Hundreds attend history fair as Docking’s richness is displayed

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Docking’s Local History Fair at the Ripper Hall over the weekend, with spill-over stands in St Mary’s parish church, exceeded the expectations of the organisers the Docking Heritage Group.

Hundreds came to the village, some from as far away as Yorkshire, Wales and Essex for an exhibition which took a year to organise and involved drawing together twenty west Norfolk history groups.

It turned into an event that did more than just show off the richness of the area’s past.

The exhibitors also found themselves swapping information with each other with, for example, one group discovering that a neighbouring group had photographs of their village they did not know existed.

Visitors themselves also enriched the knowledge of this umbrella-group-for-two-days display.

One brought in a book titled Docking Division Register of Charges.

Dated 1886 it detailed every one brought up before the local magistrates and the penalties inflicted on the guilty.

It is a book that, if read, would bring a blush to the faces of some well-known families whose forbears feature in it.

However, most of the misdemeanours were minor such as one charge of drinking in a pub after hours whilst another individual was fined for having a dog out of control.

Another was ‘up before the beak’ simply for letting a horse loose on the highway.

But there were also more serious charges such as a stabbing where the culprit appeared to get off lightly, only serving a month in prison.

One visitor, drawn to the fair by more than just an interest in local history, was Niki Smith from Essex.

She brought a family bible which detailed her family tree from 1749 onwards.

Mrs Smith was a Burgess and the family owned North Farm on the outskirts of the village for more than 200 years when, with no offspring to carry on the farming tradition, the family apparently gave up working the land and moved to Hunstanton in 1947.

The Heritage group’s research into the family brought out a wealth of extra information which filled one display board. “I’m amazed at the research they’ve done into my family,” said Mrs Smith.

Raymond Woolloff’s Welsh father was briefly stationed in Docking with an anti-aircraft battery at the beginning of the Second World War before seeing service in North Africa, Italy and Greece.

But during his brief stay he met Docking girl, Doris Olive Playford – the Playfords are one of the village’s best known families – and he returned again briefly in 1942 and married her.

After the war they moved to Wales where he resumed working as a coal miner.

Ant Robinson, chairman of Massingham History Society, brought a wealth of information about the history of his village.

But he also left behind a great chunk of photographs, documents and artefacts about the local airfield which saw amongst it serving personnel England cricketer Bill Edrich and Australian all-rounder Keith Miller, from the Don Bradman era, and post war BBC sports commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme.

That large archive has been handed over to the City of Norwich Aviation Museum.

Now we can concentrate of the story of the Massinghams.

“So far we have five publications of aspects of our local history coming out in the next few months,” said Mr Robinson.

A remarkable publication was brought to the fair by the Wells Local History Group. It was a guide to Wells with around fifty illustrations by Arthur Rackham, probably the pre-eminent book illustrator of his era who died in 1939.

It was published by Jarrolds and Sons of Norwich in 1894 before he gained a national reputation.

He is remembered for illustrating most of the classic children’s books of his age, including Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, Wind in the Willows and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

Recently one of his original sketches was valued at £75,000.

The group hold all of Rackham’s valuable originals used in the guide which are on loan to the Norfolk Record Office.

Thornham History Society is six-years-old but it collection holds many pictures of a village famous as a haunt of smugglers in bygone times.

It also has a contemporary bloodthirsty account of a pitched battle between a unit of Dragoons and villagers in what is now the car park of the lifeboat Inn.

Records show that Sgt Boutell chopped his way out of an ambush with his 37 inch sword.

‘Heads, limbs and chests of man of the villagers were hideously lacerated’, says a contemporary account.

All the groups between them have archived thousands of photographs, some going back 150 years.

Docking resident, Verrall Grimes, owns cameras dating back to the 1880s which may have taken similar photographs.

He put a selection on display which also included two aerial cameras belonging to Norfolk’s Wing Commander Ken Wallis, famous as an inventor and builder of autogyros, one of which he piloted in the Bond film, You Only Live Twice. Wallis lived near Dereham and died, aged 97, in 2013.

“We’re pleasantly surprised at the numbers who came to our fair,” said Docking Heritage Group secretary, Helena Aldis.

“We had no idea what the interest might be”.

She hopes that the success of the event might bring the groups closer together.

“For instance, we might create a website where we could have notices of all our future events.”