View from the village – 2

Upper Gresham from the 1980s

We moved over the Cromer Ridge in 1985 from a sand hill in East Runton to a wet 2.5 acre plot with a silted pond and an abandoned crop of potatoes which those neighbours we already knew and others were pleased to take for their needs.

We found Gresham to be a comfortable, friendly and easy-going, mainly working village with just a few incoming retirees and virtually all houses occupied. Daffodils were grown around the village as a cut flower crop, by Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (now a knighted MP) from Gresham Hall, and he was proud to show me his then newish, cut flower, packing shed in East Beckham. He was also a generous donor of gleaned bulbs to be sold to raise funds for the planned new village hall.

Our children, then in their 20s, used to enjoy popping in of an evening to the Chequers where Landlady Winnie Lawes presided. Her grandson Ian Neve later had a new house built for himself on the North side of the pub, but moved to West Beckham not long ago and sadly died last year when on holiday. The village’s old (1912), corrugated iron, Assembly Hall close by the pub was still in active use with many well-organised and enjoyable events. Now, sadly abandoned, it stands as a silent witness to past village life, awaiting its eventual fate.

There were then several old barns and other farm buildings around us that were progressively being converted to housing. Thus in Upper Gresham the resident barn owls had to keep moving their nesting site until eventually they disappeared. Opposite us in Dairy Lane a single story farm animal building was converted into two comfortable cottages, the first residents of which were Wendy and Richard and Jo, an N&N Theatre Nurse and Bob Blackburn who worked on the EDP. Richard had trained as a carpenter with my uncle at Bullens so we were quickly acquainted.

Stella and Ernie Williamson who lived opposite these two conversions had moved there, I believe just after the War, and both worked on the fruit farm telling us many tales of village times past. Seemingly at the school, according to Ernie, the boys used to have a skirts up day when they ran around lifting unsuspecting girls’ skirts. What would our woke society make of that today. Ernie was a keen gardener and he gave me a very early and vigorous rhubarb that he thought was of Dutch origin. Now its early February new red stems annually remind me of him and his wheelbarrow which squeaked distinctively foretelling his presence. Stella outlived him by many years and she recalled electricity coming to the village after the war and that they were only allowed just two electric plugs for her house. Long into her retirement before her family had central heating installed for her she still just heated her house with a small coal fire lit every day between October (but not before) and the end of April.

Soon after moving here Jimmy Annison (another who had trained with my uncle) started building Glebe House. After that great task was successfully completed Jimmy and his wife Janet became tireless fund raisers for the new Village Hall with sales of Christmas trees, daffodils, jumble sales and the very popular Strawberry Fayres held in their garden.

The Post Office and shop, next to Roamer Pond, was then run by Pat and Carol, but had limited stock and closed after a few years when they converted it fully into their home. Originally built on the Rectory’s farmland by the diocese these church rooms became the Village’s first school and later a reading room.

For many of our years here the village was alive in summer with swallows, martins and swifts, Up to 150 house martins would gather on our south-facing roof, tanking up with water from our pond before, as the sun warmed their tiny bodies, they would all lift off on their long flight to Africa. Greatly reduced too are the once abundant bats, hosts of butterflies, breeding spotted flycatchers stoats, weasels and hedgehogs, whilst water voles, water shrews, the many skylarks that chose to nest on a south facing field off of Dairy Lane and winter’s snipe and woodcocks have all but disappeared.

So many changes and so many losses, such as convenient bus services and a baker’s, ice cream and fish and chip vans. A generation on from the Millennium life offers different challenges, but in the restored and rejuvenated church the assured warmth and togetherness of the village’s community happily continues.


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