"Out of the Long Ago" by Maud Milgate

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Mr Onyons

In much the same way as I heard of "Musky" I heard of a Mr. Onyons who kept a chemist shop in Eye, a small market town some miles from Diss. It was May and I was alone on holiday in Diss and I had made up my mind rather suddenly to come, because I had had a lot of headaches which I thought were due to the tension of living alone, and nothing relaxed me so quickly as a few days in Norfolk. So one lovely morning I set out for Eye. When I got there the bus crew warned me I had got an hour. They left at 1 o’clock and if I did not catch that bus I should be marooned in Eye with no means of getting out of it that day. I smiled, said I would remember and they directed me to Mr. Onyon’s shop. This old man was well over 90 and was believed to be the oldest practicing chemist in the country. He had been 14 times Mayor of Eye and 20 times a Councillor. I entered his extremely old fashioned shop, and noticed many of his goods were not unpacked, he just served them from where they stood. When a child came in for a box of face powder, she went to a cabinet and helped herself, just putting the money in front of him. I thought this very odd at the time but I have realized since that as you get older you take the line of least resistance. He was a charming white haired old gentleman short in stature but very alert mentally. He had come to Eye in 1887 in the reign of Queen Victoria so he knew a very great deal about the place. He listened with interest of my search and as I was then seeking information about the Bilham family he recommended me to see a Mrs. Bilham. Wood. I never did so because my search quickly moved beyond the Bilham family. I asked him about Brome Hall and what had happened to any archives they may have possessed. He said they had all been sent to Ipswich Record Office and it was because of Mr. Onyon’s information and instructions that I was able some years later, to do a search in Ipswich Records Office. Talking of the Cornwallises he said Eye had some town plate presented by a John Cornwallis and also there was a picture of one of them in the Town Hall and would I like to see it? He sent me to the town clerk, whom I found in an old Georgian House in the main street. He was very nice and gave me a list of Eye Council Insignia plate which he said was in the bank, he also said there was a portrait of a Cornwallis in the Council Chamber and said "Perhaps you can identify it"? He then sent me to the caretaker with instructions to be shown over the town hail. This was an old stone building on an island site in the middle of the town. In a lower chamber were a number of pictures, two were very large oil paintings, but without names, one of a very tall dark young soldier on a beautiful horse. It seemed a shame nobody knew who they were. Climbing up some winding stone stairs we came to an upper Council Chamber and on the wall very high up was the picture which I thought to be Charles, 1st Marquis Cornwallis. There was no artist’s name and nothing to identify it. It was 3/4 length of a portly man, with large white waistcoat and military uniform not much in evidence and a sword and had recently been restored by Cavendish Morton the artist, who lives in Eye. I gazed at it for some time but was puzzled by a long streak which went right down the picture. I turned to the disinterested caretaker and asked her what it was "The roof leaked" she replied laconically as if I ought to have known. There were some other pictures, one of Lady Bateman painted in lovely shades of blue.

By the time I had seen all this the last bus had departed more than two hours ago, so after some refreshment in a cafe I rang up Mrs. Coleman and said I was marooned in Eye and would sit on the Town Hall steps until she rescued me.

The Cornwallises had owned the Parliamentary seat of Eye and Charles as 2nd Earl had represented the Borough in the 18th century. Later his brother Admiral Cornwallis had held the seat for a great number of years. He was very proud of this, although he was never known to have ever opened his mouth to speak in Parliament!

Mr. Onyons died not very long after this. He was 96. I was very grateful to the dear old man for he had given me the clues for further search.

About this time I also went to see a Mr. Maurice Pilgrim. Mrs. Coleman had met him at a Bowls Dinner and had told me of him as I was now looking for Pilgrims. My great grandmother had been Dinah Pilgrim before her marriage to Thomas Bilham. This much my grandmother had told me, and I had looked up all the Bilhams and Pilgrims I could find in old Musky’s Directory for 1840. So one lovely morning Mrs. Coleman took me out to Eccles Farm which was in remote country side of Old Buckenham. I was very surprised to see such a well kept tennis court on such a lonely farm and wondered who played on it. I understood Mr. Pilgrim had no children and his wife was an invalid. He listened to my story courteously but said he could not help me. He understood from his father that there was another family of Pilgrims living in Kenninghall but there was no relationship as far as he knew. I was used to drawing blanks and enjoyed the ride back especially when we stopped by the roadside and I saw growing many species of wild flowers I had never seen before.


Owner of original Maud Milgate via Gerry Langford
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