Signpost - Ellingham and Kirby Cane

William, or Billy as most of us knew him, lived in Kirby Cane for most of his 100 years. A true country character of the best kind. He was frequently interviewed by BBC Radio Norfolk


One of six children, Billy was born 1891 at Hall Farm Cottages, Kirby Cane. His family were poor. As a young person he would eat sparrows in a pie and rabbits. He went to Kirby Cane School where the teacher was Mrs Morris. He was 10 when Queen Victoria died and recalled it was a stormy day with snow - she had had 64 years on the throne. As a child there was not much in the way of presents, there was not enough money for such things, maybe a bag of sweets and a plum pudding cooked in the copper. Rent was 18d.


They had to work hard for what they had. He considered that the youth of today are given too much and don't appreciate the value of things. Billy left school at the age of 12 to work on the land at Hall Farm. First as yard boy (earning 3/-), then tending the bullocks and then working the land with horses. It was hard toil and the days were long, working from 5.30am to 7pm. Three generations of Billy's family worked on the land and lived in the same house. 


Billy had a gramophone, the sort you had to crank up. It was 6d to go to the pictures. He liked the old ways best. Saturday nights were spent at The Swan public house; beer was 2d a pint. He thought there were too many carpets on the floor of pubs now - they are more like hotels. They used to have sawdust on the brick floors and the men would come in their working clothes and muddy boots. Now one has to wear smart clothes. Sometimes he would take the train to Ditchingham and walk into Bungay. They would make their own entertainment and sing songs.

He loved working with the horses and thought they should make a comeback. The most he earned was £8 15/- per week. His favourite supper was bread, cheese and pickled onion; he also liked rabbit stew and dumplings. Before rabbits had myxomatosis the rabbits would eat the young bramble shoots, thus keeping them in check - Billy called them 'brums'.

He married Ester (she died in l966). The wedding service was conducted by Parson Lamb -a single man.

The only time that Billy went abroad was to France during WW1. He never had a holiday, but had been to Grimsby to see his niece, where he enjoyed herring for breakfast. He had no wish to travel. 


In 1989, age 98, he was invited to open the new Kirby Cane/Geldeston bypass. (He recalled that Mr Hinsley of Row Farm was  understandably opposed to it as it would bisect his land.).  Billy was now contented and cheerful. He had no TV, went to bed at 8pm and arose at 7am.


1991 saw Billy's l00th birthday celebrated with a dram or two, a Radio Norfolk interview and a telegram from the Queen. He said he felt no different reaching 100 and was the only one in his family to do so. He had been blessed with a good constitution and was never ill, though he had accidents: he broke one ankle at work carrying a sack of wheat aged 70, and the other at 82 when he was beating for a shoot and tripped on long brambles. 

He didn't like hot weather and kept cool with a 'bottle or two'. Billy liked reading the paper and had books at home. 

When asked the secret of long life, he replied, "Contentment, regular hours and meals, plenty of sleep and keep your feet dry."