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Life on the Norfolk Farm: an essay in photographs



The first year


The farm auction


The Chapel Cottages


Life on the farm


The first harvest, summer 1938




nf 01 8zaii Postcard view
Postcard sent to Loetitia by HW from Stiffkey in July 1936. It was raining . . .




This sequence of photographs, provided through the generosity of the Henry Williamson Literary Estate (as with very nearly all the photographs on this website), includes many that have never been seen before. They form a unique record of the Williamson family's first few years at Old Hall Farm, Stiffkey, from early visits in 1936 through to 1939. They include photographs of working the land and of the first harvest in the summer of 1938, giving an evocative picture of a time and a way of farming long gone – ancient sunlight indeed. 


A few of the photographs have captions written on the reverse; these are also shown, both for information and entertainment, although it is not absolutely clear who wrote them – whether HW or his son Richard in later years, aided by the memories of his eldest brother Bill (Windles). Their handwriting is remarkably similar!



The first year:



HW became the owner of Old Hall Farm on 22 August 1936, although he did not actually take possession of the land until Old Michaelmas Day 1937 (10 October), as the existing tenant, P. F. Stratton, had to be given due notice.  A few days after completion of the sale HW, Loetitia and Windles visited the farm, the latter two for the first time.



nf 3 1936 ILW Windles Elizabethan Corn Barn
Windles and Loetitia sitting outside the Elizabethan corn barn, August 1936



nf 4 8zd First visit Showing windles building
Windles being shown the farm buildings



nf 1 HW viewing the farm
The new owner of Old Hall Farm




The dilapidation of the premises was only too apparent:



nf 7 8ze Pig Yard1936
The pig yard



nf 8 8zf 1937 Old Gates



nf 9 8wva early farm




Before taking over as farmer HW wanted to take the opportunity of undertaking as much preparatory work as he could, including the building of new roads and the felling of trees. To that end, he and 'Bin' (Loetitia's youngest brother Robin, recruited to help run the farm) set off from Devon on Friday, 21 May 1937, HW driving the Alvis and towing the Eccles caravan, and Bin driving the newly-purchased secondhand lorry with a trailer. The journey, described in The Story of a Norfolk Farm, was a dreadful one, and they did not arrive until the Sunday evening. The partnership with Bin was difficult – a clash of personalities more than anything – and did not last long.
nf 12 8n Eccles caravan
HW captioned this: 'Eccles caravan in wood near Hangman's Copse' [at Hang High]



nf 10 8e drilling artesian well near chalk quarry
Drilling an artesian well near the chalk quarry



nf 11 8zva HW robin Hibbert cutting down tree
HW and Bin Hibbert. HW captioned this 'The ill-fated partnership'




nf 13 8za view of Old Hall church


nf 13a 8zai reverse




The farm auction:



When HW took possession of the farm in October 1937 it was of the land only. It did not include farm animals, machinery or other implements. All these were owned by the outgoing tenant, and, as was customary, an auction was held of his live and dead stock, attended by local and not-so-local people. HW had to bid for whatever he wanted.



nf 14 8we farm sale
Implements and carts laid out for inspection at the farm auction



nf 15 8zwi farm sale
'Goitre' Gidney is on the far left, the scarf round his neck hiding the goitre



 nf 16 8zwa Farm Sale 1937


nf 16a 8zwb caption

Rather confusingly the names are written behind the people in the photograph above.

Thus 'Goitre' Gidney is actually on the left, while the diddicoy is on the right.




nf 17 8zwj farm sale general view



nf 18 8d Diddecoys scrap metal merchants
The diddicoys 'from near Cromer', scrap metal dealers



nf 19 sale


nf 19a 8zwd caption previous



nf 20 8zwk Sale parading horse
Parading the horses




The Chapel Cottages:



HW intended that Walnut Tree Cottage should be the farmhouse. However, it was occupied by sitting tenants who refused to move out. Anxious to find somewhere for the family to live when they moved from Devon to join him, he discovered three dilapidated and condemned cottages next to the chapel, which were not far from the farm. They were owned by Mathew Bugg, and the purchase and renovation by HW of these cottages became a saga all of its own. The three cottages formed an L-shape around a courtyard, which became, after ploughing and cultivating, a vegetable garden. It has since been gravelled over and later still put down to grass.



nf 21 8zk entrance to cottages
The entrance to the condemned Chapel Cottages, taken before renovation




nf 22 8zi Bugg Cottages before renovation
North Cottage before renovation, which HW renamed Fox Cottage



nf 23 8zj Fox Cottage before ren
Another view of North Cottage in its original state



nf 24 8f nest in fireplace

Captioned: 'Jackdaw's nest spilling out of fireplace before the rebuilding of Farm House'

[Thought to be North/Fox Cottage]



nf 25 8zp ILW from cottage window
Loetitia from one of the cottage windows. The chapel windows are in the background.



nf 26 8zm ditto ploughing
Cultivating the courtyard garden, with Robbie inspecting the Ferguson



nf 27 8zo HW
HW cultivating



nf 28 8zl ploughing garden




Life on the farm:




nf 2 early days

Loetitia and HW in the early months, in a field of weeds

(photo © John Fursdon)



nf 30 8a Bob Sutton
Bob Sutton, the farm steward



nf 31 8b Jimmy Sutton with Ferguson
Jimmy Sutton, Bob's father, with the Ferguson



nf 32 8c Bullocks being fed by Jimmy Sutton
The bullocks being fed by Jimmy Sutton



nf 33 8g not captioned

'Lying in the straw of the calf-house was the bullock, dead. I rang up the knackers

at Great Wordingham, and they sent a lorry with hauling tackle and lugged the

corpse on, and paid me a pound for it – my first sale off the farm.'

(The Story of a Norfolk Farm)



nf 34 8wd farm view



nf 35 8l Bob Sutton ILW drilling 21 acres
Bob Sutton and Loetitia drilling Twenty-one Acres



nf 36 8m ILW
Richard Williamson identifies the driver as Ann Thomas (not sure how he can tell!)



nf 37 8wc ILW with AT on drill
Loetitia driving the Ferguson, with Ann Thomas behind on the drill



nf 38 HW at work
HW walks behind the drill (and in the photograph below)



nf 39 8v HW behind drill1938



nf 40 8i tractor waggon



nf 41 8h ribroll etc

Blossom and Gilbert are ready to pull the worn second-hand seed harrows,

following the rib roll hitched to the Ferguson



nf 42 8zu hilly piece
Hilly Piece



nf 43 8zua opposite end

Looking the other way from Hilly Piece, with Windles sitting on the bank; stooks

of barley stand in the field behind



nf 44 8wb A Turkey
Jimmy Sutton feeds one of the 'Norfolk tarkies'



nf 45 8j



nf 46 8wi farm dinner
St John's Pasture – the men break for lunch



nf 47 tumbril2

One of HW's new tumbrils – 'They looked to be splendid vehicles, shining with varnish

over their red and green paint, my name and village in white letters on the side.'

(The Story of a Norfolk Farm)



nf 48 7a Tumbril 2
Bob Sutton, centre



nf 49 tumbril



nf 50 8zg Bob Jimmy sutton examining head of barley
Bob and Jimmy Sutton assess a head of barley



nf 51 8wh retreiving horse

'A neighbouring farmer's horse had fallen in the dyke . . . the horse lay in black mud,

exhausted . . . a team of volunteers from the village, uncaring for their Sunday-best

clothes, was about to lug the horse out with ropes. Otherwise it would have died . . .'

(The Story of a Norfolk Farm)



nf 52 8s Bedlam Viking
The Percheron stallion Bedlam Viking



nf 53 8t Bedlam Viking mare
Bedlam Viking is introduced to HW's mare



nf 54 8zt Windles harrowing Fox Covert
A cold-looking Windles harrowing Fox Covert



nf 55 8wq Bill driving tractor
Bill 'Windles' Williamson, tractor driver (and below)



nf 56 8wr bill ditto




The four more domestic scenes that follow feature the two youngest children, Robbie and Rikky:




nf 57 8wm young richard washing up
Young Richard tackles the washing up



nf 58 8zx Ricky Robbie
Rikky and Robbie with an unidentified friend, probably outside the Old Hall



nf 59 8zxa and then



nf 60 8zxb leaving Old Hall
On the Old Hall driveway



nf 61 8zv ILW children Bin hibbert Bedford 1939

In August 1939, shortly after war was declared, Loetitia took their three youngest children with

her to stay with her brother Bin Hibbert, then living in Bedford. HW, his nerves frayed by

tiredness and depression, had become too difficult to live with. They returned to the farm

in April 1940. Left to right: Margaret, Robert, Loetitia, Richard and Bin



nf 62 8wu Stiffkey WWII Red Cross St Johns Ambulance

The Stiffkey branch of the Red Cross – on the extreme left is Mrs Sutton, with Loetitia next to

her. Behind Loetitia is Mrs Cafferata, standing beside Billy Gidney, the village blacksmith.

The tall woman sixth from left is Mrs Gladys Pearson (known locally as 'Long Polly'), wife of

the village builder William Pearson. Others are unknown.



nf 63 8zr children on marsh
A rare day out on the saltmarshes



nf 63a 8zq View from HWs Studio

'The studio' was River View Cottage, next to the family farm house Walnut Tree Cottage.

River View Cottage was bought from Mr Cafferata for  £82/10/-, 'a bargain!'




The first harvest, summer 1938:




On the 10th August 1938 we started to cut our first corn, the seven acres of oats on the southern end of Twenty-one Acres. At 7.5 a.m. the tractor began to drive down the four sides of a pale golden, wind-rustling square. Behind the tractor was an old Albion reaper and binder, bought at the auction last Michaelmas for £8. Long since had the paint rusted from the iron of its frame. Its worn three-horse draw-pole was now a chicken-perch in the cart shed. The tractor on rubber wheels pulled the machine on a new oak-and-iron bar.


. . . Nursed along by the tractor, with throttle barely open, the old binder was not allowed to 'het-up', fumble its iron fingers tying the knot around each sheaf, or tangle and break the string. Its new red wooden sails turned gently, as though caressing the blonde corn-heads as they held the sappy stalks upright for the saw-toothed knife below. New canvas rollers hurried the cut corn up to a platform, where metal arms held the stalks until they were gathered sheaf-size; when, tied by those iron fingers, the sheaf was flung off in line with others dropped on the new stubble.


The Story of a Norfolk Farm




nf 64 8wj Bob Sutton Bill on binder 1938

Bob Sutton driving the tractor, while Windles sits on the Albion reaper and binder,

watching in case the binding twine breaks or tangles and jams the machinery



nf 65 8zh First harvest 1938 Bob Sutton binder Jimmy sharpening knives family

Bob sits on the binder while Jimmy sharpens the cutting knives

Left to right at the family picnic are:

Margaret, Richard, Robert, Loetitia, John and Windles



nf 66 8wg see photo p. 312

HW captioned a very similar picture in The Story of a Norfolk Farm:

'Photograph taken from seat on 24-year-old binder, 9 August 1938'

The men are setting up stooks from the sheafs of corn



nf 67 8o Burrell steam engine
The threshing machine arrives, winched up the hill by the Burrell traction engine



nf 68 8w Threshing Hanghigh
Threshing Hang High; once the corn was threshed stacks were built of the straw



nf 78 8u Billy Jarvis on stack 1938
Billy Jarvis on a stack



nf 69 8wl threshing



nf 70 8wf Threshing stack rats running



nf 71 8wk threshing
The belt on the traction engine flywheel is driving the threshing machine



nf 72 Burrell with Windles John Bob Bambridge
John, Windles and Bob Bambridge



nf 73 8wo John Windles threshing
John and Windles help hold the sacks for the threshed barley



nf 74 8p Threshing 1938



nf 75 8r book p. 362



nf 76 8q Threshing
Loading the cart with sacks of barley. Left to right: —, Bob Sutton, John Coast



nf 77 8ws working team

The team and some of their 'helpers' line up against a giant straw stack

Left to right: Richard, Windles, —, —, John, Margaret, Robert, Poppy, —, Ann Thomas







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