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A Suffolk Market Town: Framlingham – a Graphical History Tour.   Leave a comment

 

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Location, Population & Administration:

Framlingham is located in SuffolkFramlingham is an English market town and civil parish in East (‘Coastal’) Suffolk (shown on the right). Of Anglo-Saxon origin, it is mentioned in the 1086 Domesday Book. In the 1960s, Framlingham had a population of about 2,300 which had grown to 3,342 at the 2011 Census. Nearby villages include Earl Soham, Kettleburgh, Parham, Saxtead and Sweffling.

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In 2006, Country Life magazine voted Framlingham the best place to live in the country, despite having no rail connection. The Framlingham Branch line connected the town with the main Ipswich to Lowestoft railway at Wickham Market in the 1850s, eventually becoming part of the Great Eastern Railway Company in 1862. The railway station building stands adjacent to the Station Hotel, but the line was closed to passenger traffic in the 1950s and to goods in the 1960s. The nearest working stations are now at Wickham Market and Saxmundham, on the East Suffolk line, seven and eight miles away. The town is in the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich constituency of the UK Parliament and the East England constituency of the European Union (at least until 31 October 2019). It is eighty-eight miles from London, nineteen from Ipswich, eleven from Woodbridge and thirty-two from Bury St. Edmunds. The main parish church is ‘St. Michael the Archangel’ and the parish stretches north-east to Brundish with a total ward population of 4,744.

Below: The Road Network around Framlingham today

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The name ‘Framlingham’ is probably derived from the Saxon ‘Freynlingham’ meaning ‘Settlement of the Strangers’, referring to the Danes, but it could also be simply named after the river flowing through the town, formerly called the ‘Fromus’, but now known as the ‘Ore’ which has its outlet on the Suffolk Coast, some twenty miles away. Below Marlesford the river unites with the Alde and the combined stream flows past Aldeburgh and then Orford on its way to the sea. It is a matter for speculation as to just how the town grew but it seems fairly safe to conclude that as long as the castle was a place requiring defence no house would be allowed to be built where it would be an advantage to an attacker. However, since St. Michael’s Church was, it seems, in existence from early times and it would afford a sheltered area to the south and west and geographically ‘over the hill’ from the castle. Archaeological investigations in the 1950s have exposed where most of the older buildings lie. There is also little doubt that the dismantling of the interior of the castle in the early seventeenth century gave a great impetus to building in the town. Some of the beams now in houses in Southwold are said to have come from Framlingham Castle.

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The medieval castle is a major feature of the town, recently honoured by the singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran in his song, ‘Castle on the Hill’. Like his fellow-singer, Laura Wright, Sheeran went to the local comprehensive, ‘Thomas Mills High School’, which began life as a special school for girls on Fairfield Road called the ‘Mills Grammar School for Girls’. There is also an independent school, ‘Framlingham College’ which was built in 1865 as a memorial to Prince Albert, then the late Prince Consort. The money was raised by public subscription, so it was appropriate that to celebrate its centenary a very fine hall was built, the ‘Athlone Hall’, for the use of both the College and the local community. The local ‘Robert Hitcham Primary School’, now a Church of England Voluntary school, is the oldest school in the town, dating back to at least 1654. Originally erected under Sir Robert Hitcham’s Will, it was located over the Market Cross on Market Hill. In about 1788, the Cross was taken down and the school was rebuilt at the end of the Hitcham almshouses. At first, the number of pupils was limited to forty, as set by Sir Robert, but in 1837 the number was increased and in 1841 a school for girls was created by using one of the rooms in the castle. In 1862 both these schools and that created under the Mills Trust were handed over to the Charity Commissioners who united them in 1878, in a school built on the ‘White Horse Meadow’ where the primary school stands today.

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The town has the two oldest functioning Post Office pillar boxes in the UK, dating from 1856, located on Double Street and College Road respectively. The town is also home to one of the smallest houses in Britain, known as the ‘Check House’, converted to a two-storey residence of less than twenty-nine square metres, the ground floor measuring just 6.1 metres by 2.21.

A Chronology of Events:

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Saxons, Danes & Normans (865-1154):

From the beginning of the ninth century, the Viking warlords probed the strengths and weaknesses of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms until in 865 they came to stay. Ivan the Boneless and his brother Halfdene landed on the Suffolk coast at the head of the ‘great heathen army’. The terrified Anglo-Saxons fell back before the invaders. Their East Anglian King, Edmund sought peace and by the terms of the treaty, the Danes were allowed to winter in Suffolk and assured of horses to carry their baggage. Edmund’s speedy capitulation may have lacked valour but it saved his people much suffering. In the Spring, Edmund’s people watched with sighs of relief as their unwanted guests departed westwards to attack Northumbria and Mercia. But they returned in 869 laden with spoil, flushed with triumph and heedless of former treaties. They wintered at Thetford and used it as a base from which to ravage the farms and, especially the monasteries of East Anglia. Edmund could not honourably allow this Viking rampage to go unchecked. He came forth to do battle with the heathen invaders and thus an otherwise insignificant king became a martyr, a saint and a legend. Pious legends, well-sprinkled with miracles and signs, are our only source of information for the campaign of 869, but we know that there was a great battle fought near Thetford. According to Roger of Wendover, the battle lasted from dawn till dusk, till the stricken field was red with the blood of the countless numbers who perished. 

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Edmund, it would seem, won the day, but not long afterwards we find him and his bodyguard besieged in the Saxon fort at Framlingham. This once topped the mound next to the one on which the Plantagenet castle now stands. In 1954, when the Ministry of Works began excavations at the castle, the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology report recorded that there had been an Anglian settlement there surrounded by a wooden stockade on the site of the present bowling green and the meadow beside the castle where the annual Whitsun Fair was held. There was also evidence of an early church on the east side of the path leading to the castle entrance, probably the one later recorded in the Domesday Book. 

The green itself is very old and was played on by the then Duke of Norfolk in 1553, and was built over a burial ground just outside the original settlement. Edmund escaped the siege, fleeing northwards, and it is at this point that these few facts become submerged beneath a sea of romantic myth, with a great deal of confusion over places. The King’s standard-bearer related the details of his capture and martyrdom to Bishop Dunstan, on whose ‘trustworthy’ evidence they were incorporated into the tenth-century Passion of St Edmund. This account portrays Edmund as a deliberate martyr, surrendering to save his people further suffering. Other accounts recount how, on the contrary, the king escaped from Framlingham by cunning. One story tells of how having left the fort, Edmund encountered a party of Danes who asked him if he knew where the King was. He was in the fort before I left, Edmund replied and went on his way unmolested. Before long, however, he was caught, tortured and executed.

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The Ordinance Survey map of central & coastal Suffolk, showing the towns and villages near Framlingham and the rivers Alde and Deben, most of which are recorded as manors in the Domesday Book (1086).

Following the Norman invasion in 1066, William I gave the manor and lands around Framlingham to Ralph de Guader, an East Anglian nobleman of Breton origin, who was appointed earl of Norfolk and Suffolk. But Ralph was involved in an abortive rebellion nine years later and the lands were passed to Hugh de Avranches, his nephew, who later became a monk and died in 1101. By then, William II (1087-1100) had given the manor to his steward in East Anglia, Roger de Bigod, along with 117 manors in Suffolk and other lands in adjoining counties. Roger razed the old Saxon/ Danish fort and settlement and erected a stone castle, also rebuilding the church where St.Michael’s is now.  Roger was succeeded by his eldest son, William, who became High Steward of England. But in 1120, he was drowned in the White Ship disaster. Henry I’s only son, Prince William, set sail from Harfleur with three hundred companions, the flower of English chivalry, but the ship foundered, with all the company lost. William Bigod was succeeded by his brother Hugh, who was made Earl of Norfolk in 1135 and built a ‘strong castle’ in Framlingham. It was said of him that…

… he appears to have surpassed his fellows in acts of desertion and treachery, and to have been never more in his element than when in rebellion.

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He had plenty of scope for self-aggrandisement and coat-turning during the anarchic era 1135-54 when Henry’s nephew, Stephen, and his daughter, Matilda, were contending for the throne left vacant by his heir’s drowning. Hurrying back from Rouen, where he had been attending the dying King, Hugh convinced the Archbishop of Canterbury that Henry, on his deathbed, had nominated Stephen as his heir. He did this because he (mistakenly) viewed Stephen as a weak man whom he and the barons could manipulate. As soon as his expectations were proved unfounded, Bigod raised the standard of revolt at Norwich, where he besieged Stephen and forced him to surrender. Stephen then bought off Bigod, but by 1140 Bigod declared for Matilda and rallied his East Anglian forces to fight for her. He felt very sure of himself and his power-base, having constructed his formidable castles at Framlingham and Bungay. The accession of the new Plantagenet King, Henry II, did not divert him into the paths of loyalty. Royal and rebel armies made many appearances in the fields and heaths of Suffolk until the final showdown of 1174. By 1165 Hugh’s position was unassailable. No matter who wore the crown in London, the Bigods ruled Suffolk.

Plantagenet kings, Bigods & Mowbrays (1154-1483):

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However, Henry II (1154-1189), the first of the Plantagenet kings, was not a King who would allow anyone to defy him indefinitely, whether he was an Archbishop like Becket or an over-mighty subject like Bigod. He was also a brilliant strategist who steadily and stealthily hemmed the troublesome earl into the north-east corner of Suffolk. He secured control of Norwich, Thetford and Walton, and gave the stewardship of Eye Castle to a trusted follower. Henry’s masterstroke was the building of a royal fortress which embodied all the latest techniques of military architecture. Orford Castle, with its well-preserved keep, is the most imposing of all the medieval strongholds, guarding the sea and river approaches into Bigod territory from the thriving port on the estuary, also only a short march from Framlingham. Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time before Bigod attempted to break out of this cordon of royal control. The situation was resolved in two brief campaigns in 1173 and 1174. Hugh commanded forces with a detachment of French and Flemish mercenaries. They set off from Framlingham towards Bury St. Edmunds and Cambridge, overthrew the royal forces at Haughley, held by Ranule de Broc, and made their way west commandeering food and committing many outrages in the villages and farms along the way. Peasants and freemen fled before the foreigners’ advance and watched angrily from a safe distance as barns were looted and animals slaughtered. The indignant Suffolkers soon had their revenge, however, as a mile north of Bury St. Edmunds the rebels were surprised by a detachment of royal troops as they crossed a river near Fornham All Saints. The King’s men scattered the enemy among the low-lying meadows and marshes, where they were also confronted by angry countrymen with pitchforks and flails. Hugh Bigod agreed to a truce, but the noose around his neck grew tighter. More royal troops were stationed in Bury and Ipswich.

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When the next campaign season opened, Bigod made his last desperate bid for independence. He bought more mercenaries and tried to capture first Norwich, and then Dunwich. Henry then entered Suffolk in person and led his army straight to Framlingham. Rather than prove his proud boast of the impregnability of his fortresses, Bigod surrendered and agreed to the dismantling of his castles. Henry ordered the destruction of Framlingham, but Bigod bought the King off destroying Bungay. He then went on a crusade and died the following year. But his son, Roger was restored to favour and rebuilt the walls as we see them today, up to forty feet high in places and eight feet thick at the base, with thirteen towers. Some of these were surmounted with Elizabethan chimneys. Part of the outer moat still survives in the castle pond at the ‘entrance’ and in the stretch of water running behind the houses on the north side of Castle Street.

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But the kings of England had not yet heard their last of the Bigods. The second earl, Roger, redeemed Framingham from an impoverished Richard I (‘Lion Heart’) and rebuilt the castle on a more massive scale than its precursor. Stone for the castle and the church almost certainly came by water from Caen in Normandy, from Ketton in Rutland, and Barnack Rag from Northampton brought up the Alde and Ore. Flint and septaria, much used in the early buildings, were obtained locally. The river Ore was dammed to form a marsh which augmented the defence system on the western side. The new castle was formidable, with a three-thousand-foot circumference, walled and moated outer bailey itself moated and contained within a forty-four-foot high wall set with towers, and within that a massive keep. To the west of the inner bailey was a lower bailey or ‘base court’. Today only the inner bailey wall and the dry moats remain. In its medieval prime, the fortress must have provided a secure bastion for the lord, his family, retainers, animals and a considerable body of armed men. Adequately provisioned, the Bigods could have defied a besieging army for a long time. It was finished at about the time of King John came to the throne in 1199.

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Soon the King and the barons were in conflict again. The basic issue between them was the issue of the absolute power of the monarch and the rights of his subjects. John’s exercise of an arbitrary rule made it clear to many of the barons that finding a permanent resolution of this issue was an urgent priority. Twenty-five of them made their way to Bury St. Edmunds in November 1214, ostensibly to celebrate the feast of St. Edmund. In fact, they had come together to draft a list of liberties and laws for presentation to King John. They then…

swore on the great altar that if the king refused to grant these liberties and laws, they themselves would withdraw their allegiance to him, and make war upon him till he should, by a charter under his own seal, confirm to them everything they required.

This was the first draft of the Magna Carta, sealed reluctantly by King John at Runnymede seven months later. John mustered his forces in the Midlands while the rebel lords, who included Roger Bigod, levied troops, victualled castles and hired mercenaries. The first royal advance into East Anglia was repulsed but in March 1216 John, having subdued the rest of the country, turned his undivided attention on the eastern earls. He marched straight on Framlingham where Roger Bigod yielded without a fight on 12 March. Despite this setback, the Bigods remained the leading family of Suffolk for almost another century and were, to the last, men of independent spirit. Roger Bigod died in 1221, aged seventy and was succeeded by his son Hugh, but since he was a minor, the manor was held in the King’s pleasure. He was followed by Roger, the fourth earl. Henry III (1216-1272) visited him in 1235, 1248 and 1256. The Earl helped the King in the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey and his arms are in the North Choir Aisle. The nave of St. Michael’s Church was also built in the mid-thirteenth century, during the time of the fourth earl. He died in 1270 aged about fifty-seven. He was succeeded by Roger, the fifth Earl and last of the line, who was visited by Edward I in April 1277. This last earl was one of the leaders of fresh constitutional conflict with the crown during Edward’s reign. The last glimpse the chroniclers give us of the turbulent family is of a row between Roger and his King. Edward wanted Bigod to serve in his campaign in Gascony, but Bigod declined to put himself in harm’s way in an army which Edward himself was not going to lead:

With you, O King, I will gladly go; as belongs to me by hereditory right, I will go in front of the host before your face.”

“But without me, you will go with the rest?”

“Without you, O King, I am not bound to go, and go I will not.”

“By God, Earl, you shall either go or hang!”

“By God, King I will neither go nor hang!”

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Bigod did not go, despite Edward’s punning, and neither did he hang. But he died in 1306, all his possessions reverting to the crown, the year before Edward I himself died. Edward II then created his half-brother Prince Thomas Plantagenet Earl of Norfolk. After the death of Prince Thomas and that of his widow, the manor was assigned to Sir Robert de Ufford in the reign of Edward III (1327-1377). He died in 1369 and was succeeded by his son William who built Parham Church. The river was once navigable by small ships in the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries and there are wall etchings on the pillars either side of the entrance to the nave in Parham Church depicting such ships, probably done when the church was built. William died in 1382 and Framlingham was given to Princess Margaret Plantagenet, Thomas’ older daughter, who was created Duchess of Norfolk in 1378 in the reign of Richard II (1377-1399).

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In 1386 King Richard garrisoned the castle against an invasion by the French. The Duchess died in 1398 and the estates were given to Thomas Mowbray who was made first Duke of Norfolk. So there was a Duchess of  Norfolk before ever there was a Duke. Very shortly he was banished by the King and died in Venice in 1399. His son, Thomas, also rebelled against the King and was beheaded. The manor was given to Sir Thomas Erpingham till his death, four years later, when it passed to Henry, Prince of Wales, who held it until 1412 when the King gave it to John Mowbray, who was made second Duke of Norfolk. He died in 1432 and was succeeded by the third Duke, but he never became possessed of the estates and he died in 1461 and was succeeded by the second Duke’s grandson. This fourth Mowbray Duke added the aisles in ‘Decorated’ style to St. Michael’s Church, dating from about 1450. He had no son and his infant daughter was espoused to Richard, Duke of York, second son of King Edward IV (1461-1483) and one of the ‘Princes in the Tower’. She died aged nine and the manor again reverted to the Crown. There were, in fact, two creations of the Dukes of Norfolk, first the Mowbrays and later, their descendants the Howards.

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The Tudors & The Howard Dukes of Norfolk (1483-1635):

Richard III (1483-1485) gave the manor to John Howard whom he created 1st Duke of Norfolk. Both men were killed at the Battle of Bosworth. Henry VII (1485-1509) then gave the lands to de Vere, Earl of Oxford, but in 1489 he restored them to Thomas Howard, son of the 1st Duke, who became 2nd Howard Duke of Norfolk and had a very distinguished career, commanding the English forces at Flodden. He died in Framlingham in 1524 and his helmet, surmounted by his funeral wreath and crest, hangs above his tomb in the church (pictured below). He was succeeded by his son, also Thomas, the 3rd Duke, who was a great personal friend of Henry VIII (1509-1547), who made him Earl Marshal, Lord High Admiral and KG (Knight of the Garter). He was also uncle to two of Henry’s wives, Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard. Malicious gossips accused him of attempting to usurp the King’s rights by impaling the arms of Edward the Confessor with his own, and both he, and his son, the Earl of Surrey, were attained and thrown in the Tower. The Earl was executed but the Duke escaped the axe through the death of the King the night before the execution.

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It was this Duke who so changed the appearance of the church. His immediate ancestors had been buried at Thetford Priory, but following the dissolution of the monasteries, that place fell into disrepair and the Duke brought the family tombs to Framlingham in order to give them a suitable resting place, including his own. In order to make room for them, he had the Norman chancel built by Hugh Bigod pulled down to build a wider one now dominating the eastern aspect of the church. However, due to his attainder, the estates reverted to the King, and in the hope of avoiding their fragmentation, the Duke petitioned for them to be made over as a whole to Edward, Prince of Wales. When he became King, Edward (VI, 1547-1553) did not release the Duke, but he did order the completion of the chancel. He then gave the castle and the estates to his sister Mary, the chief reason why she came to the castle whilst awaiting news from London of her acceptance as Queen. When in July 1553, the boy king died, John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, ‘de facto’ ruler of England from 1549-1553 during Edward’s minority, tried to exclude his sister Mary from the succession by setting Lady Jane Grey on the throne. The Commons of England were almost unanimous in rejecting the Duke and his ‘protegé’, the great-granddaughter of Henry VII through his younger daughter, Mary and therefore a cousin of Edward VI. The genuine grievances of the poor and the incompetence and brutality of the government in dealing with them stirred up an intense hatred of Dudley, whose son, Lord Guildford Dudley had married Jane Grey in May of that year.

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All along her procession to Framlingham from Sawston Hall, south of Cambridge, where she had narrowly escaped Northumberland’s possé, Suffolk men and women left their kitchens, some to cheer and gaze, others to fall in behind Princess Mary’s retinue. Nor was it only the common people who flocked to her support; many of the local gentlemen came to kneel in fealty before her. She made her temporary headquarters at the Duke of Norfolk’s house at Kenninghall near Thetford. Emboldened by her growing support, Mary proclaimed herself Queen and summoned the rest of the Suffolk gentry to come to her aid at Framlingham with men and arms. By the time she set out for the town on 14 July, the entire shire had committed itself. A sizeable army encamped around the castle under the leadership of the Sheriff, Sir Thomas Cornwallis. Two days later, Northumberland’s men, who had reached Cambridge, heard reports of the thirty thousand men under Mary’s command. Their refusal to proceed against the Suffolk host sealed the fate of the Duke and Lady Jane Grey, the  Nine Days’ Queen.

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The newly-proclaimed Queen selected a council from among her gentry supporters, emptied the prisons to swell her army and secured the support of the main towns and ports of East Anglia. But all opposition collapsed in any event. When Mary Tudor made her way through Suffolk and Essex a few days later it was at the head of a triumphant procession, not a cautious army. Towns and villages turned out to greet the rightful heir to the throne, whom they believed would heed their petitions and deliver them from the anarchic government of self-seeking lords. The honeymoon was short-lived; disappointment and disillusionment soon set in, nowhere more so than in loyal Suffolk, where one of the earliest burnings of protestants took place on 9 February 1555, on Aldham Common in Hadleigh. Dr Rowland Taylor, the local incumbent, was the first of eighteen men and women in the county to be martyred before Mary died in 1558. She restored the manor of Framlingham to the old duke whom she released from the Tower, but he died in 1554 and is buried St. Michael’s in Framlingham, where his tomb is positioned between his two wives in the rebuilt chancel, along with the tombs of the beheaded Earl of Surrey and Henry Fitzroy, bastard son of Henry VIII who married Surrey’s sister.

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During the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603), the Earl of Surrey’s son succeeded as 4th Duke, but he intrigued against the Queen and was imprisoned in the Tower, where he died in 1572. It is said that he had hoped to marry Mary Queen of Scots. From 1580, Elizabeth used the castle as a prison for recusant priests. The family tree of the Howards then became complicated by the fact that the 4th Duke had married three times. James I (1603-1625) restored Framlingham to Thomas, the eldest son the 4th Duke’s second marriage, and made him Lord Howard of Walden and 1st Earl of Suffolk. His son, also Thomas, was made a joint heir to Framlingham with his nephew, Theophilus, who eventually succeeded to the whole estate, becoming 2nd Earl of Suffolk and holding his first manorial court in 1627. On 14 May 1635, Theophilus sold the estate to Sir Robert Hitcham, who settled it on Pembroke College, Cambridge for pious uses on the Master, Fellows and Scholars, who have held it ever since.

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Stuart and Commonwealth Times (1616-1708):

Sir Robert was a prominent lawyer and at one time was Attorney-General to Anne of Denmark, Queen Consort of James I. In 1616 he was made King’s Senior Serjeant-at-Law and was knighted. He died in 1636. Although he was such a prominent lawyer he did not make a very good hand of his Will in which he left instructions that on his death the interior of the castle was to be dismantled and the materials used for the building of almshouses and a school for poor children; but to the poor of Framlingham he added those of Debenham, six miles away, and Coggeshall in Essex. This infuriated the people of Framlingham who saw no reason why they should pay for these others and they took the trustees to law. In the end, the matter was resolved by an Ordinance issued under the Seal of the Commonwealth allocating money from the trust to each of the places concerned.

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In the meantime the country was going through troublesome times, being divided into the two factions of the Civil War, the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. The latter were very strong in Suffolk and the religious conflict is exemplified in the story of Richard Golty, Rector of Framlingham with Saxtead. He had been given the living in 1621 but at first, had to be content to act as Curate-in-Charge as there was already a Rector in the Reverend Thomas Dove who, though Bishop of Peterborough, was also Rector of Framlingham, though he never visited the parish. The Bishop died in 1630 and Golty entered fully into his own, but when Charles I was executed, he refused to take the Oath of Allegiance to the Commonwealth and was ejected from the living and retired to Ashbocking where he had a small estate. On the return of the Monarchy in 1660 he returned to Framlingham. His fame rests largely on a wonderful account book which he kept and entered all the details of tithes and other transactions in which he was involved. Another resident of Framlingham, who was also churchwarden, was Nicholas Danforth. A widower at the age of fifty, and being of a more puritan persuasion, he decided, like many other East Anglian dissenters, to emigrate in 1634 to the New World, taking with him his six children. He settled first in Boston, where he at once became a man of importance, being first a ‘townsman’ and then a ‘selectman’. His son Thomas was virtually the founder of Framlingham in Massachusetts. He crossed the ocean in the ship Griffin but alas left no record of the perils and hardships his family faced. He was accompanied on the voyage by the Reverend John Lothrop, together with William and Anne Hutchinson with their families.

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Not long after Danforth set out for the New World, in 1640, a young man from nearby Grundisburgh, Thomas Mills arrived in Framlingham. He sought work from Edward Smith, a wheelwright, and was taken on and so well did he endear himself to his employer that the latter, on his death, being childless, left the whole business. He married a rich widow, Alice Groom from Ufford, and built up a fine property not only in Framlingham but in several of the surrounding villages. A strong dissenter, he did much to protect a small colony of Baptists who used to meet in Link Horn’s Barn on Brook Lane. Sadly, he lost his only child whilst still an infant, and no doubt influenced by seeing the Hitcham Almshouses in the course of erection, he too decided to build some of these, giving detailed instructions in his Will. He died in 1703 when the houses, originally six in number, were built by his faithful steward, William Mayhew, who added two more under the supervision of the Trustees of the Will. Mills himself is buried in his own garden which has given the name ‘Tomb House’ to the house in Station Road that stands back slightly from the street. Inside the small building is the tomb itself, covered with a fine slab of black marble. The nearby almshouses (pictured below) are still in use, thoroughly modernised and now privately owned.

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A feature of the church is the organ and the gallery on which it stands. The organ case belonged to Pembroke College and though the interior was destroyed by Cromwell’s Commissioners, the case escaped and after the Restoration it was used again to house a new organ made by Thamar of Peterborough in 1674. It is one of only eight pre-Civil War cases remaining in England. It is believed to date back before 1630, perhaps to 1580 and some of the pipework may at least pre-date the Commonwealth. The only other painted pipes of this style are to be found in Gloucester Cathedral. In 1707, the College decided it would like a larger organ for their Wren Chapel, so the Thamar organ came to St. Michael’s with its old case in 1708, as a gift from the College.

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Victorian Times & The Twentieth Century:

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‘Fast-forwarding’ to Victorian times (1837-1901), the other significant events, not  referred to elsewhere in this text, are listed as follows:

1850: Gas-lighting introduced into the town (this was heralded as a great improvement over the old oil lamps that had been erected in 1828).

1898: Rev J Pilkington succeeds Rev E Bickersteth and continues the scheme for the alterations in St. Michael’s Church when the organ was moved from the west end to the north aisle and then to the Chancel.

1900:  First sewer and sewage works provided.

Above: Various Victorian items, posters and pictures in the Castle & Town Museum.

And in the rest of the Twentieth Century:

1906: First Manual telephone exchange opened in Bridge Street, with twenty-two subscribers, limited to the hours of 7.00 a.m. to 9.30 p.m.

1920: Electric street-lighting introduced in the town.

1948: Fire-station opened; prior to this, the fire-engine was housed in various premises in the town.

1970: Thamar Organ (below) replaced on the rebuilt gallery at the west end of St. Michael’s Church, with the aid of the Pilgrim Trust.

1982: Another organ by William Allen of Soho Square (1797) brought to the church, given in memory of Joseph Tanner, 1853-1934 … scholar of Pembroke College, Cambridge and of his daughter, Margaret Josephine Millard, 1907-1980.

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The Town Heritage Trail:

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Above: Framlingham Town Centre today. Below: As it was in 1970, drawn by O.R. Sitwell.

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The oldest house in Framlingham is almost certainly the ‘Guildhall’ on Market Hill (above). It is now divided into business premises, but a good idea of how it looked 250 years ago can be gained from a small drawing in the Castle Museum. The house is described in Green’s (1835) History of Framlingham as having stood on the site of a still older building that existed in 1363, but the Guild as such probably suffered dissolution along with other religious houses under Henry VIII. Inside, there is a very fine old panelled room. Both this house and the one to the east of it, nos. 33 and 33a, are remarkable because although they look as if they were built in brick, they are, in fact, Suffolk timber-framed, with specially-made brick tiles cleverly hung on the front. At the corner of Market Hill and Church Street is another old house, now the Chemists (below).

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This also runs up Church Street and appears to join on to the one which used to be a gunsmith’s shop, but originally the two were separated by a stable with a hayloft over. The gunshop, ‘Normans’, was taken out of the very fine house overlooking the churchyard (below), though now partially restored to it. It is thought that judging by its position and style, it may originally have been erected for himself by the Master Builder engaged by the 3rd Howard Duke of Norfolk to pull down and enlarge the chancel of St. Michael’s, sometime between 1545 and 1550.

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The former Rectory stands at the West end of the church. It is not known exactly when it was built, but it could have been adapted from a farmhouse and certainly was greatly altered and added to by the Reverend George Attwood who was rector from May 1837 till his death in 1884. It was converted to flats in 1963. The present Rectory stands at a lower level in part of the former garden.

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Returning to Market Hill, we pass a row of old houses, now shops, which stretch from Crown and Anchor Lane to the Crown Hotel, an old posting-house. Originally there was a through-way for coaches right through the building. Those coming from Ipswich entered from Fairfield Road, opposite at the back, and emerging onto the Market Place on their way to Norwich. This coach-way was blocked up when the hotel was reconstructed by Trust Houses in 1951. At the same time, the old Corn Exchange, which was built in 1848, was incorporated into the hotel. Tucked away in the extreme South-west corner of Market Hill between what was the butcher’s shop (now a delicatessen) and what was the Queen’s Head Inn is the Queen’s Head Passage, apparently allowed for in the building of the Inn since part of the underside of a staircase can be seen overhead. The passage gives access to the houses behind and to a former small brewery on Lower Fore Street.

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The houses along the west side of Market Hill (above) are of several periods, the oldest being used as teashops, estate agents and charity shops. Opposite them and just up the lane that leads to the west end of the church via its steps there once stood a fine Queen Anne house known as ‘Step House’ which was pulled down in 1833 following the bankruptcy of its owner. The gardens extended down to the old meeting-house and covered the site of the present Court-house, which was built in 1872. Petty Sessions have been held in Framlingham since 1826, but prior to the erection of the Court-house, they were held at the castle or in an upper room in the Crown Hotel. The Old Meeting-house is used by the congregation of Unitarians. It was originally built in 1717 by a congregation of Presbyterians and Baptists, who later became Unitarians. Next to it stands the Manse with the date 1681 on the door.

Next to the river bridge is an old house with a high-pitched roof, formerly thatched, and the small dormer windows are indicative of its period. In the 1960s, this was divided into two shops (see the Sitwell sketch below). Similar old houses are to be seen in Fore Street, Double Street, Castle Street and elsewhere in the town.

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Crossing the bridge and turning left down Riverside we come to the Post Office, the business part of which has been added to what was a farmhouse. At the apex of the triangle between Riverside and Albert Place is the Methodist/ United Reform Church. The Wesleyans first arrived in the town in 1794 and their first chapel stood where the Railway Inn now stands in Station Road. There was a conflict over the mortgage on the property and the building was sold and then pulled down in 1868. In the meantime, a steam flour mill was erected on the site of a former coach-house, but it failed. The machinery was removed and the building converted into ‘the People’s Hall’. In 1885 the Methodists purchased it and it has served them ever since, latterly in the company of URC members.

Beside the river near the corner of Fore Street with Riverside stands one of the old town pumps. This one is unusual in having two spouts, the lower one was used by the townspeople when drawing water but in the days when a water-cart was used to lay the dust in the streets, the driver used to block up the lower spout and by means of a short hose fill his cart from the upper one. Across the junction with Lower Fore Street, on the corner of Station Road, is the ‘Ancient House’, a typical Suffolk frame house with interesting pargetting on the front. A section of this has been removed to reveal the original timber beams. The windows are of a type that dates the house as prior to 1670-80 when the cruciform type with leaded panes gave way to the prevalent sash window which became a feature of late Jacobean to Queen Anne houses, like the one on the other side of the Belisha crossing on Albert Place. The earlier style of window in the ‘Ancient House’ opens on an iron frame hung on two hooks. The small square opening frames are more modern.

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Above: A sketch of the ‘Queen Anne’ House on Albert Place by Grace Sitwell, c. 1970

Turning back up Fore Street, we pass the end of the path from the Queen’s Head Passage (above). Across the road from this is the small wooden hut converted by the Roman Catholics into a church, and a little further up on the left is the Congregational Chapel, dating from 1823, now converted into private residences. The Congregationalists were originally established in Hermitage Place in 1819. Higher up one passes the back entrance to the Crown Hotel with the old blacksmith’s forge opposite.

Returning to the junction of Fore Street with Riverside and turning right along Albert Place, then proceeding via Wells Close Square (now a traffic roundabout) to Lower Bridge Street, we come to a small group of seventeenth-century houses on the right-hand side of the road. One of these, now a charity shop, formerly a granary, has a stone-built well underlying the steps to its lower floor.

Directly opposite, where there is now a development of sheltered housing behind the bus-stop, there was once a cattle market which was in weekly use on Market Day until 1937, since when the present house, bakery and shop (now a café on the corner of New Road) were built. Wells Close Square was named after Henry Wells whose all-embracing shop became the home of the Framlingham Engineering Company, now the premises of Clarke & Simpson Estate Agents on the left. Crossing Bridge Street into New Road, we come to the Hitcham Almshouses which were built in 1654, with the second of Hitcham’s poor schools at the far end, now the Masonic Hall (as can be seen from the symbols on its circular window above the door). Returning to the right of the roundabout leading up College Road, the former White Horse Inn is on the other side of the road, which at the time of writing is undergoing transformation into a close of apartments and houses. The Inn is an early seventeenth-century building, and beyond it are a series of old houses in front of the old gas works, one of the first in the country to change to modern Butane gas.

Next on the right in College Road comes the Primary School, now enlarged and improved from the days when the Charity Commissioners built it after the amalgamation of the Hitcham and Mills Trusts; and keeping to the right at the junction where the B1119 leaves the B1116 and where there is one of the two Victorian pillar boxes in the town, we approach the College with splendid views of the castle across the Mere. Passing the College and the Athlone Hall, we turn left along Pembroke Road, and left again after the Doctor’s surgery. Crossing Saxtead Road below the High School, we come to the lane known as New Street, not to be confused with New Road in the town, a here stands the farm which was once the home of Nicholas Danforth, founder of Framlingham in Massachusetts.

At the bottom of the hill, Brook Lane goes off to the left, whilst on the right is the bridle path that was once the main road to Earl Soham. Following Brook Lane, we pass the Link Horn barn once used by the Baptists in Thomas Mills’ day, and then comes a turn which, if taken, brings us back into College Road via Vyces Road. Keeping straight on, we come to Station Road between the Mills Almshouses on the left and the wing of Tomb House on the right. Beside the road is a small red-brick building once the home of William Mayhew, and later the first Mills school and after that the town reading-room.

Turning right along Station Road we come to the front of Tomb House with the tomb itself in the garden close to the railings. In it lie Thomas Mills and his faithful servant William Mayhew, as set out on the tablet. At first, the tomb stood in the open, but later the trustees built the little house over it in which they then held their meetings. A little further down Station Road, past ‘The Wine Shop’, are the remains of what was the station itself when the railway line reached Framlingham in 1859. Since it was closed to all traffic in 1965, the line has been taken up and all crossings have been removed. Situated next to the station, the Station Hotel is well worth a sojourn, if only to sample the ales provided by the Earl Soham Brewery.

The road leading up the hill to the right is Victoria Mill Road, joining New Street at Red House Farm. Just past the station yard, is a terrace of fine mid-Victorian ‘villas’, no doubt built soon after the coming of the railway. In the opposite direction, leading across the old, publicly-owned ‘Fair Field’ is a footpath to the new Fairfield Road, with its first modern housing, built before 1970, both for Council and Private housing. On the left are two very pleasant houses, Fairfield Hall and Fairfield House, and along with an old ‘forge’ cottage, before we emerge again onto Fore Street at the end of the old coaching road opposite the Crown Hotel.

The lane opposite to Fairfield Road is Crown and Anchor Lane, once called White Hart Lane. All the buildings on the right of the lane were once part of a large brewery owned by John Brook Keer, whose bankruptcy has already been mentioned. In all, twenty-one inns in Framlingham and the neighbourhood were sold, along with a lot of other town property, including the former Mansion House and the Manor House. The purchaser of the ‘White Hart’ as it was then called, changed its name to the ‘Crown and Anchor’ and dispossessed the landlady. These two actions so annoyed her son, a builder, that he bought the piece of land nearest to the Inn on which he built another public house, which he then named the ‘White Hart’. Apparently, this can be identified by its having cut deeply into a row of bricks about ten feet from the ground the initials of the men who helped him build it.

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Continuing up Fore Street we pass another former pub, the old ‘Waggon and Horses’, which became a butcher’s and is now a private house. On the right-hand side of the street is the entrance to the cemetery, opened in 1856 when the churchyard was closed for burials. Re-crossing the road we come to the Police Station, ‘Glenview’, which was connected directly to Woodbridge via the telephone exchange next to the cemetery in 1926. The service was maintained single-handed until 1937 when daytime help was provided and became automatic in 1961.

Fore Street curves to the left and brings us between an old farmhouse and ‘The Haynings’, to an open space in the road junction with the Badingham and Saxmundham Roads where there is an open brick shelter covering a former town well. The shelter was erected in memory of John Cordy Jeafferson, a historian and novelist.

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Turning down Castle Street, the house next to the former corn-drying plant is known as ‘Moat House’ because part of the castle moat lies in the garden. It is probably as old as the house next to it called ‘The Readery’, so-called because it was restored and converted for use by the ‘Readers’, whose duty under the Will of Sir Robert Hitcham was to read from the scriptures twice every day to the inhabitants of the alms-houses who were assembled in the church for this purpose. A little further on is an old low house with dormer windows and a bow-front window which was once ‘licensed to sell tea and tobacco’, as etched into the fascia on the window. We are now opposite the end of Double Street where one of the two remaining Victorian pillar boxes stands.

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Double Street used to be called Bow Street, no doubt according to its shape; Castle Street and Church Street forming the plucked string and Bow Street the bent bow. It was said to have changed its name to Double Street when it became the first street in the town to have dwellings on both sides. Originally, Castle Street may have been restricted from having properties backing onto the castle for defensive reasons, as referred to above. Double Street was once the principal shopping street in the town as can still be seen from the remaining shop fronts, although all but one (an antique shop) are purely private houses now.

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The oldest houses (above top), numbers 19 and 21, are on the right-hand side as we go down the street. A little further around the curve, we come to no. 9, which is where Richard Lambert, the printer, had his offices. He recorded all he saw and heard in the Framlingham Weekly News and his Almanacks, copies of which, from 1860 to 1917, are in the museum.

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He also worked just around the corner in ‘Church House’, now ‘Regency House’, in Church Street. This house is misleading to the eye as the front, with its distinctive balcony, does not belong to the original house, but was brought from London and incorporated into the original timber frame. Also, the whitewashed walls are actually made of wooden panels, shaped to look like stone blocks, as can be seen in close-up below. Appropriately, crossing Church Street at this point, we return to St. Michael’s Church precincts.

Sources:

O.R. Sitwell (1970), A Guide to Framlingham. Framlingham & District Local History & Preservation Society.

Derek Wilson (1977), A Short History of Suffolk. London: Batsford.

http://www.stmichaelsframlingham.org.uk

http://www.wikipaedia.com

All photographs by Andrew J Chandler, 2018-19, except the external pictures of the castle, taken from English Heritage publicity.

 

Posted September 20, 2019 by TeamBritanniaHu in Agriculture, Anglican Reformation, Anglicanism, Anglo-Saxons, baptism, Baptists, Britain, British history, Britons, Castles, Christian Faith, Christianity, Church, Commemoration, Commonwealth, Conquest, Dark Ages, democracy, Demography, Domesticity, Early Modern English, East Anglia, Economics, Education, English Language, Framlingham, Henry V, Henry VIII, History, Integration, liberal democracy, Literature, manufacturing, Marriage, Medieval, Memorial, Mercia, Methodism, Middle English, Midlands, Migration, Monuments, Mythology, Narrative, Norfolk, Normans, Plantagenets, Population, Poverty, Remembrance, Stuart times, Suffolk, terror, theology, Tudor England, Tudor times, tyranny, United Kingdom, Warfare, Wars of the Roses

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Theologising Brexit   Leave a comment

Roger Haydon Mitchell's Blog

Theologising Brexit is the title of a challenging and resourceful book by Black Theologian Anthony G. Reddie (Routledge, 2019). I like it a lot. Having already interposed my talk on Love Politics between my posts on Luke Bretherton’s Christ and the Common Life, and given that the next will be on his section on Anglican political theology, it makes sense to include a couple of posts on Reddie’s book at this point. Reddie describes Brexit as underpinned by a rising tide of White, English nationalism. He is a Methodist, but as will become apparent, he recognises Anglicanism’s problem with Whiteness and imperial Christianity. We have already seen the contribution of Black Power to Bretherton’s analysis, and I think that looking first at Reddie’s work will prepare the way for my next post on Bretherton’s book which will be a response to Bretherton’s chapter on Anglican political theology. I will…

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Posted September 16, 2019 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

The sins of the fathers   Leave a comment

Nick Baines's Blog

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme.

The other day I was browsing the German political journal Der Spiegel and found my attention arrested by an article the like of which I have not seen before. It was written by Niklas Frank, son of Hitler’s notorious General Governor of Poland Hans Frank. His father, a politician and lawyer, was executed as a war criminal at Nürnberg in October 1946.

The thrust of the article is that at the age of 80, having thought his father’s legacy had gone from the earth, he now discovers echoes of the same rhetoric in the mouths of some extreme right-wing politicians in Germany. And he is a very worried man.

The poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht ended his play ‘The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui’ with the warning that the end of Nazism did…

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Posted September 13, 2019 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

Mind your language   Leave a comment

Nick Baines's Blog

This is the text of a commissioned article published today in the excellent Yorkshire Post.

Anything can happen. A statement of the obvious, maybe, but it is also the title of a song by Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn in which he runs through some of the disasters that might hit if you as much as walk outside today. It also seems to be the dominant feeling around the country as we enter another week of political life in which what looks clear at breakfast is redundant by teatime. Things are moving quickly, and anything can happen.

However, there is one thing about which we can be fairly confident: there will be a general election some time during the autumn. If, like me, you are trying to organise a diary around so many uncertainties and unknowns, you will understand the anxieties this state of affairs can generate. We have no…

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Posted September 12, 2019 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

Birmingham boundaries   Leave a comment

The Iron Room

While watching the recent Tolkien biopic, I was confused by a scene in which a young Tolkien is distraught at being told by his mother that they are moving, from their home near Sarehole mill, “to Birmingham”. I later worked out that, while the mill is now in Birmingham, it didn’t become that way until roughly ten years after the scene in question, and would have been part of Yardley Rural District Council at the time.

Birmingham’s borders have expanded a great deal over the years. In the early 1800’s the boundary of the Town of Birmingham didn’t even reach as far as Deritend.

Map of the town and parish of Birmingham shewing the boundaries as perambulated by [the Commissioners of the Street Acts] in the year 1810. [Ref. MAP/14009] After the 1832 Reform Act Birmingham became a parliamentary constituency, represented by two MPs. As well as the original town…

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Posted September 12, 2019 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

The struggle over 1989: The rise and contestation of eastern European populism   Leave a comment

Imperial & Global Forum

Bogdan Iacob, James Mark, Tobias Rupprecht

First published in Eurozine

Eastern Europe is clearly part of a global populist wave, and is now part of the western right-wing populist imaginary as the bedrock for ‘pure’ European values. Only by looking at ‘1989’ from a new angle can we see how populist governments’ rejection of a ‘decadent’ and ‘imperialist’ West merely continues a communist stance, despite their strident anti-communist rhetoric.

The spread of populist governments in eastern Europe over the last decade, and their nationalist challenging of core tenets of western liberalism, has given currency to talk about a ‘new east-west divide’. A notion has taken hold that draws on a longer history of western views of eastern backwardness: a specifically eastern illiberal ‘infection’ is allegedly threatening the stability of the entire European project. In this vein, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called upon ‘the EU and the people…

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Posted September 9, 2019 by TeamBritanniaHu in Uncategorized

September 1939 (II): All at Sea – Naval Developments & Diplomacy; Appendices – Documents and Debates.   Leave a comment

Political Reaction to the Polish War in Britain:

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Even at the very late hour of August 1939, there were some ministers who publicly argued for the continuation of the appeasement policy. War is not only not inevitable, said Sir Thomas Inskip, the Minister for Defence Co-ordination, seeking to reassure the British public, but it is unlikely. R A (Richard Austen) Butler, later responsible for the 1944 Education Act, then Under Secretary of State at the Foreign Office, praised Harold Nicolson’s Penguin Special book as a work of art and perfectly correct. As the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax sat in the Lords, Butler was the Government’s spokesman in the Commons, valiantly defending its policy. An enthusiastic Chamberlainite, he regarded Munich not as a means of buying time but as a way of settling differences with Hitler. An unrepentant appeaser down to the outbreak of war, Butler even opposed the Polish alliance signed on 25 August, claiming it would have a bad psychological effect on Hitler. Critics of Chamberlain’s post-Prague policy for ignoring the necessity of encirclement thus found common cause with the ardent appeasers, though Butler himself remained loyal to Chamberlain, even after his final fall from grace. He blamed the Prime Minister’s demise and ultimate disgrace on the growing influence of Sir Horace Wilson at this time, as, for different reasons, did Nicolson.

However, even the tiny window of ‘encirclement’ was soon shut and shuttered by the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. For those on the Left of British politics, both inside Parliament and out,  this represented an unthinkable nightmare and spelt the immediate decapitation of the idea of a Popular Front with communism against the Fascist threat. In particular, Nicolson’s argument for an alliance with the Soviet Union was suddenly invalidated. When he heard of it, Harold Nicolson was, like Drake at the time of the Spanish Armada, on Plymouth Sound. He rushed back to London, to hear Chamberlain’s statement to the House. The PM was like a coroner summing up a murder case, Harold suggested. Although sympathetic to Chamberlain’s hopeless plight, he agreed with the verdict of Lloyd George and Churchill that the PM was a hopeless old crow… personally to blame for this disaster. 

002As Hitler wasted no time in crossing the border into Poland at daybreak on 1 September, the moral and diplomatic disaster became a military reality. Later the same day, Churchill was asked to join a small War Cabinet, a sign to all that Chamberlain had finally accepted that reality and now meant business. When the PM addressed the House that evening, visibly under tremendous emotional stress, he read out the allied dispatch sent to Berlin. This contained the familiar words that unless Germany gave a firm pledge to suspend all military activities and to withdraw its troops from Poland, Britain would instantly honour its obligations. However, there was no time limit attached to the word ‘instantly’ at this stage, so the dispatch could not be read as anything more than a warning. It was not an ultimatum. Apparently, this was largely due to the procrastination of the French Government, which, even at this late hour, was hoping for another Munich Conference to be held within 48 hours.

When the House met again the next evening, Chamberlain’s statement was still loosely-phrased.  Was there to be another Munich? was the unspoken question in everyone’s mind, if not on their lips. When the opposition spokesman, Arthur Greenwood, rose to speak, there were shouts from the Tory benches urging him to Speak for Britain. Chamberlain turned around to his own backbenches as if stung. The House adjourned in indescribable confusion and the Cabinet reconvened in Downing Street on what, by all accounts, was literally a very stormy night. The Cabinet decided to present the ultimatum at nine in the morning in Berlin, to expire two hours later. Chamberlain ended the meeting with the words Right, gentlemen..this means war, quietly spoken, after which there was a deafening thunderclap.

As Chamberlain himself remarked soon afterwards, no German answer to the allied ultimatum was forthcoming before 11 a.m. on the third. Harold Nicolson attended a gathering of the Eden group. At 11.15 they heard Chamberlain’s announcement. For them, as for the masses of British people listening, it seemed like the present did not exist, only the future and the past. What could any of them, with all their grandness and wealth, do now? In a strained and disgusted voice, Chamberlain told a benumbed British people that, after all, they were now at war with Germany. As if a harbinger of the nine-month ‘phoney war’ which was to follow, the air-raid siren sounded the last of the Thirties’ false alarms. In the chamber of the House of Commons, an ill-looking Prime Minister made a ‘restrained speech’. As Nicolson drove out of London towards his home at Sissinghurst in Kent, a convoy of evacuees overtook them. From one of the trucks, an elderly lady accompanying the children leaned out, shook her fist, and shouted, it is all the fault of the rich.  There was a real sense in which both the war itself and its aftermath, became a class war in which the aristocratic control of politics which had helped to cause it, was jettisoned by the British people.

British diplomats were even less enthusiastic about the prospect of conflict with the Soviet Union than the politicians. In a secret telegram to the Foreign Office, the British ambassador to Moscow, Sir William Seeds, wrote:

I do not myself see what advantage war with the Soviet Union would be to us, though it would please me personally to declare it on M. Molotov. …the Soviet invasion of Poland is not without advantages to us in the long run, for it will entail the keeping of a large army on a war footing outside Russia consuming food and petrol and wearing out material and transport, thus reducing German hopes of military or food supplies.

In a public statement on 20 September, however, the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain spoke to the House of Commons about the Soviet invasion of eastern Poland:

For the unhappy victim of this cynical attack, the result has been a tragedy of the grimmest character. The world which has watched the vain struggle of the Polish nation against overwhelming odds with profound pity and sympathy admires their valour, which even now refuses to admit defeat. … There is no sacrifice from which we will not shrink, there is no operation we will not undertake provided our responsible advisers, our Allies, and we ourselves are convinced that it will make an appropriate contribution to victory. But what we will not do is to rush into adventures that offer little prospect of success and are calculated to impair our resources and to postpone ultimate victory.

Fine words, but not matched by action. After the signing of the German-Soviet border treaty in Moscow a week later, Sir William revised his opinion in a telegram of 30 September:

It must be borne in mind that if war continues any considerable time, the Soviet part of Poland will, at its close, have been purged of any non-Soviet population or classes whatever, and that it may well be consequently impossible, in practice, to separate it from the rest of Russia. …our war aims are not incompatible with reasonable settlement on ethnographic and cultural lines.

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On the face of it, this was an incredible suggestion. The Soviet Union had just invaded and was subjugating the eastern territories of a nation to which Britain had given its pledge of protection, yet a senior diplomat was privately suggesting that this aggression should be immediately rewarded. Back in London, another senior diplomat, Sir Ivone Kirkpatrick endorsed Seeds views in a report produced on 1 October to which he appended a sketch map of Poland, pointing out that the new Soviet-imposed border mostly followed the ‘Curzon Line’ proposed by the British Foreign Secretary in 1919, which had been rejected by both the Poles and Bolsheviks at the time.

The picture on the right shows German officers discussing with a Soviet officer (far left) the demarcation line between their various pieces of conquered territory after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact and the invasion of Poland from west and east. 

Nevertheless, there were many among the general population in Britain who were bemused as to why their country had not declared war on the Soviet Union. If the British treaty to protect Poland from aggression had resulted in war with the Germans, why hadn’t it also triggered a war with the USSR? What they were not aware of was that it was not only the Nazi-Soviet pact which had a secret clause, but also the 1939 Anglo-Polish treaty. That clause specifically limited the obligation to protect Poland from ‘aggression’ to that initiated by Germany.

The ‘Phoney War’ and the War at Sea:

The sixth-month hiatus between the end of the Polish campaign in October 1939 and Hitler’s sudden invasion of Denmark and Norway on 9 April 1940 is known as ‘the Phoney War’. With little going on in the West on land and in the skies, the British and French publics were lulled into thinking that the war was not truly a matter of life and death for them in the way it obviously was for the Poles, and their daily existence was carried on substantially as usual, in all its bureaucracy, inefficiency and occasional absurdity. The National Labour MP Harold Nicolson recorded in his war diaries that the Ministry of Information censors had refused to publish the wording of a leaflet, of which two million copies had been dropped over Germany, on the grounds that… We are not allowed to disclose information that might be of value to the enemy.

The map below shows the full details of the war at sea, 1939-45:

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There was nothing phoney about the war at sea, however. It was perfectly true that the British Air Minister Sir Kingsley Wood made the asinine remark that the RAF should not bomb munitions dumps in the Black Forest because so much of it was private property, but at sea, there were no such absurdities. As early as 19 August, U-boat captains were sent a coded signal about a submarine officers’ reunion which directed them to take up their positions around the British Isles in readiness for imminent action. Within nine hours of the declaration of war, the British liner SS Athenia was torpedoed on its way from Glasgow to Montreal, with 1,400 passengers on board, the captain of U-30 mistaking the ship for an armed merchant cruiser. Had they hit the radio mast, and the SOS signal not been transmitted, many more than the 112 passengers would have perished. A Czech survivor recalled:

There was a column of water near the ship and a black thing like a cigar shot over the sea towards us. There was a bang, and then I saw men on the submarine turn a gun and fire it.

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above: a poster recruiting for the German submarine service. Submarine attack was the main activity of the German Navy during the war, and it succeeded in reducing allied tonnage substantially. Submariners were often absent for up to eighteen months and returned weather-beaten and bearded. Casualties were very high. Some seventy per cent of all submariners were killed.

Neither side was prepared for sea warfare in 1939, but neither could ignore the lessons of the 1914-18 sea war: the German High Seas Fleet had remained largely inactive, while the U-boats had brought Britain perilously close to catastrophe. In the U-boat, Germany had deployed a potentially war-winning weapon, and there was no reason not to attempt to use it more decisively in a second war. For Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic was the longest and most critical of World War Two; defeat would have forced Britain out of the war and made US intervention in Europe impossible. Airpower was also crucial in the battle of the Atlantic. German spotter aircraft could locate convoys and guide U-boats to their targets, while land-based air patrols and fighters launched by catapult from convoy ships provided essential protection. While Germany had entered the war with a number of particularly capital ships, including three purpose-built ‘pocket battleship’ commerce raiders and two powerful modern battleships, there were always too few to challenge the Royal Navy directly. Instead, Germany was once again to use its limited naval resources to attack Britain’s sea communications. The capital ships were used as raiders against British commercial vessels. Nevertheless, tracking down and destroying these threats severely stretched British naval resources. The pocket battleship Graf Spee enjoyed considerable success at the beginning of the war.

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Just as in the previous war, however, it was the U-boat that was to provide the greatest danger to Britain’s supply lines, causing Churchill intense anxiety as First Lord of the Admiralty. Had Hitler given first priority in terms of funding to his U-boat fleet on coming to power in 1933, rather than to the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, he might have built a force that would have strangled and starved Britain into surrender. As it was, the navy was the weakest of Germany’s armed services when war broke out. Against the twenty-two battleships and eighty-three cruisers of the French and British navies, Germany had only three small ‘pocket’ battleships and eight cruisers. Early in the war, the German Navy under Admiral Erich Raeder recognised that the submarine offered the only effective German action at sea. In 1939 there were only 57 U-boats available, and not all of these were suitable for the Atlantic.  They had limited underwater range and spent most of their time on the surface, where they were vulnerable to Coastal command bombers. However, under Admiral Karl Dönitz the submarine arm expanded rapidly and soon took a steady toll of Allied shipping. To Dönitz, as commander of the U-boat fleet, it was a simple question of arithmetic: Britain depended on supplies that were carried by a fleet of about three thousand ocean-going merchant ships, and these could carry about seventeen million tonnes. If he could keep sufficient U-boats at sea and sink enough of this tonnage, Britain would be forced to capitulate. He had devised tactics to overcome the convoys, based on the simple concept of overwhelming the escorts. Dönitz introduced a new tactic to undersea warfare, with the ‘wolf packs’ hunting at night linked by radio, often attacking on the surface and at close range. But Dönitz simply did not have enough boats to launch sufficient attacks in groups.

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above: Convoy with escorts, seen at sunset in the Atlantic in July 1942. The adoption of the convoy system was a key element in defeating the U-boat threat.

At the same time, the British had made very few preparations. The first of hundreds of Atlantic convoys left Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 15 September. Learning the doleful lessons of the Great War, the convoy system was adhered to rigidly by the British between 1939 and 1945, even for ships moving along the coastline between Glasgow and the Thames. Destroyers, frigates and corvettes used an echo-sounding device called ASDIC (named after the Allied Submarine Detection Investigation Committee) to try to track U-boats, while the convoys’ merchantmen sailed together within a protective cordon. But although it was initially seen as a complete solution to the U-boat threat, it proved less than perfect and was only really effective at ranges of two hundred to a thousand metres, when most U-boats were operating on the surface in any case. Britain’s escort fleet had been allowed to run down to such an extent that Churchill was prepared to trade valuable bases in the West Indies and Newfoundland in return for fifty obsolete American destroyers. Perhaps even more damaging was the misuse of resources: the Royal Navy insisted on largely futile attempts to hunt down U-boats instead of concentrating on escorting convoys.

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above: a depth charge explodes astern of a Royal Navy ship hunting for a submerged U-boat. Dropped from surface ships, depth charges could cause fatal damage to a submarine, but they had a limited effective range.

The convoys also adopted a zig-zagging route, the better to outfox their submerged foes. Overall the system was another success, but when a waiting U-boat ‘wolf-pack’ broke through, the losses among the huddled merchantmen could be correspondingly high, and on one occasion as many as half of the vessels were sent to the bottom. The Royal Navy started the war with only five aircraft carriers and so merchant shipping lacked essential air protection out at sea. RAF Coastal Command was left critically short of aircraft because of the priority given to Bomber Command, and the flying boats it received did not have enough range – there remained a gap in the central Atlantic where no air patrols were possible; the ‘Greenland gap’, where U-boats could congregate in relative safety. This was the period that the Germans referred to as the ‘happy time’ when their losses were slight and successes high. In a desperate attempt to extend the range of Britain’s air patrols, Churchill offered the Irish government unification with Northern Ireland in exchange for the use of bases in Lough Swilly, Cobb and Berehaven, but it insisted on maintaining its strict neutrality in the war.

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above: as in the First World War, German leaders gambled on knocking Britain out of the conflict by a submarine blockade. The map above shows the details of the first phase of this.

On 17 September the veteran HMS Courageous was sunk in the Western Approaches by two torpedoes by two torpedoes from U-29, which had already sunk three tankers. She slipped beneath the Hebridean waves in less than fifteen minutes, with only half of her thousand-strong crew being saved, some after an hour in the North Atlantic, where they kept up their morale by singing popular songs of the day such as ‘Roll out the Barrel’ and ‘Show Me the Way to Go Home’. One survivor recalled that the sea was so thick with oil we might have been swimming in treacle.

Why Britain was at War:

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After motoring home to Sissinghurst with Victor Cazalet on 3 September, Harold Nicolson found his sons waiting for him. Ben, aged twenty-five, thought the news ‘a tragedy’, an unwelcome interruption to his studies; Nigel, three years younger, who had just ‘come down’ from Oxford, ‘was immensely exhilarated’. Both were of an age to serve in the army; and both did, until final victory in the spring of 1945. In a symbolic act for what lay ahead, the flag flying above the Elizabethan Tower in the Sissinghurst garden was lowered. No sooner had the war started than Harold Nicolson was asked by Allen Lane, head of Penguin Books, to explain to the nation Why Britain is at War. He wrote the fifty-thousand-word Penguin Special in three weeks. Michael Sadleir, Harold’s regular publisher, called it ‘a masterpiece’. An instant success, it soon sold over a hundred thousand copies. Harold denied that the iniquities of the Versailles treaty had propelled Hitler to power, as so often presumed, claiming that by 1922 a majority of the German people had reconciled themselves to the treaty. By recklessly occupying the Ruhr in 1923, against British advice, French President Poincaré’s adventurism had galvanised German nationalist fervour, destroyed the German middle class and paved the way for the rise of Hitler. These arguments took little account of the first German economic miracle of the mid-twenties or the devastating effects of the world economic crisis of 1929. Nor was it prudent to reproach past leaders of Britain’s only ally in its war of survival against Nazi Germany, even if it was partly blameworthy.

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Harold was on firmer ground when he moved away from contemporary German history to justifying Britain’s motives for going to war. He wrote of a small island nation dependent for its survival not only on protecting the sea lanes to its imperial possessions but also on preserving the balance of power on the European mainland. Germany, then and now, threatened to violate these immutable principles. Britain’s reaction by going to war was prompted by a sound biological instinct … the instinct of self-preservation. By vividly contrasting the savage nature of the Nazi dictatorship, its ‘ruthless nihilism’, with the British conception of ‘decency and fairness’. Harold introduced a moral dimension to the conflict:

We entered this war to defend ourselves. We shall continue to, to its bitter end, in order to save humanity. … Only by imposing a just peace, one that does not outrage their pride or drive them to desperation can we guarantee thirty years to establish a new world order so powerful that even Germany will not dare to defy it.

But what kind of ‘new world order?’ It turned on rectifying the defects of the League of Nations, of organising its own armed forces and the need for its members to sacrifice a degree of national sovereignty. Harold looked forward optimistically to a ‘United States of Europe’, but whether Britain would play an active part in it remained a moot point. On one point, however, Harold was crystal clear: a social revolution was pending. Whatever the outcome of the war, we can be certain that the rich will lose … Their privileges and fortunes will go. His premonition that the war would generate ‘class warfare’, that the prerogatives of his class would be severely eroded, if not entirely swept away, haunted him throughout the war. Nicolson’s critique of Chamberlain’s diplomacy, and in particular the ruinous influence of Sir Horace Wilson may have found praise from R. A. Butler as wholly valid. But Butler remained loyal to Chamberlain, even after the PM’s downfall, describing Churchill as the greatest political adventurer of modern political history. Harold may have felt flattered, temporarily, by Butler’s words, but he would gain a more lasting satisfaction from knowing that his record of Britain’s misguided diplomacy had struck a sympathetic chord in hundreds of thousands of readers.

Harold wanted to find a wartime job commensurate with his talents. The Foreign Office, impressed by the success of Why Britain is at War, was keen that he should strengthen its Political Intelligence Department. Halifax was enthusiastic to make the appointment, but it was opposed by Horace Wilson, whom Nicolson had identified as a ‘chief sinner’ in the failure of British diplomacy. Nor did Harold make a significant impact in Parliament, where he had been elected as a National Labour MP in 1935. Apart from occasional questions about the activity of German propagandists in Britain, he remained silent. The Eden Group made up of Conservative dissidents, but with Harold in constant attendance, still functioned, usually over dinner at the Carlton Club. The general feeling of the company as autumn progressed was that Chamberlain had to be removed and replaced by Churchill. It remained an ineffectual group, however, which would only act when exceptional circumstances left it no option. Like many of his associates, Nicolson was in despair at Chamberlain’s lacklustre leadership. When urged to attack ‘these people at the helm’, he wavered, unwilling to disrupt national unity at that stage. Even so, no-one could deny that the war was going badly. Poland had fallen in less than a month, partitioned along the old Curzon line between Germany and the Soviet Union. In the west, the Allies were reluctant to take offensive action and Nicolson grew increasingly gloomy about the prospects of Britain, with France, emerging victorious from the conflict. However, even Harold could not help but be encouraged by immediate British successes at sea. He prematurely recorded that we have won the war at sea.

Appendices:

Historical Interpretation: Why was British resistance to Hitler left so late?

The historian Arthur Marwick emphasised the assumption, made by Chamberlain and others, that, regardless of their hateful ideologies and propaganda, Hitler and Mussolini were basically rational men who would keep their word, provided their main grievances were met. This assumption was not finally shaken until the occupation of Prague in March 1939. Borrowing a phrase from A J P Taylor’s Origins of the Second World War, he suggests that the Western statesmen believed that once the cloud of phrases which enveloped Fascist policy had been pushed aside there would be a foundation of goodwill on which a modus vivendi might be built. Both the dictators and the Western statesmen moved in the fog of their own beliefs and systems so that there was little fundamental understanding of each side’s position and precious little real communication. Sooner or later, therefore, a collision was almost inevitable. Arnold Toynbee, who had himself met Hitler, summed up this psychological gulf between the dictators and the Western statesmen:

An English observer who paid frequent visits to Germany during the span of six and three-quarter years that intervened between Hitler’s advent to power in Germany…and the outbreak of war…had the uncanny impression, as he made the short physical journey…that within these narrow limits of space and time, he was travelling between two worlds which were momentarily both in existence side by side, but which could not go on thus co-existing because they were morally so far apart as to be incompatible in the long run.

At the same time, the democracies were themselves divided between Left and Right just at the time when national unity was most needed in Britain and France. Although after the Prague coup the Pacifist tide was in sudden retreat, it is impossible to overestimate its significance prior to that event. The revulsion felt towards war was so strong that not even the series of German and Italian successes from 1935 onwards was enough to bring about the fundamental division in European opinions which manifested itself after the occupation of Prague. These divisions, especially in France, help to explain why there was no real attempt to resist Nazi Germany until 1939, and further encouraged Hitler in his belief that the Western powers were too weak to resist him. Added to this, the ideological conflict in Spain had served to distract attention from Hitler’s designs in central and eastern Europe in the previous three years.

Partly as a result of the Spanish conflict, a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union was not seen as a realistic possibility until after Hitler’s Prague coup of 14-15 March. Prior to this turning point, Soviet communism was still viewed as the greater of the two ideological evils. Hence Neville Chamberlain’s persistent attempts from May 1937 onwards to woo first Mussolini and then Hitler. Direct bilateral negotiations with the dictators seemed to be the only way to break the diplomatic deadlock. To resurrect the traditional alliance system, including Russia, would, it was argued, play into Hitler’s hands by allowing him to claim that Germany was being encircled again. However, it was this fear that actually played into his hands, because it enabled him to isolate and deal separately with his potential opponents. Moreover, it was the rumours of war which followed Prague, of impending German action against Poland and Romania, now entirely believable, which helped to reinforce the sea-change in mood which hardened and grew firmer throughout the summer of 1939.

It is also arguable whether, after the Munich Agreement, the rump Czechoslovak state was at all viable, never mind defensible. Relations between Czechs and Slovaks, who had never had more than the similarity of their languages in common, had reached a low point. The harsh reality was that the experimental state of Czechoslovakia, brought into being at Versailles out of the ruins of the Hapsburg Empire, had to be written off. The only consolation for Chamberlain was that he had been able to demonstrate to important non-European opinion, that he had gone to the limits of reasonableness in pursuing the course that they had wanted, that Europe should work out its own salvation without calling on them to intervene, either diplomatically or militarily. After the Prague coup, the attitude of the British Dominions also began to change from the detachment shown six months earlier. This was crucial, as Britain could not go to war with the rearmed Reich without its Empire, especially at sea.

Despite the evidence of his critics, after the Prague debácle, Chamberlain became more defiant and determined in public, and his Cabinet was less nervous at the prospect of war than they had been at the time of the Munich Crisis. The military and intelligence reports were more encouraging and the Anglo-French relationship was better and more active than it had been.  At the end of 1936, Lord Vantissart had written, privately, that it was the job of the Foreign Office to hold the ring until 1939. They now felt confident enough to give a guarantee to the Polish government. This was a remarkable reversal of an attitude to central Europe held by all previous British governments. Perhaps it was given because, unlike Czechoslovakia, the Polish corridor meant that Poland was not land-locked and was therefore of direct interest to the British Empire, over which it now gained a measure of influence. However, there was little more, in reality, that Britain could do to preserve the independence or integrity of Poland in the event of a German attack. Moreover, the guarantee was not given in order to preclude German-Polish negotiation, but as a general warning to Hitler that Britain intended to make a stand. This warning was still vague enough for Hitler to believe that when it came to a crisis, Britain would back down, just as it had done over the Sudetenland.

If Britain and France had not pursued appeasement so vigorously for so long, there might have been some chance of an Anglo-French-Soviet alliance, though the price demanded by the Russians might have been too high.  Nevertheless, one further step Chamberlain had authorised after Prague was the opening of negotiations with Moscow.  All his instincts had previously recoiled from this step, both because of his dislike for the Soviet state and a belief that ‘encirclement’ would be counter-productive. The Anglo-Soviet discussions were slow and protected over the summer. There were sticking points, among them the status of the three independent Baltic republics and Polish concerns about Moscow’s intentions. A greater sense of urgency might have brought success, but the effort came to a dramatic halt on 23 August with the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in Moscow.

Until that point, Stalin and Molotov were still prepared to consider a treaty of mutual assistance with Britain and France. But there were problems from the very start, since – in contrast to the attitude of Ribbentrop – the Western Allies were perceived as dawdling through the process of negotiations. The Soviet Ambassador to London had asked whether British Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, would go to Moscow that summer to discuss matters directly with Molotov, but the British despatched a minor official and an obscure admiral instead who left England on a merchant ship at the beginning of August which took four days to arrive in Leningrad. Once the British delegation arrived in Moscow, the Soviets soon found evidence to confirm their London ambassador’s report that the delegates will not be able to make any decisions on the spot. … This does not promise any particular speed in the conduct of the negotiations. In fact, before he left for Moscow, Admiral Drax had been specifically told by Chamberlain and Halifax that in case of any difficulties with the Soviets he should try to string the negotiations out until October when winter conditions would make a Nazi invasion of Poland difficult. The British hoped that the mere threat of an alliance with the Soviet Union might act as a deterrent to the Germans.

Laurence Rees (2003) has suggested that it is not hard to see what caused the British to take their lackadaisical approach to negotiations with the Soviets. In the first place, British foreign policy had been predicated for years on the basis that a friendly relationship with Germany was of more value than an accommodation with the Soviet Union. Not only did many British loathe Stalin’s régime on ideological grounds, but there was also little confidence, in August 1939, in the power and utility of the Soviet armed forces. Moreover, the question of Poland was an obstacle in itself to the British reaching any kind of comprehensive agreement with the Soviet Union, as it was to in 1944. The British knew that for any military treaty to have meaning, the Soviets would have to be given permission to cross the Polish border to fight the Germans if, as looked likely, the Nazis decided to invade. But the Poles themselves were against any such idea. In the face of this impasse, the British delegation adopted the understandable, but ultimately self-defeating tactic of simply ignoring the subject whenever the question of Poland and its territorial integrity came up in discussion. When the Soviet Marshal Voroshilov asked directly on 14 August if the Red Army would be allowed to enter Poland in order to engage the Nazis, the Allied delegation made no reply.

However, Rees has also argued out that we must not run away with the idea that Stalin and the Soviet leadership were somehow driven into the hands of the Nazis by British and French misjudgment. Ultimately, the Western Allies had very little to offer the Soviets at the bargaining table. Stalin had no motivation for the Red Army being ‘drawn into conflict’ to help out other, unsympathetic régimes out of their self-created difficulties. He was just as much opposed to Britain and France, dominated by big business and oppressing the working people, as he was to Nazi Germany. On the other hand, the Nazis could offer something the Western Allies never could – the prospect of additional territory and material gain. So the meeting between Ribbentrop and Schulenberg for the Germans, and Stalin and Molotov for the Soviets whilst not a meeting of minds, was certainly a meeting of common interests. 

Through the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Germany succeeded in bringing the Soviet Union into the European conflict, thereby giving Hitler the assurance of Soviet neutrality in an attack on Poland. The Pact lifted an enormous burden from Hitler. He was free to attack Poland if he wished and British support was likely to be of little assistance to the Poles. There was some suspicion that Britain and France might decide, after all, not to go to war. However, the British hesitation in declaring war resulted more, in the event, from Chamberlain’s desire to act in concert with France than by any doubt about honouring its obligations. Chamberlain was forced by his Cabinet to declare the war he had consistently tried to avoid since 1937. Even after its outbreak, there was no anticipation of protracted conflict and he still hoped that there might be a place for negotiations, even if they must take place in the context of war.

That is not to suggest that Chamberlain’s psychological understanding and tactical methods were without blame. He did not understand either the nature and dynamics of the Nazi régime or the beliefs and practices of National Socialism. However, even Churchill displayed considerable naivety in this respect, describing Hitler as an old-fashioned patriot, determined to restore his country following its defeat. Lloyd George’s analysis of Hitler’s mind and intentions was no better.  Another set of men in power, or in power earlier, may have made some difference to the policies which were followed, but this would probably not have been vastly notable. Moreover, it was possible for many British people simultaneously to suffer anguish at the prospect of another war and to feel intense remorse at what they believed to be their leaders’ callous indifference to the plight of Czechoslovakia. However, Chamberlain and his colleagues, in common with the majority of British public opinion, supposed that it was quite reasonable to believe in a world in which there was an underlying harmony between nations. It was surely unbelievable that governments would set out deliberately to use force. After 1939, world politics evolved in a way that few observers could have predicted with confidence, even projecting from the events of 1938-1939.

Keith Robbins has argued that the policy of appeasement in Europe needs to be seen in the context of the decline of the British Empire in the thirties. However, the anxiety about the state of the Empire might have been excessive, in turn accelerating its decline. Certainly, Churchill saw signs of defeatism in government policies and believed that a display of resolution and self-confidence would bring its own reward. It is also possible that a greater willingness to threaten intervention might have deterred Hitler, at least in the short-term. In the longer term, however, Robbins concludes that it seems entirely likely that Hitler would have gone to war in circumstances which might have been as favourable as those of 1939.

In his diaries, at the beginning of November, Edmund Ironside reflected ironically on the military machine of command which was the War Cabinet. Men like Kingsley Wood and Belisha, together with Chamberlain, Halifax and Hoare had no military conception of any sort, even lacking ‘general knowledge of how to fight a campaign. Whilst the Army was under French command, the Air Force was not, and the Cabinet loved directing its operations, rather than allowing the Chief of Staff to do so. Later the same month, he admitted to being ‘perturbed’ at the lack of a plan in Cabinet. The ‘wait and see’ attitude to events in Europe, the lack of any plan for the Middle East, and the long and tedious discussions upon all and sundry, all added to the sense of inertia which stemmed from the leadership of the weary old man who dominated the ‘mediocrities’ around him who were supposed to bear the responsibilities of war government with him. Only Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, revealed any talent for the task, partly because he was managing the worse things that by then were happening at sea…

Documents:

A. Parliamentary Debates, House Of Commons (fifth series), vol 351 cols 293-4 (1939):

The Prime Minister’s Announcement of War:

‘…we decided to send our Ambassador in Berlin instructions which he was to hand at 9 o’clock this morning to the German Foreign Secretary and which read as follows:

‘Sir, In the communication which I had the honour to make to you on the 1st September, I informed you… that unless the German Government were prepared to give… satisfactory assurances that (it) … had suspended all aggressive action against Poland and were prepared promptly to withdraw their forces from Polish territory, His Majesty’s Government would, without hesitation, fulfil their obligations to Poland.

‘Although this communication was made more than twenty-four hours ago, no reply has been received but German attacks on Poland have continued and intensified. I have… to inform you that, unless not later than 11 a.m. British Summer Time today, 3rd September, satisfactory assurances… have been given… a state of war will exist between the two countries from that hour.’

‘This was the final note. No such undertaking was received by the time stipulated, and, consequently, this country is at war with Germany.’

B. Francis Marshall,  London West (1944) 

Recollections of the first days of the war:

Entering London from the Great North Road the day after war had been declared, was rather like entering a besieged city. Terrible air attacks had been expected and London was considered the most likely target.

The barrage balloons overhead emphasised the difference between London and the country; notice boards at Hendon and Mill Hill giving notice of air raids seemed to mark the entrance. The motor coaches filled with evacuated children and occasional cars filled with luggage, all going in the opposite direction, added to the impression of impending danger…

Air raid shelters, sandbags and barrage balloons were, of course, already familiar, but the War Rescue Police came as a surprise. They wore ordinary clothes, and a blue tin hat, armlet and service respirator was their only uniform. Everybody was busy doing little odd jobs, sticking brown paper tape on windows, collecting precious papers and valuables together with a first-aid kit, and some spare clothes in a suit-case, just in case… When they had finished work and made their simple preparations, they walked out in the brilliant sunshine that seemed to have accompanied the outbreak of war, and tried to realise that this was it. But however short a walk they took, the gas marks were inevitably with them, uncomfortable and a nuisance, but from Prime Minister to charwoman everybody carried one.

We expected air raids on the H G Wells’ scale after nerving ourselves to expect Apocalypse after dark, felt almost disappointed when day brought the usual round of milkmen, newspaper boys, and the ordinary routine…

I found myself circling a church at 4 a.m. in the dark, vainly trying to find the way in to relieve the warden on duty inside. When I got in, I found him in the crypt sitting on a coffin reading a thriller… 

C. René Cutforth, Later Than We Thought (1976)

A Journalist’s personal account of the final year of the thirties:

Oddly enough, this great tide of woes seemed to put a new spirit into the British people. The news was so bad that none of the old attitudes was relevant any more. Peace Pledge Unions and Popular Fronts were now beside the point, like a man on the scaffold deciding to mount a ‘No more Hanging’ movement. The illusions of the Thirties gradually melted away, and there had been many. In the new cold light, the ‘committed’ could be seen as the self-licensed liars and con-men so many of them had become, whether Left or Right, whether Hitler’s ‘new manliness’ had held them mesmerised or Stalin’s ‘workers’ paradise’.

The last to go were the illusions about the power of Britain in the world. We might survive, we now knew, and that was all. Conscription came in on 1 July. In August there was a trial blackout and, since the whole world had now gone mad, the Russians signed a non-aggression pact with Germany.  If you felt like being funny. it was a bit of a joke to listen to the Communists trying to find something nice to say about their new ally. 

The present seemed not to exist, we only had a past and a future. Works of art were being stored in the caves of Derbyshire and the mine shafts of Wales. From Canterbury, we evacuated the stained glass and from our great cities the children. We’d ‘bought it’ as the phrase then was, and at eleven o’ clock on 3 September, we heard Mr Chamberlain, speaking in a strained and disgusted voice, tell us that we were at war with Germany. We were surprised by how little we felt. A minute later, the air-raid siren sounded. It was the last of the Thirties’ false alarms.

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On 3 September, Chamberlain made his famous broadcast to tell the British nation that it was at war with Germany. An air-raid siren sounded in earnest for the first time, though it was a false alarm; a Royal Proclamation was issued calling up the Reserves and Churchill was at last brought in. (Picture: Radio Times Hulton Picture Library, published in Cutforth’s book).

D.  September 1, 1939, by W. H. Auden

A British poet reflects on a ‘low, dishonest decade’ from New York:

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Wystan Auden was the leader of a group of poets named after him, but all they had in common was a Marxist frame of mind which characterised the ‘new voice of the period’ (Cutforth). They launched the revolutionary movement which was to create the intellectual climate of the time, and from the start, Auden’s was the voice of the decade. They wanted to bring on the death of the old gang, the death of us. He always sounded as if ten thousand revolutionaries were fighting to snatch his words from the press as they appeared. In fact, their audience was so small that it often seemed that they were writing to each other. Auden’s line, It is later than you think, might have been the motto of the whole group. George Orwell criticised their slavish worship of the Soviet Union, and regarded them as divorced from humanity: they had never met anybody from outside their own social class, he said, and this annoyed them greatly because he was right. Auden himself had left Britain with Christopher Isherwood for China in 1938 (pictured above, with Auden on the right), and was in New York in September 1939 when he wrote his famous and often misused poem on the outbreak of war. It begins in despair:

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-Second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;

The unmentionable odour of death

Offends the September Night.

And ends in hope:

Defenceless under the night

Our world in stupor lies;

Yet, dotted everywhere,

Ironic points of light

Flash out wherever the Just

Exchange their messages:

May I, composed like them

Of Eros and of dust,

Beleaguered by the same

Negation and despair,

Show an affirming flame.

Sources:

René Cutforth (1976), Later Than We Thought. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.

Matthew Hollis & Paul Keegan (2003), 101 Poems Against War. London: Faber & Faber.

Richard Overy (1996), The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Third Reich. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Laurence Rees (2008), World War Two Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, the Nazis and the West. London: BBC Books (Ebury Publishing).

John Swift, Asa Briggs (ed.) (2001), The Penguin Atlas of British & Irish History. London: Penguin Books (chapter on ‘The Atlantic War, 1939-45’).

Michael Clark & Peter Teed (eds.) (1972), Portraits & Documents: Twentieth Century, 1906-1960. London: Hutchinson Educational.

Andrew Roberts (2010), The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. London: Penguin Books.

Keith Robbins (1997), Appeasement (Historical Association Studies). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers

Norman Rose (2006), Harold Nicolson. London: Pimlico.

Posted September 8, 2019 by TeamBritanniaHu in anti-Communist, anti-Semitism, Axis Powers, Baltic States, BBC, Berlin, Britain, British history, Canada, Churchill, Communism, Compromise, Conquest, decolonisation, democracy, Economics, Education, Empire, Ethnic cleansing, Ethnicity, Eugenics, Europe, Family, Genocide, George VI, Germany, Great War, History, Holocaust, Imperialism, Italy, Jews, liberal democracy, manufacturing, Marxism, morality, Narrative, nationalism, Nationality, Navy, Oxford, Paris, Poland, Population, Poverty, Russia, Seasons, Second World War, Security, Spanish Civil War, Statehood, terror, tyranny, Versailles, War Crimes, Warfare, World War One, World War Two

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