This is not Amer­ica...

...but it’s sur­pris­ingly close and my transat­lantic guest knows more about a Nor­folk hero than I do

EDP Norfolk - - County Crossword - rowan.man­[email protected]

An Amer­i­can came to stay – and I went into hos­pi­tal­ity over­drive. Not so much in the house (she still had to suf­fer the creaky sofa-bed and ran­dom bed­ding al­lo­cated to any other guest) but the county.

I’m a sucker for Nor­folk facts and here was a new chal­lenge. How many Nor­folk-Amer­i­can links could I find to fill her brief visit? Un­for­tu­nately for me, but prob­a­bly luck­ily for her, she was not ac­tu­ally my guest, but at uni­ver­sity with my youngest son, so they had plans in­volv­ing pubs, friends and shop­ping rather than the fam­ily trees of US pres­i­dents.

But I was not go­ing to be that eas­ily dis­tracted from my mis­sion. And I had Thomas Paine, Poc­a­hon­tas, Cary Grant, Cal­i­for­nia near Hemsby, and more than 50,000 Amer­i­can ser­vice­men on my side.

It’s not nec­es­sar­ily a huge vote of con­fi­dence in the Nor­folk of ye olden days that more of the peo­ple who braved the per­ilous voy­age on The Mayflower to set up a new colony in Amer­ica, came from Nor­folk than from any other county.

We could have vis­ited Hing­ham to find the fam­ily of Abra­ham Lincoln and should def­i­nitely have gone to the 2nd Air Divi­sion Memo­rial Li­brary in Nor­wich’s Fo­rum, where I would have learnt a lot.

I was im­pressed, and a lit­tle ashamed, to dis­cover that an 18-year-old from New York knew far more about Thomas Paine, the Thet­ford-born hero of two rev­o­lu­tions, than my own chil­dren. She even seemed to have read his pam­phlet Com­mon Sense. I quickly read about it on Wikipedia and dis­cov­ered it was one of the two most in­flu­en­tial pam­phlets at the start of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion (Tom of Thet­ford wrote the other one too) and it is, by at least one mea­sure, the best-sell­ing Amer­i­can ti­tle ever.

I was on firmer ground with the part an­other Nor­folk man played in the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, hav­ing been told by a di­rect de­scen­dant that Charles Town­shend, of Rayn­ham Hall, and an 18th cen­tury chan­cel­lor of the ex­che­quer, de­cided to tax goods, in­clud­ing tea, en­ter­ing Amer­ica, pre­cip­i­tat­ing per­haps the most quaintly named anti-tax ri­ots in the his­tory of anti-tax ri­ots. The year af­ter the Bos­ton Tea Party a for­mer corset maker from Thet­ford landed in Amer­ica…

More than 400 years later tens of thou­sands of peo­ple flowed in the op­po­site di­rec­tion across the At­lantic, bring­ing chew­ing gum, stock­ings, cola – and ex­traor­di­nar­ily brave air­men.

We could have gone to the poignant mu­se­ums and memo­ri­als of the for­mer air­fields. In­stead, on our way out of the county, just be­fore we crossed into the other place, I came off the A11 one junc­tion too early for the su­per­mar­ket petrol I was plan­ning to buy and found my­self per­form­ing a cheeky U-turn in a sec­tion of Thet­ford where the street names proudly de­clare our transat­lantic links.

I might not have man­aged to show her the golden sands of our own Cal­i­for­nia but she was po­lite enough to pre­tend to be al­most as ex­cited as me to glimpse Maine Street, Bos­ton End and Ver­mont Walk.

ABOVE: Cal­i­for­nia Sands

BE­LOW: How much do peo­ple in Thet­ford re­ally know about Thomas Paine?

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