Starting your family history

This short film will help you to make a start researching your ancestry. Easy to follow and simple to do, even if you can’t get out of your house at the moment.

Don’t get hold of the wrong end of the stick!

I love old sayings and those that relate to everyday life are often the best. Together with my fascination of the history of the toilet, this saying is one of my favourites.

Recently, with the rush on stock-piling toilet paper, it has made me think about our ancestors and the ways they performed the same job. My mind went back to my earliest memories and the product which resembled greaseproof paper which our school provided for our tender little bottoms. Why such stuff was ever considered suitable, I’ll never know.

Looking back to the Romans though, they were very organised. Their toilets were designed so that you could sit on the seat and, as there was a long vertical hole extending from the seat, you could clean up without getting up. The way those clever Romans did this was by dipping a piece of cloth or sponge tied onto a stick, into a little stream of running water and then cleaning the offending area. After cleaning, the cloth or sponge on the stick was rinsed in the water and the stick was put back into a large receptacle, ready for the next user. He would have to be careful not to get hold of the wrong end of the stick though, as it wasn’t always very clean!

Leaves or moss?

After the Romans left, things deteriorated and by the time the Normans arrived, we were still simply digging holes in the ground and using leaves or moss if we wanted to feel fresh and clean.

The Normans reintroduced some form of organised waste disposal system for those lucky enough to live in Castles, but for the majority of us, we were still digging pits in the ground or just going behind the bushes. The rich Castle dwellers had bench toilets, similar to the Romans and chutes which emptied either into the moat or onto the dung hill, ready for the peasants to cart away.

By the time of the Tudors there was comfort indeed. 

At Hampton Court Palace, King Henry VIII had a padded close stool, covered in sheepskin, black velvet and ribbons but his staff used either the communal toilet block, standing beside the river, or the “piss-pot”. Not only did Henry have his own, private, padded toilet, he also had his own private “Groom of the Stool”. The actual duties of this lucky worker have been lost in time, but the job did include looking after the King during his most private and personal times. Although it wasn’t the most pleasant post to hold, it was a very prestigious one, as the Groom of the Stool had the King’s ear and was privy to his innermost thoughts. The post also entitled the man access to the Royal Chambers, right to lodge in the Royal Palaces, was often given old clothes, no longer used by the King as well as bedchamber furnishings which were surplus to requirements.   

Queen Elizabeth I had an early flush toilet, but they weren’t commonly used till the C19th and then seldom for the lower classes.

William III had a padded close stool too and that one is still at Hampton Court. (Below.)


Nothing much changed till the middle of the C19th, when mass overcrowding in cities and the regular occurrence of epidemics, sparked many enquiries into why there was so much disease and how was it being caused. 

At first, it was thought that, as disease was rife where the smells were at their worse and that it was the “miasma” which was causing the Cholera and other such problems, but, after the investigations of the late 1840’s and 1850’s, it was found that the supply of clean water and the disposal of effluent was the main way to keep such diseases at bay.

The enquiries showed that, in many cases, just one back-yard privy was being shared by over 100 people. Water-courses were being used to dispose of effluent and, the same water courses were being used as a source of drinking water. 

What was needed, was a supply of clean drinking water and a system to dispose of the waste.

By the end of the C19th, most towns and cities had a clean water supply and a sewerage system, but many of the poorer areas were still using outside privies and, if there was fresh water, it was through a communal standpipe. It was to be the same for country dwellers, in some cases, up till the 1970’s.

This is a cut-away drawing of a toilet, which was being used just outside King’s Lynn, up to the middle of the 1970’s. There was another one behind this one, (back to back)  and they shared a  pit which was emptied through a little door at ground level, on the outside wall. The contents were then spread on the garden. 

As natural drainage was happening and these toilets were often to be found not too far from the well, this would be another source of disease. 

A typical type of garden toilet for common folk.

Don’t kick the bucket…….

Other similar toilets, instead of having a pit beneath the seat, had a large bucket, which was emptied onto the garden when full. Sometimes, householders would empty the ash-pans into the pit toilets, as well as the bucket ones. This reduced the smell and also made the contents less unpleasant to empty. 

The early buckets were just the usual wooden ones. Let’s hope they didn’t get them mixed up with the ones they used to carry the vegetables in from the garden or the water from the well.

A maid adding ash. This would either be released by a lever or a small shovel would be provided, to add to the contents of the pail.

The later buckets were made specifically for the job. They were large, oval in shape, with a long carrying handle and another smaller handle on the side, to enable easy tipping.

Radio Times

The use of the flush toilet for common folk in the countryside, only really came into everyday life after WWI, when more local authorities were building houses. These homes, often built on small estates in villages, or the outskirts of towns, often had a bathroom, as well as a toilet. Absolute luxury for people who had always washed in cold water, in the scullery or bathed in front of the fire in a tin bath. 

By the 1960’s most people had modern facilities but, by no means were all able to have hot and cold running water and a flush toilet. For some, as I have said earlier, it wasn’t till the middle of the 1970’s that these luxuries were to arrive in their dwellings. 

“What about toilet paper?” I hear you ask. Well, toilet paper is not new, as it was in use over a thousand years ago in China, but the use of mass-produced toilet paper is a very modern thing. 

In the past, as we have already heard, the Romans had a “sponge on a stick”, but from then, most people used leaves, moss or their left hand. Yes, the left hand and water, (which is still used in many Asian countries), was the accepted method of cleaning up.  

When the population of the country began to be able to read and write and newspapers became popular, they were often torn up into squares and hung on a nail to be used and by the 1930’s, the Radio Times was a favourite, if slightly shiny alternative. 

Although commercially produced toilet paper was available by the 1860‘s, it wasn’t common for people till the nineteen twenties and by 1935, there was even “splinter-free” paper available. It’s bad enough getting a splinter in your finger!

In the 1960’s most households were using luxurious toilet paper, but public buildings and schools etc were using a very shiny paper, similar to greaseproof paper, called Izal. The wierdest invention known to man! 

When you go to stock-pile toilet rolls, please spare a thought for the poor 1960’s school children using Izal, the farm workers who only had dock leaves and those who still use their left hands!

Norfolk Day

Norfolk Day 2018

This year sees the first day devoted to our beautiful county.


27th July 2018 will see lots of events and celebrations and Norfolk-Tours will be taking part.


To help you celebrate Norfolk Day, I have available flags and bunting at very reasonable cost. Flags are just £5 and 9m of bunting is just £12. Postage will be charged at cost.

Norfolk Day Flag

Celebrate Norfolk Day by flying The Norfolk Flag


If you would like any flags or bunting, please email me with your requirements and address and I will send your order as soon as possible. Don’t delay, get in early to avoid disappointment.

Email: and please mark your email “Norfolk Day”.



Norfolk-Tours on the BBC

In November, I was asked to show Cerys Matthews around Anna Sewell’s house for The One Show on BBC1 and we were filming for much of the afternoon.

Anna Sewell House

Anna Sewell’s House










After exploring, we sat in the conservatory and chatted about how Anna Sewell wrote her one and only book in that very house and, in fact, much of it was written in the very next room.





Cerys Matthews & Glynn Burrows

Cerys Matthews and I in Anna Sewell’s Sitting Room










Not only was much of the book written in that room but, sadly, it was in that room that she died, overlooking the meadows opposite.

Horse opposite Anna Sewell House

The Meadow Opposite Anna Sewell’s House













One surprising discovery was that the stable was still there.

Anna Sewell's stable

The Stable in Anna Sewell’s House








Anna Sewell died shortly after her book was published but before it had become a best seller and long before it became the internationally known classic that it is today.

Black Beauty is one of the best known books ever written and it was written in an unassuming house in a quiet Norfolk village, by an unassuming woman who wrote it for the horses, not for herself.










Our Royal Christening

How fantastic that our new princess, Princess Charlotte of Cambridge, is being baptised at Sandringham in Norfolk.

The Church is one which has had its fair share of Royal usage over the years, some sombre but some happier and is the Church where Princess Charlotte’s late Grandmother, Diana, Princess of Wales, was Christened in August 1961. (At that time, Diana was not a member of the Royal Family as she was The Honourable Diana Spencer.)

When Edward, Prince of Wales, was given the Sandringham Estate as a twenty-first birthday present, not only were the house and grounds in need of improvement but the Church was also in need of some tender loving care too.

Sandringham, Church, History, Princess Charlotte, Christening,

Sandringham, Church, History, Princess, Charlotte, Christening, Norfolk,

Sandringham Church c1873

Sandringham, Church, History, Princess, Charlotte, Christening, Norfolk,

Another early view of the Church.

Sandringham, Church, History, Princess, Charlotte, Christening, Norfolk,

Sandringham Church Summer 2015.




As can be seen, from the pictures above, this little Norfolk Church has had many additions and alterations but these changes can be noticed much more from the inside.

Sandringham, Church, Norfolk, Princess, Charlotte, Christening, History,

Sandringham Church Summer 2015


Sandringham, Church, History, Princess, Charlotte, Christening, Norfolk,

Inside Sandringham Church before restorations


Sandringham, Church, History, Font, Princess, Charlotte, Christening, Baptism, Norfolk,

The current Font in Sandringham Church

There is a font in the Church but Princess Charlotte will be Christened in the solid Silver and Gilded font which has traditionally been used for many Royal Christenings since it was made for Queen Victoria in 1841. This is said to be the first time it has ever left London and is usually kept with the rest of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London.

The earlier Font, which was in the Church is no longer present but this one is in the West end, within the Tower.

Although this is a very sombre photograph, it is one of the most poignant pictures and shows how highly the Estate and County hold the Royal Family in their hearts. King George VI was born in York Cottage, Sandringham and he also passed away here. Protocol meant that he couldn’t be taken to London immediately and, overnight, he laid in the Chancel of Sandringham Church, where he was guarded by Estate Workers.

Sandringham, Church, History, George VI, Norfolk, King,

King George VI, guarded by Estate Workers. February 1952.

Princess Charlotte of Cambridge is the first Princess to be Christened in Norfolk but I hope she won’t be the last.

Old Photographs of Norwich – Norfolk

I was looking through my photograph files on my computer this evening and thought I would share a few old pictures of Norwich.

I have lots of old photographs but these show interesting views and people working in everyday jobs. Fascinating to see inside factories and shops! I will be putting together a full article, with more pictures, in the next few months.

Norfolk, Norwich, Vacations,

Upper Goat Lane Warehouses


Norfolk, Norwich, Tours, Vacation,

Curls in Rampant Horse Street, decorated for the 1897 Jubilee

Norfolk, Norwich, Tours, Vacations,

Large department stores weren’t just in London, Norwich had several.


Norwich, Norfolk, Tours,

Fires, with timber buildings, closely packed together were common in large towns and cities.

Norwich, Norfolk, Tours, Family History,

Dinner-Time for the workers.

Norwich, Norfolk, Family History,

Hard work & long hours.

Norfolk, Tours, Family History,

Transporting fruit & vegetables to market.

Norfolk, Norwich, Family History, Tours,

More factory workers. Norwich was a massive city with massive factories employing thousands of workers. Were your ancestors among them?



WW II Airfields in East Anglia

WW II Airfields in East Anglia

The area of East Anglia is very close to Europe and there is nothing but sea between our Eastern Counties and Holland. It was the perfect place to put airfields during the War as a lot of this part of England is relatively flat and much of the area is open countryside.

A list of the WWII airfields in this area includes:

Alconbury, Atcham, Attlebridge, Bassingbourn, Bedford, Bodney, Bottisham, Bovingdon, Boxted, Bungay, Chelveston, Coltishall, Conington, Debach, Debden, Deenethorpe, Deopham Green, Downham Market, Duxford, Earls Colne, East Wretham, Eye, Feltwell, Foulsham, Fowlmere, Goxhill, Grafton Underwood, Great Ashfield, Great Dunmow, Great Massingham, Great Saling, Halesworth, Hardwick, Harrington, Hethel, Honington, Horham, Horsham St Faith, Kimbolton, Kingscliffe, Knettishall, Lakenheath, Langham, Lavenham, Little Snoring, Little Walden, Marham, Marsworth, Martlesham Heath, Mendlesham, Metfield, Methwold, Mildenhall, Molesworth, Mount Farm, North Creake, North Pickenham, Nuthampstead, Old Buckenham, Oulton, Parham, Podington, Polebrook, Rackheath, Rattlesden, Raydon, Ridgewell, Rougham, Sculthorpe, Seething, Shipdham, Snetterton Heath, Steeple Morden, Sudbury, Swannington, Swanton Morley, Theberton or Saxmundham, Thorpe Abbotts, Tibenham, Wattisham, Watton, Wendling, West Raynham, Willingale & Wormingford. (I have probably missed some and would be pleased to be told of any I have overlooked or made a mistake with.)

Some of these airfields are still recognisable from the ground but many have reverted back to what they were before the War and now grow crops again. Some are built upon and some others have been adapted for other uses. Farmers find the old runways and perimeter tracks very useful for building barns on and many of the old hangars and sheds are still in use for storage. Looking at the area from above, it is often still very easy to spot the old airfields as they left a major scar on the field systems of old England and the layout of most fields was exactly the same, so the three runways set out in a rough “A” shape can be seen on the modern websites showing the Earth from above.

So, can you get to visit many of these old WWII airfields? Surprisingly, yes! Even the ones in private ownership are often accessible by appointment and it is, at times, also possible to go into some of the buildings if they are safe. Only last year, I went onto four different airfields with children of ex servicemen and I also had the honour to visit an airfield with a Veteran. That was something VERY special, I can tell you.

Norfolk Tours, Family history, Memphis Belle,

What else? Well, there is the fantastic museum at Duxford. It has a massive collection of aircraft and many are still flying. When I visit, I often see Spitfires flying and the last two times I have been there to see the plane used in the film “Memphis Belle” take off.

Spitfire, Duxford, Norfolk Tours, Family History,


If you have connections to any of the airfields mentioned above or would like further information, please get in touch.

Fakenham Fire

What a shame to see the old Aldiss’s store burning down. The row of shops at the top of the market place are in a prime position and it is a real blow to the town to have them in ruins but what a fantastic opportunity to make something positive out of this disaster.

This area of the town is very important to look into as it is so close to the Church. The development of a market place often follows a regular pattern and the Church is often found overlooking this open space because, in medieval times, markets would have been held in the Church yard. The large inns are always around the market, because merchants always needed refreshment and main roads from surrounding towns and villages will meet at this most important part of the town.

If you look at early maps of Fakenham, it is obvious that there have been several encroachments onto the old market place and, perhaps the site which has just been destroyed, is one of the earliest. After all, who would expect a Church to be hidden from view by a row of buildings?

The buildings, apart from the new front which was added during the C20th, all appear to be Georgian in date but behind the frontages, the back appears to have been much earlier.

Fakenham fire

I will be researching the history of this area over the next few weeks but, meanwhile, please do contact me if you have any information or photographs.


Family Names


It’s interesting when we start to look at our family history, one of the first things we often look for, is the meaning of the name and this can be very surprising, as many do not mean what we automatically think. Many are related to the trade carried out by our ancestor, the town, village or the place he lived but sometimes, it was a nick-name relating to what he looked like. Here is a list of a few:

Fletcher: A man who made arrows.

Blaxter: A bleacher.

Villin: A commoner or farm servant.

Bunn: Good, from the French “Bon”.

Fuller: A man who worked in the cloth industry.

Skipper: A man who owned a ship.

Redman: Red haired or someone with a high colour.

Athill: Someone who lived on a hill.

Deville: From the town.

Walsingham: From Walsingham.

See what you can find out about the origin of your own surname and, if you have any problems, let me know and I’ll see if I can help.

Ginger beer sellers Norfolk

When it comes to finding where your family originated from, you may think that you will never find out because the records in the libraries don’t tell you anything. Don’t give up as some names are typically from Norfolk: Rallison, Frary, Bennefer, Cason, Gurney, Grimmer, Filby, Hipkin, Howling, Foulger, Gotts and Skipper, are all names which are very common in Norfolk. In fact, if you are a Benefer, I can guarantee that your ancestor came from King’s Lynn! My great Grandmother was a Benefer and I have not yet found any Benefer who isn’t related to me.

Norwich Market

So, how do we find where our family name originated from? Obviously, if it is a name like Smith or Jones, it will be very difficult but if you have an unusual name, it is always worth putting the name in an early census search on a family history index site and see what comes up. If 99% of the hits are from one area, it could be a good place to start! If I put Rallison or Benefer into a search for the 1851 census, the only hits are people born in Norfolk.


I have been researching my own family history since 1977 and I have found that all of my ancestors lived within 50 miles of where I live today, even the families I have traced back to the 16th Century. Some are rare names, like Goll, Benefer and Ebdale but others are quite common like Burrows, Harvey and Claxton. How far have your ancestors travelled?


Ten Reasons to Visit Norfolk.

There are many reasons to visit this area of England but here, I have selected just ten things which may surprise you about this County.

Ten Reasons to Visit Norfolk, England.


1: The Queen of England has her own private home here and you can visit it and see where the Royal Family spends Christmas. Walk around the beautiful gardens and enjoy the favourite home of our Monarch. This is where King George V died and where his son, King George VI was born and also where he passed away.


Sandringham Norfolk-Tours

Sandringham House

2: There are over 700 Medieval Churches in the County, which is an area a little bigger than the Grand Canyon National Park. (Norfolk is 5,371 km² and the Grand Canyon National Park is 4,926.7 km2. but Norfolk is roughly oval in shape and is about 50 miles North to South and 75 miles East to West.


Egmere Norfolk-Tours

There are many ruined Churches in Norfolk

3: There are at least a dozen Medieval Castles in Norfolk and some are still substantial buildings; Castle Rising, Caister Castle and Norwich Castle, some are ruins; Castle Acre and Baconsthorpe Castle and some are just earthworks; Mileham, Horsford etc.


Norwich Castle Norfolk-Tours

Norwich Castle

4: Local food is superb. We have an abundance of game, with Pheasants, Deer and Partridges available in season. As we are on the coast, our fish restaurants are very special and our Cromer Crabs are amazing. We have a wide selection of home-cooked food available in our pubs and restaurants and often the food miles of meals can be counted on one hand.

Norfolk-Tours Pleasant

Cock Pheasant


5: Life is calm. We have no motorways (freeways) and, because of that, we are a relaxed bunch. Not much rushing about in Norfolk! We do have some dual carriageway roads but our Country Lanes are often single file and we drive on the “wrong side of the road”, so if you decide to take a hire car, please do keep to our pace on the lanes because, as we are a farming community, tractors and animals are often around the next corner.


Norfolk-Tours lane

A quiet country lane

6: We have lots of small villages and towns to visit and even our County Capital City of Norwich is tiny compared to your cities. The population of Norwich is around 215,000! This means that you will find that, even if you stay in the centre of our largest City, you are no more than a mile from open fields!

Norwich Norfolk-Tours

The view from Norwich Castle.


7: Birders can relax and watch birds in our many bird reserves. Welney, Cley, Brancaster and Pensthorpe are all very popular places with many types of birds. With so much countryside, the whole area is a birder’s paradise!

Birding Norfolk-Tours

Even in our gardens, we are never far from beautiful birds, like this Woodpecker.


8: Artists and writers can join their historic brethren and get inspiration from the beautiful surroundings and serenity of the countryside. Norwich School was a famous group of painters including Crome & Cotman and Munnings has to have been one of the best painters of working horses. The skies of Norfolk are popular with artists because of the low horizon and the coast, with the many different seascape and landscape combinations. Literary figures include Anna Sewell, George Borrow and, of course, Thomas Paine.

Wells Norfolk-Tours



9: Spiritual connectivity is easy, surrounded by so many historic Churches, Priories, Abbeys and the Cathedral at Norwich. Ruined religious houses are also all over the County, thanks to King Henry VIII and one of England’s most important Medieval Pilgrimage sites, at Walsingham, is a must for those who wish to connect with their spiritual side.

Walsingham Abbey Norfolk-Tours

Walsingham Abbey


10: Norfolk is a great escape from the rat-race. It is only two and a half hours from London by car and less by train, yet it is as far removed from the metropolis as it is possible to get.

Poppies Norfolk-Tours



Very few tourists have found us yet and, if you don’t understand what you are hearing when you’re sitting in the pub, enjoying your pint, it isn’t because it’s a foreign tourist you’re hearing, it’s because it’s someone talking “Norfolk”.


Time Travel Norfolk-Tours

Norfolk-Tours, your personal guide to the REAL England.