The WW2 landscape archaeology of Suffolk – Britain’s unknown fortifications.

On September 12th an audience of just under 30 villagers were treated to a lively, amusing and very informative talk by Rob Liddiard, Professor of History at UEA, and hosted by the Hoxne Heritage Group.

He spoke of the vulnerable coast of East Anglia and how fortification of the coastline was established in 1940, extended in 1941, adapted in 1942, maintained in 1943 and, in part, dismantled in 1944.

40,000 men defended our coastline. The archaeological landscape of the iconic pillboxes and tank traps on the coast and near river junctions are now firmly part of our heritage.

Ironside’s strategy was to employ a coastal crust of defences to hold up the enemy and then, having been held up, to prevent further invasion by a series of stop lines with a network of nodal points at road, rail (e.g. pillbox at Diss station) and river junctions to act as bottlenecks. This would be followed by a pitched battle.

Beach and inland obstacles included rolls of barbed wire, metal dragons’ teeth (e.g. at Dunwich), anti-tank traps (e.g. Walberswick), beach scaffolding, road blocks and anti-tank ditches to prevent enemy aircraft landing as well as stopping tanks. Pillboxes were found associated with a trench network and barbed wire rolls, but these have now disappeared. On the Suffolk coast there are also remains of artillery observation posts. There were also minefields laid in Ixworth.

We heard how beaches were shut off in Suffolk, resulting in wiping out the holiday economy and having an impact on fishing. However, gaps in coastal beach closure allowing for some fishing activity and use of the inshore lifeboat characterised the wartime landscape. The threat of invasion underpinned the need for this strategy and in 1941 a ‘Kangaroo exercise’ took place to test the effectiveness of the Home Guard.

A resistance of auxiliaries was set up prior to invasion. They stayed underground with the plan to attack from the rear if the enemy landed. Wire would be used to decapitate invaders. Suspected Nazi sympathisers were known and orders were given to kill them immediately if invasion occurred.

The talk was thoroughly enjoyable with amusing references to Dad’s Army and some wonderful photos of innovative ways that pillboxes were camouflaged.

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Hoxne Heritage Group commemorates the start of WW2.

On September 8th just over 220 members of the local community visited the Hoxne Heritage Group’s Exhibition celebrating the commencement of World War Two. The exhibition featured profiles of local Hoxne residents who served in the early part of the war, artefacts and a narrative of events from the period, maps and posters.

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The centrepiece of the exhibition was the recently discovered wartime diary of Major Harry Palgrave Raven who was responsible for the establishment of the Hoxne branch of the Local Defence Volunteers, later to become the Home Guard. The diary records in minute detail the names of the men who served, the dates on which equipment, including rifles and ammunition were issued. It also describes how our church of St Peter and St Paul was used as a lookout position for parachutists.

Also attracting great interest was a model of an Anderson shelter and a Morrison shelter expertly crafted by Allen Burridge.

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Visitors were provided with examples of wartime food including Haricot Bean Sausage Rolls, Spam Sandwiches and Camp Coffee.

The ultimate in realism was provided by period posters, music of the time playing on 1930’s equipment and video screens playing wartime Ministry of Information films. The air raid siren set off periodically added to the nostalgia.

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It was a mark of the success of the exhibition to hear so many people reminiscing and sharing stories triggered by the events and people depicted in the displays. As one of the elders of the village said ‘times weren’t always bad, there were good times too –the community stuck together’.

A future exhibition is planned, for next September, to commemorate later stages of the war.

WW2 In Hoxne

All are welcome to our FREE exhibition on WW2 at St. Edmund’s Village Hall, Hoxne on Sunday 8th September between 10 am and 4 pm. The exhibition will cover the build up to WW2 through to the end of 1941. A future exhibition is planned to cover the remaining war years. Displays will include the History of WW2, the war as it affected Hoxne, the Roll of Honour for Hoxne, the Diary of the Hoxne Home Guard, as reported in this week’s Diss Express, the National Farm Survey and much more. There will even be tasters of the type of food eaten when rationing was in place.

For our follow up talk, on 12th September, see below for details.

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A Preview of our Exhibition and Talk on WW2 in September

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The Heritage Group uncovers the unexpected…

On November22nd we were fortunate to hear a fascinating talk by John Rainer, Suffolk Archaeological Field Group, who performed the LIDAR investigations on Lodge Hill on behalf of the Heritage Group. Not only did John bring in the sophisticated equipment for us to handle but also explained, in layman’s language, about the complicated technology and how to interpret the scans produced. The scan below shows very clearly the outline of several rectangular structures on the left hand side – not the lodge we were looking for.

From researching the archives, old newspapers and aerial photography we are very confident that these structures are associated with a WW1 encampment housing troops and their horses prior to being shipped to France. The geophys is not consistent with either WW2 buildings or a temporary camp. The southern building would have been enormous but, from what we now know of  the stable sizes from the 1919 auction sale details, our large building was more likely to be yards, with rows of stable shelters opening into them.

The main inhabitants of the camp were from the 1st Lincolnshire Yeomanry. A newspaper report from 1914 describes the park in a ‘shocking state as a consequence of the rain and snow. We are sleeping out in the park in a large marquee, and I often wake up shivering like a leaf as we are not allowed a lot of clothes to wrap in. The food is so very scarce as we are only granted a small amount, mostly bread and jam and there is often a scramble for it’.

There were two deaths associated with the camp – one soldier was kicked by a horse and died and another drowned while trying to swim across the Waveney.

However, the villagers of Hoxne rallied to try to give as much support as they could.

Belgian Day was celebrated in January, 1915 and villagers dressed in Belgian colours and made collections for the Relief Fund. An auction of donated poultry and dairy produce was held at St. Edmund’s Hall and a concert was given by members from the yeomanry. The day’s proceeds of £60 was ‘most gratifying to all concerned’.

Other events held to entertain the troops and keep up morale were described in newspapers. In 1915, the Lincolnshire Echo describes ‘a delightful programme rendered by the ‘Jollies Concert Party’ from Grimsby’ where the services were given free and the expenses paid for by an officer.

A 7-mile cross-country race was held across Stuston Common with 50 competitors from the Lincs. Yeomanry, the Staffs. Yeomanry and the Leics. R.A.M.C. Ambulance unit. The Lincs. Yeomanry were the undisputed winners.

In May, 1915 the Diss Express reported on ‘some capital military sports’ at Oakley Park. All races were for mounted men and included conventional jumping sections for men and officers separately but also included some amusing novelty races. Amongst these were musical chairs using small enclosures for the horses rather than chairs, slalom races (again for men and officers separately!), wrestling on horseback, the cigar and umbrella race where the rider had to hold an open umbrella, light a cigar and cross the finishing line with the cigar alight. The horses did not appreciate the colourful umbrellas! The Victoria Cross race was reported to be full of amusing incident and involved using dummies. The concluding race involved 24 men riding up to a similar number of ladies and having a button sewn on their uniform. When completed, a lighted cigarette was handed to the rider who had to race to the finishing line with the lighted cigarette.

The whole event was watched by a large number of servicemen and civilians   and also included some wounded ‘Tommies’ from the Leics. Yeomanry  who had been wounded in France and were recovering in a local hospital.

Hence in trying to unravel one story we have revealed a quite different one!

George Rayner – a Hoxne resident

This was a very interesting and amusing talk held in February. It was well attended and the audience even included some descendants of the subject. Full details of the talk can be found by following this link to our web site.

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George Rayner – a character from Hoxne’s past – the subject of our next talk

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Hoxne Heritage Group Presents a Talk on Wallpaper.

Wallpaper ! Not exactly a subject to fire the imagination, or so you would have thought. However the talk we were presented with in the village hall on Monday 8th January given by Philip Aitkins did indeed fire the imagination. We were not talking about any old wallpaper here either, but rather historical wallpaper up to about 1850 when it was largely handmade, and certainly not massed produced. Evidently before the onset of massed produced wallpaper this type of interior decoration was not cheap.

 

To illustrate his talk Philip brought a large portfolio of historical wallpaper remnants many over two hundred and fifty years old. Some had been removed from old buildings now no longer here. Not surprisingly each of these remnants had a story to tell, either the social standing of the owner who commissioned the wallpaper to be made or indeed the history of the house that the wallpaper was removed from.

 

Using a selection of slides Philip also plotted the stylistic development of wallpaper taking into account many of the influences prevalent, notably the Chinese, and the blue and white style reminiscent of Delft pottery, popular throughout the late 17th century and 18th century. Using the patterns derived from these styles Philip assured

us that wallpaper could be dated quite accurately.

 

Some of us went to this talk clutching remnants of our own wallpaper scraps hoping they would be dated. Unfortunately most of us were disappointed when told that our wallpapers were cheap massed produced examples dating from the end of the 19th century. However Philip was quite excited by a ‘wallpaper ‘presented at the talk for investigation, He dated this as between late 17th century and early 18th century. He also said it was not wallpaper not having been made from paper. Instead it was thought to have been possibly made of linen, once the product of a local manufacturing industry in the Waveney Valley. This wall hanging came from a house still standing in Hoxne so there is a local connection. So much interest was raised by this wall hanging that with the permission of its owner Hoxne Heritage Group is to seek further expert advice. Interestingly the owner of the wall hanging was told many years ago that it originated from Java and is made from crushed wood bark and that it was stuck on the ceiling between the joists.

 

So, watch this space as we try to discover its origins.

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Audience spellbound by Heritage Group’s talk on the Witch Trials……

An enthralled audience of more than 50 villagers listened to Ivan Bunn’s fascinating talk about the 1645-46 Witch trials of Bury St. Edmund’s. He spoke of Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General, who is the most notorious name in the history of English witchcraft.

In conjunction with his henchman and fellow witch-pricker, John Stearne, Hopkins was responsible for the condemnations and executions of 230 alleged witches in a 14 month period in 1645-6. He was described as a religious zealot, an extreme Puritan and violently anti-catholic. He was the son of James Hopkins, a minister of Wenham, near Manningtree and was finally buried at Mistley, Essex, having died in his late twenties of tuberculosis. There is some evidence that he worked in the legal profession, from his performances when giving evidence during the trials, although he was probably not a lawyer.

Ivan went on to describe how Hopkins and Stearne did not have to prove the accused had committed malicious acts but the fact they had made a covenant with the Devil. The greatest sin of all was that they had become heretics to Christianity and, as such, it was necessary to gain a confession, frequently by torture. Methods such as sleep deprivation, being tied to a chair and submerged in water to see if they floated (those that floated were deemed to be witches) or cut with a blunt knife. Female assistants were hired to watch suspects and to examine the accused for the Devil’s mark which would not bleed. (probably a mole or birthmark). It was believed that the witch’s familiar, usually a cat or dog, would suckle from this mark. The accused were sentenced by justices of the peace at the assizes and usually hanged if found guilty.

Hopkins and Stearne, accompanied by their ‘pricking assistants’ became famous and their services were requested all over East Anglia. They claimed to be officially commissioned by Parliament, although there is no record of this. They were very well-paid for their services, which appeared to be the main motivation. The expense to the local community was such that a special tax had to be levied in Ipswich in 1645.The witchfinders ran into opposition very soon after their work began and John Gaule, vicar of Great Staughton, began a programme of sermons to suppress witch-hunting. The justices of the assizes in Norfolk questioned Hopkins and Stearne about their torturing and fees and suggested that their methods could possibly be construed as witchcraft as well. By the time the court resumed in 1647 both witchfinders had retired.

Ivan finished his talk by showing interesting archived records relating to some locally convicted witches. A gruesome but fascinating tale and Matthew Hopkins lives on as ‘an anti-hero and bogeyman’!