Bor, I never cood arn much money,
No matter how ‘ard I try’d;
But never wor short o’ dumplins
Or a good owd eel well fry’d.
Another Song of Another Norfolker, John Knowlittle
I’m not sure I’ve included a single figure in my old-time Norfolk landscapes so far. While that is perfectly permissible in a setting very possibly devoid of people, it seemed about time to glance at those who might be patrolling the scene.
The marshmen were a hardy bunch, fighting an unending battle day and night with the sea in order to keep land fit for farmers and cattle – fit for trade. Trudging around out there in the dark depths of winter makes me shudder just in prospect, never mind actually doing it! But this was just what needed to be done – and, in doing just that, these men shaped the Broads into what it is today. Today, of course, many of their duties are usurped by machinery, though there are still groups who train and work as marshmen on the Broads, particularly the art of reed-cutting, in a bid to keep the traditional practice alive.
This fine chap was drawn from Home from the Marshes, a shot by naturalist photographer Peter Henry Emerson, whose 1887 body of images, Life and Landscape of the Norfolk Broads, has proven a particular inspiration since discovering them. Long charmed by the unassuming beauty of the area – to the extent that he’d subsequently revisit East Anglia a number of times – Emerson’s works form an intimate and extremely valuable insight into the people going about duty and leisure and creating an almost effortless intrigue, a pondering of what book-ended this snapshot. I wonder if this particular bor got his Norfolk dumplings come home time? One hopes.