Fans of Norah Lofts discussion

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message 1: by Sylvia (last edited Nov 03, 2012 07:40PM) (new)

Sylvia (SylviaB) | 1361 comments In Afternoon of an Autocrat" (retitled The Devil in Clevely) on page 38 (pb) we encounter a mention of a Roman road, which also appears in other NL books. Speaking of the village of Clevely, which bordered on Layer Wood: "The Waste ended in a thicket of gorse and bramble and bracken, beyond which lay a grass-covered ridge called the Dyke, which ran in a ruler straight line between the river bank and the Ride which run through Layer Wood. The rector, who was something of an antiquarian, believed it to be part of a Roman road which run direct between Colchester and the sea."

Note: There is some bad grammar in there, such as "run" instead of "ran", but either NL meant it to sound 19th century rural, or the printer goofed. I try to type all quotes exactly as printed.

The Roman road as mentioned here does not figure directly into the main story of this book, however, NL fans know of its existence in her other stories. In one ghostly encounter, a whole Roman legion is spotted on the march!

One of NL's most endearing habits is to keep her readers conected in all of her fantastic, sometimes epic, stories by such connections as haunted roads, window seats, sundials, lost coins, and on and on, through centuries of her unforgettable characters.

Please add the encounters as you find them of the haunted Roman sites here. I hope we can maintain a different thread for each type of haunting, so that, if we are later searching, for instance, for the haunted pools ("Layer" meant pool), we won't have to read a long thread.

I hope all members will enjoy this topic, because I KNOW you love to be haunted by NL!


message 2: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (Peggy908) | 696 comments I believe Norah Lofts had a fascination with Roman ruins; here's a good bit from early in The Town House. Martin and Kate have met up an old woman in the woods outside of Baildon.

Martin observes to himself: "It was a strange road, like none I ever saw before or since. Under the grass, which was shallow-rooted, were large flat slabs of stone, set edge to edge."

The old woman says: "The ghosts I don't mind. They don't heed me, nor me them. . . . The like of no mortal men they are. Marching men, with short skirts, like a woman's but up to the knee, and shining helmets with brushes atop. There's great silver eagles on poles gong ahead of them. I've seen them many's the time. The first time I was too scaed to breathe, but I crossed myself and they went by without so much as a glance."

Now that's one brave woman!


message 3: by Sylvia (last edited Nov 05, 2012 05:56AM) (new)

Sylvia (SylviaB) | 1361 comments This is one example of the type of scenes NL can paint in the reader's mind so that even when all the details of a story fade away, scenes like this one are never quite forgotten. Portions of this Roman road are glimpsed through Layer Wood and even crossing through waterways and over Roman bridges. The quote you gave us, Peggy, intrigues us that the stones may not have been laid flat as most road builders would do, but placed upright? No wonder they are still there after 2000+ years! The old woman had probably seen more cruelty from the living than from any ghosts.


message 4: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth (Liz4) | 29 comments I remember that a feature is made in Madselin of the Roman ruins she has heard about. They are removed and brought back to be used for the castle building. Madselin makes a point about the stones being unusually cold but I suppose it is not a specifically haunted reference. I am doing some research to try and find evidence of Roman occupation in east Anglia. When we visited recently we certainly drove on Roman roads. Of course they have modern surfaces now but are very straight and usually marked on maps as Roman routes. I will let you know what I find out.


message 5: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (SylviaB) | 1361 comments I found a passage in The Lonely Furrow (pg. 145 in hb) describing a portion of a Roman road and bridge that were never finished. I'm cheating because I don't recall it being a haunted spot, only a forgotten project, but Mistress Captoft had been submerged in the river for witchcraft, and as she floated around the bend, she was rescued, untied, and escorted through the swamp on the other side of the river from Intake. The old man Hodgson and a friend had found these ruins as boys, and he led her to this point to cross over the river again. I'm adding this spot here, just because the Roman sites are scattered through NL's books, and someone may be looking for it.

"Long centuries earlier, some indefatigable Roman engineer had planned a straight road and a bridge which would shorten by twenty miles the distance between Baildon and Colchester. The fact that on the other side of the river the land was swampy had not deterred him; he planned a causeway. With thousands of others he had been recalled...and his work had never been even half completed. His length of straight road- though its solid foundations and its paving stones remained almost intact-had been forgotten, neglected, overgrown; and of his planned bridge only some piers remained, worn smooth by the river." They crossed over into Layer Wood, and Hodgson sent her toward Knight's Acre.


message 6: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (Peggy908) | 696 comments I had no ideas the stones were laid upright! I've read The Lonely Furrow many times and although I remember Mattie being thrown into the river, I didn't recall the part about the Roman road.


message 7: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (Peggy908) | 696 comments Elizabeth, be sure to let us know what you find out about the Roman roads.


message 8: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (Jenny_Norwich) | 217 comments Why do you think the stones were laid upright? "Large flat slabs of stone laid edge to edge" implies to me ordinary paving stones butted up against each other.

'Run' for 'ran' must be a misprint. NL always used authentic East Anglian dialect (not merely '19th century rural') and although in the direct speech 'run' for 'runs' would be correct, 'run' for 'ran' would not.


message 9: by Sylvia (last edited Nov 04, 2012 07:33PM) (new)

Sylvia (SylviaB) | 1361 comments Sorry, Peggy. I think I mistook your quote about those stones being set "edge to edge" as being set "on edge". I thought I had read that the roads sometimes had very thick foundations, so setting them on edge and closely together would have been very strong, but a lot of rocks to find and transport! I read one road building description that said the foundations could be 6 feet thick (unless I misinterpreted that) with many layers of different materials.


message 10: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (Peggy908) | 696 comments This writeup is making me curious about ancient Roman roadbuilding techniques!


message 12: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (Peggy908) | 696 comments That was quite an interesting link, Jenny. Thank you for sharing it.


message 13: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (SylviaB) | 1361 comments Yes, thanks, Jenny. Very informative.


message 14: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (Jenny_Norwich) | 217 comments I used to be a librarian, you know! :-)


message 15: by Sylvia (last edited Apr 22, 2015 03:49PM) (new)

Sylvia (SylviaB) | 1361 comments "YOU'RE BEST ALONE"

NL inserts an unexpected surprise into her book, "You're Best Alone." Heath End, a lonely cottage and small farm owned by Kit Shelfanger, a solitary soul by choice, witnesses an accidental death. Kit's peace is shattered by his grown nephew, and later by Jamie's wife Rosetta. During an argument, Kit hits Jamie, causing him to fall and hit his head on a dresser drawer, killing him.

Choosing to bury Jamie, keep quiet, and keep any investigating at bay, Kit begins to dig Jamie's grave at a point called Top Field. When he has dug the oversized grave down to 6 feet, his shovel hits something that is not dirt or rock. (pb, pg. 98): "There beneath his feet and his spade was at last laid bare a stretch of tessellated pavement made of small pieces of stone, or marble, closely set into a cement-like substance. It was as firm and whole as if it had been laid yesterday; and the spade's edge struck it with a futile, baffled ring."

Kit was not educated, but he knew what he had found, and thought that if he had found this ruin sooner, he would have so enjoyed uncovering it, but..."He must regard the floor of this forgotten house, not as a treasure, but as an obstacle."

Later, when Rosetta turns on Kit and tells the police that Kit killed and buried Jamie, one of the investigators, Gregory, is very interested in seeing the Roman ruin as well as uncovering Jamie's body. Kit has told them exactly where to dig because he had changed the location of Jamie's grave to Middle Field and denied having anything to do with Jamie's disappearance.

(Pg. 142) "Below lay the ancient pavement, ochre, and green, and blue, a great painted peacock with its tail outspread taking shape from the myriad pieces, cunningly laid...It was plain that no clumsy shovel had pried up a section of that floor. No modern murderer had laid a secret beneath it...That pavement had not been disturbed in fifteen hundred years."

This Roman find was apparently not [yet] haunted, but I like to think that it would have been, if Kit had buried Jamie there. With Kit's shooting of his old dog and then himself, maybe all three walked among the fields and got acquainted with the Roman dwellers!


message 16: by Barbara (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 1797 comments Great post Sylvia , informative and lyrical !


message 17: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (SylviaB) | 1361 comments Thanks so much, Barbara.


message 18: by Sylvia (last edited Feb 15, 2017 02:28PM) (new)

Sylvia (SylviaB) | 1361 comments In the beginning posts of this thread, we discuss the Roman road running through Layer Wood toward Baildon (from The Town House) and Old Betsy, the seller of fresh fish, who travels this abandoned section of road and often sees ghostly Roman soldiers marching along it.

I would like to add that after Betsy, Martin, and Kate travel 3 miles further after their first night together, they come to another Roman ruin built along this road, It was in a clearing with white columns, one still complete with beautiful molding at the top, and others of different heights, broken and lying among the weeds. There was a white stone font with a horse's head, and the water still ran out of the horse's mouth, maintenance free after 1500 years! Old Betsy and her donkey normally bedded in this spot on her trips from Bywater, but one of her large baskets had broken 3 miles back, and she camped there. Her cooking alerted the starving Martin and Kate, and they were saved.


message 19: by Barbara (last edited Feb 20, 2017 07:11PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 1797 comments Sylvia wrote: "In the beginning posts of this thread, we discuss the Roman road running through Layer Wood toward Baildon (from The Town House) and Old Betsy, the seller of fresh fish, who travels this abandoned ..."

Yes isn't it a great little vignette !And , I think, it is in this passage that she says, quite casually that she takes no mind of the ghostly soldiers .? I wonder of NL had a particular Roman site in mind ,or just her wonderful imagination.


message 20: by Sylvia (new)

Sylvia (SylviaB) | 1361 comments ...and she said that they didn't pay her any mind either! There are some very intriguing maps of Roman roads coinnecting most of GB, and one shows almost a perfect X of two roads crossing Norfolk and Suffolk Counties. It didn't say how much, or if any, of those two main roads exist today, but I imagine that stretches of them do. I think Wiki said that these Roman roads were the only highway system in GB until the 18th century.


message 21: by Barbara (last edited Feb 21, 2017 04:56PM) (new)

Barbara (sema4dogz) | 1797 comments Yes, I bet under the earth, at not too great a depth lie many sections of dead straight roads built by long forgotten Roman engineers all cursing the English climate and the fact that you couldn't get decent labour etc etc !

As a child I often went to Chester with my mum,. but somehow the breathtaking history completely escaped me. There was an old wall and things and that was it . Oh dear .


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