people, when visiting coffee shops was a popular activity then as place for youngsters to meet and talk.

The Quoits Club was very popular and its members would practise on most nights and on Sunday mornings. Among the players during the early sixties were:

Dick Wilkinson, Ted Guy and Eric Delahoy, who were part of the English team that played against Scotland.

Other members of the team included:

Peter Guy (Ted’s son), Reg Abel, Derek Harper, Tommy Mann and ‘Shodder’ Watkins from Holbeach.

Photo of the Quoits team with Peter Guy in the centre of the front row holding a quoit (local newspaper cutting –source unknown)

Despite their, enthusiasm and commitment, this team failed to beat the then reigning English Champions, Harpenden, who visited Sutton Bridge for a match during the summer of 1960. However, they were pleased to win two of the eight games against their more experienced visitors.

Of all the existing Quoits Club members, only Peter Guy survives. He is in the centre of the photograph above.

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JERRY LOWERY (1924-2007)

Jeremiah Lowery, (Jerry) the well-known English football goalkeeper and former landlord of The Peacock Inn, Sutton Bridge during the late fifties and early sixties was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. As a youngster, before WWII, he started his career as goalkeeper with Leicester City.

After that he played for a works team, C.A. Parsons, an engineering firm that produced steam turbines. It was founded in 1899 and was based at Heaton in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Jerry played for the works team until at the age of 23, he was contracted to Newcastle United.

Contract between Jeremiah Lowery and Newcastle United 1951
Contract between Jeremiah Lowery and Newcastle United 1951

In those days footballers did not earn the money commanded by today’s professionals. His contract for 1951 showed that he would earn £14 per week during the season (August 1951- May 1952) and this would be reduced to £10pw from May 4th-30th June 1952. He was one of their three goalkeepers.

Newcastle United FC line up (1951-2)
Newcastle United FC line up (1951-2).
Jerry is sitting cross-legged on the left in the front row.

In a match against Stoke City v Newcastle United, Gerry is shown saving a goal.

Jerry in Action – a magnificent attempt to stop the ball! This was during a match between Arsenal v Newcastle United on April 15th 1950.

On the back of the photograph are these words:

‘The Newcastle goalie takes a flying ballet pose as he attempts to save a shot from Goring, the Arsenal centre-forward, who scored Arsenal’s third goal.’

In 1952 Jerry transferred to second division team, Lincoln City, and played with this club until 1954. He made his debut against Blackburn Rovers

He spent two years from 1954 to 1956 as goalie for Peterborough United, followed by a further two years at Barrow before coming to play for Crewe Alexandra in 1958.

By this time he was 34 years old and after leaving Crewe he moved to Wisbech Town.

Jerry met and married his wife Edie sometime in the forties. They took took on the tenancy of the Peacock Inn after Jerry retired. It was here that Jerry decided to set up the Quoits Club

Jerry (far left) & Edie enjoying a night out during one of the Peacock Inn trips—this time to Yarmouth Winter Gardens, during the early sixties.

Other people in the photograph are: Rick Howell, Margaret Harper, nee Guy (Peter Guy’s sister) and her husband, Derek Harper.

Thanks to Cyril Bridgland (Jerrry & Edie’s friend) for information about the Quoits Club and Jerry’s football career, and thanks too,  their son, also Jerry, for the photographs and his kind permission to use them on Bridgewatch.

Additional information from Wikipedia & Lincoln City Football Club archives.

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Thirteen years ago on December 13th,  2000 the 2,500-tonne freighter Lagik became wedged in the bank of the Rive Nene at Port Sutton Bridge as it tried to turn. The 93-metre vessel was stuck for 40 days.

The vessel Lagik

The vessel Lagik

Not only did it become wedged, it fractured and split it two under the pressure and strong flow of the tide.  The vessel was owned by L and L Shipping and registered in Antigua. It became grounded at 7.30pm and not until five hours later did the German captain and his Polish crew abandon ship and were taken to the Bridge Hotel. Fortunately none of the crew was injured. Normally a pilot boards a ship in the Wash and guides it through the narrow winding channels that are clearly marked with buoys and which experienced pilots know extremely well. However, it is not clear, even now, if a pilot was on board at the time.

The Lagik had come safely across the North Sea from Norway with a cargo of 2500 tonnes of steel. It also was carrying 27,000 litres of diesel oil, 1600 litre of lubricating oil and 400 litres of hydraulic oil, all potential pollutants. Some light diesel oil that had seeped onto the surface of the river had to be dispersed by fire-fighters using the pressure jets that normally clear away the silt from the river banks in the turning bay. The first task was to remove this cargo before any salvage work could be undertaken.  This was undertaken by a diving and salvage vessel, the Deurloo.

One result of the accident was that traffic was unable to move freely up and down the river from Wisbech to the Wash and traffic was diverted to other ports. However, Port Sutton was still able to function in a limited way.

It was estimated that salvage costs would amount to well over £1 million and the owners, L and L Shipping, refused to accept responsibility for the cost. On Christmas Eve 2000 they abandoned all rights to the ship’s ownership and Fenland District Council, which manages the Ports both at Wisbech and Sutton Bridge, formed a partnership with the Marine and Coastguard Agency (now reorganised within the umbrella organisation: Marine Management Organisation [MMO] )and  sought government funding for this, together with money from FDC’s insurers. Salvage contractors Smit Tak, a Dutch company, were awarded the salvage contract and began work five weeks after the accident happened.

When the cargo and oil had been removed, the Lagik was cut into three sections, starting with the bow. A floating crane, the Tak Lift 1 belonging to Smit Tak, was brought in and began the operation by attaching slinging cables from it to the Lagik. The work to lift the Lagik finally began on the high tide at 11am on Sunday 14th January 2001. The first section to be lifted was the bow of the ship and this section was deposited on a specially built flat barge where it was cut into 20-tonne pieces. Each section of the vessel was dealt with in the same way.  However, a problem arose with the final section, the stern, which because of its irregular shape was difficult to manoeuvre, began to slip.  The stern was replaced on the riverbed and after waiting for tides and rethinking the problem; it was eventually lifted safely onto the barge. The sections were taken to a ship breaker in Rotterdam instead of cutting it up on the quayside. It was agreed that this action would mean that the river to Wisbech would be opened up all the sooner.  Some of the cost of the salvage operation was recovered from the sale of useable cargo and scrap.

Throughout the whole operation the main concerns had been for the environment and the safety of the many hundreds of sightseers who flocked to East Bank, Sutton Bridge, to watch the drama unfold from beginning to end. This resulted in the erection of steel safety barriers along the riverside and the closing of East Bank itself, causing a 10-mile detour into Sutton Bridge itself for residents, farming traffic, and other businesses, on East Bank and the hinterland.  Their requests for access were denied, again on safety grounds, and because of the difficulty in monitoring residents’ right of access.

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The  Pendennis was a tug boat owned by The Pendennis Co. Ltd, of Wisbech. It was an iron twin-paddle steam–tug and built in London in about 1868. It was 79¼ feet long and 16¾feet wide (approx 25m long and 5m wide) with a gross tonnage of 73 (74) It was driven by twin paddles from a 40hp steam engine.

It earned its keep by ‘seeking’ out big sailing ships in the Wash and offering tow them into the Nene and up to the docksides at Sutton Bridge and Wisbech beyond. These tall ships regularly brought in timber from the Baltic to Sutton Bridge. There were landing stages at Sutton Bridge, which enabled timber to be unloaded at any stage in the tide.

There is a story that says that as soon as the ship’s masts showed up over the bend in the river, the local men employed to unload the ship would send down to The Bank Tap (another story!) for jugs of beer to slake their thirst during their long arduous day, working through from 6am to 6pm.   The men earned little more than the cost of the ale they drank!

Later the Pendennis had a rival tug in the Wash: The Conservator, but this was after 1902 when she was built. The Conservator was a larger and stronger vessel with a 450hp engine.  Further along the coast, at Wells, the tugboat, Marie, carried out the same work of towing heavy vessels into port. 

When not towing ships into the Nene, Pendennis would sometimes be employed to tow away the empty ‘ash’ hulks from the south Quay at King’s Lynn, where ships loaded with raw phosphates had their holds emptied by manual labour before being loaded into wagons and taken to the King’s Lynn Manure Works for manufacture into artificial fertilisers.

The photograph above shows the Pendennis towing a sailing ship through the third bridge (c.1898) at Sutton Bridge. The sailing ship had come from Wisbech and was being towed back into The Wash and beyond to the North Sea.

Other ships that might have been towed by Pendennis: Photos below show sailing ships in the river Nene at Sutton Bridge.

It was not all plain sailing: these two photographs below show the Hasselburg grounded near the port, possibly after a very high tide or sea surge.

By the 1930’s sailing ships had been replaced by steamships, which no longer needed a tug to bring them into port. However, today, the tug is still used to accompany larger vessels up the river Nene to  Sutton Bridge and Wisbech, where they are often used to ‘nudge’ the huge ships into their berths. Today the Fenlander carries out this function.

A steam ship in dock at Sutton Bridge. 

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As daylight disappeared on Thursday December 12th 2013, the people of Sutton Bridge, along with other inhabitants of the east coast, waited with bated breath for the predicted tidal surge due on the evening high tide. All day gale force winds had battered the Lincolnshire coast and the Wash ports and North Norfolk resorts.

Some people still remember the floods of January 1953, and the last flooding in 1978. They recalled the havoc, death and destruction along the east coast, from Mablethorpe to Canvey Island.  This time, everyone was prepared. Over a million people have signed up to the Environment Agency flood warning telephone network. Since 1953, extensive sea defences have been built or reinforced. And yet, the weather is still in control.

A sea urge occurs (according to BBC weather presenter, Matt Taylor) ‘when a rising area of low pressure takes pressure off the surface of the sea allowing it to bulge upwards.’ The strong winds behind it then ‘shove the bulge of high sea levels down through the North Sea’ and into the Wash and along the east coast.

The sea surge predicted for December 12th was the worst for sixty years and fortunately the work done since 1953 to create east coast sea defences largely paid off. King’s Lynn’s River Ouse broke its bank on the South Quay and Boston suffered some considerable damage, while at Hemsby (on the North Norfolk coast), seven holiday homes were washed into the sea. People were evacuated from their homes in Great Yarmouth.

Strong gale force winds added to the potential devastation, but fortunately for Sutton Bridge the wind abated a few hours before the incoming tide reached its peak.  However, there was enough water on the tide to create flooding of both east and west banks and to flood the road from Sutton Bridge to Tydd Gote. Lime Street was again flooded and some water reached Wharf Street, but this was due to the valve in a drainage canal being forced open and which allowed river water to pour into Lime Street. No homes were flooded on this occasion because the Environment Agency put sandbags on the drain and across Lime Street. Some residents had placed sand bags against their front doors.

The Cross Keys Bridge was closed by police for public safety, as streams of sightseers came to watch the rising waters.  Their parked cars in neighbouring streets made it difficult for EA officers and the emergency services to gain access.  Residents in the nearby streets of Custom House Street, Lime Street and Wharf Street added to the confusion as word spread that they should get the sandbags that were being handed out and they came out with their cars to collect them.

Recent work carried out by the Environment Agency to reinforce the East Bank near the East Lighthouse and between the Cross Keys Bridge to beyond Foul Anchor contained the water and stopped flooding.  The Drainage Boards held back the normal twice daily emptying of the dykes and drains as a precaution.  Fortunately there had been little rain during the previous fortnight and therefore the dykes and drains were not overfull.

In the sixty years between the 1953 East Coast Floods and today, the Environment Agency has been looking after our sea defences and a number of measures have been taken to prevent a recurrence of that disaster.  It seems to have paid off.  Boston suffered more than other habitations around the Wash, possibly due to an ‘after-wash’ of water. Somebody likened the Wash to a bowl of water, which when its surface is disturbed, causes tidal waves which hit the shore in the direction of the incoming tide and behind the prevailing wind (around Snettisham and Hunstanton) and then is washed back with force to the opposite shore (Boston). Perhaps this is what happened on December 12th 2013 when a tidal surge added to the volume of water in the Wash area.

1953 Floods

Tides of 29 feet 9ins (9.07m) were reached at Sutton Bridge on Saturday evening on January 31st 1953, creating the worst sea floods in living memory. Elsewhere along the east coast, the tides were higher and fiercer and caused more destruction. In the South Holland district, some of the devastation caused was worse than that experienced at Sutton Bridge. At Gedney Marsh 110 acres of arable land was flooded when the sea bank was breached and a gap of 36 feet (10.97m) was opened up. A similar breach occurred at Holbeach Marsh, and two breaches caused flooding of the land between Fosdyke and Boston.  At Spalding the river Welland overflowed and flooded a number of houses, including the Pigeon Inn in the West marsh area of the town.

At Sutton Bridge, at about 7pm, the water swept over the west bank between Garner’s warehouses and Travis and Arnold’s timber yard. Within minutes the nearby streets of Lime Street, Wharf Street, High Street and Church Street were also flooded. Lime Street was inundated with two feet (610mm) of water and this spilled into the neighbouring streets.

Residents were taken unawares as water crept into their home.  Furniture was submerged People fearing the worst either went quickly upstairs or evacuated their homes altogether.

Water flooded into gardens, into greenhouses, carrying with it timber that had been stored on the riverside. Holes were gouged in the tarmac in Lime Street and fences were torn up. Stored grain in Garner’s warehouse basement and on the ground floor was destroyed.

The constable on duty at the Police Station in Wharf Street had the job of going from house to house checking on the safety of residents. As the police station was not affected by floodwater, the control centre was set up there and all off-duty policemen were drafted in to help getting residents to safety.

After a couple hours the water started to go down. The fire brigade came from Long Sutton to pump out the water and continued throughout the night. Volunteers from the village were called for to help fill sandbags with gravel from the Tydd Cut embankment so that a 200 yard (183m) wall along the west bank could be built. About 60 volunteers, working throughout the night in biting winds and very low temperatures, filled the bags and a fleet of six lorries transported the bags to Sutton Bridge.

Filling sands bags
[photo: Lincs Free Press]

Fortunately the next high tide at 6am on Sunday morning was not as high as the previous night and although the river was still full and wild, there was no danger that it would flood its banks again.

Sandwiches and hot drinks were provided by the owners of The Bridge Hotel, Mr & Mrs Frank Rowe. People stranded on a train travelling to King’s Lynn were provided with accommodation at the hotel.  They had been prevented from travelling on because of damage to South Lynn Station.

Men wading through floodwater to deliver milk to the Bridge Hotel

[photo: Lincs Free Press]

Among the worst affected homes was that occupied by Mr & Mrs Boothby whose house was on the corner of Lime Street and Custom House Street. Mrs Boothby and their 11yr-old daughter, Marie, were alone in the house at the time, as Mr Boothby had just gone out.  Marie noticed the crowds gathering outside their house and heard them saying the river had come over the bank. She told her mother who immediately went outside just as the water started pouring in through the front door of her house and straight out through to the back door. Its level soon reached two feet (610mm) throughout the downstairs and up to the second step of the staircase. 

Mrs Boothby cleans up

Residents of Lime Street putting their furniture out to dry 
[Photos: Lincs Free Press]

Other people suffered similarly. The Plumb’s fish and chip shop on the corner of High Street and Wharf Street had to abruptly stop frying when the inrushing water put their equipment out of action.

Fortunately no one was injured in the floods but one old lady suffering from shock had to be helped upstairs. Even essential services managed to survive and there were few reports of damage to electricity and telephone connections.

However, lives were lost in other parts of Lincolnshire and North Norfolk.  A week after the storm it was estimated that some 80 people had died in Lincolnshire and North Norfolk, including 11 people in King’s Lynn. The train service to South Lynn was resumed by Monday morning; some bus services had to end their journey at the bridge, as the bus station was still cut off.

By the time Sunday morning dawned the water had drained from the houses, or had been pumped out, and the roads had dried in the sunshine, but the affected homes had to be cleared of thick black mud and this took much longer.

Damaged furniture, ruined carpets and linoleum were carried outside homes and put in gardens, or in the street, to be dried out and salvaged or to be thrown out.

Concerns about sewage were allayed when cess pit emptying contractors pumped sewage from under floorboards and disinfectant supplied by East Elloe Rural Council was brought in on Saturday night.

Fortunately there was no damage to the recently reclaimed 700 acres of land on Wingland, but the high tide caused some damage at the two bridges at Foul Anchor sluice.

People now say that the abandoned dock area, which filled to its brim with river water, saved Sutton Bridge from the possible worst effects of the storm and flood.

The following year, 1954, low-lying parts of Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton were inundated again. Some houses in Bridge Road were flooded and in parts of Wharf Street, water was 45cm deep. This time the flooding was caused by excessive rainfall in the area. The Pode Hole pumping station recorded the amount of rainfall that had fallen in 24 hours was the most the area had experienced in 33 years.

JB December 2013.
Material for the article gleaned from the Lincolnshire Free Press January 12th 1993, from an article by Jonathan Smith, which reproduced their February 3rd 1953 edition following the floods at the end of January 1953.


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Travis & Arnold Timber Yard Fire, 1938

For 14-year old Douglas Vincent and his brother, Ralph, aged 9, it was a night to remember.  At about 8.45 on the evening of Thursday, March 17th, 1938, the two boys went upstairs to their bedroom in Custom House Street, Sutton Bridge and saw through the window fierce flames coming from the direction of Travis & Arnold’s Timber Yard on the banks of the River Nene. They rushed downstairs shouting to their parents that the mill was ablaze. Mr Vincent, their father hurried along to the Police Station in Wharf Street, opposite the junction with Custom House Street, to raise the alarm. A few minutes earlier, at about 8.30pm, an off-duty airman from RAF Sutton Bridge also spotted what he later said was a ‘red glow’ coming from one of the saw mills, and within minutes the whole building was ablaze.

The fire spread quickly and the glow on the sky could be seen from 30 miles away. The Long Sutton Fire Brigade and the fire unit from the RAF camp were soon on the scene but their job was made more difficult by the fact the river was at low tide and there was little water that could be pumped up to quench the flames. The fire had quickly taken hold so the Long Sutton Brigade concentrated on saving the homes in Custom House Street and Lime Street, while the RAF pump focussed from the direction of the West Lighthouse, successfully holding back the fire from spreading further along the river bank towards the Chip Factory. Airmen from the RAF camp also assisted residents in Lime Street to get their furniture and possessions from their homes, sometimes through upstairs windows.

It was not long before the whole four acres of the timber yard Factory was ablaze. Five brigades were called in: Wisbech Fire Brigade sent two engines and Holbeach sent one, arriving soon after the blaze had started. The additional engines managed to save some of the timber stored on the river bank.

Before the fire got a strong hold, several men tried to remove timber from the site, but soon had to retreat for their own safety. A new lorry, already loaded with timber was completely destroyed. There was nothing anyone could do except stand by and watch helplessly as the fire did its worst. The fire raged for several hours.

Flames leaping across to stacks of timber

The wind fanned the flames and the fire quickly spread in the direction of the Golf Club House, whose frontage was on the river front. Mr & Mrs Large, the owners, were at home and were luckily able to get furniture and valuable possessions out of their house with the help of airmen from the RAF Camp. Unfortunately, the building was totally destroyed.

The golf Club house before and during the fire.

[Later, during the clearing up operations, part of the restoration work involved removing the top floor of the Golf Club House and refurbishing the ground floor which became Travis & Arnold’s new office. It remained so until 1983, when Travis & Arnold closed their Sutton Bridge Depot and Roffe’s Transport eventually took over the site.]

Mr & Mrs Burton, of Custom House Street, had gone to bed early and were disturbed by what Mrs Burton thought was the child next door crying. She got up and looked out of the back bedroom window to see the red glow in the sky and saw that the mills were ablaze.  The Burtons y got dressed and despite the intense heat, began to get their furniture outside as quickly as possible.

Another local resident, Mrs Gasden, who lived in Lime Street, was outside after walking to the corner with her friend, who had been visiting.  At the time she and her friend left the house, they had noticed nothing wrong, but on returning home, Mrs Gasden saw people rushing past and was soon aware that the timber yard was alight.

There was a lucky escape for Mr Faulkner, an employee of Travis Perkins, who lived in a caravan parked in the yard. His job was to look after the only horse used in the yard.  The horse was removed safely from its stable and yoked to the caravan, towing it to safety.

An elderly resident—Mrs Wilkinson, aged over 80—was helped from her home in Lime  Street. All of the homes were greatly damaged, but the tenants managed to save their furniture, even though some of the bedsteads were red hot to the touch.

The blaze could be seen for miles around as the flames shot forty feet into the air, and  even as far as Market Deeping, thirty miles away, the pink glow could be seen, while closer to Sutton Bridge, trees and buildings were silhouetted against the flames. In was fortunate that the wind was in a favourable direction keeping the blaze from spreading towards Sutton Bridge itself.

By 7 o’clock the following morning the fire had almost burned itself out. The timber yard was a flat expanse of ash where a few hours earlier had been stacks of wood. Only the machinery, a high chimney plus some unstable pieces of masonry was all that was left of the wood yard which had a few hours previously contained its largest stock of timber for many years. Apparently 11 boat loads of timber had stood on the river bank alone. 

An aerial view of the devastated area (Daily Sketch)

After the danger had passed and the houses were considered safe, residents returned, together with their furniture. 

Photo left: residents returning a wardrobe through an upstairs window after the fire.

During the following days, the job of the 75 employees of the timber yard was to carry out salvage operations.  The reason for the fire was never established.

Employees who left at 5pm when the yard closed on the Thursday evening said that everything had appeared in order.

(The estimated cost of the damage caused by the fire was £150,000 (over £20 million today).


Gleaned from articles and photographs in the Lincs Free Press and the Daily Sketch 

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Reminiscences from Jeremy Satherley

Jeremy Satherley is the author of Jerry Oonder the Bed (1998), which is an account of his boyhood memories in 1950s Sutton Bridge. He was born in The Hague, Holland in 1948, during his RAF father’s attachment as Adviser to the Dutch Air Force, and was christened in 1949 at St Matthew’s Church, Sutton Bridge. Jeremy’s grandmother, Annie Amos, lived at 15 Queen Street and during the Fifties Jeremy’s family lodged twice at Annie’s house while waiting for a married quarters vacancy at his father Geoffrey’s next posting.

On the second occasion, during 1956/7, Jeremy stayed in Sutton Bridge long enough for him to attend Sutton Bridge School in Mrs Motley’s class. He also spent several of his school holidays with his grandmother, and at an impressionable age accumulated many pleasant memories of the village, as it then was. Regular visits to Sutton Bridge continued into the 1980s, and on returning to South Lincolnshire in 1995 after a career in Norfolk, London and Scotland, Jeremy decided it was an appropriate time to record his memories, before they faded, in Jerry Oonder the Bed (a name the school kids teased him with).

The account below —The Post Office Girl— is one he wrote in 1999 for The Bridge parish magazine. When his mother, Trissie, went into residential care at Nene Lodge in 1997, Jeremy was sorting through the prolific memorabilia hoarded in her Norwich house and came across a 1930s Cadbury’s Milk Tray box, which was full of letters to her from young airmen stationed at RAF Sutton Bridge, during her time as a post office counter clerk on Church Terrace in the early Thirties.

Jeremy has kindly given permission to Bridgewatch to publish excerpts from some of them on its website. So from time to time, we shall be uploading stories he has written as well as his documented memories in Jerry Oonder the bed and a letter his mother wrote to the Lincolnshire Free Press with her own recollections of life in Sutton Bridge before and during the War.

- by her son, Jeremy Satherley

[Trissie Timby (1912-2004) was the daughter of Annie Timby (née Dakin, 1888-1972, originally of Bridge Road living in a house opposite St Matthew’s Church). Trissie’s father, Reuben, was an M&GN railwayman whose family hailed from the West Lighthouse. He died aged 31 during the 1918 flu epidemic, leaving Annie to raise a young daughter while working respectively in a shoe shop (next door to the present antique shop) and as housekeeper to Mrs Dawes in Little Sutton. Annie finally became a housewife again on remarrying —to builder Horace Amos— and moved to Queen Street. Horace unfortunately died in an accident at Travis & Arnold’s sawmill during the war, whereupon Jeremy’s grandmother became housekeeper to farmer Fred Sole in New Road.

On leaving Spalding High School in 1928, Trissie worked for a short time in Cricklewood, London, before returning to work at the Sutton Bridge Co-op and then at the post office, where she became a magnet for young airmen from RAF Sutton Bridge. The airman she eventually married at Grantham in 1935 was Jeremy’s father, Geoffrey.]

Trissie on holiday in Hunstanton, 1933


Sometime in the early 1930s, after one of Trissie’s boyfriends had been sacked from the Co-op for playing cards in the basement, the young lady shop assistant decided it was time that she, too, should consider a change of career. So she went to work for Bill Humphries at his post office at the end of Church Terrace. She said her employer, Mr H, didn’t believe in spending money until it was absolutely necessary: a hole in the floor behind the counter was bridged with an old enamel sign. No health and safety concerns then!

Biff Wildman, a serious contender, who wrote many letters

It wasn’t the sort of job that allowed a low profile. Village commercial life had taken an upturn since the opening of RAF Sutton Bridge in 1926. From that windswept site across the river, where the power station now rears its twin heads, would come a daily influx of lads in blue uniforms in search of cinema, dance hall, shops...and the post office, where the aeronautical grapevine had detected a certain 20-year old Miss T. dispensing stamps for their letters home.

She was soon being asked for dates and there was no time to lose. After all, the gunnery courses at the camp only lasted six weeks. After that, the men returned to their bases or next postings. So notes of invitation came in thick and fast. Some were simple affairs in pencil; others, literary and calligraphic masterpieces, either handed in over the counter by colleagues if the Dutch courage wasn’t there, or in person if it was. Here is a typical approach:

‘RAF No 3 Armament Training Camp, Signals Section, Sutton Bridge, 10 Sep 1932.
Dear T., I propose visiting the local cinema, and would be exceedingly glad of your company. Should you decide to confer it upon me, please give me a ring at five minutes to twelve. I shall endeavour to answer the phone in person.

Yours sincerely


Then there was Ted, who had obviously put a foot wrong somehow, and was anxious to make amends:

‘The picture is incomplete. One thing more I require to fill my cup of happiness, and that is the olive branch. Will you proffer it?’

Not that Miss T. was always blameless herself. When she stood up Corporal Leo Kenny in March 1933, she incurred some elegant sarcasm:

‘It was so nice of you to turn up on Sunday. I hope you enjoyed yourself. I had a ripping time, wandering about on my own...I must confess, up till that moment, you stood very high in my opinion, and I should welcome your assurance that I have not been mistaken, or that my confidence in you has not been misplaced.’

Cpl Leo Kenny’s letter

About a month later, however, Leo retreated, defeated by what he called ‘the constant stream of worshippers at the shrine of beauty’.

One wonders how many rookie airmen—or average youths in general for that matter—could express themselves so eloquently in today’s text-speak?

Congratulations, Ronald, Ted, Leo and many others—you were masters of a now virtually extinct craft!

The Bridge, May 1999

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The following letter was written to the Lincolnshire Free Press in 1986, in response to a piece that had appeared in that paper in January entitled ‘Airfield of Memories’. The writer was the late Mrs Trissie Satherley (1912-2004), daughter of Annie Amos (1888-1972) of 15 Queen Street.

Wartime memories of Sutton Bridge

I was very interested in your article entitled ‘Airfield of Memories’ (recollections of Sutton Bridge airfield) which appeared in the Lincolnshire Free Press in January, since I have an identical photograph to the one which accompanied it.

I too met my husband when he came with a visiting squadron to the practice camp in those early days, subsequently turning up on our doorstep every weekend thereafter until I finally put him out of his misery and married him.

As your contributors have said, the camp breathed new life into the village and put it on the map.

Masses of smart, blue-uniformed swains swarmed over the bridge and into the village every evening from about 6.30, heading for the pubs and dance halls, their legs tightly encased in puttees and their feet in highly-polished boots in the early days.

The main dance hall at this time was the Oddfellows Hall which later became the cinema and finally the restaurant which was destroyed by fire a few years ago. A veritable mecca of a dance hall this was, large and spacious with a beautiful floor. The band was almost always the RAF band formed by members of the permanent staff. This was a really first-class band, complete with a crooner who sang through a loudspeaker. Waltzes were played with the lights turned low and coloured lighting effects. Many a romance was born on these occasions. The entrance fee was one shilling, now known as five pence. At 16 [back in the late 1920s] one could hardly wait to get home from school and out of uniform to get there!

Invitation tickets for dances 1932/3

Later when this hall became a cinema, the dances were held in the Conservative Hall which was considerably smaller, so when the war brought the allied forces and our army contingent to the camp, the atmosphere became somewhat stifling. The hall was filled to such high capacity that the walls almost bulged and one could almost see the damp rising from steaming battledress uniforms. Thus it became internationally known as ‘The Sweat Box’, and not the Sweet Box as stated in your article.

One’s dancing expertise improved enormously after Strauss waltzing with the Poles, tangoing with the French, jiving with the Yanks, and Palais Gliding, Hokey-cokeying and Lambeth Walking with the whole cosmopolitan lot of them. For many of us it was a pleasant diversion and a way of allaying the suspense we were living through.

Almost every household had airmen billeted on them. My own mother had at one time a Canadian pilot who would pass on Laura Secord chocolates and Sweet Caporal cigarettes to me when his parcels came from home.

The reverse of a Sweet Caporal cigarette packet, showing aircraft recognition illustrations

My husband was posted to the Middle East at the beginning of the war. He was a bomber pilot and one worried all the time, as often there was no news for weeks. I had a small daughter and could not take a job, so I became a member of the WVS [Women’s Voluntary Service] and helped to run the service canteen.

Just before the war ended my husband returned and was stationed at Sutton Bridge, where he was often required to go out and recover bodies from the Wash.

Some of the famous pilots (perhaps less heard of nowadays) stationed there then included Air Commodore Archie Winskill, who became Captain of the Queen’s Flight, and Group Captain Stanford Tuck, who after the war became a great friend of the high-ranking German officer he shot down, also a famous air ace.

The ceiling of the bar in the officers’ mess bore the footprints and signatures of the famous pilots who had passed through the station, as was the custom on all fighter stations. The procedure was to pile up chairs and settees and stand on their heads to achieve the footprints. One wonders what happened to the ceiling when the building was demolished. It still existed after the station was officially closed down in 1945, when my husband was posted from Catfoss to Shinfield Park. We were allotted one of the two officers’ married quarters at Sutton Bridge, there being no available quarter at Shinfield Park.

This meant that except for weekends, my small daughter and I lived alone on what had virtually become a ghost station. It gave one an eerie feeling, almost of the supernatural, to walk between the deserted buildings, trying to make oneself believe so much vital activity had taken place here.

The two officers’ married quarters, originally built for the CO and the Medical Officer, were situated at the left back of the large hangar and it is doubtful if they existed at the time the photograph was taken. The Warrant Officer, NCOs’ and airmen’s married quarters were built in Chalk Lane, of course.

Incidentally the gunnery school moved to Catfoss from Sutton Bridge, and not Kirton-in-Lindsey as was stated in your article. This was during the period that my husband was stationed with the unit, and we moved up with them.

I’m sure there are many ex-RAF people still living in Sutton Bridge who miss the RAF as much as we do. Two names missing in your article were Flt Lt Jack Flint who married Evelyn Stone, and Flt Lt Jack Brazier (married to Phyllis?). Joyce and Rita Goodger, who both married pilots, left the village. My cousin Joan Lawson married Arthur Edgley, an air gunner who became a prisoner of war and now farms at Lutton Marsh.

It was a sad day when the station closed but it is nostalgic to look back on those hectic days, and very sad to see the rows of crosses in the churchyard, marking the graves of those who can no longer do so. The memorial chapel in the church will remind us of them always.

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Memories of 1950s Sutton Bridge - By a kid passing through

Jeremy Satherley writes:

‘After writing Jerry Oonder the Bed in 1997/8, I was surprised and delighted to have sold about 500 copies, mainly through Sutton Bridge and Long Sutton Libraries. However, I little thought that it would arouse any further interest until 15 years later, Bridgewatch approached me out of the blue with a request to reproduce one of the book’s illustrations. One thing led to another, as it often does, resulting in a kind invitation to put Jerry Oonder the Bed in its entirety onto Bridgewatch.

‘So here goes. Please bear in mind that it was written some time ago now, so certain things I referred to as current in the late 90s will have changed. But the sentiments I expressed at the time remain as strong as ever.’

'Beg pardon?'

The rotund figure leaned forward in the long-suffering armchair, so that its seat sagged down to the floor.

'Walton!' the old woman sitting opposite him repeated. 'Walton, the milkman!'

'No, not 'im. You know, 'im as...'

He jerked a thumb backwards, as if the man he wanted were in the shrubbery outside.

'IT'LL BE WALTON, I KNOW!' shouted my grandmother with unnecessary vigour. She turned to me with an aside: 'I do 'ate when I've to shout.'

As the 1950s summer evening in New Road, Sutton Bridge wore on, it was getting past the time to switch on the lights. The sun was sinking fast, straining its last efforts through the stained-glass pineapples in the living room fanlights. Only a weak patch of light left on the red-and-blue Turkish-pattern carpet now, as other familiar objects faded into the gloom. No longer could one read the caption Dear Old Home Goodbye to the Victorian print on the wall, of a Regency buck enticing his ladylove away from the gates of her family seat. Only a faint glimmer reflected from the silver tureen and a cluster of crystal tumblers standing on the massive mahogany sideboard.

It was to these that Fred Sole now turned. 'What’ll yer have, Mrs Amos?'

'Whisky n' soda, please, but not too strong. It'll go to me legs.'

Fred brandished an empty siphon in my direction. 'Jeremy, go you and get me another of these,' he ordered with a smiling, pink face.

Nine years old and eager to please, I scurried off on my journey down the dark Victorian hallway with its multicoloured glass lampshade, bedecked in my imagination with emeralds and rubies. Past the sombre, flag-paved conservatory and down brass-edged steps to the billiard room, where ranks of bottles awaited in brewer's wooden crates.

Soon it would be suppertime, with the three of us assembled under the single light bulb of a vast kitchen, its wooden panelling painted from floor to ceiling in two shades of green.

There'd be ham-on-the-bone, tomato, haslet or cold Lincolnshire sausage and chicken to eat while Fred brought Gran up to date with national and local current affairs. At half past eight, it would be time to go across to Gran's house to bed, listening to the chimes of St Matthew's church clock and looking forward to the pleasures of the next summer morning.

It was good to have been born just in time to remember this tail-end of an old-fashioned provincial life, characterised by unquestioned routine, friendly discipline, a lesser preoccupation with self-image, and more time for one's neighbour. All typical hallmarks of staying or living in Sutton Bridge, and why, often to the amazement of those who expect nothing less than mountain ranges, valleys, forests or Cotswold stone to enliven their landscapes, 'The Bridge' retains a place in my affections, no matter how much it's changed since.

While I couldn't conform less to the image of South Lincolnshire man, having neither the patience to grow veg in serried ranks, nor the ability of a competent handyman, I can claim certain roots in Sutton Bridge. My maternal grandmother, Annie Amos (née Dakin), was raised in a house opposite St Matthew's Church, while her first husband, Reuben, who died in 1918, was one of the Timby family, who for many years lived in the West Lighthouse at the mouth of the Nene.

My father served in the RAF, which is how he came to meet my mother in the early 1930s, while stationed at the camp which was then part of the Potato Marketing Board's land, now the Wingland Enterprise Park. From then on, no matter where the family was moved, it always contrived to stop off between postings at my grandmother's house in Sutton Bridge. Sometimes for weeks, other times for months; occasionally, even years.

'The Bridge' made its strongest impression on me between the ages of eight and ten in the mid-1950s. Rather than strive for highly-researched factual accuracy, the object has been to give a light-hearted account of the surroundings as I saw and understood them at the time. To those kind people I mention, many of whom are now gone but who indulged and tolerated me as a child, it's my way of saying thanks for the memory. You are gratefully remembered.

Jerry & his grandmother, Mrs Amos, near the East Lighthouse

Jerry as a boy beyond the East Lighthouse at the approach to the sea wall, having just returned from a trek across the oozing mud with his Great Uncle, Frederick Dakin. Start-rite sandals having proved unsuitable for this outing, he had borrowed a pair of Fred Sole’s old shoes, although they kept coming off in the mud!

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When Gran was unfortunately widowed for the second time during the last war, she was living in a rented house in Queen Street, and until she was able to buy it from the landlord for £300 in 1958, such outgoings couldn't take care of themselves. Luckily, she didn't have to look far for an income. Fred Sole, a recently widowed farmer who lived around the corner in New Road, needed a housekeeper.

It was a live-in arrangement, so 15 Queen Street became a house she only occasionally used. Instead, it became her busman's holiday. Every day for nearly thirty years, she'd go across to dust it, polish it and every so often, lay a minefield of stone hot water bottles in the beds to air them.

Resources were frugally used; a wartime packet of Lux soap flakes remained on the kitchen windowsill until well into the 1960s. As a child I stayed at Queen Street many times during school holidays and lived there twice while the family awaited vacant RAF married quarters in Blackpool and later on, Newark. In 1957, the pull of the place was so strong after a three-week holiday there that I had to be forced tearfully into the car. As we headed off for Newark along the long straight towards Long Sutton, I looked longingly out of the back window of the car until the flashing zebra crossing beacons opposite the school had vanished into the horizon.

But why this attachment? The house was actually quite primitive, if not by the standards of the street, then certainly by the expectations of the 1950s. The only tap was at the bottom of the garden. There was no kitchen sink, and the lavatory was an earth closet in the back yard. We'd just come back from Belgium and after the facilities of the Brussels flat, with its central heating, spacious rooms and balconies, I had every reason to hate the place. Yet 15 Queen Street had a charm that overcame its lack of amenities.

It became the yardstick by which I was to judge all future houses for homeliness, intimacy and comfort. As a second turning to the left off New Road, Queen Street began unpretentiously with a large cabbage patch on the left -now occupied by 17 and 19 New Road—which extended as far as Madge Wright's bungalow. But after 50 yards or so, the street took itself seriously with a terrace on either side of small Victorian houses, the front doors of which opened straight onto the pavement. These dwellings had been built around 1879 to house dock workers at a weekly rent of 2/6 (12p), with the land owned by Cross Bros of Long Sutton. By the 1950s many of the residents worked either for the railway or Travis & Arnold's sawmill.

Before the era of upvc windows, stone cladding and satellite dishes, the only feature which distinguished one frontage from another occasionally, was the colour scheme of the window frames and front doors. Otherwise, the houses were all exactly the same, apart from the larger downstairs front windows at No.s 1 and 2, which suggested a previous commercial use: indeed, it's fairly certain that No.l was a shoe-menders at one time. And if the roof tiles tended to blow off more easily from the even-numbered houses opposite, it was because the builders were reputed to have run out of galvanised nails before the job was finished!

Unless the occupant had converted one of the back bedrooms into a bathroom, each property was a three up and three down, with an outside toilet built in unit with a coalhouse, and a reasonably long plot at the back. Here the man of the house would inevitably have an orderly row of vegetables, or at least a shed or two in which to store, make or mend a lot of useful things. Nobody had yet resorted to asphalting or paving over the whole back garden as a car space. Few people in the street owned vehicles then; those who did positioned their garage right at the bottom of the garden.

My mother behind the tin shed

From the New Road end, my grandmother's house was positioned about mid-terrace on the left, with front door and windows picked out in a daring brown and cream. You stepped immediately into a front room 'kept for best', smelling of fresh paint, new pink wool carpet, and lavender wax polish. This you passed through quickly, for fear of polluting it. A pity, for the attractive Victorian grate, flanked by alcoves and half-cupboards, and the original fingerplate on the back of the front door, depicting in semi-relief a substantial classical female, were worth a second look.

The next door, harnessed to the usual draught-excluding curtain, made a typically metallic moaning noise as it opened onto a small, square living room. This was the nerve centre of our life at Queen Street. Here all meals were taken, radio programmes listened to, washing dried, decisions made and quarrels brewed.  It was dominated by a round pedestal table, surrounded by a set of chairs with wing-motif backs, upholstered in rexine or brown floral tapestry material. The original fireplace had been replaced by a bland affair in fawn and cream tiling, at a time when junking Victoriana was considered an improvement. Nevertheless, its replacement was constantly in use, making toast and boiling a piebald kettle which was indelibly blackened on one side, but lovingly polished on the other.

The living room

To the right of the hearth was an original built-in cupboard, painted, not surprisingly, in brown and cream. Housed in its lower half was a mound of mainly wartime knitting patterns, exhorting you to click a patriotic needle for the lads abroad in need of gloves and socks. The upper area contained crockery and also exuded a pleasantly sweet smell: the result of many years' closeting there of chocolate biscuits in a battered Quality Street tin.

In the left corner next to the fireplace was a small, black hexagonal table of the Great War period which supported the radio. This was of 1930's origin, tall, dark brown and gothic in both appearance and temperament. My sister Juliet, eleven years older, set a bad example by demonstrating how to cut off Sandy Macpherson at the Organ with a hefty stamp on the floor. Gran was less impressed when she caught Juliet in the act one day, after which the radio was promptly replaced by a new Cossor set from Normans electrical shop. A squatter, bakelite affair in mock walnut, its dial was crammed with exciting names like Sottens, Hilversum and Allouis which lit up in luminous green when the set was switched on. It was a welcome relief after being bullied on a weekday evening to rush in and catch Children's Hour and the next tear-jerking episode of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, or The Wind in the Willows read by David Davis in his oozingly comfortable voice.

While absorbed in such teatime epics, I afterwards found that a full plate of sandwiches had miraculously become an empty one. Another trick of Juliet's: she'd discovered that loosening the boss under the table's pedestal allowed the top to revolve one full circle.

ChiffonierThis, too, infuriated Gran, although it was easily enough remedied, unlike the affair of the chiffonier. An attractive piece, it stood in serpentine-fronted glory at the back of the room.

Out of harm's way, you might think, except that at the age of four, I managed to kick one of the doors in at a drunken angle. This threw my mother into a panic, as Gran was due over in a couple of hours.

But help was never far away in a place like Sutton Bridge. In no time at all, the bush telegraph would locate a ministering angel in flat cap and blue overalls to come and fix the thing for a trifling sum like 10/6 (53p).

Unfortunately, while the response was prompt enough, Gran turned up in the middle of the repair work, which meant confessing all. But considering the cost of emergency call-out fees today, it was still an impressive effort!

Beyond the living room yet another cream-and-brown door led into a short passage accessing the staircase, larder and kitchen. People wonder nowadays how the older generation could ever have managed without a fridge or freezer, but what they didn't have, they didn't miss. In any case, the larder was so well positioned that keeping a realistic stock of food presented no problems. Storage was a large cupboard under the stairs, its miniscule window looking out onto a sunless back yard. Milk, butter and eggs stayed fresh for days on marble-slab ledges, with meat kept safely from flies in a large, square safe with a mesh door.

The kitchen, or scullery as Gran called it, was not only as cold and dark, but for non-masochists, devoid of nearly all basic essentials. True, there was a copper positioned across one corner in which to do the washing, fronted by a waist-high brick wall and an opening at the bottom for lighting its fire. And yes, there was a gas cooker, ancient, smelly and a nightmare to keep clean. But that was all. No sink, and no running water -not until 1958 at any rate, when Gran's stepson Reg brought us into the space age with a cream enamel sink unit with taps and a geyser. A single-fronted wardrobe served as home for the saucepans, and there was just a solitary enamel bowl on a table top for washing in.

The backyard

To fill it you had to go to the back gate, where there was a tap housed in a wooden box which doubled as an earwig nest. There was a nearer alternative, but it was jealously guarded by my mother. This was a nine-foot-deep well under a manhole cover in the back yard, which collected drain-piped rainwater off the roof. Apparently it offered the ideal softness for washing hair; each precious bucketful excused the smuts and pieces of moss it inevitably yielded.

Having undergone the heroics of obtaining the water, it would be boiled in a kettle for a swill of the face, after which, if it was that time of day, it was upstairs to bed for me. The bedrooms were all of useful size. Two of them could take a double bed, particularly the one at the front which, with its murky khaki-and-orange wallpaper, looming wardrobe and forbidding-looking bed frame was curiously inviting in its fustiness. Perhaps this was because in my world of ever-changing schools and houses, here was a place with surroundings that never altered.

My own room was the smallest one, at the top of the stairs. On the surface it had little to attract an eight-year-old, but its cosiness was soon appreciated. The bed frame had almost assumed the shape of a parallelogram and creaked and rattled. But oh, the numbing comfort of its feather mattress as I sank into it at night among the stone hot water bottles and their singing corks!

I would settle down and listen to the sounds around me. The muffled tones of the radio downstairs -or next door's, as the communal back yards amplified the din; the groan of the living room door as adults came and went, or the muted chimes of St Matthew's Church, ringing out the hour slowly and reassuringly.

New sounds came with the morning. A tardy, hoarse cock crowing in a nearby garden: too late to awaken Lincolnshire folk, already going about their business to a chorus of:

'Are yew orl roite?


'Owdo, mate!'

And over the back of beyond, the railway sidings were coming to life, as steam engines with clanking connecting rods clashed into lines of squealing trucks, then paused for breath, hissing and wheezing to themselves before the next onslaught.

As the room grew lighter through gauze-like curtains, familiar objects presented themselves. To the left of the bed was forbidden territory, like the Berlin Wall. It was curtained off to conceal shapeless parcels of long-forgotten clothing: hardly exciting. Nor did the old doll's house in the window corner hold much appeal, although I did attempt to make this soppy girl's thing more masculine by sticking a picture of a Vauxhall Wyvern on its roof. But more intriguing was the cream-gloss-painted chest of drawers. Two-thirds full of fancy soaps in their gift boxes, it was Gran's way of disposing of years of well-meant present-giving by friends and neighbours. Various correspondence was also kept there, going back 40 years.

One letter, elaborately lithographed with a steam locomotive letterhead, was of mild historical interest. It was a message of condolence from the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway management, expressing deepest sympathy over my grandfather's death in 1918.

But on a lighter note, in the second drawer down, was my favourite piece of literature: the Daily Express Film Book for 1935. On every visit I spent hours gazing fascinated at each colour page of yesterday's stars. It made me a mine of useless information. What other child, even in the 1950s, would have known or cared about Ralph Lynn, Tom Walls, Benita Hume or Yvonne Arnaud? Yet I knew all about 'Getting into Pictures', thanks to Jack Buchanan's advice, and could have told anyone who stopped me in Bridge Road that Elisabeth Bergner was married to director Paul Czinner, or that John Mills made a successful debut as 'juvenile lead' in The Midshipmaid, with Jessie Matthews.

This and a very fine purple-bound pair of volumes commemorating George V's reign with silver-tinted photos, occupied me until an adult got up to start my day. If I was staying for a holiday without parents, Gran slept over at Queen Street and would be raring to go with nervous energy at 7am. There was no idling for this seventy-year-old. After a quick cup of tea, she'd be off round the corner to get Fred his breakfast.

'Don't be later than ten to eight,' she'd say. 'We mustn't keep Mr Sole waitin'.'

The day at Balgownie had begun.

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BALGOWNIE. The name was emblazoned in gold-leaf capitals over the front door of what was then No.43, New Road. It is now number 29 after the road was renumbered.

Very much an individual of a building, Balgownie had the identity of a detached house. Yet it formed the end of a short terrace of nineteenth-century dwellings which began on the Queen Street corner opposite the cabbage patch. Enveloped from footing to gable in the clutches of a red vine creeper, it boasted three storeys, a second-floor balcony and stained-glass panes to its bay windows. Inside were 15 rooms, which included an indoor conservatory with its own skylight, large maidenhair fern and underground well.

In common with some other local properties, it had escaped the wartime requisitioning of garden railings. Its own green cast-iron examples, featuring ecclesiastical-looking fleur-de-lis shapes, had survived intact apart from a corroded curlicue here and there.

The crates of soda siphons and pale ale referred to elsewhere were delivered to a tradesman's entrance, reached through a formal side garden laid with pink gravel paths and wooden border edging. Also much in evidence at the side was a nineteenth-century timbered extension with a pitched roof, which housed the billiard room. It represented the division between front and rear gardens, reached by passing through a gate in a substantial lattice fence. It was to this rear garden I would come in time for the ten-to-eight breakfast rendezvous, entering through a gate in the high back fence, and running up the asphalted path through the rose trees and brick outhouses to the green kitchen door.

Anyone entering the garden this way for the first time would be taken aback as soon as they set foot on the path. For there, in the middle of a perfectly-kept lawn bearing the stripes of the mower's roller was one of the largest television aerials you ever saw. Rising like a clipper's mainmast to a height of some 60 feet, it was secured to the ground by a series of thick cables.

There was good reason for such a superstructure. Balgownie had been one of the first houses in the village to have TV, but South Lincolnshire had long been dubbed 'Television's no man's land.' The area around Peterborough and Spalding lay inconveniently between the Pennines, the Cheviot Hills and the Cotswolds, thus reducing signal strengths from the Holme Moss and Sutton Coldfield transmitters.

But back to the house itself. The strongest appeal of Balgownie was its originality. Not just in its appearance and the appliances used, but in the way it was run. The bathroom, for instance, positioned at the turn of a solid pine staircase—reputed to have cost £100 when installed—had piped water to the lion-footed bath, but no washbasin. Instead, Gran would appear daily with an enamel bowl of hot water and place it on top of a wrought-iron stand. This was for Fred's shave with plenty of lather and a brush, his back to a window pane decorated with beautifully-painted bird scenes, of blackbirds and thrushes consorting among the primroses.

Meanwhile, down in the large, wood-panelled kitchen, breakfast would be sizzling away on the Rayburn, perhaps with some clothes drying on the wooden rack above it. Here the only concession to modern technology was a fridge, although this dated from the 1920s. Since when it had squeaked and chortled away to itself next to the door, its four solid legs supporting a cooling cabinet barely adequate for two days' rations. It was a curiosity even then, and Fred always vowed he would return it to Frigidaires for displaying in their museum.

The day began, appropriately enough, with a proper breakfast. At eight sharp, the sound of clumping feet would be heard advancing down the hall. Fred would enter, settle into his high-backed chair and tuck into a feast of fried egg and tomato with bacon and a Lincolnshire sausage or two, washed down with a large, willow-patterned cup of coffee.

Then in his mid-seventies, he owned a farm on the Norfolk side of the river, adjoining the old RAF station, and now part of the Potato Marketing Board's land. It was looked after by a manager, but Fred usually spent the morning and some of the afternoon overseeing matters on site, a routine broken only by trips to Lynn on market day, or the weekly visit to the Barclays Bank sub-branch opposite the Bridge Hotel to collect the men's wages.

Barclays Bank

Barclays Bank on the corner of Bridge Road almost opposite the Bridge Hotel c. 1950’s

Of medium height, with a fresh complexion and brilliantined white hair parted in the middle, Fred was always hospitable and generous. 'Go on, eat that up,' he'd say, knowing full well I'd devour any leftovers like a wolverine.

Breakfast over; he'd push back his chair with a word about lunch. 'Shall we have a bit o' pork today, Mrs Amos?' If it was Gran's shopping day, blue fivers would change hands before he set off for the farm, leaving by the front door and crossing to the garage opposite to get out the Rover 90.

During the morning I'd help with the washing up, scraping spuds, or chatting to Mrs Parker. This lady came in for a few hours a week to help with the housework, and was often to be found dusting the window ledge of the front bedroom, where she was well positioned to check out the movements of everyone in New Road. Mrs Parker was a flattering listener. Her conversation consisted of many obliging exclamations like 'Ooh, I say!' or 'Well, I never!' with a constant expression of wonderment, no matter what nonsense I might be talking at the time. I'd then skip off to check if the other upstairs rooms were as I'd remembered them from my last visit.

Gran's room would be on the first floor, smaller than Fred's and typically sparse, with only the bare essentials of bed, marble washstand, chest of drawers and wardrobe, all in a sombre but richly-grained wood. There was another flight of stairs to two more rooms at the top of the house. Their brass bedsteads dominated the modest floor areas with an impression of magnificent, eery spindliness. In an atmosphere of genteel neglect, wallpaper peeled in the cold, overwhelming silence, particularly in the front room, where an ill-fitting window had yielded to the tentacles of the vine creeper outside. This left matters exposed to the elements, and the occasional fluttering bird. But I suppose the state of this room was either a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind,' or, 'if it ain't exactly broke, don't fix it'.

It was the same downstairs in the kitchen where, each time it rained, water came in through the skylight. For years, two buckets would be fetched to catch the drops, as if it were a perfectly normal routine to be followed without any possible alternative.

Certain electrical appliances were approached with caution. A 1930s cooker in pale blue enamel stood in the scullery, but was never used. It was reputed to have sent a few volts up Gran's arm on more than one occasion, so it was the trusty, coke-fuelled Rayburn in the main kitchen that performed all cooking tasks to perfection. Predictably, there was no vacuum cleaner: just a battered Ewbank Dainty carpet-sweeper. Pushing this around the expanses of flooring was like trying to trim the grass of a football pitch with the smallest hand mower. But doing the washing required the most effort of all, since this relied on a Victorian contraption called The Darling Washer.

Lurking in one of the outhouses, this misnomer must have been the prototype of all washing machines. Its four, splayed iron legs supported a rectangular zinc tub. This was covered by a hinged, wooden lid doubling as a mounting point for a tiller-like agitator, which, provided you were willing to 'Move lever back and forth 150 times', like it said on a metal plate, savaged the clothes into cleanliness. I complied with this religiously, long after the Fairy Snow had lost its foam, and turned the slimy water mid-grey.

The dripping Chilprufe combinations, Viyella shirts and socks safely pegged on the line, it would be back into the house again to look over more familiar haunts. Opposite the two stone sinks in the scullery was a huge worktop with a built-in cupboard. Roomy though it was, a recurring problem with mice prevented anything being kept in it. A trap with cheese had been put down, and highlight of the week was to slide open the door, to see if an unfortunate rodent had copped it.

More bountiful recesses awaited the onlooker in the walk-in scullery larder, where in season, two, floor-to-ceiling mesh safes were full to bursting with hanging pheasants. Nothing oven-ready, of course. It would be Gran's job to pluck them in a flurry of feathers, soiled newspapers and irritable remarks, the whole grisly spectacle exuding a smell like home perms.

The means to this end lay across the passage, where you stepped up into Fred's boot and gun room. Carpeted in coconut matting, it housed glass cabinets of guns, and wooden compartments containing solid footwear and shoe-cleaning materials. Unexpectedly among all this masculine paraphernalia, Gran stored her jars of jam, representing a relentless annual output labelled in her spidery little writing: 'Rasp. 1956',or 'Plum 1955', and so on.

As one o' clock approached, lunch was nearly ready. I helped by laying the table, which included placing a bottle of Worthington Pale Ale and an opener next to the master's plate, taking care not to have shaken it too much beforehand as I had done on one disastrous occasion. I'd then position myself at the front gate for a sighting of the Rover 90 turning right at Christian & Dobbs, and rush down the hall to tell Gran Fred was coming. If there were five or ten minutes in hand he would stop off in the lounge, scanning the Daily Mirror with a critical expression until I came to tell him everything was ready.

Once again, the familiar footstep would come clumping down the hall. Usually, he'd start by updating us on matters of the moment.

'Bridge were open,' he'd say, unfolding his napkin and motioning a thumb backwards. 'Traffic backed up more 'n a mile.'

This might be followed by a tidbit gleaned from the Mirror, occasionally enriched by a condemnation of some faraway uprising, such as, 'That there Lumbaba's been causin' trouble  again...' (referring to President Lumumba of the Congo).

Fred Sole: ‘that there Lumbaba!’

Lunch would then proceed, succulently. 'Take the rest o’ them greens, Jeremy, that’s it. I’ve never seen anyone eat like 'im!' he'd remark, as I ladled all the surplus food into my dish.

The meal over, Fred would retire to the lounge for a short nap.  By 2.30 he'd be on his way out again, leaving us to our washing up extravaganza, to be performed like the Darling Washer ritual with inactive Fairy Snow, hindered by a wringing wet tea cloth.

Afterwards, it was Gran's turn for a break. For an hour or so, she read the Free Press or Mirror at the kitchen table, chin raised to read the newsprint through the bottom of her bi-focals. Then, unless she had some twitchy knitting on the go, it would be time for ten minutes' shuteye.

Mrs Amos reading the paper after lunch

If this was too docile for me, I'd go off and explore Fred's kitchen garden across the road. In the summer months this was a wondrous jungle, with a mysterious path leading through asparagus and artichoke beds, blackcurrant bushes and apple trees to a high grassy bank at the end. Once, while I was playing there with Fred's grandson, Tim, we were suddenly stopped in our tracks by a shrill and very proper voice crying out.

'Little boys! Little boys!’

It was one of the Misses Hooton from the bungalow next door, probably Jessie, who played the church organ. She stood by the fence, ramrod straight and confrontational, like Edith Evans playing Lady Bracknell. What had we done?

'Would you like some apples?"

We breathed a sigh of relief at this most unexpected offer. Jessie rarely communicated with small fry, living reclusively in a bungalow almost totally obscured by mature shrubs and bushes. She emerged occasionally to ride her perpendicular bike with an air of detached serenity. To humour her we accepted the apples, although Fred had several trees of his own.

Once Gran resurfaced from her afternoon nap, we'd go over to check on 15 Queen Street. While she faffed around inside, I might offer to cut her grass -a rash gesture, as she had no lawn mower, so that after a few moments on my hands and knees with the shears, I'd be bored and bitterly regretting my initiative. But as the pumpkin hour of four o' clock approached, Gran's brow became anxious at the prospect of returning to Balgownie to get the tea. Selfishly, I always liked this part of the day, not just because of the fare, with its Kraft cheese slices and Lyons Choc Rolls in silver foil, but because it was also time for afternoon television to begin.

This was the apparatus which had demanded so much aerial space in the back garden, all for the sake of one BBC channel and a 14-inch screen. Although ITV had been introduced a year or two earlier, the lofty aerial wasn't equipped to receive it. However, I didn't have TV at home, so even watching the test card was a novelty. Eventually, after staring at an image of the spiky Crystal Palace mast to an endless rendering of Bobby Shaftoe or an Eric Coates march, patience would be rewarded with the first glimmers of Andy Pandy. And glimmers they were, for the picture never stayed in focus for long. Positioned in the dim recesses of an anteroom to the lounge, it was as if the set were in sympathy with its surroundings. Time and again, The Lone Ranger, Gilbert Harding and Tony Hancock all fizzled into obscurity till Gran gave in and adjusted the picture for the umpteenth time. What pleasure she got from watching TV I shall never know. Her allotted seating position placed her with her back to the set, so that she had to sit like a sleeping budgie to look at it.

Close by this historic TV was an even older radio. This must have been an expensive set in the late 1920s, as its bow front had twin speakers and it was operated by lifting a lid. On Saturdays, Fred always listened to it for the football results. In the early 1900s he'd been a keen footballer, as evidenced by his sepia-tinted team photo of Sutton Bridge FC, hanging in the billiard room.

The day over and supper a thing of the past by 8.30pm, it was time for Gran to take me back to Queen Street to bed. Balgownie and its quaint amenities had afforded a day of fascination, good food, a look at TV, and if it was that time of the week, a proper bath as well. No other house, with sights and sounds that can still be readily recalled, has left a stronger impression on my memory. Even now, as I turn into New Road and draw level with King Street, I imagine I can still see that comfortable, ruddy-faced figure in the distance, standing in Balgownie's bay window, watching the world go by with a smile and a nod, and all ready to say, 'C-o-me on in!'.

Fred Sole standing in the bay window of Balgownie.

‘Balgownie’ – taken by the author in 1997

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In October 1956 we returned from an air force posting in Belgium and while awaiting vacant quarters at RAF Winthorpe near Newark, my mother and I pitched camp at 15 Queen Street, to which my father returned at weekends.

We arrived well after the school term had started, so I hoped that the need to send me to school would be overlooked, at least until after Christmas. But it was not to be. Within a week, I found myself in Mrs Motley's class at Sutton Bridge Primary, and what an adjustment that was!

Local artist paints a ‘class’ on the old school as part of the Sutton Bridge in Bloom entry for the East Midlands in Bloom competition in July 2011

I may have had both a mother and grandmother raised in Sutton Bridge, but as far as some kids were concerned, that counted for nothing. I was an outsider and a curiosity. Worse, I was dubbed an upstart from a foreign country, who at eight years old was toffee-nosed enough to have learned joined-up handwriting with a dip pen and ink, while other classmates were still forming separate letters with a pencil.

I never volunteered the fact that I could speak French, as life was difficult enough as it was. From the moment I first opened my mouth, I was points down on street cred. I tried to fake a Lincolnshire accent once, in an attempt to escape a difficult crowd at the Bridge Road level crossing. But like Dick Van Dyke's attempt at Cockney in Mary Poppins, it all came out wrong, and my cover was blown.

Then there was the question of my name. When I tremulously replied to the question:

  'Woss yer name, boy?'

from a jostling young male crowd out for mischief, they erupted into squeals of delighted laughter.

'Satherley’, they couldn't do a lot with, surprisingly. But 'Jeremy' was considered absolutely hilarious, and cissy as well.

'You're soppy, boy!'

was the unanimous verdict, uttered with curled lip and a punch. How I wished, at that moment, that I'd told them my name was Brian, Barry or Colin.

The nickname soon coined for me was 'Jerry-under-the-bed'. My usual response to this was a meek smile, partly to avoid a beating up, but mainly because I didn't know what it meant anyway. Having been abroad since the age of six, I had missed out on British slang, so it took ages before the penny dropped. Yet with so many homes still with outside toilets, the jerry was then an essential piece of equipment in the neighbourhood.

Jerry under the bed
If Jeremy’s Gran had had one of these, he would have known what the lads were teasing him about!

The school buildings on Bridge Road, built in 1865 and now one of only 22 of their type left in the country were eventually vacated in the mid-1980s. They were later rescued and sympathetically restored by John and Gail Baker as a training, resource and employment centre for community use, with tea and function rooms open to the public. (Unfortunately this venture only lasted for a few years and the building is no longer used for this purpose.)

Its previous spell of boarded-up emptiness and overgrown trees made an odd contrast to the noisy activity that once went on within its walls. My six months there have left me with a disjointed jumble of memories. Like the girl reading poetry about the seasons with an aspirant hHapril brings the blossoms sweet', and so forth; queuing up on Mondays to buy another two-and-sixpenny (12½p) savings stamp with its picture of an infant Prince Charles; or witnessing a girl being told off by Mrs Motley for cutting the school concert to watch David Copperfield on TV. That tells us something about the novelty value television still had for us, then: how many kids today would willingly stay in for an episode of Dickens screened in fuzzy, 405-line, in black-and-white?

Children's names come drifting back over the years: Pat Trayford, Michael Limbert, Susan Kingston, John Richardson, Juliet Friendship, Michael Hattigan, Brian Wright, John Harrison, Michael Almey, Peter Sorrell, Maureen Halvey, Irene Phillippo, Beatrice Hodge, and Patricia Oldham, for instance.

Perhaps some of the pupils mentioned above might recognise themselves and be willing to contact Bridgewatch with their reminiscences. If so please get in touch via

Trainers, tracksuits, and Umbro bags and sweatshirts were many years away in the future. It was the era of woolly cardigans, high-necked pullovers, corduroy shorts, hair ribbons, cotton frocks and Startrite sandles. Patricia Oldham, however, had succumbed to the contemporary craze for luminous green socks.

I entertained her once to some show-off bike riding in front of her lounge window in Princes Street. Considering that the bike was about three sizes too small for me, had solid tyres and rejoiced in the macho name of Fairy Cycle, the spectacle must have been too ludicrous to contemplate.

In my Belgian school, it had been a national characteristic for children as well as adults to shake you by the hand if they met you in the street. By contrast, Sutton Bridge was my first encounter with rough and tumble. When the school day ended, my main concern was how to dash out and manage the short distance home before my attackers had rallied themselves. I'd discovered a short cut just across the road which led along the side of the potato warehouse (a bungalow now stands on this site, but the alleyway between King Street and Queen Street still exists) to King Street. If I timed it right, I was through the alley and home in time for tea and Children's Hour on the radio unscathed.

The alleyway between King Street and Queen Street

But if I didn't, the corner of King Street by Cropley's shop (became McEwans, the butchers, now a private house) became my Bermuda Triangle. The ambushing pack would grab, punch, push me and throw my bag in someone's back garden, rushing off into the night with a valedictory, 'Jerryoonderthebed! Ha-ha-ha!'

Attackers await me in King Street

Of course, not all the kids were bad by any means. So, to Michael Hattigan, Brian Wright and John Harrison in particular, who had nothing to do with the bullyings, I say, 'Thanks for the moral support, lads!'

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'Far from the madding crowd' was not a phrase you could apply to Sutton Bridge.

By the very nature of Queen Street, with its terraced houses and inward-facing backyards, you were always close to people, overhearing their conversations or activities whether they were next door or several gardens away.

The strongest evidence of activity was the line full of washing. Winceyette pyjamas, Chilprufe 'combs', drawers and all the other washtub contents were attached to a line running two-thirds the length of the garden, pulled high into the air by squealing pulleys until the garments flapped like pennants in a naval review.

Apart from an up-to-date Mrs Chester opposite, who bodily lifted her single-tub into the backyard to show us the modern way to do it, few washing machines had reached the neighbourhood. Like us, several households were still in the Dark Ages, boiling clothes in a copper or pummelling them in a dolly tub with a green block of Fairy Soap.

Having cut my teeth on The Darling Washer, however, dealing with this upstart dustbin and its cow's-udder stirring pole was a piece of cake. I happily accepted sheets, blankets and   raincoats, stirring holes into them until someone begged me to stop.

Immediately next door to us with her yard facing ours was an old lady called Emma Tinker. In appearance, Emma was not unlike Grandma in the Daily Express Giles cartoons. Permanently clad in black from top to toe, with small feet encased in bar-over shoes and lisle stockings, her shallow-crowned hat was on rare occasions removed to reveal a spiky, white coiffure shorn very close at the back. She moved about very slowly, and her alert dark eyes, set like currants in a Garibaldi biscuit, missed nothing in their observations on mankind. Or girlkind. Several years earlier, she'd taken exception to my sister Juliet swinging upside down on the dividing fence, showing her knickers.

'Don't do that, Julien!' was her shocked response. 'That's disgoostin'.'

Nor would she tolerate girls whistling. 'T'ain't ladylike,' she'd complain.

Although she often got our names wrong, we were always mortified when she told us off. When I was four, she once caught me on her side of the fence, playing with her yard tap.

'Jereminy! Stop you that straight away!' And then, the coup de grace: ' I don't like yer now!'

But it was a different matter if I could be useful to her. She spent most of the day sitting in the gloom at the back of her living room, staring impassively through the window. But if I happened to step into her radar beam trained on the back garden, she'd suddenly come to life and knock on the window.

'Jereminy! Go you to Whitmores and get me 'arf a pound of bullseyes!' Such acts of unauthorised delegation angered Gran.

'She's got no right to do that. Blummin' cheek!' she used to say.

Not that I cared, for I got a couple of free bullseyes out of it. But there were always a few individuals who never got it right in Gran's eyes. Not even her friend Mrs Dowe escaped that lightly. Once her cake-making was denounced, 'because she lets all her fruit go to the bottom...’

To Mrs Dowe however, such detractions would have been like water off a duck's back. Nothing worried this bastion of Queen Street society, living in spick-and-span perfection at No.9. If a crisis occurred, she was the alternative emergency service, as in the case of the Mrs Tinker mishap.

One fine day while Music While You Work was sawing away on the radio, there came a cry for help.

'Tr-i-s-s-i-e!     T-r-i-s-s-i-e!'

It was a distress call for my mother. Rushing round next door, we encountered the woeful sight of Emma wedged in the bottom of her chair. Its wicker seat had collapsed, and allowed her to fall through in a confusion of grey-stockinged legs and long bloomers.

Wisely, my mother summoned Mrs Dowe. Round she came, probably interrupting a spell of gravity-driven cake making, but exuding confidence nevertheless. She wasn't fazed in the least by the scene before her.

‘I'm stuck in this here chair!' reminded Mrs Tinker, hunched forward like Winston Churchill conferring with Roosevelt at the Yalta Conference.

'Don't you worry, duck, we'll soon 'ave you out', reassured Mrs Dowe. 'You take one 'and, Trissie, and I'll take t'other.' And with that, Emma was pulled clear, like a tufty cork from a bottle.

But when she wasn't falling through chairs or meditating in her vantage point, Mrs Tinker showed great kindheartedness. Many's the time when, after a prolonged spell of banging on the fence to attract attention, a. seasoned hand would appear over the top, holding a saucepan of ready-sliced veg.

'Thought you'd like a few o' these,' she'd say. 'And now, I think I'll 'ave a hegg for my tea.'

Life was like that in Sutton Bridge. Neighbours put themselves out for each other and doors were almost always open to callers. During the summer, people even left their back doors ajar while they went shopping. This wasn't without its problems, though, as we arrived home once to find Ivy sitting in one of the fireside chairs. She was a character who made an occasional habit of frequenting other people's dwellings. But usually, after a chat about this and that, she was content to get up and go and check on someone else's residence.

Meanwhile, the open door at Mrs Dowe's led to instant hospitality, even on a busy wet washday. Garments might be steaming on a clothes horse in front of the original fireplace, with its miniature side ovens and wax-polished enamel. But before your bottom touched the chair, Mrs D proved she was the fastest draw in the East.

Cups materialised from an unseen source, and jam tarts appeared like rabbits out of a hat. Even today's fast-food joints would have been inspired by the Dowe method of catering. As if further proof were required of her qualities as a survivor, Mrs Dowe always carried an old newspaper clipping in her handbag. It dated from the 1890s and related an incident when she was a small child waiting at a level crossing gate. The keeper began to close the gates, not realising that Mrs Dowe was nearby, and wedged her head between the gate and the post.

In the quaintly melodramatic style of the time, the newspaper report expressed fears about the little mite living for long. But in the event, Mrs Dowe lived to be well over 100! And to this day, I've never forgotten her advice to my mother about dealing with hard butter. 'Take a fork to it, Trissie.’

On a typical weekend in this close-set layout of back ways which paralleled King Street, it was like arriving on a film set, with plenty of simultaneous action going on. George Taylor, smallholder and son of a character known as 'The Cockerel King', whistled as he tended a perfect row of runner beans. Meanwhile, a young Almey boy, hotwater bottle strapped to his waist to ward off the chill of the early autumn morning, was at large with a sheriff's gun in his sticky hand. As he chased me, Brian Wright and John Harrison up and down the alley, we'd respond with saliva-fed hissing noises to effect gunfire.

'Yer dead! I shot yer!

'That yer didn't. You jus' hit my arm! I'm still playin’ !'

While red-haired Mrs Chester continued the backyard wrestling match with her washing machine, her neighbour, Mrs Hodge, followed Mrs Tinker's example and sat at the back of her room, leaning sideways for hours to get a better view of the goings-on outside. Her vista would soon be interrupted, however, by the arrival of Patrick's green Morris Oxford delivery van bringing fresh bread and cakes. Or Mr Seaber the butcher, with a consignment of Sunday joints on the back seat of his new grey-and-white Vauxhall Cresta.

Farther along the alley, a tall Mrs Meek would be setting off to take her spaniel, Paddy, for a walk, exchanging greetings with old Duffy Barrett in her low, musical voice. While there were as yet no ghetto-blasters to cheer the gardener, handyman, or motorbike tinkerer through his outdoor tasks, a rhythmic beat could be heard coming from the end of the King Street terrace. Here a young Nigel Portass would be giving the drums a workout in his parents' downstairs front room. It was his first step in a career that would include running his own music shop in Bridge Road, and providing some of the backing for Gene Vincent and Chuck Berry during their British tours in the 1960s.

Nigel Portass

Back at No. 15, it was time to holster the silver gun and make tracks for Bridge Road with Grandmaw. Shutting the brown front door with a bang which reverberated down the street, we walked up the side road linking Queen Street with King Street, where the acoustic of the brick walls turned our footsteps into a metallic echo. Waving at Mr Cropley, a lean, distinguished-looking man reminiscent of pre-war speed king Malcolm Campbell, chopping away in his butcher's shop, we'd turn left for New Road. There we'd encounter Eadie Portass standing at her corner fence, always ready with a cheerful word for everybody.

Crossing the road by Alf Garner's, who in season tended a fine end-of-terrace display of sweet peas reflected in the black paintwork of his immaculate Morris Oxford, we'd scarcely turn the corner into Bridge Road before running into a contingent of Gran's contemporaries. Names now forgotten, their faces were ready to greet you under close-fitting headgear sprouting hatpins like rapiers.

‘ 'Ello, Annie! Is that Jeremy? My, ain't 'e grown! Fancy that! Joost like 'is dad!'

Lapping up this adulation, I seemed to take it for granted. A far cry from today's tendency to avoid eye contact at all costs.

' 'Owdo.'

Dan Skase was approaching. Gran's reply might be a little more guarded this time, as she regarded Dan as rather an unknown quantity. A roly-poly character in late middle age, his large, cloth-capped face bristling with what might now be termed designer stubble, and dressed in a collarless shirt under a demob suit, Dan led a sort of maverick existence in a prefab in the grounds of a large house at the far end of New Road. In reality he was probably quite a lonely individual, just out for his daily constitutional of no particular place to go. A likely destination was the Pensioner's Rest, a wooden shelter by the level crossing next to Latus's, where old men passed the time watching traffic and chatting to mates.

Dan apart, New Road society had genteel aspirations. Some of the houses, particularly on the golf course side, were large, grand affairs built between the wars. The post-war dwellings on the opposite side, predominantly bungalows with ultra-neat gardens, also had a quiet respectability about them. A typically conscientious owner of such a property was Arthur Brabben, victor of the local Gardens Competition in 1957.

Respectability also ruled in the vicinity of Fred Sole's house. Next door in a detached bungalow lived John Summers, a retired stationmaster of Sutton Bridge station *, and his widowed sister, Mrs Fraser.

Mr Summers belonged to the era when, with the local bank manager, headmaster, vicar and doctor, he made up one of the pillars of village society. Yet there was no pomposity to this reserved and courteous man of modest height. Usually clad in a dark three-piece suit, trilby and sporting a white moustache, he promenaded gently down New Road with his sister as if on the front at Eastbourne. They were exactly the sort of couple you could imagine being part of the audience in the Palm Court radio programme, listening to Max Jaffa playing Elgar.

This impression was furthered by Mrs Fraser. Lofty and majestic, she glided along in a dark blue suit on slender, lisle-stockinged legs. She fashioned her silver hair into a bun and spoke with a sighing, measured tone.

'Ah, Mrs Ay-moss,' she'd announce over the fence, 'would you care for the next copy of the Illustrated London News'! I think John and I have quite finished with it.'

Looking back, she was like a character from an Oscar Wilde play, in which he would probably have cast her with a wealth of preamble and stage directions as the Duchess of Terrington. I was aware she had presence, and tried to impress her with grown up phrases whenever I chatted to her across Fred's dahlias and rose bushes. I have since tried to imagine her in youth as an Edwardian beauty, and wondered what her background was.

As far as Gran's social round was concerned, one thing was certain: it was dominated by housework. But even she varied her routine once a week, thanks to the hospitality of her friend, Annie King*. Miss King, occasional whist drive champion of the Conservative Club, lived in one of a pair of cottages on Bridge Road at the corner of Gas House Lane, where a warm welcome always awaited you.

I accompanied Gran on many of these visits, lured by the prospect of a limitless supply of jam tarts and angel cakes, followed by a jug of orange squash. Although I was at least 60 years younger than the other guests, I never tired of this gathering of mature ladies in fluffy hats. Besides which, the presence of Annie's mother, Mary*, then in her nineties, lent an air of occasion to the proceedings. Unfortunately she couldn't see very far, but sat placidly with her back to the wall, joining in with a cheerful comment or two.

Meanwhile the rest of the company grouped themselves in a circle of armchairs with little plates of sandwiches on their knees, exchanging pleasantries, oo-ers and oh-I-says. With such a good initiation in circulating, I should have become a highly-accomplished social animal. I'd chat to Annie the hostess, pass to Mrs Moon and Amy Aubin, then nip round the back to see how Mary King was getting on.

This genial flow of conversation would bubble on until, all of a sudden, a frisson would run through the gathering and all talk would stop, like a plug being pulled on an appliance.


Experienced veterans of these tea parties would know that this was the intro to analysing someone going past the window. Positioned slightly below road level, the structure of the house picked up every footstep transmitted from the pavement outside, placing the ladies on alert.

'It's old so-and-so!' the lookout would cry, breathless with the discovery.

'He looks well, doesn't he? Looks a sight with that haircut, though.’

From there the observation would develop a sub-plot:

'Who was his mother then?'

'You know! That ole gel from over Tydd way.'                                

'No-o-o! You're thinking of Maisie. She married that man who went to Leicester.'

And so it would go on, an unsuspecting passer-by providing enough subject matter to last for the rest of the afternoon.

As for Gran, those weekly visits provided her with enough to talk about for the rest of her days. The ladies of Gas House Lane were good friends indeed.

*Footnote: Mr Summers became the station master at Sutton Bridge Railways Station, after Mr George King, the Station foreman for 40 years, retired in 1930. Mr & Mrs King raised a family of two sons and three daughters. One of the daughters, Annie is the friend of Jeremy’s grandmother with whom he took tea. Mary, her mother, is the widow of Mr George King. After leaving the First Toll House, Annie and the family went to live in the pair of cottages on the corner of Gas Lane and Bridge road, near the modern day Post Office. [The First Toll House (Bridge House East), An Accidental History… by Peter and Maureen Hunt (1997)

Mr & Mrs George King with their son Dick, and two of their daughters outside Bridge House East. Annie is the daughter on the far right

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Coom you a ride wi’ me

'I put four gallon in the tank. That lasst me a moonth.'

So said Duffy Barrett, through his moustache one morning. We were in the political grip of the Suez Crisis, when Egypt's President Nasser had closed the Suez Canal to British oil tankers. Petrol rationing was in force, and fuel was rationed to so many coupons per person. Driving tests would not resume in Spalding until May 1957. Nor was it an easy time for haulage operators. Some of them took risks in order to reduce the number of trips they had to make, by overloading their vehicles. At Crowland, for example, a lorry piled too high with flower boxes caused havoc when it hit an overhead cable. The restrictions were somewhat easier for Duffy. He ran a box-like Austin Seven from the early 1930s, used mainly on local runs.

'I'd like one o' these,' said George Taylor to my father one weekend when he was cleaning our Vauxhall Velox, 'but a more recent one, like.'

George lived a few doors away in Queen Street, and was also a Vauxhall man. He owned a black, 1947 Fourteen which ran with a smooth, sighing noise. Soon, it was replaced by a gold-metallic Wyvern. Vauxhalls were a popular make in Sutton Bridge, partly because Main Road Garage (now Tears) was the local dealership. Other owners included Dr Ralph Crockatt of Wharf Street, with a green,  Velox, and Mr Seaber the butcher, whose brand-new Cresta came resplendent in grey and white, with flashy whitewall tyres .Less fortunate a Vauxhall owner was Bertie Russell junior, of Petts Lane. Just before Christmas 1956, his Ten saloon caught fire on the West Bank road into the village. With flames licking from under the dash, Mr Russell escaped to call the fire service from the nearest phone box. But the brigade had to come four miles from Long Sutton, by which time the car was totally destroyed apart from the tyres.

Local teachers drove recent models of other makes, Miss Searle sporting a slate-grey Morris Minor, and Mr Williamson, the Head, a Humber Hawk -not a cheap car by any means. Newish cars in Queen Street were very few, but the Larges had a Ford Zephyr, as did the Portass family in King Street. This was regularly driven by Mrs Portass and kept in the free car park by the British Legion. In New Road, Eddie Frow, a vegetable wholesaler, ran a 1935 Austin Ten permanently attached to a trailer. Next door to the Constitutional Club, Alf Garner would be meticulously shining his black Morris Oxford, which seemed to be burnished more than driven. Edwards' cycle shop fielded a magnificent vehicle: a mid-1930s Daimler in bottle green with black wings. It stood outside the wooden shop, proudly perpendicular with its large, chromed headlamps and fluted radiator lending a most imposing air.

In fact, many people able to own a car made do with pre-war Austins, Fords, and Morris Eights and Tens. It was unlikely they could respond to Main Road Garage's ad in the Free Press to 'Salute the Victor'. This latest model, with its canary-yellow paintwork, jet-engine bumpers and wrap-around windscreen demanded all of 485, plus 244 purchase tax, when a serviceable banger could be bought for £15.

But even if you couldn't afford your ideal vehicle, Sutton Bridge ingenuity could get around the problem. Twenty-one-year-old Arthur Summerfield proved that, when he built his own tractor early in 1957. A blacksmith from Wharf Street, he assembled the components around a sixteen-horsepower Morris engine bought for 25s (£1.25). Even this was a non-runner when he bought it, but by the time he'd finished, he had a 15-cwt tractor powerful enough to uproot the plum tree in his back yard. It was then put to regular use on land at Cowbit, all for an outlay of a tenner.

Of really exotic cars in 'The Bridge', there were few, save for an occasional visit by Fred's son-in-law. His American Buick could sometimes be seen standing outside Balgownie in a flourish of bulbous curves and a grille like a giant's toast rack.

My favourite though was Fred Sole's own car, a new Rover 90. Every now and again, while Fred was having an afternoon nap, I'd creep furtively across the road to the garage in the kitchen garden and open the door with a key obligingly hung on a nail outside. There stood UNG 758, black and glossy with an ornate 'Rover 90' script on its boot lid. Through the open driver's door window, you could smell the leather upholstery and hear the dashboard clock ticking. Daringly, I'd open the door, climb into the soft bench seat, hold the steering wheel, slide the long gearlever through its positions. This was real motoring.

Fred’s car in his garage

If I was lucky, I got a ride in it when Fred went to King's Lynn on market days. Clad in a heavy tweed suit and donning driving gloves, he'd drop heavily into the seat and off we'd go, serenaded by that Rover whine in first gear, 'See there's a flower show on in church,' Fred might say, turning round to look at it and narrowly avoiding a lorry coming the other way.

Wafting over the bridge to little more than the sound of that dashboard clock, the Nene's banks below glistening with low-tide mud, we'd soon be on the Lynn Bank section of the A17. As the name implied, the Bank, or Lynn Boards, was a long straight running above, and parallel to, the railway line. Settling down to a remote hum, the Rover galloped along this undulating road, taut with newness and solid build. Only Fred's overtaking procedure was a cause for concern. Scarcely were we alongside the other car than he'd ease off the accelerator and coast back in front. Now, when even the most ordinary car can exceed the ton, I'm glad he was spared the hand-held-phone, racetrack impatience of today's A17.

Arriving in Lynn, Johnson's Garage in Tower Place had to be on the ball when they saw the Rover approaching. Fred would leave the car right across the front of their entrance with the keys inside, and make off for Donaldson's poultry shop in Norfolk Street. 'They'll sort it out,’ he'd say.

No account of life in Sutton Bridge would be complete without the railway. Several histories have been written over the years about the line, best known by its original title of the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway. Ronald Clark, Stewart Squires and John Rhodes have all ably described the importance of Sutton Bridge as a junction between Norfolk and the East Midlands. Unfortunately, the authorities thought otherwise in 1959, and closed it to passenger traffic.

Two years earlier however, petrol rationing brought a temporary increase in business, with much flower traffic transferring to rail in the Spalding area. In what was hardly a punchy tactical marketing message, British Railways' ad in the local press stated:

British Railways (Eastern Region) offer their services.
We are doing our best to meet emergency requirements
and invite your' cooperation and support. Write or
telephone your local goods agent or stationmaster, who
will be pleased to help you.'

Even in its declining years, the railway lent the village an indefinable status and a special atmosphere of sight, sound and purpose. No matter where you were in Sutton Bridge, background noises were ever-present, lending credibility to a pop song of the day, 'The Railroad Runs Through The Middle Of The House’. Even without 'Th'Express' passing through, there'd be wheezings, squealings, chuffings, clankings and the percussion of scores of buffers clashing together as the odd loco or two, quietly on the boil in a weed-strewn siding, suddenly woke up and buckled down to a bit of shunting. It reminded me of that regular phrase in my Reverend Awdry train books: ' “Oh! Oh! Oh!” ' screamed the trucks'.

Sutton Bridge trucks were also seen and heard crossing over Bridge Road and apparently heading for the golf course—as though in a parting of the Red Sea—en route for Travis & Arnolds' sawmills. At weekends there seemed to be little restriction to roaming these grassy sidings, as kids swung themselves onto buffers and clambered into trucks laden with freshly sawn, aromatic planks. Occasionally a small petrol-engined shunter fussed around the trucks like a mechanical sheepdog, getting them into line for transfer to the main sidings. Then the A17 traffic would be held up yet again, while an endless train of wood jutting up into the air emerged from the side of Latus's and disappeared behind Christian & Dobbs. By mid-1957 these lines across the road were becoming worn out, and a pass-the-buck situation was developing over who should pay for the replacements: the dock company, or Travis & Arnold?

There is no trace of the old station on the present Shires (until recently, Metalair Feldbinder site), but in its heyday, it occupied a commanding position and was an absorbing spectacle. It was unique in featuring the sharpest-curved platform in the country, built to accommodate the contortions of the line imposed by the installation of the existing bridge in 1897. A central bay with buffer stops catered for terminating local services, while the two outside platforms were allocated for lines as far as Peterborough and beyond in one direction, or Cromer, Norwich and Great Yarmouth in the other.

For a generous section of the platforms' length, waiting passengers were sheltered by a substantial Victorian canopy, something you miss on many exposed main-line stations today. Around the station's boundaries, the characteristic M & GN latticework fencing, reputedly made of oak, was much in evidence. It was complemented by an elegant, grey iron footbridge over the tracks: a good place to stand if you wanted to engulf yourself in clouds of smoke from trains passing underneath. Was this what it was like to be an angel up in the clouds? Riding on one of the trains was hardly the last word in record-breaking speed, but it was an exciting alternative to journeying on the Lincolnshire Road Car Co's green Bristol Lodekka buses -the '65' or '65 Duplicate' if an extra bus was needed- which stopped outside Latus's.

After waiting patiently on the blue-grey brick platform, or in the waiting room where in winter, a boulder of coal sulked in the grate, the locomotive, usually a 2-6-0 MT Class matt-black with filth, thundered in with a frenzy of connecting rods and billowings of steam into the platform canopy. When the squealing of brakes subsided, carriage doors slammed to the plaintive but lethargic lament of a porter crying, 'Soot'n Bridge! Soot'n Bridge!'

The delight continued as you climbed aboard motley corridor stock, leather window straps carrying obsolete 'LNER' (London and North Eastern Railway) logos, and settled into deeply-sprung moquette upholstery smelling of soot. Above the seats, between ventilation controls jammed in the 'ON' or 'OFF' position and faded framed pictures of obscure country mansions, you could make faces at yourself in the bevel-edged oval mirrors. The view outside alternated between clouds of smoke and undulating telegraph wires as we passed the heron pond by Chalk Lane and on through Walpole, Terrington and Clenchwarton stations.

An age and a half later, we reached the South Lynn Bridge. This sonorous, reverberating structure had to be crossed at crawling speed, since it had barely been able to cope with train weights, even in the early 1900s. From there on it was just a short run to South Lynn station, where we changed for the push-pull service into the town centre.

The push-pull was probably the nearest real-life equivalent to Thomas the Tank Engine, though considerably less pristine. Two old, maroon, corridor-less coaches were drawn by an even older black tank. Its footplate became an unscheduled ninth birthday treat when I was shown around its controls, the driver spinning tall yarns about his exploits as a wartime 'flight commander'. I returned to Sutton Bridge that particular day in high spirits, fresh with the importance of my locomotive-inspecting status, and eager to try out my new toy Vanwall racing car, bought with ten-shilling present money at Marks & Sparks. I held it up in triumph to show the ever-cheerful British Railways delivery driver, Harry Tolliday, who'd just come back to the station yard in his Austin flatbed truck.

Rail travel from Sutton Bridge to Norfolk became a thing of the past on Saturday, 28 February, 1959. John Barker, later to become the swing bridge operator, attached 'That's Yer Lot' posters to the fronts of locomotives and they were to be photographed many times passing up and down the line for the last time. Track-lifting began the following Monday on the Norfolk side of the bridge, where the East signalbox was demolished with equally indecent haste.

Since the de-regulation of the bus services, there is now only a limited cross-country bus service between Lincolnshire and Norfolk. Transport technology may have improved since the age of the steam train, but you can't now get to Lynn after 5pm on weekdays unless you have a car.

Norfolk Green now run an excellent service -the 505- between Spalding and KL running every 20 minutes and into the evening until about 8.30pm

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'Make haste, it's five-and-twenty-past ten. We must go shoppin', Gran might say, donning her hat and transfixing it like a voodoo doll with hatpins.

Ads from the Parish Magazine
Advertisments from the Parish Magazine

If she were to do the same thing today after a 45-year break, she'd find it a bit bewildering. Many of the Sutton Bridge shop premises are still on their original sites, but carrying on different kinds of business altogether. There are antiques where toys and bikes used to be, high fashion has replaced valve radios, and vacant premises where newspapers and printing presses once reigned supreme.

Life goes on under a wealth of different traders' names, none of which Gran would recognise: apart from Whitmores, that is, but this title is now associated with carpets and furnishings.

Of businesses now gone, who remembers, at the end of King Street, Baker Johnson's, behind whose anonymous but warm brick wall were old-fashioned baking ovens dispensing delicious loaves with irresistibly pickable crusts? Or next door, at the corner with New Road, Gaskins, run by Vera Large, with its smell of baking powder, spiky rubber mats on the counter, and a sign on the door saying, 'Closed - even for the sale of Lyons Choc Rolls'?

Baker Johnson’s yard is now roofless

Gaskins Corner Shop as it is now
Gaskins as it is now (above) and at the beginning of the 20th Century (below)
Gaskins Corner Shop at the beginning of the 20th Century

Then at the opposite corner of King Street we’d encounter the lame but genial Eadie Portass, greeting every passer-by over the paling fence of her side garden that contained the timbered maroon shed, where she once fried fish and chips.

Eadie Portass’ fish & chip shop now part of a residential property
Eadie Portass’ fish & chip shop now part of a residential property

Across the road, did anyone buy a bike at Edwards — that long, low grotto smelling of fresh rubber and light oil, which also sold maggot bait for fishermen?

And, turning the corner towards the Bridge Road crossing, who in relatively recent years would not have heard of, or depended upon at some time, the elastic opening hours of R L Latus, a source of everything from a quarter of chocolate buttons in one shop, to a haircut in his new premises next door [now Bargain Booze and Sea Bank (another fish & chip shop)]. Here was the epitome of the British shopkeeper, with immaculate overall and trim moustache, who always troubled to recognise you no matter how long you'd been away. It's strange to walk past the site now, and not see him there.

You needed a cheap set of wheels quickly? Norman & Woodrow’s electrical and cycle shop could provide them. Situated next door to Len in the bottom half of a double-fronted Victorian house, they'd hire you out an old bike for 3/6 (17½p) a week. Sophistication has now taken over, in the form of Cindy's Fashions, where male escorts are royally brought tea on a tray while their ladies try on assorted finery.

Gagen's the butchers has given way to Green's Carpets,and the succeeding shops in Church Terrace, [occupied currently by Fotographic Photo Studio, (now empty once more), Smiths the Baker, and Fresh Choice Flowers] (link to People who live and work in Sutton Bridge - Tracey’s fruit & Veg) represented the dissolved empire of Fred Watson, whose mini-department store of haberdashery, fashions and provisions still cared enough about customers to provide them with chairs to sit on. His April '57 fashion show in the Church Hall featured local ladies as mannequins who, in defiance of today's Kate Moss shapes, were happy to be presented with boxes of chocolates in appreciation. Meanwhile, at the end-of-terrace newsagents, a lady called Beryl Goodger sold periodicals and stationery items in a comforting aroma of printing ink.

Speaking from the viewpoint of both child and man who has never grown up, the shop I miss most is Fell's [now the antique shop]. As a treat for getting one's sums right at school, there was nothing quite like being taken into this exciting shop opposite St Matthew's Church to choose a Dinky Toy. The pulse would quicken as the assistant, using a long pole with a kind of mechanical hand at the end, reached up to a high shelf and brought down a Dinky Supertoy Shell tanker in its blue-and-white-striped box. It was here that I enrolled for the Corgi Car Club (‘The Ones with Windows'), paying a shilling (5p) to receive an important-looking membership certificate, and a newsletter signed by Raymond Baxter. Status at last.

The antique shop
The antique shop

The area opposite the old school is a more penetrating reminder of things irretrievably gone. The chemist's shop, for instance, belonging to Mr Kildea, who supplied one of the school sports day cups, has been empty for quite a while (now the empty site, awaiting development). In the Fifties, he was still there to advise us on the right medicaments, a quiet and dignified Irishman in his white coat.

Modern houses now stand on the site of 'the flicks', imaginatively called The Cinema in its heyday. Early in 1957, if you didn't fancy Rock Around The Clock at Spalding's Savoy, Sutton Bridge was showing Picnic on the 'High Definition Wide Screen', with Kim Novak and William Holden. But The Cinema performed other social duties, too. When young Maureen and John Kilbon went missing for a whole day instead of turning up at their granny's, their mother, distraught in case the Nene had claimed them, asked the cinema manager to put out an appeal to anyone in the evening audience to report to the box office if they'd seen the children. Fortunately, brother and sister returned home shortly afterwards, after an alleged game of hide-and-seek lasting 12 hours!

The old cinema in Bridge Road
The old cinema in Bridge Road

Happily, several trading activities have continued or resumed in their original locations under new management. Baxters, near the junction of Bridge Road and Railway Lane, now fries fish and chips in the old Cawthorne premises. Meanwhile, Bridge Super Stores supermarket carries on what the Co-op started. Here I always remembered to quote Gran's 'divvy' number -1440- equating, according to my late father's dry humour, to the year of her birth.

Hardware is still sold in the former Christian & Dobbs shop [now Bridge Road Hardware]. C & D were controlled by a main branch in Long Sutton, which undertook, among other things, to service your Massey-Harris combine harvester. At the Sutton Bridge store, however, the emphasis was more on homely goods, from fancy chrome teapots and fireguards to those infamous green-enamel Aladdin paraffin stoves, which caused Niagaras of condensation down the walls when conditions allowed. Unwisely, Gran used to boil a kettle on top of hers...

The Hardware shop
The Hardware shop (was previously known as Bob Thomas’s)

In 1997 there was still a butcher's -R & W- where Seabers used to be, and after years of dereliction, the motor trade returned to the centre of Sutton Bridge, with Top Gear in the old Red Garage premises [now Old Barn Antiques], and Sutton Bridge Motor Company occupied the forecourt opposite [now built over by the Co-op]. In the mid-50s both these sites served fuel as well, and were run as one business by the Trayford family. The present Top Gear [Old Barn Antiques storage] showroom formed the main premises, where repairs were carried out. There was a pleasant smell of petrol and rubber when walking past its frontage under a colonnade of rubber pipes, which arched over the pavement from the pumps to hang down by the kerb like jungle vines.

Across the road was an uncovered concrete forecourt and kiosk, this time featuring a used car display and conventional petrol pumps. No self-service then, of course. As the gallons chimed in from Avery-Hardoll pumps, attendant Len Rose gave you his concise version of the weather forecast: 'It's gettin' out', was his usual prediction. Meanwhile, Stan Thickpenny would be shuffling the second-hand cars around, manoeuvring reluctant, misfiring beasts on full choke.

Behind Sutton Bridge Motors' kiosk was my fantasy fleet: a valley of scrapped cars in line astern, pointing towards the churchyard. When no one was looking, it was my idea of heaven to brave the barbed undergrowth and slip behind the wheel of a long-bonneted Wolseley pungent with grease, mould and old leather. Little matter there was no windscreen and a pool of water lying in the seat. I was in The Lavender Hill Mob again, escaping the police with a bootful of gold bars melted down into Eiffel Tower ornaments.

It was about this time that another garage, Leeson's in Railway Lane, must have wondered whether they weren't better off servicing boats than cars. Every time it rained hard, their inspection pit filled with up to four feet of water. It was thought that the cause was the construction of a footpath which had filled in a dyke running underneath, so the water had to come out somewhere. But none of the flooding was Leeson's fault, which made it all the harder for proprietor Jack Portass to bear when the local authority charged him for pumping it out. He wasn't alone in this protest and was joined by other Railway Lane residents who refused to pay a drainage rate for what they called, very topically at the time, 'their own Suez Canal.'

Floods may come and go, but the Bridge Hotel, reputed to be part of a site dating back to 1637, goes on forever. As 'nice' children weren't allowed near bars in those days, I never went in there during the 1950s, but at that time, there were 18 bedrooms, from 18/6 (92½p) a night, and three bathrooms, which earned it a two-star rating in the RAC Handbook. Fred asked Gran to Sunday lunch there once, but unfortunately, she declined.

'Why ever didn't you go?' we asked in amazement.

'Because people will talk,' she snapped.

Ah, well.

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Yes, they're all gone, those sterling characters: Annie, Eadie, Fred, Duffy, Mrs Parker, Harry Tolliday and Emma Tinker. Her half-pound of bullseyes would have cleared out her purse now, and she'd never have accepted that. 'Two quid for a bag o' sweets? Disgoostin!'

It's strange getting reacquainted with Sutton Bridge after so many years. Like turning up on a stage set when your fellow actors have all gone home. There's a friendliness and familiarity about the place, but although quietly aware and appreciative of its past, it's got on with its life, and doesn't rest on any laurels. Important local industries, agricultural and energy projects have all developed over the last few decades. Even the 1897 Cross Keys Bridge is now powered by computer-programmed electronics, and in my view enjoys a new identity, symbolic of Sutton Bridge's port and engineering activities.

To most people, I'm a stranger in town nowadays. But in my mind at least, Sutton Bridge is no stranger to me, as I pass along the road making mental notes. St Matthew's Church means Sunday School prizes of Rowntrees Fruit Gums, for heavily-crayoned drawings of Jesus's baptism in the Jordan; the sound of gentle George Hoole playing Dvorak's New World Symphony on the organ; our children's voices on Palm Sunday, straining to reach the high notes of 'All glory, laud, and honour, to Thee, Redeemer King'.

At Bargain Booze, I imagine I can still hear Len Latus saying, 'Remember me to your dad,' as he dispenses a quarter of Maynards winegums. Or in the car park of the Co-op store, the ghost of a garage man retorting, 'There's never a charged battery in the dam' thing!' when I tell him Fred's Rover won't start.

And as I draw near to Feldbinder (UK) Ltd, do I still hear the slam of carriage doors echoing through the works, as a phantom porter wails, 'Soot'n Bridge! Soot'n Bridge!'? I like to think so.

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