Index  (i)  (ii)  (iii)  (iv)  (v)  Preface.  (1)  (2)  (3)  (4)  (5)  (6)  (7)  (8)  (9)  (10)  (11)  (12)  (13)  (14)  (15)  (16)  (17)  (18)  (19)  (20)  (21) 

CHAPTER 7.

Philip Sewell Inherits the Red House.

In 1871 Philip became owner of the Red House School, when he inherited the estates of his uncle, John Wright. Thomas Babington had already been Superintendent of the school for eighteen years. Most of the original financial supporters were dead so it was not surprising that the school staff had been somewhat worried about the future. The new owner soon lifted this cloud. In Babington's own words "Mr Sewell now became everything to the school". This was notwithstanding the personal problems and sorrow that had been his lot since returning to Norfolk six years earlier. His wife Sarah had been ill for some time before they left Spain; she died not long after they moved into Clare house at New Catton, leaving six children.

Philip had only recently re-married when he inherited the Dudwick Estate and other property which bought with it several problems. There was no question of moving his family to Dudwick; it was too far from Norwich either for business or for his family. Furthermore, there were three elderly aunts at Dudwick, living in the house and cottage. They helped at the Red House in various ways; indeed Aunt Elizabeth continued to do so until she was over ninety!

A history of Buxton tells us that "Mr Sewell was a good landlord of Dudwick, though not resident there, and good to the village where he built a Reading Room and provided it with a good billiard table for the men. He enlarged the village school which his ancestors had built and endowed to provide pay for the teachers". It is good to know that when this school was finally taken over by the Norfolk County Council in 1921, the endowments were used to create the John Wright scholarships for the children.

When Sewell first became squire of Buxton the business of the village was conducted at Vestry Meetings. The village officials were the Surveyor who planned the upkeep of the roads and bridges, the Constable who apprehended lawbreakers and the overseer who dealt with applications for assistance from the poor of the parish. In the 1880's when the first Parish Council was formed, Sewell was elected Chairman. He was a man with very wide interests which included everything affecting the people round him; in Norwich he was secretary of the City Mission, a member of the Discharged Prisoners Aid Mission and a Council Member of the Church of England Temperance Society. Later he became a J.P. and one of the original aldermen of the first Norwich County Council; but with all this he did not give up teaching at the New Catton Sunday School, until he felt too old. A friend wrote that "he had a talent for speaking in a bright and interesting way; he had special powers with children who all loved him."

To his contemporaries Sewell was a travelled man with great experience of employing large numbers of men, often in wild country. His success as a builder of railways owed much to his concern for the men he employed; he never worked them on Sundays and was always remembered for this particularly in Spain. This was the strong man who now became Babington's employer as owner and manager of the school; they were to work happily together for more than twenty years.

The job of the Manager was to see that the Superintendent could do his job without undue worry, and to take responsibility; this was Sewell's definition of his function and his attitude to his weekly visits to attend the school business. His Thursday evening visits were very different; they were to do with the boys. Perhaps the Thursday visits can be compared with Anne Wright's visits to the Reformatory school 15 years earlier when she made a great human contribution; but her geology lessons, about the evolution of the earth, came into conflict with Babington's strict teaching from the Old Testament. There was no conflict between Sewell and Babington; they were both men who were full of compassion and understanding. Tom Babington summed up his feelings about the new owner with the words "Mr Sewell brings with him simplicity and common sense."

The road that Philip Sewell took from Norwich to the Red House was through Old Catton where his parents and his sister Anna had come to live; he always called in on them on his way to his Thursday evenings with the boys. It was during one exceptionally hard winter that old Mrs Sewell, then in her eighties, wrote to her friend; "Philip has been to Buxton twice - he was much wanted at the Reformatory and mounted his horse (the one you said seemed to have the spirit of the family) - he knew the road was blocked with snow so that no wheels could pass, but he was determined to get there in some way. He called on me on his way to assure me that he would not go further than he could. You know well how I charged him and how I kept praying while he was away. At a little before seven he called on his return, detailing his adventures in high spirits. In some parts a way had been cut through the snow drifts just wide enough for him to pass, his knees frequently touching the sides, and the snow higher than the horse's back; when the way failed altogether, he went into the fields, on either side, and with his cheerful perseverance, in which his horse entirely participated, he overcame all difficulties. The last time he went was in a sledge - he accomplished the ten and half miles in fifty-two minutes, Bessie delighted and excited by the bells and the lightness of the burden she drew."

With a Superintendent so highly regarded and so long established as Thomas Babington hasty changes were not to be expected at the Red House; however, the new owner did make a start with some bathrooms. For many years the boys had bathed once a week in "tin tubs". This was an advance on the local workhouse where the rules required only that "face and hands should be washed daily and feet at least once a month." The rules book did go on to state that children were to wash their feet weekly.

Things were now changing faster in the world beyond Buxton. The Great Eastern Railway was running excursions from Norwich to London and return for 6/- (30 New Pence); the earlier means of travel was still available, by paddle-steamer from Yarmouth to London Bridge for 7/6d, or 12/- saloon. Sewell had been building railways for most of his life, and was amazed by the outcry by some Norwich rail users. They objected to men smoking in the railway carriages so the railway company built some special smoking coaches; then there was an even bigger outcry because the smokers had been provided with the newest coaches;

It was not until 1879 that the railway station was opened at Buxton; this provided an easy route to Norwich but not everyone in Buxton was pleased. One local lady wrote in her journal what may be lines from a Wordsworth sonnet

"Is there no nook of English ground secure, from rash assault by railway..."

The railway did bring one advantage to all; the price of coal came down. There was an amusing story about the first days of this railway in North Norfolk.
A farm hand who had never yet seen a train was working near the railway cutting. The farm bailiff arrived from that direction and told the man to run over towards the new bridge if he wanted to see a train; as the man got there the train passed out of sight, whistling as it went under the bridge. Did you see the train asked the bailiff. The reply, in pure Norfolk. Was something like this. "Well I see suffin but as soon as it see me it shrieked and rushed into its burra."

The improved travel facilities in England helped to bring about social changes; people's minds were changing so that they were prepared to do something about poverty. In 1871 Dr Barnado had opened his first home for destitute lads in London; ten years later his movement was spreading with astonishing speed. As well as residential homes he set up specialist training centres for cripples, for the feeble-minded and for the deaf and dumb. Then came his Girls Village Home at Ilford; this was a most successful experiment and Barnado was particularly proud of it. We know that Sewell visited some of these homes. He often went to London on business; he had been left some property there which worried him because it included a popular public-house. First of all he persuaded the publican not to open on Sundays; then when the lease ran out he had the building demolished. Later he refused what was then the very large offer of 10,000 to allow another tavern to be built on the same site.

In the year 1877 it was estimated that there were 30,000 destitute children roaming the streets of London; this was in spite of the great number of orphanages which existed. The Red House continued to take boys from London. In this same year there were two events which effected the Red House later on. One was the appointment of the Superintendent's eldest son, Thomas S.Babington, as assistant to his father. The other was the publication of the book which Philip Sewell's sister had been writing. She received 20 for it but nothing more because royalties were not usual in those days. Anna Sewell died the following year but was not to know that her story Black Beauty would become a children's classic. It was eventually published in about 30 languages and many millions of copies were sold. For some years the book was given to each Red House boy by one of Sewell's daughters; these boys will have known the very roads and lanes which provided a background to the story.