A geographer who has spent the last two decades researching the cultural landscape of the Broads has given an insight into his relationship with Dr Joyce Lambert, the woman who overturned popular beliefs by announcing the area was man-made.
Professor David Matless, who grew up in Norwich and went to Old Catton Primary School and Wymondham College, will be presenting material from his newly published book at a free public lecture on Monday 3 November at the Julian Study Centre, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 6.30pm, to celebrate the Broads Authority’s 25th anniversary.
The 280 page paperback, In the Nature of Landscape: Cultural Geography on the Broads, is the first cultural geographic study of the area and draws on archive material given to him by Dr Lambert. Professor Matless interviewed the botanist and former Norwich school teacher about her findings when she was in her 80s at her Brundall home. The two struck up a friendship which led to Professor Matless hearing many stories of Dr Lambert’s research on the origins of the Broads.
Dr Lambert gave Professor Matless her collection of carefully documented press cuttings from the Eastern Daily Press and access to the many published letters recording the public debate surrounding the formation of the Broads.
“It was fantastic to meet someone who had made such a notable mark in the region,” said Professor Matless. “The press cuttings are a wonderful document in their own right. Joyce was a perceptive reader and I would send her my writing so she could pass a critical eye over my work. It was incredible that the person whose work I had read and was the main figure in my book was actually reading and commenting on my own work. We had a mutual respect for each other.”
The two found they shared a love of Norwich City Football Club and Dr Lambert would recall how she would cheer the Canaries on at The Nest in the 1930s before they moved to Carrow Road. She also followed the matches on local radio.
“She had a lively, enquiring mind whether you were talking to her about the Broads, philosophy or football,” said Professor Matless. “We would have wide ranging conversations and she had a great sense of humour.”
This was evident when Dr Lambert wrote to him from her nursing home at Colney in 2002 at the age 86.
“The subject of the Broads came up in casual conversation here,” she wrote. “An 83 year-old co-resident turned to me and said: ‘Of course, all the Broads are really old peat pits. Didn’t you know?!’”
The connection was revived this summer when Professor Matless’ book was published by the Royal Geographical Society in the same series as Dr Lambert’s findings, “The Making of the Broads,” in 1960.
Norfolk naturalist Ted Ellis was Dr Lambert’s early mentor and had given a hint that the Broads were not natural in his EDP column for 29th October 1952.
Dr Lambert, who was researching Broadland vegetation using a small peat borer, recalled how “the penny suddenly dropped.” She announced the new theory in the 1953 newsletter of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists’ Society of which she had been president the previous year and in the Royal Geographical Society’s Geographical Journal.
Professor Matless, who has undertaken extensive fieldwork in the region, said his talk will discuss how history and geography have shaped the Broads into “a remarkable place.”
Although he was brought up in Norwich and his parents still live there Professor Matless spent little time in the Broads when he was young.
“Part of the fascination for me in studying them was I had grown up within 10 miles of them but knew little about them,” he said.
“I’m interested in the way landscape is valued by people,” he said. “One group will value it in terms of leisure while another will see its importance in terms of natural history.”
The book, described by reviewers as “a startlingly original work, conjuring a ‘deep map’ and vivid portrait of the Norfolk Broads,” draws upon in-depth original research into the culture of the waterways. Holiday diaries, guide books, paintings, folk song, pioneering photography, planning surveys, film, ornithology and children’s literature, including Arthur Ransome’s works, offer illuminating insights into the landscape.
The contributions to the Broads made by leading naturalists and writers including Ted Ellis, Marietta Pallis, Arthur Patterson and Emma Turner are discussed. “I have always been very interested in Ted Ellis’ broadcasting, journalism, scientific research and custodianship of Wheatfen,” said Professor Matless.
Described by reviewers as “one of the best writers in geography today”, Professor Matless is also the author of Landscape and Englishness, published in 1998, editor of Geographies of British Modernity and The Place of Music, and a contributor to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. In 2008 he gave a series of talks on BBC Radio 3’s ‘The Essay’ on Marietta Pallis, Ted Ellis and James Wentworth Day.
In the Nature of Landscape: Cultural Geography on the Broads by David Matless is published by Wiley-Blackwell at £24.99.
Tuesday 28 October 2014