The Norfolk Hero, Stanhoe

Recollections by Ivy Scales, August 2001

The Scales family took over the Hero in 1955 from Ruby and Dick Steward. The pub was owned by Steward and Patteson of Norwich, one of the small Norfolk brewers taken over by larger companies such as Watneys in the late 1960s or early 70s. It was said to be several hundred years old, to have no foundations and to be haunted (true).

There were four bedrooms, one of which was immediately above the bar, with a stone staircase. This would have been the room let to travellers previously when it was an “Inn”. (Claude Eric Scales had changed the status from an inn to a public house on taking over, to avoid having to feed or house such travellers at any hour of day or night).

It was rumoured that Nelson had stayed there, with or without Lady Hamilton, when perhaps he could not journey on the few miles left to Burnham Thorpe. Of course, the pub was named in his honour, having previously been known as the Alehouse, and at one time the Cock and Breeches.

The ground floor had a large living room on the north side, with a fireplace and wooden shutters inside the windows. This room was rarely used due to being extremely cold. The kitchen was very small and cramped and in winter the coal fire kept it warm. There were two public rooms, the Red Room, so-called because of its red-tiled floor, with a fireplace, piano and juke box and the bar itself, with a large trestle table, benches, a fireplace and a window seat.

The stone floor and benches had to be washed or scrubbed daily. There was a beam and the walls were stained yellow with tobacco smoke, customers objecting to opening windows for clearing the air. Drinks were served through a small hatch which would be closed with a wooden door when not open for business.

The landlord or barmaid served drinks direct from the cellar, where barrels of mild and bitter were mounted on wooden stands. The walls of the cellar were very thick and had once been whitewashed. The cellar had a small window at the far end, next to the door leading into the large storeroom where the barrels and crates of drinks were kept ready for use. Some sturdy hooks along one wall there were useful supports for pheasants “ripening” for family meals. Father Scales always wanted to hang them for three weeks but thankfully this never happened.

At the far end of the storeroom was the dreaded “carsy”, of the most basic kind which had to be emptied at dead of night. Even into the 21st century Stanhoe is still without mains sewerage, the pipes having stopped short at Docking in the early 90s, though nowadays everyone has a septic tank.

There was no bathroom but hot water was always available from a small boiler over the cellar sink. I well remember my morning ritual of waking early and carrying up the stone staircase a large ewer of hot water for a rapid top-to-toe wash at the washstand in my bedroom, not bothering to close the window even in winter as it was equally cold inside anyway. This was an invigorating start to the day. Outside there was a large yard, a garage and a well-kept bowling green.

In the 1950s trade was quite good, helped by members of the US Air Force stationed at RAF Sculthorpe. Three teenage daughters living in the pub were considered by the brewers to be an added attraction. We would play country and western music on the juke box and sometimes someone would play a guitar. There were darts matches and acting as scorer certainly improved one’s counting. It has been a benefit ever since to know that 3 x 18 = 54.

Bowls matches were dreaded events for those serving drinks. A “charabanc” or two would arrive in the evening, disgorge players who, on finishing the match would all rush together for the bar and crowd the small serving hatch, yelling orders for urgent drinks. Luckily we had been taught to add up the amounts for drinks as we served and could demand the total amount on delivering any number as required.

Living in the pub brought a social life to the door. Friends would pop in for a drink and ask to see one of us. It was so easy just to walk a few steps to the bar for a drink and chat and not have to put on outdoor clothes and go out. We had a cat, Nelson, who used to like to inspect the brew-dray lorry bringing supplies. One day after a delivery he was never seen again, so probably had been taken to Norwich and disappeared. We had a lovely wild Irish setter dog called Sherry. At the age of seven she disappeared one foggy November morning. Much later we learned she had been shot by Ralli, the local landowner, a sad memory to this day. Later we had Pedro, an alsatian.

It certainly was spooky living there and a few strange things happened I would rather not recall. Ultimately “it” appeared one moonless night when Derek awoke to a strange illumination on the wall above Douggie’s bed. He looked up and saw it was the head and shoulders of a man. Derek leapt out of bed and rushed downstairs to bring up Pedro the dog who was in the kitchen. On returning the apparition had disappeared!

When Watney’s took over the pub they decided it was not profitable enough to keep and sold it to the Scales family without a licence. They continued living in it for a year or two and then sold it to a local doctor. Unfortunately the old pub sign of a painting of Nelson was not retained. Claude Eric and Alice (“Betty and Pete”) moved back into their cottage on the village green by the pond, and Stanhoe has had to make do with one pub ever since: the Crown on Burnham Road [now the Duck Inn].

A note on the pub’s former names

From it seems that until the 1880s the Norfolk Hero was known as the Nelson: certainly from 1836 and quite possibly back to around 1805, the year of Trafalgar.

Before that, as Ivy Scales says above, the inn seems to have been called the Cock and Breeches, though we have no documentary evidence. This seems an uncommon name, so where did it come from?

Green’s Dictionary of Slang gives:

Cock-and-breeches (n.): a small, sturdy boy [1801].

From ‘Cock and Breches’ a gingerbread effigy of a small boy, traditionally sold at Bartholomew Fair.

The dictionary gives an example from 1801:

C. Dibdin Yngr*, Song Smith 47:

“Our beaux stuck in boots to their hips, I declare,
Look just like Cock and Breeches at Bartlemy Fair.”

* Charles Dibdin the younger, dramatist, composer, writer and theatre proprietor.

Web research shows there was an inn of that name at Horncastle in Lincolnshire, and quite possibly in other places too.