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Days gone by

PUBLISHED: 08:05 05 May 2014

George Porter

George Porter

Archant

Norfolk is my home county. I wonder if any other county has the same draw to its true sons? When I meet another Norfolk man I feel at ease, as though we are of the same type and understand each other. Our characteristics endure and we have the countryman’s commonsense view of life . . . so it seems to me.

I was born at Valley Farm, Hillington, in west Norfolk, in 1919, and it was a happy place for a little boy in those first days after the First World War. Farming was important and with the Royal Estate nearby, there was work for all.

My father’s background spread from Reepham to Thornham and it was there, in the iron works, long disappeared, that decorative iron work on the wonderful Norwich Gates at Sandringham was made and from this much-loved village I am led to the royal estate which was the focal point of my early life.

In the winter of 1922-23 I was three years old and still living with my grandparents at Valley Farm. The farm was of about 700 acres and was farmed by Major Wilson of Harpley Dams. The shooting went with the royal estate and every year King George V would come over to Hillington for the shoot, lunching at Valley Farm.

One of my first memories is of walking with my grandfather out of the garden gate and past the cart shed where the King was sitting with some of the keepers among the farm implements. Cropping the grass in front of the long, open building was the King’s white pony, held by a groom. His Majesty called out, “Mickelburgh, give the lad a ride on my pony”. I was taken across to the pony but refused to be lifted on it, much to everyone’s amusement. I remember looking back into the cart shed and seeing the young Prince of Wales and the Duke of York sitting there on some sacks and smiling encouragingly. Then George V said something like, “Well, if you don’t like the horse, my lad, have some bread and cheese”. Rather overawed I waited while a hamper was opened and was soon retreating through the garden gate clutching the biggest hunk of bread and cheese I’d ever seen.

My mother tells me that on one occasion before the First World War there were five kings in the shooting party, including the Kaiser.

My father was a wheelwright and in 1923 he moved to a job in Dersingham and for many years, until the farming depression in the 1930s, was happy there as the village wheelwright. He built wagons and tumbrils, mended wheels and shafts and did a hundred jobs with oak, ash and elm. In my days at Dersingham School, I can remember the ring of iron rims being hammered, hot, on to the ash and elm cart wheels. It was a sound I always loved, perhaps meaning security and rightness in my world.

When I go on holidays and drive past Norwich Gates, it seems much the same as when I sat beside my grandfather in the old pony cart with Floss, the whippet, curled up under the seat and, horse capes over knees, we jogged along through Sandringham on the Hillington Road, the candles flickering in the side lamps at dusk, going back to the Valley Farm for Christmas, 1923.

George Porter eventually settled in Sussex with his family and worked for the Sussex River Authority, but he was always a Norfolk man at heart, says his son, Charles, who lives in Northamtonshire.

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