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Life (and Flint) in the Brecks

When a famous writer came to Brandon and sent me on a journey.
by Wendy Meek

Vic Edwards “Quartering” at Brandon (Image courtesy of Suzanne Woolley)

Henry Canova Vollam Morton, or HV Morton (1892 – 1979) was one of Britain’s foremost travel writers in the period between the two world wars. Born in Ashton-under-Lyme, NW England, he began his journalistic career at the Birmingham Gazette before moving on to the Evening Standard and Daily Mail. He also wrote books on royal events and how to operate a Leica camera. (Who is HV Morton? 2012).

However, my interest in HV Morton springs from events that took place somewhat closer to home. His travelogue, “In Search of England” first published in 1927, reminisces on a brief stopover in Brandon.

“I stopped at the White Hart inn in Brandon to drink beer. Brandon is in Suffolk but Brandon Railway Station is in Norfolk. Now while I was taking stock of the argumentative little groups round the bar there trickled in from outside a curious insistent tapping – a queer tinkly, metallic sound for which I could find no name. It was not the sound of a shoeing forge – it was too thin.”

He was informed by a labourer that it was in fact, “young Mr Edwards, knapping gun-flints in the shed at the back.” (Morton, 1937, p.231). Whereupon Morton put down his tankard of beer and went off to find young Mr Edwards. (A Facebook conversation I enjoyed with local historians today suggested Morton’s meeting could have been with Vic Edwards).

Along the way Morton describes Brandon in not entirely glowing terms,

“I suppose thousands of travellers pass through this apparently uninteresting little town without the slightest suspicion that it contains the oldest commercial firm on earth” (Morton, 1937, p.232).

As I watched this 1936 video of a Brandon flint knapper, I found myself wondering if I might have been looking at the young Mr Edwards himself (Brandon Flint Knappers 1936).

After studying young Mr Edwards at work for a while, Morton asks him if he can make an arrow-head but Edwards says that’s one thing he can’t do. “There’s only one man who can, and he probably wouldn’t. He lives down the street. He can make arrow-heads and mace-heads but he won’t tell us how he does it” (Morton, 1937, p.253).

Morton trots off down the road to meet the one man who can, a Mr Spalding. As expected, Mr Spalding refuses to give away the secret of how he makes these arrow heads. However, he does confess, “I began to make arrow-heads and axe-heads and some of them, I’m afraid, got into museums” (Morton, 1937, p.254). He then opens a draw full of neolithic arrow-head replicas before casually stating, “I made these in my spare time” (Morton, 1937, p.254).

I was eager to learn more about Mr Spalding and a brief internet search returned this short biography. “Flint knapper from Brandon, Suffolk, also known as ‘Billy Mummer’. He worked as a brick and tile maker at Weeting and in spare time forged stone tools…”  (The Other Within, Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum, no date). Now, I imagine by forged, this refers to Mr Spalding’s fake arrow and axe-heads rather than any kind of iron forge work. A search of Weeting All Saints & St Mary church records returned some entries for William Spalding (entry numbers 683 – 686) although I am not sure what the dates relate to (Weeting All Saints & St Mary, no date). Mummers, by the way, are traditionally male actors who originally would travel door to door, entertaining people during various holidays. These days, it is performed on stage and mimics a sword fight with the injured party being revived by a doctor.

I wonder, could Mr Spalding have been an actor alongside his other roles as flint knapper and axe-head forger? I’d love to know more.

 

References:

Morton, H.V. (1937) In Search of England. London: Methuen

Who is HV Morton? (2012) H.V.Morton. Available at: https://hvmorton.com/who-is-hv-morton/.

The Other Within, Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum (no date) england.prm.ox.ac.uk. Available at: https://england.prm.ox.ac.uk/noajax-individuals0208.html?i_l=S&i_id=1103 (Accessed: 2 March 2024).

Weeting All Saints & St Mary (no date) tinstaafl.co.uk. Available at: http://tinstaafl.co.uk/nbp/Church_Pages/weeting.htm (Accessed: 2 March 2024).

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