Enid Chadwick on Walsingham in the Thirties


Although there was electricity in the village there was none in St Mary’s
and lighting was done by oil lamps which hung over the nave seats. At Assumptiontide the brass containers were filled with jam-jars of flowers. There were flowers all over the church, and on the eve of the festival many of the regular Hospice visitors came to help with the decoration. The streets too were gay with bright strings of flags waving from house to house, and coloured bunting hanging out of windows. Fr Patten could always persuade people to work for him and a garland was made for the Holy House; at Christmas-time the villagers worked in the old refectory making long garlands of evergreens to hang from pillar to pillar in the church. At the Parish Mass on the Sunday in the octave, after the 8 o’ clock’ Fr Patten would go down the aisles sprinkling rosemary and other scented leaves to be trodden underfoot during the procession.

Real Walsingham natives will remember remarkable characters of bygone days, characters who don’t seem to exist now unless we have taken their place without knowing it. I am thinking of such people as Billy Redwin, gentle and friendly, known as Mongoose: Jabez Blunderfield, the Snowdrop King, who used to chase off any children who were stealing the snowdrops: Mudderer Mann, who walked back from Fakenham one day and made a 'fist o walking'. A group of cottages stood opposite the Shrine, converted by Fr Patten’s planning into the Knights Gate Cafe, run so cheerfully for many years by the three Misses Bloxam. In one of these lived Mrs Mahommet and her daughter Paulina (who had St Vitus dance). In another were Hopping Billy, or Cacker Will, and his wife Maggie. He had a little shop next to St Augustine’s where he sold old antiques and where bargains could occasionally be picked up by the discerning, and he used to go off on mysterious business ventures to country houses (so he said) in his pony and trap. Knight Street has considerably altered in appearance as what is now part of the College on the west side was once a row of cottages, and these were reconditioned by Fr Patten who told the builders what to do. There was no Mount Pleasant till well after the war and there have been many other additions to the village since.

We must now leave Knight Street and Wells Road and go to the High Street where Mr Bush might be sitting outside the tiny grocer’s shop kept by him and his wife. Or we might see gentle Miss England tripping along in her summer outfit of a long grey shantung coat with bonnet to match. Miss Lola Smith lived lower down and gave piano lessons. She also played the violin and turned up once to help in a little orchestra with only three strings on her instrument saying: "I’ll tumble in when I can". One of the rooms of a dressmaker who lived opposite had to be seen to be believed; it was papered entirely with fashion plates from old magazines.

I am conscious that in this brief sketch much is left out that should have been mentioned, but it would certainly be incomplete if there were no word of Miss Martin the Weaver, known to residents and pilgrims alike. She lived in a tiny "condemned" cottage called "The Haven" on the narrowest part of Station Road opposite the Black Lion, where she would work with her door open and entice visitors, who had just arrived by train, to come in and see her weaving. For company she had Micky her black cat, on whose back perched a white dove. Her work was good — both her weaving and embroidery, the results of which can be seen in the Shrine, notably a beautiful red High Mass set and a black velvet chasuble bearing the arms of Edward I. She behaved very strangely at times. Once when Fr Patten annoyed her she took her work into the little chapel which is Station IV, and where William rang the bells which hung in a little wooden structure above. Dear William. He was a splended person: gardener, beadle, waiter in the refectory — he didn’t seem to mind what he did and would work overtime painting beams and ceilings in some of the chapels in the Shrine.

The pilgrim of today sometimes expects great comforts, things taken for granted by many of us, such as a daily bath, cups of tea in their lodgings; they must not expect these to be provided. Those who came, say, forty-five years ago, would have gone to much more primitive lodgings with no indoor sanitation, and they would have heard the 'fairy cart' with its plodding horse, coming round after dark to empty the elsans. They would have seen food from the Hospice Kitchen being brought across the garden to the old refectory, to be served to pilgrims by a band of voluntary helpers. They would have seen the washing-up being done in a small lean-to covered by a rough awning, in what is now the College garden. The extraordinary thing was that nobody minded, nobody complained; it all added to the joys of pilgrimage. Pilgrims of today have a lesson to learn from this!!


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