Gooderstone Village

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The Gooderstone I used to know - Nelson Woolsey

This article was published in the magazine Norfolk Fair, September 1974.

The Gooderstone I Used To Know - by Nelson Woolsey

THESE ARE CHANGING TIMES for our villages and the way of life in the Gooderstone of my youth was very different from what it is today.

Between 1870 and 1931 the population fell from 570 to 312 and although it has now risen a little, such a great decline must make many changes. In 1870 it had 12 farmers, three shoemakers, three grocers, four beer retailers, two blacksmiths, one carpenter, one butcher, one miller and one wheelwright. Today, the shoemakers, wheelwrights, carpenters, millers and blacksmiths have all disappeared and of the others, one grocer, one beer retailer, one butcher and 10 far­mers remain.

Prices also — how they have changed! At the Coro­nation of King George the Fifth in 1911, the 332 pounds of meat consumed cost but £12, eggs were less than one penny each, currants about fourpence a pound, sugar about twopence, ginger beer one penny a bottle — and all OLD money!

During the 1914-18 war so many of the men were lost that the subsequent decline in population and trades became inevitable. But how well I remember those years immediately following that war!

The Squire, Mr. Neil McNeil, with his sister driving through the village in their 20 H.P. Rolls-Royce-Bar­ker Landaulette, chauffeur-driven, of course. He would spend his days trout fishing along his lovely four-mile stretch of the River Gadder from which the village takes its name; while in the winter there were partridge and pheasant shoots. At his home, 'The Lodge', still standing, his sister would give sumptuous children's parties, most of the responsibility being taken by the wife of the chauffeur, a most highly respected lady, very much to the fore in all village activities. I remember when that sister came to the school to hand out sweets to all the children, a day very much looked forward to. Some parishioners would receive a surprise visit from the Squire himself, to be presented with a mouth-watering trout for breakfast; and I per­sonally was always happy to run into the chauffeur who always felt in his pocket for an odd penny. That penny would buy sweets for two days. He was also a Scot, with the much more common name of Smith, and a real gentleman.

But the local gamekeeper was a very different sort of character, the one person we boys avoided as much as possible. If we were stopped by him on our bird-nest­ing expeditions he asked us first to show our hands. If there was a telltale scratch it was time for a quick getaway before his stick fell. However, those with no scratches usually suffered most for he would pat them on the head - but inside our caps were our eggs, so we often finished with yolks running down our faces plus the stick across the other end! The two water bailiffs we also had to watch, for one was my uncle, but despite their strict watch on the river for rod and line fishermen, we had no trouble with them because a few of us knew the art of tickling, and the ones we caught seemed much tastier !

The policeman cycled on his rounds so we did not hear him coming; once I was on my own by the river and had a large quantity of coot and moorhen eggs. I walked right into his arms, but got off lightly, being made to paddle into the river and put all the eggs back into the various nests. It is perhaps needless to say that I deposited all the eggs into the first two nests I came across — to retrieve them the next day.

Village life really depended on the river not only for sport but for domestic reasons also for very often the house pumps would go dry or develop a mechani­cal fault and people would cart their water from the river in buckets. One of my jobs was to drive a horse and watercart into the river and fill the cart by bucket, the water needed for the huge engine used for thresh­ing the corn.

The cornfields in those days were very picturesque, a gang of men hand-reaping all round the field before the binder, drawn by three large shire horses, could start reaping. Behind this would come another gang of men to 'shock' up. putting about eight sheaves to a shock. A few days after this, men, horses and wagons would be busy from daylight to dark carting the sheaves to the stacks, which would then have to be thatched. In the harvest fields all the family would have tea with father or brother — their 'fourses'. The village boys would ride the wagon horses bareback; they were called 'halgee' boys as before each move they must call out 'hold tight.'

When autumn came the hedges would all have to be cut by hand, some shaped every 15 yards or so in the form of butts to screen the guns on the partridge shoots. In those days partridges were more numerous, before modern farming techniques destroyed both their their food and their natural habitat.

In the spring the ditches were a blaze of colour with huge cowslips, and wild orchids were on the marshes. But building and drainage have meant the end of most of those wild flowers.

The ponds where we skated are also gone as are the great walnut trees we raided for nuts, and the meadows where we played cricket and other games are mostly built on or cultivated.

Those were happy days, and I wonder if we are happier for our cars, our coloured television, our tele­phones, our modern conveniences, our mechanised work.