Brandon – Official Guide (1930s)
Published by Vickery, Kyrle & Co. Ltd, “Remo House” 310/312, Regent Street, London W1
Known to-day as the only place in Great Britain where gunflints are manufactured, Brandon is a place of unusual interest and well deserves the consideration of city folk who find their greatest happiness at holiday time in some small town where they can scorn with impunity the dictates of fashion, and pursue unmolested the promptings of their own fancy.
Clinging comfortably to the gentle northern slope of the Little Ouse Valley, the town presents a pleasant blending of the old and the new, and has about it an air of hospitality. It is hereabouts that the Little Ouse – which, for the angler contains all manner of good things – forms the boundary between the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, and here, too, that some curious anomalies manifest themselves. Thus the town, for the most part on the Suffolk side of the river, has its own railway station in the Norfolk parish of Weeting, yet Lakenheath station is in the parish of Brandon.
Again, it will be found that the greater part of Bridge Street is accounted in the Norfolk part of Brandon, but that its extremity, on the northern part of the stream, is in the county of Suffolk. One of the outcomes of this peculiarity, in matters of local government, is that the Norfolk side of Brandon comes under the jurisdiction of both the Norfolk and Suffolk police. The bridge spanning the river is generally considered to be in the county of Suffolk.
Situated 88¼ miles from London, 6 miles west from Thetford, 9 miles north-east from Mildenhall and 5 miles from the station of Lakenheath, mentioned above, the town appeals not only as a quiet holiday centre, but also as a place where the restful years of retirement might be profitably spent. Although not entirely dependent upon agriculture for a living, Brandon possesses all the delightful attributes of the remote market town, and with the infinitude of peace it offers to the work weary man from the great centres of industrial activity, has never failed to endear itself to the hearts of those fortunate people who have already found health and happiness amidst its enchanting surroundings of untamed heaths and scented pine woods.
Of Brandon it can be said that it is more accessible than might be reasonably supposed from a superficial glance of its position on the map of England. Its station deals with no less than eighteen trains running to and from London each day of the week and six on Sundays. The excellence of the London services can be gauged from the fact that it is possible to leave the Liverpool Street terminus as late as 10.12 in the evening (9.12 on Sundays) and arrived in Brandon well before the first hour of the morning has spent itself. Similarly, departing from Brandon only a few minutes before midnight, it is possible to be in the Metropolis before 3a.m. There must be few small towns in the country with populations of under 3,000 which can lay claim to possess such good travel facilities at such a late hour of the night.
During the daytime the majority of the trains maintaining communication with London accomplish the journey in about two and a half hours; and many of them fitted with dining cars afford facilities for dining en route. Ely (by rail distant 15 miles), Cambridge (30 miles), Norwich (30 miles), Lowestoft, Yarmouth and King’s Lynn are all quickly and easily reached over a system of the L.N.E.R. which has frequently been the subject of abuse prompted by a complete ignorance of existing realities.
Brandon – found under the names of Brandona, Brantona, Braundon, Braundone, Brandones Ferye and Brand, in various historical documents – has played little or no part in the history of the country: such history as it has belongs strangely enough to an unrecorded age – the period of the primeval man. It is impossible, then, to calculate except within a margin of thousands of years when a human foot was first planted on the ground upon which the town now stands. The first indication of man’s presence in the district has been the finding of implements of the very early Stone Age on Gravel Hill, Brandon; Bury St. Edmunds; and Warren Hill, Mildenhall. Indeed, during the last century, such was the quantity of implements brought to light, that the district leapt to the forefront of all places known to archaeologists as having yielded remains of an enigmatical age.
When Neolithic man made his appearance, the area around Brandon must have been of some importance, for numerous flint quarries were excavated, and the finding of a large number of flint chips gives substantial indication that the manufacture of flint implements was also carried on. These quarries, situated in a plantation at Weeting, are known locally as Grimes’ Graves. The exploration of one of them, undertaken by the Rev. Canon Greenwell, M.A., F.S.A., in 1870, revealed flint hammer stones, scrapers, and heads of javelins. Over two hundred in number, the majority of these excavations are circular in form and vary in diameter from twenty-five to sixty feet, although it should be mentioned that almost without exception they have been filled in to within a very short distance of the surface. Here then are the origins of the oldest industry in the country – an industry that has probably persisted without interruption for upwards of twenty thousand years!
It may be mentioned that the district has also yielded relics of the Bronze Age, but these have been very few in number and comparatively unimportant.
From early times until 1542 little is known of Brandon beyond what is to be found in the records establishing the various ownerships of the manor; but such details as are available are of little interest except to the student, and it is not proposed therefore to give them in this little booklet. In 1542 the inhabitants of the town were granted a charter for a weekly market, subject to a yearly rent of one penny.
About a hundred years later it is recorded that the good folk of the town “were forced to go out of their houses to behold so strange a spectacle of a spire and steeple ascending up from the earth, and a pike or lance descending downwards from heaven. At the same place also were seen semblances of a fleet or navy of ships in the ayre, swiftly passing under sail with flags and streamers, as if they were ready to give encounter.”
The family of Brandon has, of course, been connected with the town for centuries. William Brandon comes into prominence as Eschetour for the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk during the year 1454-1455; and his son as a knight, a dignity conferred upon him by Edward IV. The wife of Sir William Brandon’s nephew was a sister of that merry monarch, Henry VIII., and for a very short period wife of Louis XII. Upon his death in 1515 she was married at the early age of sixteen to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. He died in 1545; his two sons of the same malady six years later, and his daughter became the wife of Henry Grey, who upon his marriage was created Duke of Suffolk. One of the town’s celebrities was John Eyre, the son of a small draper, who became Lord Mayor of London in 1451.
Brandon now gives the title of duke to the Hamilton family – dukes of Hamilton and Brandon.
The Parish Church
Not the least interesting feature of Brandon from the point of view of the antiquarian and archaeologist is the Parish Church of St. Peter, situated about a quarter of a mile to the west of the town. This, an ancient structure of local unfaced flints and stone in the Norman and Early English styles of architecture, originally comprised a nave only, supposed to have been build about 1050, and assumed its present dimensions in the early part of the fifteenth century. It consists of a chancel with a modern roof, nave, south aisle, north porch, and a low, somewhat massive western tower containing six bells. The tower formerly presented a somewhat bizarre appearance by reason of a small leaded lantern spire it supported until 1904, when the demands of public safety necessitated its removal. The six bells bear the following inscriptions: “John Warner and Sons, London, 1870”; “These five bells were cast by William Dobson, 1815″;”Prosperity to the town of Brandon, 1815″;”Give no offence to the church. Wm. Dobson fecit 1815″;”William Dobson, Downham, Norfolk, founder, 1815”; and “Rev. Wm. Parson, Rector, Thos. Willett and Robert Smith, Churchwardens, 1815.”
The north porch contains a holy water stoup on a pedestal; and among the objects of interest in the interior visitors should note the Early English octagonal font; the stained glass east window (characterised by fine Decorated tracery) representing the Crucifixion, and inserted in 1870; the reredos of Caen stone and marble; the lower panels of a rood screen dating from 1560; the wood board denoting the rectors from the year 1248; and the oak entrance door. The monuments worthy of attention are a stained west window to George Wood, esq.; another filled with good stained glass by John Hipkin Hunt in 1884 in memory of his parents, four brothers and three sisters; and those erected to the memory of Mr. John Wood in 1920; to John Wood esq., in 1904; and to the men of the parish who laid down their lives in the Great War, 1914-1918, in 1921. In the year 1842 a new roof was placed on the chancel by the then rector; and in 1873 a roof of a very much higher pitch was erected at the same time as the church was completely restored at a cost of £2,100. During this restoration some portions of a tessalated [sic] pavement were discovered.
To those who have a fancy for collecting curious epitaphs on old tombstones the churchyard will have some appeal; although it should be mentioned that many of the inscriptions are rapidly becoming indecipherable owing to their long exposure to the elements. One of the most quaint – appearing on the gravestone of a youth aged sixteen who came to an untimely end in 1875 – reads:-
“The traction engine wheel upon me fell I had not time to bid my friends farewell”
The living of the parish is in the form of a rectory with that of Wangford annexed, in the gift of the representatives of Mrs. Crocker (widow of the Rev. F. Crocker, M.A., rector 1865-99), and has been held since 1924 by the Rev. Sidney Rogerson , M.A., Cambridge. The rectory house was built in 1901 by Mrs. Crocker at a cost of £2,500.
It should be mentioned that adjoining the churchyard are three almshouses of ancient date. They were instituted by Mrs. Ann Curtis in 1675, and almost entirely re-built at the expense of the parish in 1840. The High Street contains five other dwellings of the same nature appropriated to the poor widows of the parish. These also were re-built, in this instance in 1877 by the late Mrs. C. A. Norman, widow of the Rev. Charles, M. A. Norman, rector of the parish of Northwold. In addition to these almshouses, the town also has the Ling Heath, Humphrey Hall and Widow Wilder Charities, which produce a combined income of about £100 per annum.
Other Places of Worship
Other denominations established in the town are represented by the Baptist Chapel in High Street, erected in 1866, with seating accommodation for 360 people; the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in London Road; and the two Primitive Methodist Chapels in George Street and Town Street.
For the purposes of local government and ecclesiastical administration Brandon is placed in the Bury St. Edmunds division of the county (that part of the parish formerly in Norfolk having been transferred to Suffolk in 1895), the Lackford hundred and petty sessional division, Thetford Union and country court district, rural deanery of Mildenhall, archdeaconry of Sudbury, and the diocese of St. Edmundsbury and Ipswich. The interests of the 2,500 inhabitants are vested in a Rural District Council and a Parish Council of eleven members. Both these governing bodies have ever pursued a progressive policy and from time to time have executed many improvements in connection with the welfare of their electors. At the present time they are occupied with a Housing Scheme. In regard to the Housing Scheme, the Brandon Rural District Council have erected twelve new houses at Church End, all of which are occupied, and a further twelve are almost completed and tenants have been accepted for each house.
A recommendation has been made to the Rural District Council by the Brandon Parish Council that another twelve houses should be erected as a continuation of the Thetford Road houses, and it is hoped that such recommendation will be acted upon. Tenants could be found for these, and probably for another two dozen, as the housing problem in this town is in great need of assistance.
The inhabitants are fortunate in the possession of a good water supply maintained by works erected in 1904 at a cost of £3,000 and of gas for all domestic purposes distributed by a local company formed about 1860. Early Closing is observed by the local tradespeople on Wednesday of each week. A sub-branch of Barclay’s Bank Ltd., is open daily with the exception of Mondays. Attention may also be drawn to the fact that Petty Sessions are held monthly in Paget Hall, High Street.
The area of the parish is 6,537 acres, and the present rateable value £9,882.
The town has no facilities for secondary education; but instruction in elementary subjects is given in two well-conducted schools. These are the Council School for boys and girls, erected in 1878 at a cost of £3,350 for the accommodation of 300 children; and the Council School for infants, erected in 1912 at a cost of £3,000 for the reception of 238 children. Both institutions are under the control of six managers, of which Mr. W Clark is Chairman, and Frederick G. W. Wood, Acting Correspondent.
It is interesting to record that a Free Grammar School was established in the town in 1646 by Robert Wright, of Downham Hall, However, under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners in 1876, the land, school buildings, the teacher’s house and other structures were vested in the Brandon School Board. The foundation and endowments are now therefore administered by a body of seven governors, and the income is applied in advancing the education of boys residing in Brandon, Wangford, Weeting, and Santon Downham by exhibitions of £20 each yearly, tenable at any higher place of education. The proviso is that two of such exhibitions, in the first instance, shall be competed for by boys of Wangford, Weeting and Santon Downham; and the remaining exhibition, in default of fit candidates from the three parishes, shall be competed for by boys residing in Brandon.
There is an excellent Grammar School at Thetford, six miles from Brandon, and a great many boys and girls attend daily from this town.
Among the many attractions of Brandon, regarded both as a holiday centre and a place of residence, must be numbered the facilities it offers for recreation and amusement. Among the recognised passtimes fishing in the Little Ouse should, perhaps, be given pride of place, for the river is well stocked and the persevering angler is rarely rewarded with a meagre basket.
The national games of Cricket and Football are each represented by flourishing clubs, as also are Hockey and the ancient game of Bowls (Ouse Side Bowling Club). For the younger generation there are a Scout troop and a body of Girl Guides; and for the amusement of young and old alike the Paget Hall, where very creditable concerts are given at periodical intervals during the winter months. The Paget Hall Conservative Club provides numerous opportunities for social intercourse and the exchange of political opinions; while the Oddfellows Friendly Society (Manchester Unity) and the Order of Druids play an active part in the welfare of the inhabitants.
Although, of course, the oldest, the flint industry is now one of the least important of Brandon’s many activities. The advent of the breech-loading gun has been the death-knell of gun-flint manufacture, for only in the remote corners of the world are the old flint lock guns still found in use. Most of the orders come from such places as the West Coast of Africa, China, Tibet, and South America, but the annual exportation of a few million flints to these countries makes only a very small demand on the resources of the locality. The only time that the trade really enjoys any period of prosperity is when revolts and uprisings in these out of the way corners of the world produce a temporary increased demand for the products of the flint knappers. The industry is not, as might be supposed, centralized, but is carried on in outhouses generally adjoining the knappers’ own dwellings.
At the beginning of last century there were some two hundred men at work; but this number has now dwindled to about twenty, and it is evident, and sad to record, that in a very few years’ time this rapidly declining industry will be known only in the realms of memory.
Much newer and much more virile is the furriery industry, which gives employment to a goodly number of people in the town. This consists in the dressing of hare and rabbit skins (which come to Brandon from all parts of the country) for felt and hat makers. First carefully sorted, cleansed and chemically treated, the skins are brought to the required degree of softness and then submitted to machinery, which strips off the fur and tears the skin into small shreds. These are sent to manufacturers of size and glue for absorption in those commodities. The furs, after having been classified according to their various qualities, are finally despatched to the felt hat makers of London and Luton. It should be mentioned that although the majority of people who gain their living in this industry are engaged in the factories, a small number work in their own homes, occupying themselves principally with pulling the fur from the skins.
Yet another industry represented in the town is the manufacture of lime principally for agricultural purposes. This is a substance that is playing an ever increasing part in scientific farming, for it has been found that, better than anything else, lime corrects the “acidity” of the soil, makes sandy soils more cohesive, improves the texture of heavy soils, sweetens sour soil, and dissolves and liberates the dormant reserves of food plants. The makers of Brandon lime (Mssrs. F. J. Mount and son) claim that their product will not injure the eyes of men and horses and can be stored for months without deterioration.
Those of the inhabitants who are not absorbed in the industries mentioned above are, for the most part, engaged in agricultural pursuits or in the extensive steam saw mills of Messrs. Calders, Ltd.
It may be mentioned for the benefit of those of our readers who would consider Brandon as a holiday centre, that excellent accommodation can be found at the White Hart Hotel (a very popular hostelry with commercial gentlemen), the Ram Hotel (favoured by sportsmen who come to the locality for fishing, shooting and coursing, etc.), the Railway Hotel (possessed of a first-class garage and cars for hire), the Ouse Hotel (charmingly placed on the banks of the river and having the advantage of a delightful Tea Garden), and at the houses of those people who take paying guests on most reasonable terms.
Within the confines of this little booklet it is manifestly impossible to describe all the enchanting excursions which can be made in the neighbourhood; but we would counsel our readers during a stay in the locality to visit the noble avenue of lime trees extending from the Parish Church to the High Street; The Hard [Thetford?], rich in historical associations, and possessing the largest earthworks in East Anglia, three parish churches and the remains of a priory; Lakenheath, with its fine church dedicated to St. Mary; Santon Downham, the scene of a great sandstorm in the seventeenth century; Ely, with its beautiful cathedral – a history book itself; and, nearer at hand, the remains of Bromehill Priory; Pepper Hill, traditionally associated with Oliver Cromwell; Weeting, with its fine white brick mansion; and, ever of interest, the banks of the Little Ouse.
In conclusion, it is interesting to record that in the shooting season His Majesty the King is an occasional visitor to the Elveden Estate (comprising 17,000 acres), owned by Viscount Iveagh, K.P.
S. and P. Lingwood, Ltd.
Established in 1870 by the late Samuel and Palmer Lingwood. Present directors are Messrs. H. and O. Lingwood, sons of the late Mr. S. Lingwood. Premises situated Thetford Road (Chief Offices and Warehouses), and Factory on London Road. Speciality:-The manufacture of Hatters’ Furs from Hare and Rabbit Skins for the Felt Hat trade, for Home and Export. Members of the Hatters’ Fur Trade Federation.
W. Rought, Ltd
W. Rought, Ltd., Hatters’ Fur Manufacturers, Brandon, Suffolk. Established in 1790. Managing Director: – Albert William Rought-Rought, Esq., J. P. Premises occupy about two acres. Staff about 200. Speciality: – Hare and Coney Furs for the manufacture of Felt Hats; connection United Kingdom Foreign and Colonial. The firm are members of the Hatters’ Fur Trade Association. The present head of the firm is a J.P. for the County of Suffolk, Chairman of Rural District Council, Chairman of Parish Council, etc.
The burden of high rates weighs heavily on all to-day, and on no one more than on the retired resident with a fixed or even decreasing income. The local retail tradesmen are certainly the chief rate-payers in the average towns. Today many of them find their task a hard one, owing to the fact that residents are in the habit of ordering their goods from the great cities. This is a mistaken policy. Remember empty shops pay no rates. Both residents and visitors should support the local trader. It is surely better to be one of a few score of valued customers than one of thousands in a big Department store.
The big store may be very slightly cheaper, but as the town’s turnover increases, the local prices will gradually approach those of the city. The local store knows you and tries to please you. Give it a Chance; You Will Benefit in the Long Run.