For some months now, I’ve been combing the internet, seeking references to Jan and have shared as many as I could find – there are plenty – on this website. Then back in September, an email arrived via Jan’s agent, David Higham Associates, out of the blue:
‘My name is Phil Hanton and I am currently the secretary to Stalham Library Friends. I have been given your contact details in respect of enquiries related to Jan Mark’s estate.
‘For many years I taught at Stalham (Jan Mark’s Polthorpe) Middle School and as part of our literacy scheme I walked the children across the fields to Ingham (Pallingham) to show them the locations that appeared in her book, Thunder and Lightnings.
‘Her house now bears a blue plaque and through Stalham Library I have organised a circular route to walk to follow in the footsteps of the book’s characters. The path has now been taken on by Norfolk County Council’s Pathways team that has gained funding for waymarking.
‘I am writing to ask if it would be possible to include a disc on the posts with JAN MARK WALK and the logo of an English Electric Lightning fighter jet. If we can’t, the trail will just be posted “Circular walk to Ingham” but it would mean so much more if it could.
‘Many thank and kind regards – Philip Hanton (Stalham Library Friends and footpath rep at Stalham Town Council).’
Of course, this was both intriguing and delightful and I am so pleased Phil Hanton agreed to provide an account of his work for this website.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Jan Mark’s Thunder and Lightnings was essential reading for the children of Stalham Middle School. Jan’s children attended the school and it is not difficult to identify the locations which appeared in the book and inspired her writing. She lived two miles away in Ingham (Pallingham) and Andrew’s journeys in the book across the fields to the church, and by road to school in ‘Polthorpe’, are central to a story set in the Norfolk landscape. Stalham is also used as ‘Polthorpe’ High Street in Handles which like Thunder and Lightnings went on to win the Carnegie Medal.
Stalham Middle also had close links with RAF Coltishall where a BAC English Electric Lightning stood at the main gate. Every week the children were bussed for swimming lessons at the pool on the base, so Andrew and Victor’s bike ride to Firegate Four to watch the planes take off, was a route they all knew.
At the time Stalham Middle had 480 pupils and a large staff of young teachers keen to find ways to enrich the curriculum, so it seemed only fitting that they should take the children out on the four-mile circular walk across the fields to Ingham. Staff would read extracts from the book at Tiler’s Cottage, on the path from Sydney Street to the church and in the graveyard where Andrew met the old man cutting the grass when the Lightning roared over. The annual event became known as The Jan Mark Walk and continued for several years until Thunder and Lightnings was eventually dropped and replaced with newer books.
However, the walk was revisited in 2010 and again in 2013 when the school was handed over to an academy chain. The remaining staff took 300 children on the walk to raise money for Guide Dogs for the Blind, before they said goodbye.
Fast-forward to August 2019 when seventeen Stalham Library Friends followed in the children’s footsteps on their first ‘story-walk’. Extracts were again read by former school staff in Sydney Street where Jan Mark’s house (Tiler’s Cottage) now proudly wears a Blue Plaque.
The Library Friends were not the only group to recognise the potential of this route as Norfolk County Council’s Pathways team already had it on their radar. Together with Stalham Town Council and Ingham Parish Council, the Friends are seeking funding to enhance NCC’s waymarking with named ‘Jan Mark Walk’ discs. It is also hoped to secure extra funds from North Norfolk District Council to provide leaflets and maps for walkers, and an information board at the library to showcase Jan Mark’s literary legacy.
The Friends thanks go to Ella Meecham at NCC and Jon Appleton who have helped with this initiative. Hopefully the ‘The Jan Mark Walk’ will once again become a well-worn path across the Norfolk fields.
Phil also shared a piece from a very recent edition of the Ingham parish magazine, which featured a short article about Jan Mark. I’ve reprinted it below:
Jan Mark (Author) 1943-2006
Jan Mark was a prize-winning children’s author who wrote the first of her fifty books whilst living in Sydney Street. The novel, Thunder and Lightnings, was read on the BBC programme Jackanory in 1977. From it you will recognise bits of the area from the manufactured names of Polthorpe (Stalham) and Pallingham (Ingham), settings derived from the likes of the dell at Bluebell Hole and Andrew thinking that Norfolk was ‘all sky’.
Under the Autumn Garden followed. Set in Sydney Street when builders were refurbishing the houses, a medieval knight, whose ring was dug up in the neighbours’ garden by the hero, walks through the story plot. At the time, ploughing and trench digging were unearthing artefacts locally, including a medieval mortar.
Jan Mark lived at 10 Sydney Street for ten years and dedicated Thunder and Lightnings to her next-door neighbours Faith and David, who intriguingly lived at number 2! It was in conversations with them that she noted phrases and the way in which the rhythm of the Norfolk dialect is spoken.
Her daughter chose to get married in Ingham Church, and although Jan moved away, we can take it that this must have been a special place for her as she is laid to rest in the churchyard.
Wendy Montgomery – with thanks to Mrs Faith Hubbard
Ingham Parish Magazine – September 2019