December is made for evenings in the pub. At least that’s what Thomas Valentine thought as he walked out of the winter wind and into the warmth of the Windmill on a Monday in 1858. But some nights take a turn for the worse…
There was ‘considerable excitement’ (according to the Lynn Advertiser & West Norfolk Herald) when Valentine’s body was found in the River Nar on Wednesday morning, his skull fractured and arm sticking out of the water. It seemed the gamekeeper had stumbled off the bridge. Or was it a case of murder at the mill?!
At the inquest it was reported Valentine was drinking with the publican, William Rann, and pals who worked on the lighter boats, carrying cargo along the river. He’d been jovial, though not drunk, singing on the bridge. No unpleasantness passed between the men, just a bit of banter and the odd threat which no-one took too seriously. And yet, yards from where you stand, Thomas Valentine met his end. The jury ruled a tragic accident, others believed Rann had clouted Valentine on the head before he fell into the cold water. Whatever the truth, beware muddy river banks after a few pints!
Pentney is also the birthplace of Fred Rolfe, ‘King of the Norfolk Poachers’, whose tangles with the law and remarkable tales of 1800s East Anglia were recorded by Lilias Rider Haggard in ‘I Walked by Night’ (1935). It’s a fantastic evocation of historic rural life in Norfolk.