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What follows is parts one in the serialisation of the Howlett family as told by Pearl Mann. I am delighted to be able to give this history a wide audience especially as it contains so much detail about Feltwell from the early part of this century. Pearl even provided the photographs that can be seen elsewhere.   A new part will be added each month for the next four months.


Part 1 PUB. JUNE 2000 Part 2 PUB. JULY 2000 Part 3 PUB. AUGUST 2000 Part 4 PUB. SEPT. 2000 Part  5 PUB OCT. 2000

My great grandfather James Howlett was born at Thompson, Norfolk, in 1835, the son of Peter and Mary Ann (nee Turner). We are not sure who his grandparents were as the parish registers are very faint. James's father was a carter, the father of two daughters, followed by four sons. In 1861 young James, the second son, was working as a gardener near West Tofts. It was there, in the beautiful St. Mary's Church in 1865 that he married Rebecca Wildbore who had been born at Docking, Norfolk on 14 July 1832. During the mid eighteen hundreds St. Mary's Church at West Tofts had been partially rebuilt and restored by A. W. N. Pugin (the designer of much of the interior of the Houses of Parliament). The church was recognised as one of Pugin's most magnificent works. Today it is in the Stanford Battle Area with most of its treasures removed. However, it is not hard to picture James and Rebecca walking through the avenue of lime trees to St. Mary's Church in all its glory.

We do not know what brought James and Rebecca to Feltwell but in 1867 they were living at the Bell Inn - James was now an innkeeper. In 1867 a daughter Mabel Adeline was born and the following year a son - my grandfather - Bertie Rafe. A few years later the family moved to the West End where James is on record as a horse breeder and innkeeper. A daughter Hester Robina had been born in 1869 but sadly died aged nine months. Thankfully Agnes Maria born in 1871 and her sister Constance Hester born the following year were in good health when an appalling tragedy occurred. In the harvest fields on 2 September 1872 James met with an accident and bled to death. He was only 36 years old. His grave behind St. Mary's Church, Feltwell still has a fresh looking headstone which was erected, as indicated, by Maria Goff, his mother in law.

After the death of James, Rebecca moved with her four small children to a cottage at 59 Cock Street (now 18 High Street). She worked as a seamstress and cleaner which must have been difficult but she raised her family very successfully.

At the appropriate time Bertie began work with Francis Harwin, a butcher, at 1 Hill Street. By the age of 30 he had his own business at Ashtons, a few doors away from Rebecca. He was looking handsome, dashing and prosperous when, in October 1898 he married Florence Rolfe, fair, slim and pretty. She was a teacher from Methwold who was two years his junior. Years later my father (their eldest son) described Florence as "strict in her ways" and Bertie as "more free and easy".

Cecil Robert, known later as Robert, was born at Ashtons in 1899 and soon plans were being made to move home and the butchery business to the Chequers Inn. Business flourished there. Bertie employed two men and help in the house for Florence. In the stables were four horses with pony traps and wagonette to hire or to deliver orders.

The household must have been a very busy one when in May 1902 there were great celebrations to mark the end of the Boer War. Robert had his face blackened and rode with Bertie on a large black horse in a procession. Bands were playing, flags flying and everywhere carts and wagons were decorated with bunting and evergreen branches. Each wagon was full of men, women and children all going to the Rectory grounds for a thanksgiving service.

 At the time of the Boer War celebrations Florence had been expecting her third child. Ralph William (Rafe) had been born in 1901 and a daughter Florence Mabel (Dolly) was born in 1903. When Robert was four years old, and probably in an effort to help Florence, he went to live with his grandmother Rebecca and his Aunt Constance at the cottage in Cock Street. This was a good idea initially as Aunt Connie was a school teacher and took Robert to school each day, but as he grew up his life was very restricted. No playing in the street with other boys and much emphasis on bible study and learning the collect for the week in readiness for the vicar's approval on Sunday. Books were Robert's only consolation. He did go home sometimes at weekends to run errands and help with the younger children. However, there were happy times when he went with his father to "the fen" where Bertie had grazing land. A cow was kept there and hay for the horses cut there. Also Bertie went shooting there where hares abounded.

Occasionally at the weekends Robert stayed at home and slept with his brother Ralph. In the bar below local men would be playing darts and dominoes or draughts and outside quoits. The Chequers was an octagonal building and at the back at the far end and at right angles was a long veranda where the wives gathered to have one or two pennyworth of gin. There were long forms to sit on and two tables. As the night progressed the menfolk in the bar would sing old songs such as "Don't go down the mine Dad' or "Ail cling together like the ivy". The following morning Robert and his father would be in the choir at St. Mary's Church.

At the Chequers Inn in 1907 the sixth and last child of Florence and Bertie was born. Sadly their third son Harold James, born in 1904, had died in infancy, but the following year Vera Ruth arrived and two years later Irene Rebecca. We have no idea exactly why, in 1908, the Howlett family moved from the Chequers for four years and almost certainly lived in the house on the corner of Hill Road and St. Mary's Road. We do know that Bertie had a serious operation at this time and the Chequers was run for those years by George Stanford. When the family returned to the Inn Robert went home to stay. He was thirteen years old. Apart from being a bookworm he also loved music, encouraged in this by the vicar who financed piano lessons for two years. Unfortunately the lessons stopped when the vicar died.

Now more manly pursuits took precedence. A lifelong love of sport was born, especially of football and cricket. All too soon there arose the question of finding a suitable job for Robert. His greatest wish was to be a carpenter, but Florence considered it to be rather a lowly job. She told Robert that shop assistants were better class. He was duly apprenticed to Mr. Barley Porter for three years and indentures were signed. At the age of fourteen, Robert donned white jacket and apron and presented himself at the shop in Cock Street. Expecting to work in the various departments, as agreed between his parents and the boss, he was to be paid a weekly wage of one shilling. Soon he found that the jobs expected of him were far removed from the training he had been promised. In the boot department were heavy boots hung in pairs from hooks on the ceiling. These were all taken out the back, put on tables, then cleaned and dressed with oil. The two apprentices on the boot department went home looking like chimney sweeps. Bertie and Florence had been surprised when Robert cleaned windows and ran errands, but boot cleaning was quite unacceptable. At the end of two months their son was kept at home to help his father, not a pleasant alternative for Robert who hated the slaughterhouse.

However, after a few weeks a police sergeant arrived at the Chequers with a summons for Robert to attend the local court. The charge was "failing to attend at work to which you have been duly apprenticed." Bertie and Robert attended the court where Bertie's defence was that the work Robert was doing was not consistent with the terms of his employment. He insisted that Robert could not tell the difference between cotton and wool etc. In spite of all the arguments the chief magistrate Sir Henry Upcher imposed a fine of three shillings and sixpence, or as an alternative, two weeks in prison. Very reluctantly Robert went back to work but it seemed to him that he was spared the most menial tasks, and as the autumn of 1914 approached more serious issues occupied their thoughts.

At the shop of Barley Porter, Robert learned his trade very thoroughly. This shop must have been an exceptional village store with its immense variety of goods and even generating its own type of gaslight. Apart from the well-stocked grocery and drapery departments, there was safe storage for petrol, paraffin, cartridges, gunpowder and fireworks etc. Sheets of shoe leather were cut to customer requirements (taking care to avoid wastage). Sides of bacon were smoked in their own smoke house, using only oak sawdust to ensure that the bacon was a tempting golden brown colour. Many of the goods, butter, lard, sugar, tea, dried fruit etc. were weighed and packed on the premises.

Thick squares of paper, in various colours to identify the contents, were deftly twisted into secure cone shaped bags in seconds, and used for the dry goods. Robert learned shop display and window display, spending time in each department and there learning the most important of shop keeper skills "salesmanship". Shop hours were very long, almost twelve-hour days and even longer on Friday and Saturday. Sometimes Robert was escorted home by Bertie when the Chequers was shut and the time close to midnight.

Continued in, "As War Clouds Gather"