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When Nor­folk rec­tor Au­gus­tus Jes­sopp called his parish­ioners “sullen and dis­con­tented,” they got a lit­tle sullen and dis­con­tented.

Jessop died more than a cen­tury ago but a bi­og­ra­phy has just been writ­ten by his great-great grand­son.

Nick Hart­ley said: “I wrote the book be­cause I in­her­ited a pile of Jes­sopp’s let­ters and pa­pers and a col­lec­tion of Jes­sopp’s many books.”

Au­gus­tus was a writer him­self, and also head­mas­ter of the Nor­wich School and rec­tor of Scarn­ing, near Dere­ham.

He is best known to­day for his ghost sto­ries, but also wrote his­to­ries and es­says, in­clud­ing scathing por­traits of his parish­ioners.

“The rus­tics are not happy; they are sullen, dis­con­tented, averse to labour; they are on the alert for any griev­ance, they are ready for any form of row­dy­ism; they have no love, but quite the re­verse, for those who are only anx­ious to serve them,” writes Jes­sopp. “You can never per­suade a Nor­folk man that it does not mat­ter where he was born or where he is buried,” he said on an­other oc­ca­sion, “he is for­ever con­nected with his own parish. On the other side of the brook yon­der lies an­other parish; he en­ter­tains some con­tempt, some jeal­ousy, some aver­sion for the dwellers of that parish.”

A con­ver­sa­tion with a 19-year-old man called David, watch­ing aris­to­crats pass­ing in a car­riage, in­cludes Jes­sopp’s at­tempts at cap­tur­ing the Nor­folk ac­cent: “Thet du hull-ly pet me aywt, thet du! Whoi, hayw thet should tyake tew men and tew harses to cyart they two women abaywt.”

Jes­sopp’s obituary in The Times in 1914 re­ported that Jes­sopp ‘wrote about his neigh­bours in terms which some of them re­sented.’

How­ever, Nick says Jes­sopp be­lieved ‘the agri­cul­tural labourer’s life has had all the joy taken out of it.’ Jes­sopp’s so­lu­tions

in­cluded bet­ter hous­ing and ed­u­ca­tion and more so­cial fa­cil­i­ties, in­clud­ing pub­lic li­braries.

When he ar­rived in Scarn­ing he had been shocked at the state of the hous­ing and gave land for cot­tages and gar­dens. He also cham­pi­oned the im­por­tance of vil­lage halls and in­spired a do­na­tion from a Lon­don reader, which paid for vil­lage halls in Scarn­ing, Long Strat­ton and Wick­le­wood.

But he al­most sparked a class war when he failed to de­fend free ed­u­ca­tion in Scarn­ing.

The vil­lage school had been founded more than two cen­turies ear­lier, with funds left for ‘the main­te­nance of one free school, to be kept for ever . . . while the world en­dure’. It pro­vided free ed­u­ca­tion for all of Scarn­ing’s chil­dren but in 1869 the Char­ity Com­mis­sion­ers sug­gested the vil­lage school should charge a small fee and the be­quest should pro­vide schol­ar­ships to other schools for the most aca­demic chil­dren.

The Scarn­ing School En­dowed Char­ity still ex­ists, re­cently help­ing fund a pre-school in the vil­lage.

Au­gus­tus Jes­sopp is best known for his ghost sto­ries to­day. One is about a monk he saw haunt­ing Man­ning­ton Hall, near Ayl­sham, late one night and an­other about a phan­tom coach which ar­rived at Brec­cles Hall, near At­tle­bor­ough, one night and van­ished, leav­ing a man dead.

Nick Hart­ley’s great great grand­fa­ther (and Nor­folk writer, rec­tor and head­mas­ter) Au­gus­tus Jes­sopp

Au­gus­tus Jes­sopp: Nor­folk’s An­ti­quary, by Nick Hart­ley, is pub­lished by M&M Bald­win for £14.

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