24 November 2013

Last time I wrote that weather wise we seemed to be on that slippery slope down into the depths of winter. Boy! No kidding. The temperature has dropped like a stone falling through a vacuum; we’ve had rain, sleet, bitterly cold winds and hail along with a smattering of snow in the highlands. And it’s only November!

Ms Playchute and I enjoyed a lovely few days at the beginning of the week – we took ourselves off on a little mini-break to Norfolk and had a splendid time.

I have to thank Dad for the impetus to get us going – some weeks ago he sent us an extract from the Wall Street Journal outlining the Houghton Revisited Exhibition at Houghton Hall. This was described as a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to see “one of the most fabled and envied picture collections of eighteenth-century Europe.”

Pope Clement IXThe art was collected by Sir Robert Walpole but had been sold off in 1779 to settle some death duties. Catherine the Great of Russia bought virtually the whole lot and it has largely remained in the Hermitage in St Petersburg ever since. The fact that the art was in one location meant that it was possible to return something in the region of sixty paintings to the location in which they were originally hung; Houghton Hall itself was built to house this artwork. The exhibition was originally due to run through the summer but there was such public demand that it was extended until the end of November. Following Dad’s note we were able to secure two tickets during the last week of the expedition.

And, it was fabulous. There were some great masterpieces, paintings by all your old favourites: Murillo, Poussin, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Velázquez and many more and each was hung in precisely the same spot that Walpole had displayed them (they found, in a drawer in his writing desk, Walpole’s handwritten notes outlining where each of the paintings was to be hung).  The house and grounds were pretty impressive, too. It was built in the 1720s and is considered one of the finest Palladian houses in England. My photos aren’t quite as good as the one below (taken from the Houghton Hall web site) but you can glance through the least bad photos from our mini-trip here.

Houghton Hall

The video below will give you a feel for the exhibition and will probably help you understand why we were so keen to go.


While the Houghton Revisited exhibition was the impetus for visiting Norfolk (and to go before the 24 November when the exhibition was due to end), another reason for going was to visit the village of Hingham, about 16 miles west of Norwich.

Why Hingham? A year or so ago while Ms Playchute and I were visiting my folks at the Finishing School in New Hampshire, my mother shared a number of documents relating to our family history. These had largely been collected and accumulated by a cousin and contained, amongst other little interesting nuggets, the information that my great-great-great (about twelve times, I think) grandfather was one Thomas Joy who emigrated from England to Boston in 1635. Some of the sources say that he was born in Hingham, Norfolk; another says that he was born in Gravesend, Norfolk. Gravesend, of course, is in Kent, not Norfolk but it is likely that he was the “Thomas Joy, age 25” who sailed from Gravesend for America in 1635 in the “Constance.”

Hingham NorfolkHingham is a lovely little village and it certainly features in the emigration to the New World in the 17th century. In the 1630s those of Puritan leanings often emigrated to secure their religious freedom. It seems that the Rev Robert Peck, rector of Hingham from 1605, had built up quite a following in the village. His Puritan leanings, however, went against the more catholic ideals of the established church at the time and he was frequently “in trouble” with the authorities. In 1636 some of his parishioners, still objecting to the Catholic influence, broke into the church, destroyed the alter rails and threw them into a pit and lowered the “high” alter until it was a foot below the level of the church floor. Peck was held to be responsible and it also became known that he was holding “unofficial” prayer meetings in private houses, against church law. He was charged with “contumacious disobedience to the orders and ceremonies of the church” and was excommunicated. Eighteen months later he and his family, along with about half the village (the more prosperous half, it seems) sailed for America and settled in what had been named Bare Cove but which was renamed Hingham, Mass. [The American Connection from the earliest settlers to the present day, Hingham History Group]

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any evidence of our ancestor Thomas Joy so he may not have come from Hingham at all. Or, he may have been born in Hingham but moved from the village before emigrating. His name is not listed amongst the 170 residents known to have emigrated from Hingham but the sources point out that many others who emigrated had left the village and settled elsewhere in England before travelling to the New World.

One emigrant of note we did run across was one Samuel Lincoln who was born in Hingham and baptised, presumably by Rev Peck, on 24 August 1622. He was apprenticed to a weaver in Norwich and, when the weaver and his family emigrated in 1637, Lincoln emigrated with the family as a servant. Soon after he settled in Hingham, Mass. where two of his brothers were already living. As you might have guessed from the surname, Samuel Lincoln’s great-great-great-great-grandson was Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States.

The weather, as I’ve mentioned, was “crisp” to say the least but we did have a good deal of sunshine in between the sleet and hail, and the beech hedges and trees, in particular, were putting on a fairly colourful display. After visiting Hingham we made our way up to the north Norfolk coast and wandered around Wells-next-the-Sea for a bit before making our way along the coast to catch the sunset over the Wash at Hunstanton.

Old Hall, Tilney All SaintsWe stayed during our mini-break in a lovely self-catering annexe of a late 16th century Grade II listed house in the village of Tilney All Saints, about three miles south of King’s Lynn. It was lovely and very well appointed and we had a very pleasant stay. Although we didn’t get a chance to explore King’s Lynn we did manage to find two excellent restaurants with which to indulge ourselves on the Monday and Tuesday evenings. Marriott’s Warehouse, a 16th century warehouse on the south quay alongside the River Ouse provided our sustenance on the first evening and Penelope and I both had the smoked pork belly ribs which were outstanding. Some who were at the XCstravaganza celebrations have asked if they were as good as Rob Anderson’s ribs and the answer has to be “no, not quite.” But they were very, very good indeed and we even had to resort to a “doggy bag” to transport our left-overs home.

On the Tuesday evening we ate at the Market Bistro in the old part of King’s Lynn and, once again, it was very good. Although we were both more than amply replete, when the waiter listed a chocolate brownie with ice cream as one of the dessert options, neither of us were able to resist. He returned with two enormous ice-berg sized slabs of chocolate brownies with home-made vanilla ice cream – disgustingly good.

This Week’s Rant

I’ve written in the past about Iain Duncan Smith, the Minister responsible for the Department of Works and Pensions, and his dodgy use of statistics to support his various claims that anyone on benefits was a scrounger and lay-about. He has been reprimanded in the past for misusing statistics – on one occasion he used figures from a property web site to “prove” his point while at the same time ignoring statistics from his own department which, unfortunately, did not support his position. He is also the minister who claimed his reforms were a success before they were even implemented. When he was reprimanded for “being somewhat economical with the truth” (i.e., lying) he stated that it didn’t matter if what he said wasn’t true, as long as he believed it to be true!

Now, he has been called before the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee to, among other issues, account for his use of dodgy statistics. Still, when a politician doesn’t mind being caught out pedalling untruths and brushes it away with an “I don’t care because I believe it anyway” I don’t suppose there’s a lot one can do. We won’t be holding our breath waiting for apologies and retractions.

Cell and ThiSorry to end on a sad note but we lost a member of our extended family this week. Penny’s sister Judi’s son Cell died on Thursday night after a difficult struggle with colon cancer.

As well as being just a splendid young man, devoted husband and father, Cell was a very talented and gifted artist and had a successful career as an animator in the old style, where the animations were actually hand drawn and painted rather than being computer generated. During his career he worked in every creative aspect of the animation industry from storyboard revisionist, animation supervisor to series director working on commercials, music videos, animated series and everything in between. I remember our boys mentioning projects he had worked on that they had seen with knowledge and genuine appreciation of his talents. He was much loved by everyone who knew him and will be very much missed.

Much love to you all,