Extracts from the book "A Boyhood in the Fleggs", feature the descriptive writings of Ernest (Jimmy) Leggett, one of Clippesby's most distinguished and talented sons.
Jimmy paints so vividly in words the wonderful nature and beautiful countryside in which we live. Although dating from before WW2, much remains the same.
"Ernest James Leggett was born in the small, scattered hamlet of Clippesby near Great Yarmouth on December 22nd 1919. Even though he had been christened Ernest he was to my knowledge mostly known by his family as Jimmy or The Boy Jimma.
I remember him telling about the family moving from Weston Longville, which is also in Norfolk, to their house on Low Road in Clippesby. As people were fond of saying in those days ‘New house new baby’ so it was here that young Jimmy was born and spent his early life.
My grandfather was a farm labourer and times were hard for him as for many others in the years between the two world wars. Tragedy had struck the family when Uncle Freddie, my father’s brother, had been crippled in a freak accident when out playing with his sister and a friend. The little lad managed to crawl home and was put to bed. He never walked again. He was nine years old.*
It was five years after the accident that Jimmy was born; the two boys were very close friends. It was Uncle Freddie who instilled in my father patience and a love of the countryside. He also taught him how to shoot a rifle, which was to prove very useful when he joined the Army.
Young Jimmy went to the village school at Fleggburgh, a daily walk of about three miles, which he and the other village children had to do in all weathers; they would sometimes arrive cold and wet for the start of school and have to stay in those same clothes all day long.
Jimmy was, I’m sure, like most boys of his age, lively and not averse to planning the odd prank or two but he excelled at school, especially in English literature, and he loved sports and the countryside. Unfortunately when he eventually won a scholarship at eleven to qualify for the Grammar School he was unable to go because my grandparents could not afford the uniform. So he had no choice but to stay on at the village school and leave at fourteen years old – as did thousands of other young people at that time – and try to find a job in an unwelcome environment.
I am convinced that had my father benefited from a better education he would have been a successful journalist or writer of some sort, but as it was, work was hard to find and so, in 1935 at the age of fifteen my father joined the Second Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment on boy service; it was to change his life completely."
His daughter Sandra in the introduction to the book writes of him:
During my young days in the 1920s I can remember little else than exceptionally cold winds, ice, snow and heavy rains, mostly during February and into March. Walking home from school at this time the darkness was imminent, and from the sky we heard the loud cawing and chattering of rooks and crows in their large and noisy gatherings, who, after their hard day of foraging for food, would be returning home to roost before settling down for the night in the rookery situated between Hall Farm and High House Farm. We would watch as they wheeled, whirled and dipped, and tumbled as in a state of turmoil, as the blackening clouds scudded across an already storm-threatened sky.
Smaller birds would be scurrying away making their beds in the thick hedgerows and ivy-strewn tree trunks. And someone, somewhere, would be saying, ‘Looks like we’re in for a rough old night. And so it always turned out to be, with the wind whistling and howling around the corners of the house, with rain lashing windows, doors and roofs, and the chimney pots moaning and groaning. Tucked away in bed, somehow I always found it soothed me off to sleep, but hoping, of course, that it would subside and calm down before I ventured off to school on the morrow. I imagine that most of my age-group are reminded of the chant we voiced at the time,
‘The North wind doth blow, and we shall have snow;
what will the robin do then, poor thing?’
However, in the lanes, hedgerows and woods, spring had awakened, and we gathered catkins, from the various willows, alders and black poplars. Also, beds of white and purple violets would be budding up in the ditches and shady parts of the plantations, and in the beginning of April there would be masses of pale yellow primroses, and our respective mothers would be overwhelmed with bunches of wild flowers. The spectacular sight I enjoyed most, and still do welcome its arrival each year, is the snowy white blossom of the ‘marrabellum’, the yellow and red plum growing wild and commonly referred to as the ‘marrabella’. At Ashby Hall Farm owned by Mr Wm. Molineux and later Major Frank Molineux, the hedges around each field were grown to a height of twelve to fifteen feet, and dotted amongst the thorn would be the odd ‘Marrabella’ and at harvest time would be ripe to perfection. Oh, boy! the tummy aches and pains we suffered!
Some birds had already started to think about producing families, amongst which would be the sparrow, starling, wren, rook, blackbird, robin and thrush, and nest-building could be seen taking shape. If on a Saturday the weather was favourable, a day across the marshes, jumping over the dykes and searching for signs of water hens building their nests, would keep us out of other mischief, but in many places we would sink into the mud, disturbing the marsh gas (methane) and as it bubbled up we could detect the obnoxious smell it would produce. On arriving home one would be in trouble because little did we realize it but in fact we smelled like nothing on earth!
Springtime in Clippesby
During the early 1920s and approaching the middle of April and into early May we noticed the grassy banks beside road ditches were massed with pale yellow primroses with red and white campions ready to burst from buds. On the marshes and damp meadows one could discern the beautiful thick-stemmed, heavy-leafed marsh marigold, with its glistening deep yellow petals, most conspicuous whilst vying with the cowslip and cuckoo flower. This was my favourite marsh flower, and whilst writing essays at school, I would often refer to it as the ‘Queen of the Marsh’. We would gather huge bunches of primroses and later divide them into small bouquets, and during Sunday afternoon would offer them at 2d each from trays to the people in motor cars passing through to the coast. During the season most of us collected quite a few shillings to swell our money boxes.
On some bright sunny days butterflies, breeze-blown, scurrying and dancing, were in evidence and would chase the painted ladies, peacocks, brimstone and the large garden white with its black spots and black edging to the wings. A trip to the corner plantations at the top road entrance to Hall Road would benefit us to the extent of large bunches of bluebells to keep in mother’s favourable esteem.
As still happens at this time of year, after a little heat during the day there started to build up, over the fields and marshes a sultry and hazy mist which partly obliterated the myriad friendly shapes of trees and bushes and other objects to which we were accustomed during the day. The cattle on the meadows and marshes took on a grotesque form, and like all youngsters, when fantasies run wild, they just had to be ghosts and ‘hikey-sprites’, and it only needed a bullock to cough or the un-expected screech of an owl to send us indoors, wide-eyed and frightened.
However, although there are wild flowers blossoming in profusion, shrubs and trees in brilliant array, birds nesting and some with fledglings, there will occasionally be rain-storms with cold winds, and frost. During the early evening, after a fine day, you will probably encounter wisps of mist which arise and hover in the air like smoke, and drift out of reach – so do not forget the old warnings: ‘Change not a clout till May be out,’ and, ‘Who doffs his coat on a winter’s day will gladly put it on in May.’
Winter on the Marshes
In the 1920s during winter afternoons when snow was with us, I would often walk across the marshes where I could wander aimlessly and at will, treading the frosted tufts of grass now powdered with fallen snowflakes. Gone were the cattle and most wildlife, and the insects which abounded in profusion during the summer were now in hiding. I might on occasions have disturbed a hare which would lollop away and in its course upset a party of golden plovers, which at the sudden interruption would squeal in dismay at being disturbed.
The wild flowers which blossomed in untamed profusion during the summer had long since withered and now the spindly stalks were encrusted with ice, the seed vessels that were left glistening with icy diamonds that resembled miniature chandeliers sparkling in the fading light. The grasses and reeds on the dyke’s waterline, once green, vibrant and beautiful were now bedraggled, the stems bent and the reed tops broken, their mops curled into crystal plumes, shimmering, as a soft breeze breathed over and along the dyke. The once proud yellow flag iris were now forlorn, their arrogance smitten with the icy blast of the cold winter winds. The green speckled duckweed which blanketed the dykes during the summer was now beset like congealed green salad, forming a contrast with the tall brown stems of once proud grasses now huddled closely together as if to afford support to each other in an effort to sustain life and existence.
Where nature, overnight, had transformed the countryside into a fairy grotto, even the little black waterhens with their twitching white tails had forsaken their favourite marshlands and now frequented the more habitable ditches and waterways in plantations and woods; though one could still define the footprints and padmarks of some more hardy animals and birds, and most certainly the little black velvet-coated gentleman, often maligned for spoiling lawns and grassland, was very much alive and hunting laboriously for a meal. The usually hard-working windmills were silent, their giant sails motionless and still, the hulks of their framework not unlike giant statues, cold and naked.
Alone, I could slither and slip in a dreamland of nature’s wonderful fantasies; I saw the frozen webs of spiders between the long stems of thistles and docks, sparkling as if they had been dusted by the hand of a supernatural being; the insects which had supplied the spiders’ needs were now just glinting multi-shapen icy spheres.
Although cold, I was mostly oblivious to it, and as the watery old sun hung his head over towards ‘Will’s Mother’s’ and before the dusk enveloped and blotted out the landscape and I became frightened of the often-mentioned marsh spooks and hikey-sprites, I heard heartening calls from the gradually darkening sky, and looking up, saw wild geese in perfect ‘V’ formation flying at several hundred feet, the leader sounding his ‘follow me’ call note. Skein after skein passed above me and again I thought on the wonders of nature. I could not hear the swish of feathered wing beats, only the call of the leaders as they kept in touch with each formation, but what a majestic sight! I watched as in the distance they swooped gracefully down onto the Acle, Stokesby and Fleggburgh marshes for a well-deserved feed of marsh grass.
Sitting, gazing out of my bedroom window over a closing afternoon I looked out over the cold misty scene of the panoramic beauty of nature and I watched the cattle, their coats in colours of red, black and white in all variations of patches, stripes, spots and blotches munching away at the lush marsh grass and every now and again one would cough loudly setting up a chain of reaction from the others from Upton to Fishley and Thurne to Ludham.
Suddenly with huge mast and black sail and flying its long streamer pennant, a wherry peeped into view and with its majestic slow manoeuvring along the river Bure the lone wherryman would negotiate his large craft around the bends of the winding river and moor up for the night just on the Bridge Inn side of Acle bridge where his needs would be sustained. Later on he would be enjoying a well-earned pint of old ale which after being suitably warmed in a saucepan on the pub fire or by the insertion of the tip of a red hot poker would re-kindle the sparkle to his tired features. With this, in company with a hunk of bread and cheese and two or three pickled onions, he was a happily replenished man.
All the night sounds and screeches of barn owls as they hunted for their prey nearby would not disturb him in his deep sleep induced by a hard day’s work - and the warmth coming from his small cubby-hole cabin with its little coal-fire stove and King George the fifth was totally unaware that at least one of his faithful subjects was well satisfied with his meagre lot.
He would hoist his large black sail again when from the Acle marshes the greylag goose trumpeted his dawn call and slowly but surely, as the breeze assisted him in his slow passage along the waterway, he was once again on his never-ceasing journey, associating himself with the wildlife that shared his existence.
(As at 29.9.15 there is just one remaining copy of this book, obtainable from Amazon, and two from Clippesby Hall Reception.)
(told by Jimmy Leggett)