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Oby is incredibly difficult to find lying, as it does, in the flat lands bordering the River Thurne half way between Acle and Potter Heigham. It isn't marked on the Ordnance Survey map and there are few sign posts on the ground. (Turn off the B1152 and head for Thurne.) It was, however,  mentioned in the Domesday Book and Alan Davison tells us that its church was abandoned in the late 16th Century. Today it is classified as one of the county's deserted village

Oby Signpost

The road to Oby

Oby Mill, Norfolk

Oby Mill by the River Bure

It may be insignificant geographically - however it does have the honour of having a collection of poems named after it for, in November 1979, the poet George MacBeth (1932-1992) moved into the former rectory here with his wife Lisa St Aubin de Terán. The collection in question is Poems from Oby (1982) - published by Secker and Warburg - which features a number of pieces that were directly inspired by the surrounding Broadland landscape. One of the best known of these is Yuletide in Norfolk - a powerful poem which contemplates the influence of the Vikings in this part of Norfolk - who left behind them many place names ending in 'by':

The long-ships drove up the Bure, and the horned men were
   there to rape and to burn,
Seeding their names, Rollesby and Billockby, Fleggburgh,
   Clippesby and Thurne,
Ashby and Oby. Our church roofs came from the rot of each
   oak-warped stern.

But the Nazarene grip was strong. The surge of energy in
  the whoring blood
Settled for the purpled moan of the organ, the heifer
  chewing her cud,
And the cart with its thwarted axle broken and stuck in
  December mud.

I drive to the service at Clippesby, a mile along
My lights throw up the parishioners, whipped by the
  Christian goad
And the hope of Heaven, their faces pinched by a cold,
  unearthly woad

Into shapes of bread and wine. Their archangels gloat and
  wither on spruce,
Bald winter's fuel from Norway. The tied surplice is
  shaken loose,
And the paean rises, the bitter semen of prayer squeezed
  like a juice.

Nothing can alter the sounded heritage from the
  throbbing brine,
The keels lifting above the waves. Let humility
  be divine.
All arrogance is human, the black ride of the Vikings
  is mine.

Oby Rectory

Oby Rectory

George MacBeth

Other poems in the collection which arise from the Norfolk landscape are The Field, Tomorrow and The Renewal.  Some of the poems are addressed directly to Lisa such as A Letter to Lisa and This Morning, Lisa. However, in 1983 the couple left Oby to take on another restoration project - this time St. Mary's Hall at Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen in the Fens. By this time they had a son - the rather grandly named Alexander Morton George Macbeth - but their marriage was unfortunately deteriorating and they separated a few years later.

Sylvia Townsend Warner's novel The Corner that Held Them (1954) is set in Oby during the 14th Century.

Sylvia Townsend Warner


More photographs of Oby

Sylvia Townsend Warner





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