Queen Boudica And The Iceni

Where I live now in the county of Norfolk, eastern England, was once home to a tribal people called the Iceni. They extended south into modern-day Suffolk, and west as far as what we now call Cambridgeshire. They were one of the original Brittonic peoples.

At the time of the Roman Invasion, they had been well-established and powerful since the early Iron Age. They had a social structure, a royal hierachy, and issued coinage that could be used in the territory they controlled.

Most lived in fortified villages, in large houses made of rendered mud with thatched roofs. (Replica of an Iceni village)

After the Roman conquest was completed by Emperor Claudius in AD43, the Iceni allied with the invaders, and that decision allowed them to expand, as well as becoming wealthier and more influential. However, the Romans constantly sought to integrate the Iceni into Roman society, and after the death of her husband in AD60, the new Queen of the Iceni, Boudica, began a revolt against the Roman occupiers. For over a year, her large army of over 30,000 untrained warriors, led by her riding in a chariot, defeated many Roman armies sent against it, and managed to travel south as far as the Roman city of Londinium, (London) which was looted and burned.

On the way to London, her army attacked the Roman city of Camulodonum (modern day Colchester) killing every single person inside, then went on to defeat a Roman force of 2,000 professional soldiers of the 9th legion that had just arrived outside that city.

Once in Londinium, the Iceni spared nobody in the Romanized capital. Contemporary reports put the death toll at close to 70,000 soldiers and citizens. Things were looking so bad for the Romans, the Emperor seriously considered abandoning Britain entirely, and returning all his soldiers and citizens to Rome.

However, Roman General Gaius Suetonius Paulinus returned with his army from a campaign in Wales, determined to crush the Iceni rebellion. Joined by other British tribes, Boudica took an army estimated to be almost 80,000 strong, and set off to meet the approaching Romans. Somewhere in modern-day Shropshire, on the old Roman road named Watling Street, the armies clashed in AD61.

Despite his force being heavily outnumbered, Suetonius had 10,000 well trained and battle-hardened soldiers under his command who could be relied upon to fight in formation, and obey every order.

By contrast, Boudica’s huge force was relatively untrained, poorly equipped, and had just travelled a long way on foot, living off the land. They attacked the Roman army in a disorganised fashion, and were easliy beaten, with most of their number being killed. It was said that Boudica took poison when she realised they would be defeated, rather than face capture, and the shame of slavery.

Boudica (also called Boadicea) is commemorated by this statue, on the north side of Westminster Bridge in London.

She is known to history as ‘The Warrior Queen’ of England.

St Margaret’s Church

St Margaret of Antioch isn’t anywhere near Turkey. It is in Worthing. No, not the large seaside town in Sussex, the tiny hamlet in Norfolk. After my trip across to Hoe Common, (see the previous post) I drove Ollie the short distance to Worthing along the tiny back roads. This small community is situated close to North Elmham, the next village along from Beetley on the Holt Road, and where I go to see my doctor.

Just outside the village is this unusual small church. It has a round tower, and is situated in a quiet and peaceful location surrounded by fields. East Anglia is known for churches with round towers, and most of the surviving ones are in Norfolk, which boasts no less than 120 of these appealing structures. The story is that the circular towers were built as a defence against Viking raids in Saxon times, and they were later retained and improved by the Normans, after the 1066 invasion.

The tower of St. Margaret’s is a sad example though, as the top section housing a belfry collapsed in the 18th century,and was never rebuilt. All the photos are large files, and can be clicked on to enlarge further. The detail has been very well retained in these three shots, and you can clearly read the inscription on the headstone in the foreground.


The south doorway was added by the Normans in the 11th century, though the large porch was not built until four hundred years later.


Surrounding the church building is a well-maintained graveyard, still in use. From this angle, it doesn’t look that tidy, but I assure you that it is. I found gravestones from as far back as 1796, and some others where the dates had become too hard to read, as the stone was worn away. There were also three War Graves Commission headstones, of soldiers killed during the 1914-18 war.


Despite being a Sunday, the church was locked, like so many others in this area. I was unable to admire the inside, but I did get a leaflet detailing the history, and notable interior stone carvings. If you are ever in Norfolk, be sure to look out for the round tower churches. Information about them them is available here. http://www.roundtowers.org.uk/

Mount Manure

I have mentioned this before elsewhere on my blog. At the junction of Holt Road, where there is gated access to the huge open-air pig farm, a pile of manure is growing at an alarming rate. It began as a mixture of pig-droppings and straw, steadily growing until it resembled an iron-age encampment.

After the last heavy rains, the interior filled with water, taking on the shape of a lido, but not one that you would ever want to swim in, that’s for sure. It is a haven for flies, and beetles of all shapes and sizes; and if you are careless enough to wander too close, you will notice that it gives off a pretty awful smell too.

Passing by in the car this morning, I was somewhat startled to see that it had got substantially bigger. If someone added a roof, it would be the size of a six-bedroom bungalow, with the current height easily exceeding ten feet. It is now noticeable above the nearby bushes and small trees, and appears to be continuing to be added to by the farmer. I have no idea what his plans are for this unspeakable mound, but he is going to have to apply for planning permission soon, if it gets much larger.

East Anglia is generally considered to be a flat place. Norfolk is not quite as flat as some areas though. Start riding a bicycle around here, and you will soon be aware of many steep inclines, and gradual rises in the contours of the land. Head east, and you will see the Ringland Hills, where the road winds up and down, giving lie to the reputation of flatness. In all honesty, it is a pretty flat place though. The views and vistas are generally uninterrupted, save by the occasional church, or the large buildings used as brewery maltings. Personally, I find this appealing, and I like to be able to look across marshland to the sea beyond, or drive north, with nothing to spoil the view during the ride.

Back to the manure pile though. If this continues unabated, it will soon have to have a name. It will be visible on Google Earth, perhaps even on the satellite view, and will generate curiosity, if it remains anonymous. I think at its present height, Manure Hill will suffice. However, I fear we may soon all be calling it Mount Manure.


Everyday Life

I have written a lot of posts about music lately, as those old (and sometimes new) songs keep finding their way into my head, and I get that urge to add them to my ever-growing list. The list that was once intended to be very short, and to provide material for occasional posts, seems to be in danger of becoming a blog all of its own. My tendency to wallow in nostalgia, fuelled by musical reveries, seems to be undiminished. This whole blog was originally intended to be primarily about my life in Norfolk, in contrast to my previous life in London, and that seems to have been lost along the way. At least a little bit lost.

As I approach almost two years here, I can say with confidence that Beetley is beginning to feel like home, instead of somewhere that I just happen to live. For some time, I had a vague feeling that this was a bit like a holiday, and at some stage, normal life would be resumed. Of course, this is now my normal life, and far removed from my previous one, fortunately mostly in a good way. I came to sit before the computer late tonight, intending to write about yet another song, but something stopped me, and I began to write this instead. It came to me, that I don’t miss London. I have not yet returned there, despite being close, when visiting Hertfordshire, and Essex. I try to imagine reasons to go back and visit someone, or something. I fancy seeing the view from The Shard, but there will undoubtedly be queues, and crowds. I could visit some friends there, but the logistics of travel, parking, and getting Ollie looked after, make it all seem to fall into the ‘too difficult’ box. I miss the choice of restaurants, but if I went back, would they just all seem too familiar, and old hat?

I have to face the fact that I have put the city behind me. Even a trip into Norwich seems like the big metropolis, and has become an unattractive prospect. I have slowed  down, my pace has lessened, and my desire for things has almost gone. I seek no new clothes, gadgets, or accessories. My lifelong passion for collecting films, first on VHS, then later on DVD, seems to be that of another person, someone different. I still read about them, and on occasion, write about them, but my desire to watch and own them is slowly fading. I am overwhelmed by things. The collections of a reasonably long life, filling spaces in rooms, shed, garage, and loft. I need to divest myself of belongings, not accumulate more. I need the freedom of less, the cleanliness of not owning. Today is as good a day as any to start.

When I moved up here, I imagined that friends and family would flock to visit, to enjoy the peace of the countryside, and the delights of rural England. This was a selfish assumption, and gave little thought to their busy lives, work commitments, and the problems of travel, to a place with no station, and a road network stuck solidly in the 1950’s. East Anglia is a forgotten place. There is no motorway to the East, no high speed rail link to the lump in the North Sea, that nobody ever needs to go to. This is not a complaint, perhaps it is the very thing that makes it such a good place to live. It is not somewhere to drive through, to get to anywhere else. Neither is it a place to live, so that you can commute to somewhere busier, and more important. If there was a road sign that typified this county, it would be a cul-de sac. The life of England runs North to South, at the Western limits of East Anglia, and there is no reason to turn right, to head East; unless you live here. This fact makes local people insular, and less-travelled, than those in some other parts of the UK. I have met many people who have moved here, for retirement, or peace and quiet, but most real local people do not leave. They are born here, live here, work here, and die here. There is something old-fashioned about that, and also something compelling.

I am still a Londoner of course. To the perception of others, or when I open my mouth and speak, inside my head, and in every memory I have, it is all London, and always will be. But I am  now able to say that I am living in Norfolk, or I am from Norfolk. That may seem silly to the reader, but it is a massive change in how I view my life, and the biggest change in my life too. So, what is that Norfolk life, that I now accept as mine, and that I have lived for nearly two years? You may have read about my dog walking, and my endless wanderings with Ollie. That is part of it. My volunteering for the Fire Service has been busier of late, and getting me out to small towns and villages I never knew existed. Helping with the Cycling Proficiency at the local school is on its way to making me part of the local community, as is talking to groups about fire safety, in halls and day centres. I doubt I will become one of those people recognised in the street, stopped for a gossip, or a chat about the latest trends in smoke alarms, but I feel that I am contributing something.

My circle of friends locally has not really expanded. They are still predominantly other dog-walkers, although I know some people from the school as well now, I don’t see them outside of ‘normal duties’. I am friendly with neighbours, but we don’t really do a lot else, by way of popping into peoples’ houses, or meeting for dinner and drinks. That was something I used to do a lot, and I don’t miss it at all. My life has changed so much, I am only just now becoming fully aware of just how much. I have woken up, and smelled the proverbial coffee. I live in Norfolk now, and this is my life. And it’s not bad, it really isn’t.

Local news for local people

Today, I received a telephone call from the Press Office of Norfolk Council. They asked if I would agree to a television interview, about my intention to become a Community Road Safety Volunteer. I was reluctant, explaining that I was not due to start this job until next week, so I would have little to contribute. The man persisted, claiming that my experience in the Ambulance Service was relevant, and that I could say why I had decided to volunteer. I agreed, only to be told that the reporter would arrive quite soon,  in about an hour. Naturally, I tidied and dusted the house, making sure that we would not be ashamed to have our living room featured on camera, possibly viewed by the entire population of the eastern portion of England. The programme requesting the interview was the ITV commercial network news , Anglia Tonight. This is a regional news show, focusing on issues in East Anglia, and lasts for thirty minutes, directly before the main national news comes on.

I felt OK about this, as I was not a TV news ‘virgin’. I had been on the news locally before, during the Ambulance strike of 1989-1990, in London. I still have the broadcast, saved on an old VHS tape, that I really should put onto a DVD, or computer hard drive, some day. At the agreed time, an attractive young lady appeared at my door, carrying a camera, a large tripod, and some sound recording equipment. Not for her (or me) the large crew, cameraman, sound engineer, marked van with satellite dish, so often seen at large ‘breaking news’ stories. This was obviously going to be a ‘filler’, an add-on to a general piece about road safety, and the recent spate of fatal accidents on the road network in East Anglia. Ollie the dog had to be excluded from filming, as his constant pacing would interfere with continuity and editing, so he will have to wait for his fifteen minutes of fame.

I had a bad feeling that there would be some ‘intro’ shots required. When I had been filmed in London, I had been asked to do some embarrassing ‘walk pasts’ before the camera, making sure not to look at it. On this occasion, I was asked to be seen reading through some of my cycling proficiency literature, and filmed doing so. There was a brief run through of the questions, and I was also asked not to mention London, when referring to the Ambulance Service. This was Anglia News, for local people, and London was not relevant, in any way, shape, or form. The interview process lasted a few minutes, and went well enough. I think that I manged to get across a few good points, refer to my Ambulance experience, and state my reasons for volunteering. I did not stammer, say ‘you know’ a lot, or fluff any sentences. The young lady seemed pleased, and took her leave, to get back to her workplace in Norwich, and edit her films. She informed me that I would be on this evening’s bulletin, some time after 6pm.

I naturally informed Julie, by text, then sent further texts and two e mails to some people I know, who may receive Anglia Tonight in their region. After all, it is quite unusual to be on television, so it is good to spread the word. When out walking Ollie, later this afternoon, I told my dog-walking friend, Lesley, and she said that she would record it, for later viewing. When Julie arrived home from work, she wrote about it on Facebook, and telephoned our next door neighbours as well. At 6pm, recorder set, we sat down to watch the programme. After fifteen minutes or so, I concluded that they had dropped the item, in favour of more pressing news, or something of more interest. Moments later, the young lady reporter appeared, at the roadside scene of a recent tragic accident, and seconds later, there I was, large as life on regional TV, spouting about the need for getting  road safety instilled in the very young, in the hope that it would endure through their lives. Then I was gone. Blink, and you would have missed it; five minutes condensed to a 30 second soundbite.

But they manged to get in the bit where I was looking through the leaflets. After all the intro is important, isn’t it?