This curiosity might easily be a railway engine, but it’s more likely to be a road
vehicle as it decorates the outside wall of the Fire Station in Stradbroke in Suffolk.
Either way, it’s an early steam engine very much in the style of art that was prevalent
in the 1960s.
Norfolk and Suffolk are both large, rural counties with a very long coastline and
several long rivers. There are no big conurbations, but instead market towns and
two cities located at long distances from each other. Roads, rivers and railways
have all played a major role in the region’s development over the last two thousand
years. For example, rivers enabled the Normans more easily to transport stone from
Normandy to Norwich with which to build the castle and cathedral. Today, commercial
vehicles pass through East Anglia to get between the sea ports and central England,
and holiday-makers travel through from the built-up regions of the Midlands to East
Anglian seaside resorts and the Broads. Being relatively flat, East Anglia has also
been a good region for airfields: air bases were established here during World War
II and there are two major airports.
But is this sufficient to explain the large number of decorative features that include
transport as a major feature? Patricia Mockridge in her book on ‘Weather vanes
of Norfolk and Suffolk’ * says that ‘you could write a thesis on Norfolk boats from
weathervanes - wherries, half a dozen racing classes, trawlers, lifeboats...galleons,
clippers and Viking longships.’ And that’s just the weathervanes and water transport!
But transport motifs also appear on pub signs, village signs, walls, wall plaques,
gates, railings, and even on tomb stones. Interestingly, though, they don’t feature
as often as other motifs inside churches. They are a relatively modern fashion dating
mostly, but by no means exclusively, from the twentieth century. Perhaps it’s a sign
of peoples’ nostalgia for the days of sailing ships, steam engines and horse-drawn
coaches, or their feeling for the region’s cultural and historical heritage.
The pages here feature just a few examples of transport motifs, the largest group,
perhaps unsurprisingly, being those related to water.