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Place and Time

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

It's been a funny old start to the year, which began with a stumble after I contracted Covid over New Year, and was largely out of action for January. Not quite the galloping sprint I'd hoped to begin 2023 with, but suffice to say I'm healthy and back in the saddle now.

There's not much to report at present, but watch this space, I'm re-connecting with ideas, stories, and creativity, drawing inspiration from the local surroundings here in the Earlham quarter of Norwich, not least the Plantation Gardens, a fabulous secluded retreat of Victorian cultivation near my house, where I practice Tai Chi every week with my little group.

The gardens with St.John's beyond. Even in winter it's a lovely retreat.

I mention the Plantation Gardens for a reason.

It's marvellous when the jigsaw pieces of place and time fit together, and almost by coincidence create a story in itself. I love the grounding that an understanding of an environment and it's history gives, a feeling of being a player in an ongoing narrative stretching through generations. This is something I especially came to appreciate last year, working on the Shakespeare map for Sutton Coldfield where I grew up. I don't have any family heritage in Norwich, but it's been my home for quite a while now, a city absolutely brimming with history, so naturally I'm fascinated with my immediate doorstep.

So here's the thing - The other day I was out for a stroll and quite by accident stumbled across the grave monument of Henry Trevor (1819-1897), his wife Mary (1815-1902) and their family, and her father Joseph Gray (1793-1862) in Earlham Cemetery. I was aware it was somewhere in the cemetery, but this was the first time I'd seen it. Henry Trevor was a successful upholsterer and cabinet maker, but is particularly celebrated in Norwich as the creator of the Plantation Gardens, the very same gardens near my house where I squeeze the tan'tien and grasp the sparrow's tail with my little Tai Chi group every week. Developed from the old medieval chalk quarry, Henry and his team transformed the disused site into a fabulously rich green space, full of quirky architectural features, including a gloriously gothic fountain, and exotic plants. Though it fell into neglect in the 20th century, the overgrown garden was rediscovered, the city's very own "Secret Garden", and brought back to life by a devoted team of volunteers. We have to thank Henry (and the dedicated gardeners who maintain the gardens today) for creating one of the jewels in the crown of Norwich.

But hang on, I've a more personal connection to Henry Trevor!

Mary, Henry's wife, was the younger daughter of his former upholstery boss Joseph Gray (also commemorated on the monument), who owned land adjoining the Gardens and a terrace of four properties rented to tenants that still stand today, one of them being my humble home. On Joseph's death in 1862 these dwellings passed to his eldest daughter Sarah, and on her death in 1877 to Mary and her husband Henry Trevor for a taxed value of £66.10. But not for long, as just two years later, Henry and Mary sold the lease of all four properties, my home being bought by Maria Jekyll, and after her death in 1895, bequeathed to her unmarried nieces Charlotte and Lucy who lived here for many years.

I know this because when I took on the house the former owners left me a fascinating folder of legal documents from the 19th century onwards, a couple of them signed by Henry Trevor himself at the time of it's sale (having power of attorney on his wife Mary's inheritance), from which I've been able to piece together the history. I have to wonder whether the sale of leases went towards the costs of creating Henry's wonderful garden!

So, three locations connected - the Plantation Garden, the Trevor / Gray monument in the cemetery up the road and my house, I can't help but think that somewhere in here there's a story that needs to be told - and illustrated!

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