Working Lives

Coming home (1946-2023)

Location: Norfolk

Michael has previously spoken with WISEArchive in 2019. He joins us again to tell us about finding family connections to Norfolk and his fascinating working life as the planning and historic buildings adviser with Norfolk County Council.

Finding family connections to Norfolk

Its jolly nice to be here and thank you for asking me to speak to you again. It’s very interesting for me as my father used to say, ‘Well of course the Knights, we all come from Norfolk’ and growing up in Reading I had no idea where Norfolk was and it was only occasionally mentioned.

When I came to Norfolk in 1990 this gave me the opportunity to see if there was any truth to the rumour, and luckily there was. An old auntie in Derbyshire put me in touch with a couple of people and it seemed that as a family we had been living in Crimplesham (near Downham Market) for several generations.  I was actually able to find the house (which had been three cottages then) and…. an old boy in the village who actually remembered my ancestors coming back in a Charabanc in the early 1920s. They had moved away before the First World War, but came back for a party to renew their acquaintance with the village. Finding the house was really interesting and to know that I really did have family connections to Norfolk and I felt very welcome to coming home.

I’ve lived in the county for 33 years and have really settled into the way of life in Norfolk, you know, there’s a certain relaxed slowness about it.

I have subsequently done some family research and discovered we in fact come from Suffolk and of course as people know, there is a bit of rivalry between Suffolk and Norfolk. The family had moved through various villages from the 17th century across the county and ended up at Crimplesham.

My great grandfather was lucky, it was a big family and there wasn’t always a lot of money but he had been working with windmills as a journeyman stone cutter. He was the man who went round and sharpened and recut the stones, something which the millers needed to be done regularly. For some reason he ended up as far away as St Ives and St Neots on the Ouse and there met a girl whose family had a coach works business and they married.

He then got a job at Houghton Mill, a National Trust mill and was there for 30 years until he had enough money for his first farm. My grandfather was born on that farm, in Bedfordshire, before moving to Buckinghamshire where my father was born on the Church Farm in North Crawley. This is where I thought that we were all from, but that of course was only a relatively recent thing. The interesting thing is that when one relative set himself up on a farm and would need help, he’d contact his relatives and if they had little work they’d all come over to help work the farm.

So although some of Knights family moved out of Norfolk to help my Great Grandfather there is still a definite connection to Norfolk.

My mother on the other hand was born in Elsingor in Denmark but moved to London in 1937 when she turned 21 and took up a position as a gentlewoman’s companion to some famous film stars including Googie Withers. I think that she had a glamorous time in the late 30s in London, going to all these functions and obviously accompanying film stars and celebrities and then somewhere or another she met my father. I think that this was at a dance and lo and behold they got married in the 1940. The interesting thing is that Norwich was originally a Danish town for nearly 300 years before the Normans conquered England. The Tombland was where they held their Danish market and they were settled in the areas we know as Colegate and Fishergate (gate meaning street in Danish). and all those areas around St Clements Church and Magdalen Street.

So here I am, on my father’s side with farming connection to this county and the adjoining county and through my mother with the Danish connection to Norwich and the NorthFolk. So I do feel truly at home, and I don’t intend to move anywhere else.

I am also very happy with the work that I have been able to accomplish whilst here, thanks in large parts to the County Council, with churches, large barns and windmills and so on and so forth.

When I came we had quite reasonable budgets to enable us to help people with grants for thatching and repairing timber-framed buildings. Of course there were also the three charitable trusts – Norfolk Churches Trust (NCT), The Norfolk Windmills Trust (NWT) and the third, The Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust (NHBT).

The Norfolk Churches Trust still exits and I believe may still receive some funding from the council, I’m not sure, but obviously it’s a very well organised, well known organisation.

The Norfolk Windmills Trust which was there to look after the handful of windmills that the County Council had been given in the 1950s. As the mills fell into disrepair there was the tendency to give them to the County Council who were then saddled with the responsibility of deciding what to do with them. Most of them were in pretty poor condition.

Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust had a revolving fund principle so that it could take on buildings that perhaps the private sector wouldn’t touch because it didn’t make any commercial sense, but were important buildings in their own right.

They were able to  access grants which weren’t available to private developers. A good instance of this policy was Kings Head Cottage in Banham, which I remember very well. It was really ancient, we reckon from about 1380, one of the oldest houses I’ve ever worked on, it was on its last legs and about to fall down. We were able to buy it, the tenants were rehoused, they had run out of money and were not doing things to help the property, they were accelerating its decline.

King’s Head Cottage, Banham

We worked in conjunction with the local District Council and with grants and loans we were able to pull together a team to bring the property back into good order. It could then be sold on a long lease. I was very pleased to be involved in quite a number of properties like that, which we saved.

In order to carry out this work I relied on a team of people and a department that was supportive, with political backing too. The team I inherited consisted of two people. An architectural historian who was very knowledgeable particularly about church architecture and looking after churches, and a young lady who has in fact become an author in recent years. She had a history degree but also pursued further training in building conservation.

I also had a surveyor on the team, who had a background with historic buildings and conservation. Another member of staff had completed a conservation degree and was very knowledgeable on drainage mills and windmills in general, and is still working in that field. So it’s quite a good mixture of skills and we could take a   multidisciplinary approach to jobs. It’s no good having four or five people with all the same skills, because you don’t get anywhere, you do need that multi-disciplinary approach .Mind you its not always easy because different indivduals often see things from a differently, so we had some healthy debates but I was very lucky to lead that team.

We stuck together for 20 years, which I think was pretty remarkable, obviously one or two left to further their careers but nevertheless it was a very interesting and good time.

Waxham Barn

The Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust looks after this now but originally it was the County Council who became concerned about the poor state of repair of this Grade 1 listed building. It’s one of the biggest barns in East Anglia, if not the biggest, bigger than Paston by a few feet and bigger than Hales Barn.  It was used as cattle sheds for dairy cattle and the farmer was more interested in his dairy cows than the building, this is quite a common trait with farmers.

But this building was so special that we actually went through the compulsory purchase process, this happened just before I arrived. In fact as part of my interview for the job I was asked to present a report on how I saw the future of the building.

I hadn’t been to Norfolk let alone Waxham and there was no internet then but from a bit of research and photograph or two I was able to put a report together. The night before my interview I drove over to see the barn and oh my goodness it was worse than I thought! I made a few hasty amendments to my report, and the next morning presented it to the interviewers.

The barn is very significant because first of all its size. It’s a three-bay threshing barn with a thatched roof and if I remember correctly its 190 feet long. It contains quite a bit of mediaeval masonry in the flint walls. The buttresses that support the building comprise medieval stonework taken form demolished monasteries and it has battered walls, (thicker at the base than at the top). The weight of grain is considerable and it would tend to exert pressure on the bottom of the wall and could actually cause it to collapse. So those walls at the base are probably over two foot thick. It also had an alternate hammer-beam roof which is very unusual.

Waxham Great Barn 1982

 We used the term Waxham Great Barn to underline its importance as a special listed building and had to make a strong case to the Sec of State who confirmed the CPO after a public enquiry. The Paston family had a similar barn further up the coast but the Woodhouse family who owned this Barn also had to fortify this area because at the time of the Spanish Armada, everyone was worried that the Spanish were going to land soldiers on the beaches at Waxham. So that takes you back to Elizabeth and the Spanish Armada and Waxham Barn dates from that period so it’s a rather special place.

Unfortunately a change of politics at the County Council in ’93 meant an immediate switch over and it was considered to be a white elephant, shouldn’t have done it but it was too late as the County Council had already embarked on the repairs and money had been built up to pay to pay for this over years.

But there were no facilities, no café, no toilets, no staff and so what we did was we organised special open days called Natural Building days. We would invite people to come and talk about lime, flint, traditional construction, thatching, lime plastering and so on. These were very popular, thousands of people came and we had some very busy weekends. One year we managed to recruit a couple of students from City College who were studying tourism and they were able to put together a questionnaire to ask people what they thought. There was the argument; “was it money well spent or a complete waste of public money”.

The lion’s share of the public said that it was a wonderful building and it wasn’t a waste of money. Don’t forget we’d drawn down some significant grants which were specifically aimed at this type of listed building.

The barn itself was repaired and rethatched with 15000 bundles of water reed but for many years I had the unenviable task of keeping an eye on it, and it wasn’t generating any income and there were these four derelict wings which had been shelter sheds that were damaged in storms over the course of several years of relative inactivity.

Then the Lottery came along and we discovered that by putting it in the hands of the NHBT they were able to access larger grants than the County Council.

One of my members of staff put together this building conservation training project and we were successful in drawing down considerable funding for the complete repair of the wings and also we were able to incorporate a cafe into one of them, so that at last the site could be opened to the general public on a regular basis.

We also had funding to set up a very modern interpretation of the barn and the locality with amazing pods with information about the Woodhouse family, threshing and how the barns were used, another about Sea Palling and the ship wreckers. Of course ship wrecking was controversial but it was true, it did happen all along the coast.

It is now leased to the NHBT who I believe have wedding receptions there although Covid badly affected things. But there is very little interpretation now, which is a great shame as the people visiting today know very little of the story of how and why it was brought into public ownership by a county council who cared so much for Norfolk’s rich legacy of historic buildings.

Waxham Barn was really with me for all those twenty years that I was with the County Council and I am really proud of what we achieved in at least saving it from collapse.

Back at the office there was always something moving, changing, something needed doing. With so many historic buildings in the county it was a never ending task and the list of “buildings at Risk” continued to grow. One very important case that comes to mind is Nelson’s Monument in Yarmouth.

Nelson’s monument, Great Yarmouth

There had been quite a dispute between Great Yarmouth Council and the county council as to who was responsible for repair and maintenance of this monument which was erected in 1820 after the battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The great and good of the county had decided that because he was born in Norfolk and had the freedom of Great Yarmouth town his death and his exploits should be commemorated with a tall monument originally called the Norfolk Pillar .Several different locations were discussed but after much debate it was decided that it should be built in Great Yarmouth on what was at the time a sort of mini racecourse used y the military who had fortifications here and the cavalry in their spare time raced their horses around it. People also came to visit the monument and there was an old sailor there who had been in the battle on HMS Victory and recaled them with tales of adventure on board.

Although some repairs had been carried out by the county council in the past, the current administration decided they were not responsible anymore and it was GY District Council who were.

So In the end the NHBT stepped in to say they were in a position to apply for grants and if both councils helped in one way or another they would carry out the repairs. Everyone was very happy with that, especially as the bi-centenary of Trafalgar in 2005 was approaching.

The organisation of ownership etc as well as the repair and restoration took about seven years. In 2004 we finally got the specialist contractors we needed and an architect from Purcell Miller and Tritton and work began.

It was a tough job to manage as the site is next to the North Sea and work had to carry on throughout the winter and it is very exposed to the elements. My role was to ensure that the conservation work was carried out properly and that the whole thing was finished by October 2005 and that there was no overspend. Happy to say we hit the deadline and kept to budget.

There was a massive celebration at the end of work with bands and we had all the dignitaries that we could find. Ben Burgess was very supportive, as he was very much a Nelson man. There was a sub-committee linked to the museum service which helped celebrate this event.

I’m not sure who looks after it now, the Nelson Museum used to but that doesn’t exist so I’m not sure. I dare say it’s the local council.

Nelson Monument, Great Yarmouth

For me it was fantastic project to be involved with and I’ve been right to the top of the monument and looked out over what is a pretty rough mixture of factories and old sites. It’s not exactly the most glamorous place to have a monument like that. Maybe one day someone will have a vision to see that you could actually do a really nice development at that end of town.

But it was very interesting, I got to know quite a bit about Yarmouth, which has a fantastic history, it was a very wealthy place before the war. Although, subsequently it’s had its problems, but there’s a lot of pride in the town.

The Norfolk problem of Ruined Churches

There are well over a hundred ruins in the county, some in woods, most overgrown and in a state of dereliction. We had more churches than anywhere else in England so we now have more ruins than anywhere else.

The question was, what do we do about them? Do we say that we’ll just let them all fall down? Some of these were really significant buildings, nearly all of which are listed, some of them quite highly graded.

So the report was produced, and taken through the county with all the representatives of the Diocesan authorities, Parochial Church Councils and District Councils. It was a big study and it was agreed by everybody assembled that we should try to put some money aside each year to tackle the problem consolidate the ruins, clear vegetation and perhaps open them up again. We wanted to do some new interpretation, explain why the church was abandoned and what had happened to bring them to that state of disrepair.

The first ruin tackled was in Saxlingham Nethergate where we learned valuable lessons and over the next few years (until budgets were cut) nearly a dozen ruined Churches were tackled. Unfortunately the whole programme was largely abandoned by the mid 1990’s for lack of political will and funding. Such a shame because we built up considerable expertise in the team and there are still dozens of ruins that will collapse and disappear from the county.

Romanesque wall paintings

One of those churches was up near North Pickenham, Houghton on the Hill. Its roof was still intact although there were plenty of tiles missing, but unusually we were able to put the roof back to protect the building, without a roof they deteriorate very quickly.

In that particular church we discovered these really important wall paintings from the Romanesque period (i.e. the early 11thC) and the Courtauld Institute helped in their conservation. A lot of money has been spent conserving those wall paintings. Thank goodness we were able to put the roof back because they’re now safe and secure. But what is worrying is there may well be other treasure in other ruined churches without roofs, we don’t know but it’s very likely.

St Martin’s Church, Shotesham

Locally, here (Shotesham St Mary), we have the ruined church of St Martin. I was aware of the ones that we had tackled including the one at Saxlingham Thorpe I mentioned before, which is in the adjoining village of Saxlingham, so I talked to the local Parochial Church Council in Shotesham (who look after 4 medieval Churches) and did a presentation to show that with a bit of care and attention you could repair a ruin, not restore it to its former glory but slow down the decay and stop it collapsing.

In the case of St Martin’s ruin we were able to do some work back in early 2008, 2009 where, with community action, a lot of the undergrowth of ivy and small saplings were cleared away so we could consolidate the flint walls and part of the tower, where extensive ivy growth over 50 years had led to the collapse of a chunk of facing flints.

I am a member of the Norfolk branch of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings [SPAB] and at the beginning of 2020 just before Covid struck we met and decided that we would like to tackle the next stage. This was to protect the wall tops with soft wall cappings, in other words using grass turves to stop the water pouring into the walls and washing out the fill in the flint walls.

SPAB doing repairs at the ruined church of St Martin, Shotesham, 2022

It was a very interesting concept as it has only been trialled on a handful of other ruins throughout the UK. Unfortunately we had to stop because of Covid. But last year we actually had two weekends with people coming up and helping to produce lime mortar from locally sourced chalk so the flint walls could receive some remedial attention. More than 70 delegates attended. Some of them were sent off to dig turf for the wall tops and put the grass turf on the walls together with little plugs of sedum so when the turf dies off in summer the sedums will hopefully flower and survive in those conditions. The rest of the year the very thick mat of turf will absorb rain and snow.

I’m really proud that we were able to do that work and there’s also better interpretation now. There’s a connection to a film that I made when I first arrived in the county having heard about ruined churches. An old friend of mine who was a film man, came over and we were able to go round and film some of these churches, that would be 1991 or 92, not knowing that I was ever going to come and live here. There is a little bit of film of me crashing through the undergrowth, you can’t even see the ruin. This film is on the Shotesham website now. You can find out quite a bit about St Martin’s and St Mary’s and why there are two churches so close together. It’s been a really fantastic project to work on.

St Martin’s and St Mary’s churches, Shotesham. Blue linseed crop in full colour.

Although I have talked about the trusts set up to look after specific buildings such as windmills, barns or monuments there are certain other buildings which the County Council owns because people kept giving them historic structures to safe guard, assuming that as a large county wide authority they had the level of resources needed to maintain them. Well they don’t now.

The Queen gave the county council a Tithe barn at Dersingham in the west near Sandringham and there were a couple of 18thC monuments at Bawburgh these are just a couple of examples.

There were also many listed buildings in private ownership which had little monetary value as they can’t be used for residential purposes but nevertheless are important historic structures. Buildings such as dovecotes, traditional agricultural buildings, stables, industrial buildings, schools etc which need to be kept in good repair. Back then in the early 1990’s we had a decent level of grants which we could offer owners to encourage them to do the right thing and get their historic buildings properly repaired using good conservation practice. Sadly that is now no longer the case.

EU programmes and wood tar research

There were certain things which the authority weren’t too keen on, Europe being one of them and one that is still a divisive issue today. But we were lucky that I was able to make connections with various EU programmes which were established to make connections between Southern and Northern European countries.

One of the first was to do with windmills (EUROMOL) where several countries were invited by the mayor of Rhodes, where they have a lot of windmills, for a three week project. People also came from other places which had a lot of windmills, the Swedish isle of Gotland, Bornholm which is a Danish island and Mallorca. All are very interesting places in their own right with their windmills, particularly Mallorca which I think has something like 2000 little windmills near the airport, which you see when you see when you come in to land. They are designed to pull up water from underground aquifers to irrigate farmland, so they pump rather than drain like the Broads’ ones do.

They are all windmills in that sense but Swedish carpenters take a very different approach to Greek builders, I won’t say much more but I did take a lot of film and one day I would like to put together a little film, showing how it all worked as it was absolutely fascinating. As a result of making these contacts, particularly with Sweden we were invited to participate in another project called (TRADIMA).

This was all about the study of traditional building materials so we were looking at lime, traditional carpentry technique, all these crafts that we desperately need more people to do.

That project took place in Gotland and we also looked at making wood tar and linseed oil paints. In Mallorca we looked at their approach to traditional construction, dry-stone walling, which was a very interesting way of protecting the land which is liable to wash away. If you have a very hilly landscape and you don’t have walls to stop erosion, the soil will erode. Everybody involved with these projects has gone back into their communities and taken that knowledge and hopefully put it to good use.

So those were very interesting projects and out of that I was able to get the local authority to second me to do a six month research project into Norfolk wood tar, which is made from pine roots.

There are huge pine forests near Thetford and at that time when the trees were being felled they had to lift the roots to stop them from being infected with some fungus. I came up with this idea that if we worked with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry Commission we could get the roots and extract the wood tar from them, as a preservative. It’s a preservative with thousands of years of history to it, you’ve probably never heard of it but it’s very common in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. It was well known to the Romans who used it a lot, it’s a lubricant, medicinal, and a protector of wood. It’s used for ropes, fishing tackle and all the fishermen would have used it. All the wooden ships would use wood tar it was very well known, but not now as it’s been replaced with coal tar.

So I had six months looking at that, and also looking at linseed oil paint another traditional material before plastic paint came in. I have also been able to tutor and in fact am still helping to explain to people what it’s all about, and how to apply it and so forth. The research continues.

Round towers and a Scandinavian and Norfolk connection

So all this came out of those two projects. We were interested in the origin of these round towers attached to many Churches in the county.  One of my staff had this theory that the round tower from Northern Germany and Southern Denmark had a connection to the round towers of Norfolk. The programme was was called the North Sea Viking Legacy and part of the project was to try to show how round towers were built using various different shuttering techniques including coppiced hurdles.

We actually reconstructed a full scale round tower at EcoTech at Swaffham. It wasn’t full height but it was how we thought a round tower church would have been constructed using chalk, lime and flint. It gives you a lesson about sustainable construction because you’re not burning stuff other than lime, you’re not importing gas or coal to fire brick, you’re not making concrete which is an awful thing, and steel. All those things consume a lot of energy, a lot of carbon. We have to now find a way of looking and this is why my work is so interesting.

Looking back to see what lessons we can learn

It is the ability to look back at buildings from the past and see what lessons we can learn to help us in the future, it’s very very important.

Again, looking back at St Martins ruin by simply getting some chalk out of the ground we built a little kiln and produced enough lime in a day to produce all the lime we needed, the flints were just lying around. You can build a house out of flints and lime and chalk today and it will stand for a long time, as they all did, thousands of years and longer than modern spec housing will do.

At the moment I have been talking to our local MP about this, he’s particularly interested in and quite keen to see more custom built properties and more people being able to build their own properties on land specifically for this purpose. In other words somewhere that is not another estate but somewhere people can buy a plot and build a property using these techniques. We’re looking at clay lump and a friend of mine is developing earth blocks which can be pre-cast, arrive on site and be built up like large Lego blocks!

A mixture of lime and cork can be used as an insulating material to provide a breathable healthy house.

These things are going on in little pockets of the country but not enough and I am trying to do what I can to bring this to the attention of politicians and local authorities so that’s an ongoing project.

All this relates back to the 20 years that I have spent working in this county with this wonderful array of buildings, the barns, the windmills, the churches and everything else.

It isn’t all about, oh we’re looking after old buildings, it’s about learning the lessons, encouraging the craft skills and we must keep these craft skills alive. That’s what SPAB are doing as well, enabling people to have the chance to learn a little bit more.

We want to do something locally again on earth building, it might happen this year. We might have a weekend where we can actually show people not only how it was done traditionally in the past but how it can be used and adapted for the future.

Earth buildings

Earth building didn’t start much before 1820 some people say that some have been found dating from 1790, so say 1800 up until 1920. In South Norfolk the local authority built council houses out of clay lump. Most of the old part of Attleborough is all clay lump but you wouldn’t know by looking at them because they’re faced with brickwork or flints. Mud houses were still looked down upon, it was considered that only very poor people lived in them and people would be embarrassed and so they put these rather lovely brick or flint dressing on them.

It’s an interesting product and here in South Norfolk particularly you’ve got this lovely mixture of chalk, clay and silt. All the ingredients you need, it doesn’t want to be all clay, it doesn’t want to be all chalk and it doesn’t want to be all sand. But if you get the combination right you’ve got a very very useful material to build with.

The organisation behind all this is called EARTHA which stands for East Anglian Regional Telluric Housing Association. It was formed in the early 90s and it’s had periods of growth and periods of decline but hopefully it’s going to have another period of growth coming up.

The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC)

I thought I should say at this point that there is a professional body that represents those of us working with building conservation and has a prominent role in lobbying government on the issues we face. I became a full member in 1997 and for 6 years I was the regional Chairman of IHBC East Anglia and for 10 years I was the national treasurer.

It started life as a small organisation called the Association of Conservation Officers (ACO) and I was involved with it back in the late 1970’s when I worked for East Staffs District Council in Burton upon Trent. To watch it grow from a small group of 60 bodies, to one that now has over 2000 members has been a fantastic achievement.

The North Sea Commission is a body set up by the EU to represent those countries with coastal connections to the North Sea and to find ways of cooperating together to promote cultural tourism and I was lucky to be the county councils representative for several years.

There are an awful lot of similarities in cultural traditions in say the west coast of Denmark, west coast of Sweden and the east coast of England, Holland and northern Germany. The fishermen were constantly in touch out there at sea, and there were not only stories but traditions too, just like the round tower churches. You can use heritage culture to attract people to areas where perhaps they wouldn’t normally go. Because particularly coastal areas tend to be okay if they have a good beach because people will go to the beach. But if you’ve got a lot of culture as well it’ll attract a much bigger audience. So that was a very useful and interesting time.

I don’t know whether that’s still going on I don’t know, I’ve certainly not been involved in a long time now.

I retired in 2010, 13 years ago and as far as I know the role we had is not going on now. Budget cuts were hitting before I retired, it was getting tougher and tougher each year. Trying to maintain a budget, keep the staff, keep the team together it became more and more difficult.

I think that one member of my staff, my little team, she still works two days, looking at the windmill aspect of things. I think that there is still some local authority involvement with the Windmill Trust. One other staff member is working with the records office. But no, all the other proactive stuff has stopped.

It’s a shame because you build up a level of expertise, and as I say this was a multi disciplinary team, all learning from each other, all picking up new things. We built up contacts with contractors who have the right skills and once that’s gone it’s very very hard if not impossible to reproduce it, so in a sense it’s very sad.

But, you know, through organisations like SPAB and the IHBC there will hopefully be ways of achieving things, but I don’t know what’s going to happen in the long term. I don’t know what’s going to happen to all these ruined churches that are stuck in the middle of nowhere. There are still another 90 odd out there and some may well contain treasures as important as those Romanesque wall paintings I was mentioning. We don’t know and there isn’t anybody going out to find out. It has to be run by an organisation like the local authority, but it’s just not being done.

Reflecting and looking forward

Looking to the future, well the public seem to be very supportive of the work. Whenever we have asked about the work done, they seem very supportive. When it comes to churches it’s always a bit more difficult, we know that living churches are struggling with very small congregations.

So why are you spending money on old ruins? You know this is the sort of question asked, but you have to say that the reason is, its separate money, specifically arisen because of what you propose to do with it. Norfolk has got more mediaeval churches than anywhere else in Europe, as I keep telling people. Over 900 at one point, and in Norwich 52 at one point, there are about 33, 35 left now.

It’s a big thing, it’s very much of what makes Norfolk the County we know  So if you turn your back on it well it just becomes another place like anywhere else. And I think that’s probably what will happen, but who knows?. There are so many uncertainties about where things are going at the moment.

I think that the knowledge of traditional construction methods is important. I do think that it’s going to help inform our building industry for the future and I think that’s a really good thing. But individual things, I don’t know, there’ll never be another Waxham Barn I doubt, and there’ll probably never be another Nelson’s Monument, but we’ll see.

When you ask if there is anything that I was particularly proud of, I am very very proud of what we did with Nelson’s Monument. It really was a political football, kicked backward and forwards, backwards and forwards, year after year as no one was prepared to take it on. It was a tricky job, it was quite a boring job, a lot of re-pointing which is a tricky job, in a very difficult area, windy. And with the wind and rain in January, February it’s very difficult I can tell you.

But, we did the job, we did it on time and we did it on budget which is lovely to say. I’m quite clear on that. We brought it home, got it done and everything was fine and that was really really important.

I also like things like the little cottage that I told you about, the house from 1380 for goodness sake, survived all that time and the joints were breaking, the roof was sagging and about to collapse, I mean it really was on its last legs. And I am so pleased that we had the Trust. It’s all repaired with sticks and mud as it would have been originally, obviously it had blackened timbers from when it had an open hearth, but it was a phenomenal job and I really enjoyed that. It’s not far from Banham Zoo and I’ve been to see it only a few months ago and it’s sitting there quite happily.

Of course one of the other things that I enjoyed was that connection with my cousins across the sea, you know working with Sweden, and the team in Ystad who had done so much good work in developing and promoting linseed paint and window craft.

It’s something that we really really need and we need to look carefully at that. If we just go on with plastic paints, they don’t work, they won’t protect your windows, we’ll end up putting in more plastic UPVC windows and we’ll lose the skills like joinery, glazing all that sort of thing. So these contacts were very good ones to make.

I’m still practising and telling people about these things and showing them. Later this summer the windows at the windmill in Wicklewood need painting and I have been commissioned to demonstrate the practical application of linseed oil paint.to the volunteers. I have also been approached by an archaeological unit in Oxford who want to carry on more research into Tars. So my work continues.

Michael Knights (b. 1946) talking to WISEArchive on 10th March 2023 at Shotesham St Mary.

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