A glorious picture of village life

A new book takes a look at life in Strumpshaw over the centuries. Derek James reports.

It is a book with all the ingredients of a bestseller, full of colourful characters, and it paints a glorious picture of life in a Norfolk village over the centuries.

And you don't have to come from the village itself to enjoy The Book of Strumpshaw, put together and compiled with such style by Stephen Peart who has produced one of the best books of its kind you are ever likely to open.

Stephen – the author of brilliant books on the history of the cinemas in Norfolk and the rest of East Anglia – has spent years and years researching the history of the community he loves so much and bringing it alive with stacks of personal memories and photographs.

'For centuries the village survived on agriculture when each ten acres of farmland meant employment for one Strumpshaw labourer and the blacksmith would shoe three horses before breakfast,' said Stephen.

'There was a time when the community sustained a dressmaker, undertaker, brickmaker, shoemaker, fish curer and Strumpshaw clay was fired into fine eathenware at Bristol and London,' he added.

'But Strumpshaw life was not always idyllic. People went hungry, children often died at birth and workers on the farms had little soul to call their own,' said Stephen.

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The church was served with a record incumbency of 57 years by the Rev Edmund Whithread, a descendant of the brewing family.

The Lord of the Manor's executors could still collect dues in 1937 and woe betide anyone not in church on Sunday and seated before the squire and his family walked in.

In present times the village has avoided major development.

It is home to about 500 people and also home to Strumpshaw Fen, an RSPB reserve of 1,000 acres. Two pubs flourish while steam engine enthusiasts flock to its annual rally.

This delightful book, packed with more than 300 photographs,including several 'absolute gems' opening the window on village life over the years, is a must for anyone interested in Norfolk history.

Stephen has been researching this book, collecting photographs and memories for more than a quarter of a century and both his family and his wife's family have historical links to it.

'It's been like taking the lid of the village and a few skeletons out of the cupboard,' he said.

The Book of Strumpshaw is published by Halsgrove and is in the shops now priced at �19.99. It can also be bought from Halsgrove Direct on 01823 653777 or www.halsgrove.com