You will not find Little Godmanstowe on any modern map and there is no point in looking for it by satellite navigation, but it is still there, in the north of Suffolk, between Icklingham and Thetford, on the edge of the forest. True, on large scale maps you can find Godmanstowe Farm, but you will not find Little Godmanstowe itself. That is because today it consists of just one small thatched cottage hidden down a winding, overgrown cart-track, all that remains of a small hamlet that fell into ruin in the agricultural depression at the end of the nineteenth century and was taken off the maps.
Today, in the single remaining farm cottage of the lost hamlet, tucked away behind high hedgerows and surrounded by an orchard, live Sarah Dove, aged 119, and her ‘younger’ brother Moses Dove, aged 115. Recently I was able to visit them. As we sat in their living room having tea by the steady ticking of the old grandfather clock, I asked them the following questions and recorded their answers. (We have kept the spelling of some of their pronunciations, grammar and words of broad Suffolk in our transcript of their answers. The differences all go back to Old English and so are more correct than the deformed modern English).
Q: Moses, how come no-one’s ever heard of you before? You and your sister must surely be the oldest living people in England and probably in the world. You should be famous.
A: Thass an easy one, that is. You see, when we were born in this little old house where we’re still a-livin’, daddy Jesse didn’t register us. He said that weren’t none of the guvvamint’s business, so we didn’t have any of them there birth papers like other folk. He didn’t hold with guvvamint, didn’t see why we needed ‘em. Mary the wise woman, who helped ma give birth, warn’t bothered either. And there were no-one else to say anythin’. Long afore we were born, there used to be other housen round us, but they were all empty, the rain came through the mossy thatch and they all come a-tumblin’ down, so we were all on our own. You see, there weren’t enough work on the land then, the fields were all overgrown and the thistles sprang up, and folk left for Norfolk, to Thetford, a-seekin’ work in the factory. Others went to foreign parts, ‘cross the seas to ‘Stralia and Canada. As for bein’ famous, no thank you! We’re quite happy the way we are, we don’t need to be famous.
Q: If you weren’t registered, then you didn’t go to school?
A: School? We didn’t have time to go to school, we were a-helpin’ at home, in barn, in field, a-hoein’ and a-ploughin’, a-hedgin’ and a-ditchin’, a-stone pickin’ and a-gatherin’ firewood, a-rabbitin’ and a-harvestin’, a-pheasant-beatin’ and a-gleanin’, not to mention the garden and orchard, we were far too busy to go th’old school. Anyway, school were over three mile away and we didn’t allus (always) have shoes. We had better things to do than go to th’old school for all that booklore. Our aunts and uncles, God rest ‘em, larned us to read and count well enough. I can write me name, what more do I need?
Q: Nowadays you won’t meet anyone called Moses. Why did your parents give you that name?
A: In them days you allus had a name from th’old Bible. If that weren’t in the Good Book, that weren’t a name, save for two. Them two were Edmund, in honour of our King, and Audrey. She lived out Newmarket way when she were a young mawther (girl). A mort (lot) of our forebears were called Edmund and Audrey in th’olden days. They were holy ones, like the ones in the Bible.
Q: Who’s on the throne now, do you know?
A: Well, our Sovereign’s King Edmund, he’s still a-sittin’ on his throne in heaven, a’rulin’ over his East Anglian kingdom, lookin’ down on us and helpin’ us here. But if you’re talkin’ about Lon’on, that’ll be old George’s gal, but I can’t rightly remember her name. You see, we were born in the time of th’old Queen, that were all different then, none of them there tractors like now, there were only hosses in the fields and an engine for the threshin’. I saw me first motor car when I were five year old, that were a sight, that were, now they’re everywhere, noisy old things, they are.
Q: And who’s the Prime Minister now?
A: I wouldn’t know that, they come and go all the time. Here today, gone tomorrow. I know there were that there Churchill, that were half American, but after him I lost count. We had other things to do, a-ploughin’ and a-sowin’, a-reapin’ and a-harvestin’, we were too busied with seedtime and harvest.
Q: Do you go into town to do the shopping?
A: Oh no, we ha’n’t been in to Icklingham since I took me pension in 1965. That were when we had the last hosses. They died and I had me pension. I were a hossman all me life, what with general labourin’. Town is all dirt and noise. Anythin’ we need, John Bloomfield the farmer or his wife Audrey fetch and bring round. God bless ‘em both. He’s our landlord. They come round every mortal day and look after us. Mary’s a rare good cook too, bake her own bread. That do smell nice. You see, young John take what he need from our pension and so we live here without a care in the world, no rent, nothin’ to pay, no ‘lectric, no water, he do any repairs we need, he bring all the food we want and logs in the wintertime to mend the fire, lovely and cosy in here then. Ten year ago he had the roof rethatched for us, that cost a fair packet. Bloomfields been farmers here for ever, afore Henry’s time and they’ll be farmers here till kingdom come.
His daddy paid to put on the water in 1961 and had the WC put in. He put in the ‘lectric the year before. Mind you, we don’t like the ’lectric light, bad for your eyes, sooner have natural candlelight, we just use ‘lectric to cook and make the tea and for hot water. Very handy for that. Before that we had water from the well and used a privy in the garden. We still use the well water to make the dandelion and elderflower wine. That taste better like that. Anythin’ we need John get for us, just like his daddy, granddad and great-granddad did afore him. His great-granddad Cyril were a mighty fine man. He’d bring us pheasant and rabbit he’d shot, gave us a right good horkey (harvest home) and a good box at Christmas time. He looked after us right well. Lovely rabbit stews we used to have in them days, better than jugged hare.
Q: What about if you’re ill? Don’t you go to the doctor?
A: Don’t go to the doctor, we’re never ill. We grow our own veg and fruit and eat meat once a week on a Sunday, ‘cept in Lent, o’ course. If we feel poorly, we take a glass o’ Sarah’s elderflower wine and we feel better rightaway. At Easter we have lamb and at Whitsun we have gooseberries from the garden.
The air’s good here. My brother Jeremiah went up to Lon’on once. Never agen. He said the air were dirty. He come back and coughed and spluttered for a whole week. Thass why they call Lon’on the smoke. They do say now they built a road all round Lon’on so as you don’t have to go there. Thank the Lord. Thass all foreign folk there. The best place in Lon’on, said Jeremiah, is Liverpool Street Station, thass the railway station to get out o’ there and hie (hurry) home as swift as you can. Home sweet home. Thass why we’re long livers – fresh air, hard work and never go to th’old doctor. Old Cyril Bloomfield the great-granddaddy, at the end they took him orf to the horspital, thass what finished him off. Came out in a wooden box. Should a stayed at home, boy.
Q: Have you ever been to London?
A: We never been outside Suffolk, ‘cept to cross the border to Norfolk a few times. Been to Thetford twice. Been to Bury (Bury St Edmunds) many a time, at least once a year when I were young. After I took me pension, we took a trip to the seaside once, but there weren’t nothin’ to see there, just th’old water. Don’t go far afield now, there’s a lot to do in the garden and I’m rare slow now.
Q: Do you take a newspaper?
A: That’d be for gentry. What do we need that for?
Q: What about television or radio?
A: We don’t need any old tellyvision, all those pictures a-flashin’ afore you. Thass bad for you. We know what we need to know. We did have a wireless, but that broke after Hitler’s war and we never bothered to have it mended. Thass only bad news on the wireless, what them Lon’on folk get up to and what they be a’ doin’ in foreign parts. We don’t need to know that here.
Q: And the telephone?
A: We never had one o’ those.
A: (Sarah interrupts). Don’t need any o’ those. Every day, rain or shine, we walk up to the wood with our sticks and just sit there. John made us a bench with logs and a plank and we sit there and listen, a-mardlin’ (chatting), a-rememberin’ and a-musin’ on th’old times. That were a hard life afore the war in 14, but that were a good life. That seem like yesterday. The whisperin’ and murmurin’ o’ the leaves and the swayin’ o’ the wheat in the breeze tell us all we need to know. God speak to us through what He made. We talk to th’old trees and they talk to us. In the spring there are bluebells up there and in the summer the peggles (cowslips) come out.
Thass rare nice in the autumn, when the leaves do fall soft as ever leaves did fall. Leaves been a-fallin’ and trees a-growin’ since time began. I love th’old oaks. Stout as England. Our Edmund were tied to an oak by those wicked old Danes. When the Good Lord call us, we want to be buried up there, don’t we, Moses? Thass rare peaceful up there. I just want to fall asleep and not wake up agen and then they can leave old Sarah up there ‘mong the trees with Moses and Aaron, ‘neath the gentle wind on the hill and the swayin’ o’ the branches. Thass where I’ll have my peace and see ma and daddy and everyone on th’other side. On th’other side thass just like here, only far, far better, no aches and no pains, no chores and no frettin’.
Q: Who was Aaron?
A: (Moses). That were me twin brother Aaron. He died when he were only a day old, frail little old thing, he weren’t made for this world, so ma said. We buried him up there ‘mong the trees. He’s a-waitin’ for me now. Been a-waitin’ all these years. I’m a comin’, boy, I’m a comin’ soon.
Q: So there were three of you in the family?
A: (Sarah). No, no, there were seven of us. The eldest were Abraham and Esther, they died o’ the hoop (whooping cough) when they were just little mites. Then there were Abel. He were taken in the Kaiser’s War, out in France, in 1915. He were only 21. Thass his picture over the fireplace (she points to the enlarged photo of a private in First World War uniform), above the photo of ma and daddy on the mantelpiece. John’s father had it made big and framed it up for us on the fiftieth anniversary. They never did find Abel’s body, but there’s a white cross out somewhere in France for him, the poor little mite. Private Abel Dove’s a-awaitin’ for us on th’other side too. They’re all a-waiting for us there. Then there’s me and after me came Jeremiah. He were a worker, he were, never stopped and his little old heart gave out in 1959, God rest his soul. Then came Moses and Aaron, they were the youngest. Now there’s just me and Moses left in all God’s wide world. We’re the last, all alone, a-waitin’ for the Good Lord to come steppin’ ‘cross the fields, a-callin’ us, a-gatherin’ us in like ears of wheat, in His own good time. That won’t be long now. We’re ‘spectin’ Him any day.
Q: Did you never want to get married, Sarah?
A: I’d a married, but there were no min left to marry. They all got taken in the Kaiser’s War. So I stayed at home and looked after ma and daddy. They both died in 1946, after old Hitler’s war, within a week o’ each other. 82 were ma and daddy were 84.
Q: What about you, Moses? Why didn’t you marry?
A: I never were a one for marryin’. I didn’t want to be tied down. I loved to go a-wanderin’ in the woods and fields at night, a-listenin’ to the owls and the little old dormousen nestin’ up, a-watchin’ the clouds by the moonlight. Clouds is God’s angels, each one‘s got a story to tell. Only you have to watch ‘em close to know what they’re a-sayin’. In the summer I allus used to sleep out there, with just the foxes and the badgers and the leaves a’rustlin’ in the night air. In the winter, I’d go up there to walk at night, the leaves all a-rimed white with th’old frost. That were the life for me, next to God’s creatures.
Q: Sarah, what was the most terrible thing you heard of in your long life?
A: Well, I reckon that were the slayin’ o’ the Russian King in 1918, all those poor little children, they didn’t deserve that. Like lambs to the slaughter, they were. They did with them like they did with our Lord. Daddy and ma said the same thing. I was 21 then and that fair marked me. And truth to tell and the devil to shame, ever since then nothin’’s been right with the world, thass all been upside down, people rushin’ about, doin’ each other down, makin’ wars. No more peace ever since.
F’r instance, now they go under the sea and through the sky. Thass not natural. He made the fish to go under the sea. And if the dear Lord had wanted us to fly, He’d a given us wings. Thass angels that fly, thass not for folk like you and me. All those airyplanes, thass upset the weather. And then they went up over the sky where they should never a gone. That were downright presumptious, that were. They had no right goin’ up there. Nothin’ good’ll come of it, you mark my words. Pride go afore the fall. They’re tryin’ to go up like the Tower of Babel, outreachin’ themselves, makin’ tall things as ugly as sin. Well, that’ll all come tumblin’ down agen on their heads. Woe betide.
Mind you, if you go back, things started goin’ awry afore that. Our great-grandma Bathsheba, she were born in 1799 and passed over at 105, used to blame it on old Boney, the Frenchman. (Moses interrupts: Thass when they brought in th’old income tax. Wicked thing that, a-takin’ folk’s hard-earned money. Thass stealin’. Thou shalt not steal, it say, but they still steal through the tax). Well, Bathsheba reckoned Boney were the devil incarnate. Thass our Nelson stopped him, he were a Norfolk man, one of us, one of Edmund’s men. A brave heart he had, he died a’fightin’ for Edmund’s land, our dear land.
Only, after we won and we’d locked old Boney away, that all went to the heads of the Lon’on folk and they started a-takin’ other folk’s lands, just like Boney done afore ‘em, only they did it ‘cross the seas among them poor old black and brown men, a-stealin’ their land and their housen. So they ended up no better than Boney, just as wicked. Thass all wickedness. Black-hearted wickedness. And thass all written down in the big white book in heaven ready for Judgement Day, every deed and every word, nothin’’s forgot. God see it all with His all-seein’ eye. There’ll be a tremblin’ and a shakin’ in those days when He come agen, but there’ll be justice. They’ll say, that weren’t me, but that were they. The Judgement’ll be just, ‘cos the Judge is Just. Just you mark my words. The truth will out. Nothing’s hid that won’t be found out.
But then agen me granddad’s granddad, old Edmund Dove, told him and he told me how the ills began when they went and changed our calendar. Now we’re days and days out and Easter fall weeks afore it should, a few year ago that snew (snowed) at the new Easter! And Christmas come far too early. That don’t seem like Christmas at all. All the seasons are out o’ kilter. Thass against nature. That were them Lon’on folk that went and changed it. Went to their heads, you see. Then they upset our folk out in the colonies in ‘Merica and the colonials took against the German king that them old merchants and bankmen had brought over. They’d got rid of the proper king, you see, all for filthy lucre. That weren’t right either. We didn’t want a German king, we wanted our own king, like Edmund. Edmund were king of the folk in the north and king of the folk in the south, we were all one then, all Christian folk, all proper. Norwich were much bigger than Lon’on in them days, Lon’on weren’t much more than a village. Thass how it should a stayed.
A: (Moses interrupting). That were when all the wrong started, after Edmund’s time. In Edmund’s time there weren’t no Lon’on to speak of. O’ course, that old Henry made it all worse, but it were his great-great-granddad William that came over from France who started it, ‘cos Henry were just a-followin’ in his footsteps. Henry were William, you see, one and the same, ‘cos they had the same devil in ‘em and neither o’ them could keep the faith. Both foreign imps with foreign names, them names aren’t in the Bible. No Henry or William in the Bible. Henry were a Welshman and that William, he were another heathen Dane, but from France. They didn’t love England, our Edmund’s land.
Q: What do you think, Sarah?
A: Oh yes, that were them heathen Danes that arrowed our Edmund to the oak and made him a holy one that started it all, ‘cos they didn’t know the Ten Commandments. They were pirates, you see, thieves. That were the start of it all. Thou shalt not steal, but they stole. We still talk about our Edmund in these parts and when I were a young mawther, they shew me where it all came to pass, over in Hoxne. I went there afore the War, the Kaiser’s War, that is, and I saw it all, a cross in the wheatfields. I remember it like it were yesterday. After the White King have come, Edmund’ll come back, a-marchin’ through the wheatfields with all his host of men behind him, all Edmund’s men and England’ll be England agen, and there’ll be peace for a time. Then that’ll be the end and the Good Lord’ll come back, just like He said He would.
Q: What should we do about bad kings like the German king and William and Henry? Should we rise up against them?
A: No, no, let the Lord judge ‘em. The Lord give and the Lord take away. Here today, gone tomorrow. If we’re worthy, we’ll get good kings. If we‘re not worthy, we’ll get what we deserve. He’ll take ‘em away in His own good time. You don’t want to do like that old Oliver who were sore vexed and chopped off the poor old king’s head. He were a wrong’un, that Oliver, he finished up bad. They cut off his head, just like he’d done to that poor old king. As ye sow, so shall ye reap. All the rum’uns (bad ones) that follow Oliver finish up bad.
Q: What do you think of Brexit, Moses? I mean leaving the European Union?
A: Europe Union? Never heard o’ that. That must be some Lon’on thing. We don’t have that hereabouts. We’re in our own land, Edmund’s land. Everyone should live in their own land, thass where God put us. Thass sovereign land. Thass natural. We live in the house where we were born. We’re Edmund’s folk, we are, allus will be.
Q: What do you think of all the things happening today, Sarah? I mean the terrorists and all these bombs?
A: Thass all the same thing, these Mohameddans with their wicked old bombs. Young John Bloomfield told us about what they’re a-doin’. You see, the Mohammeddans, they ha’n’t got the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill. Thass all written in the Good Book. They haven’t got the Good Book. Just like them old heathen Danes who slew Edmund – they didn’t have the Good Book either. Hellfire, thass how they’ll end up. Sulphur and brimstone, that stink somethin’ awful. Mind you, thass the same thing for them there soldiers they sent out to kill the Mohammedans, they’re not Christian folk either, they haven’t got the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill. Thass crystal clear. Keep the faith, keep the commandments and you can’t go wrong.
Q: So what’s the future of the world, Sarah? It all looks so bleak. Bad is on all sides.
A: Don’t you go a-frettin’ yourself (worrying) about that. The White King is a-comin’ back in Russia to put it all right. You’ll see. They started a-spreadin’ the evil all round, they got William to bring it here from France, they took it overseas, and then, with the passing o’ time, they thought they could take it to Russia as well, but that wouldn’t take in Russia. Thass where the evil were held in check. Before long the White King’ll come back there and sweep all the wicked there clean away, and then he’ll come here and do the same, in the twinklin’ of an eye, that’ll be.
My great-uncle Isaiah, who were married to my ma’s aunt Martha, told me that before Hitler’s war after we’d been allies with Russia. He were a preacher down at the green tin tabernacle, that ain’t there no more now. He walked miles and miles every Sunday to preach to local folk, a rare righteous man, he were, one of the Peculiar People, allus dressed in black, with a long white beard. He knew the Four Gospels by heart and a lot o’ the psalms. He preached a rare good sermon and baptised a rare many folk in the river near Bury, a rare clean soul he were and the Good Lord told him many a secret thing.
You see, at the end o’ time, when Our Lord come back, there’ll be a judgement and the good ones’ll go to heaven and the wicked ones’ll go to hell. Folk nowadays don’t know that and thass why there’s so much wickedness about. All those wicked min who take money and lie and start wars and murder, they’ll all burn in hell. If they knew that, they wouldn’t do it. Too late for ‘em now. Thass a terrible thing, to die without a-sayin’ sorry.
Q: Thank you, Moses and Sarah. I’ve learned a lot.
A: (Moses). You need to live and do, boy! Thass th’only way you can larn. Live with God’s gentle things and you’ll know all you’ll ever need to know.
Note: Many readers have written to me concerning the above, not having noticed the tag ‘Faction’. However, I can reassure them that 99% of the above is true, being based on conversations with various friends and relatives, notably Victoria Saunders, Doris Phillips, Sydney and Louisa Clarke and the Dove family, whom I knew between 1961 and 1979 and who died in the 1980s. The only things that are not true is that the Doves are still alive and live in the fictional and symbolically-named Little Godmanstowe.