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Dilham

Dilham lies approximately 4 miles south-east of North Walsham. The Dilham Canal, which still exists today, was once navigable from North Walsham to the River Ant.

Dilham Grange © Derek E Wharton

William Riviere

Dilham Grange was the childhood home of the novelist William Rivière (1954- ) and Norfolk provided the inspiration for two of his novels: Watercolour Sky (1990) - which is set at Morston - and the ambitious Echoes of War (1997) which begins at Paston church. Here is the opening paragraph of Echoes of War:
 

'Holding the wreath she had made, Mrs Lammas pushed open the door of Paston church and went in. The North Sea gale swirled up the dead leaves lying in the porch, blew them inside past her legs, and those of her goddaughter Georgia Burney following her.'

In Echoes of War we follow the emotional journey of the Lammas family through the period of the two world wars. In particular, we focus upon Blanche Lammas who lost a brother in the first world war and fears for the life of her son fighting in the Mediterranean in the second. The opening scene is her laying a wreath at Paston for her brother who was killed when his destroyer was torpedoed in 1917. (Rivière's great uncle R.M. Mack died in the first world war and there is a memorial stained glass window to him inside St Margaret's Church at Paston so, at this point, fact and fiction merge.) The novel also features many other Norfolk locations including  Edingthorpe, Mundesley (where Roland Lammas has his studio), Morston, Horning and Irstead.

Rivière's family were of French Huguenot descent but have a longstanding connection with the county - as the following piece of memoir demonstrates:
 

'......my parents also often took my brother and me to visit churches when no service was to be held. We went to favourites of theirs like Edingthorpe and Oxnead, and to Sloley and Tunstead and Paston, to ferret among the nettles for the graves of people we were descended from. We rubbed the lichen away from the lettering on their headstones to check when they'd been born, who they'd married and when they'd died. I got to know Morston church because one of my grandmothers had a house there. My other grandmother took me to Salhouse where my grandfather was buried at the foot of the tower, and where, she explained to me, she was going to join him.'

Rivière's father's wartime experiences also undoubtedly influenced Echoes of War.  Michael Rivière was captured by the Germans during WW2 and after escaping from one prisoner of war camp was recaptured and incarcerated at the infamous Colditz Castle where, during solitary confinement, he would write and read poetry. Oflag Night Piece was one of the poems he wrote at this time.

Michael Rivière also wrote a number of moving poems about Norfolk including: On Lady Katherine Paston's Tomb at Oxnead and Felbrigg.

After the war he returned to Norwich (where he had been born) and took up a position as director of the brewing firm Steward and Patteson. He was passionate about local history and helped to preserve Dragon Hall on King Street (the only surviving medieval merchant's house in western Europe) and was also instrumental in setting up the Centre of East Anglian Studies at the University of East Anglia. In one of his last poems Dilham - he sums up his connection with the county and then hands on his sense of heritage to the next generation.
 

Dilham

(De L'Election de son Sepulcre)

To end here, in this region
Long seemed appropriate
To one who has made of it
Almost religion.

Ostensibly, all's well.
The city I still love
(Am proud to be native of
And provincial)

Thrives, orderly, well-planned;
And round it, still some rare
Country houses where
More than the land

Is farmed, quiet halls and manors
That have, in metaphor,
Stood two millennia
As lamp-bearers:

Places Xenophon
Or Horace would have recognised,
Or Ronsard, as civilised,
Or Addison -

As Hoveton and Barton are,
And Bixley; and further from home,
Somerleyton and Raveningham
And Westacre.

But the heart it is
Dies first, man's and the State's.
Hand, province articulates,
While metropolis,

Thrombotic, stiff, infected
With late Roman disease -
Courage and arteries
Alike infected.....

It's Spring. The warmth and rain
Re-energize corn and cattle.
Goth, Sassanid and Vandal
Furbish again

Their sparkling frontiers;
And the psychoses here
Cyclically recur,
In guilt , and tears.

The Zeitgeist can't, like Nature,
Turn it's own corpse to grass.
The dying culture has
No certain re-culture.

What is this heritage?
A parishioner's; a refugee's;
Or else mined-out resources,
Heartland's old age.

So, the clock is set
For someone else's turn.
I can't teach, or learn,
What's not learnt yet,

Nor have heart left to try.
Let it fade into air,
This unresolved affair
Of Now and I.


Links:

Michael Rivière Obituary

 

 

 

 

 

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