NORFOLK COMMUNES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEW BUILDINGS AT CROW HALL

One of the most interesting features at Crow Hall is the collection of "alternative buildings", such as you would find nowhere else in England. Today, we are forced to live in impersonal houses, totally devoid of any meaningful expression of the period in which we live. Regions have lost their individuality, and our children will inherit the dehumnizing little boxes that are already littering our country. It is time to start preparing for the coming environmental crisis.

There are two "clusters" of Geodesic domes which have been built at Crow Hall and are lived in through-out the year. These domes are Icosa 5/8 spheres, the large dome being 25 feet in diameter, the smaller ones are 17 feet 3 inches in diameter. They have ¾ inch tube steel frames with a "skin" of inflated vinyl pillars, which are filled with oxygen free nitrogen. These materials were chosen because they were the most economical, easiest to manufacture, and help to conserve timber. The vinyl has an ultra-violet resistant, and has an expected life of 12 years.

The domes were made from the methods described in DOMEBOOK I, after first making many models and double checking calculations.

The construction of the framework was quite simple, the steel tube was cut into the required strut lengths and then the ends were flatened to make up the hubs. We did this by heating them and then hammering them on an anvil; a large vice is another method however, if the metal is cold it can be quite difficult.

We then drilled ½ inch holes in the ends, and bent them in a vice to the desired angle. (10 degrees for a 3 frequency dome). The struts were then painted with two coats of aluminium pant, we would have liked to have had them stove-enamelled or galvanised-dipped, but this would have been very expensive, We used ¼ inch galvanised "eye" bolts for the hubs which have to be long enough to go through 6 flattened strut ends.

The pillars were made by heat-welding two layers of vinyl together, with a valve in each pillar.

This description is very brief and anyone seriously interested in building his own, should buy a copy of "Domebook 2".

The writing is not credited and continues with further instructions for making domes and a list of reading (Geodesics and Survival Scrapbook) and advice to get said reading from Bristow's or the Unicorn bookshop in Brighton.

Three Norfolk communes are looked at here: Beehive Cottage just outside of Diss, Crow Hall near Downham Market and the Old Rectory at Scoulton.

 

The Global Village Trucking Company (or Globs) were a blues-psychedelic rock band who were known for their extended free-form jams and dedication to free festivals and benefit gigs. Unusually, for the early 1970s, they travelled around in a converted bus and the band, roadies and families lived together in a commune called Beehive Cottage. In 1973 the BBC made a documentary about Globs, their communal living and their aim to make it without a record company.

 

The first video is by Anglia TV and the band and friends are interviewed for the report called  "Pop Group Settle for Commune in the Country".

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The BBC made another documentary about the Globs in 1973; "By Way of a Change" which was later updated for the BBC’s "What Happened Next?" 2008 series. Both videos show rare footage of the legendary Orford Cellar, Norwich.

Whilst Beehive Cottage was somewhat rundown and lop-sided, Crow Hall was a large country house with five acres of land. This commune was set up in November 1965 and remained open until 1997. It was notable for its geodesic domes, Russian style sauna and floating temple. Below the photo is an article written by  an unknown resident and published in the Norwich underground magazine Doris #5 in November 1974.

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CROW HALL

Some people - not ourselves, largely - refer to it as a commune, but I prefer not to use that word. Crow Hall is a very grand old Georgian house in the parish of Denver, near Downham Market, Norfolk. It's hard to say what we have in common, except that we live under the same roof. Certainly we share no identifiable ideology or common political or religious beliefs.

It is a house with 3 to 4 acres of grounds and a one acre field over the road that lies in front of the house. A big building by all but stately home standards. The cellars proably date from the late 17th century, and the main body of the house, which is red-brick with rust-brown carrstone infillings, probably built in the first half of the 18th century. In fact, for a house of such prominence it has a rather mysterious past - the earliest reference to it that I have been able to find is 1805, in a local directory, whee the coach-house is listed as one of the scheduled stops for the coach from King's Lynn.

Still it's a bigger house than most people in this country live in; 9 - 10 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, cellars the whole length of the house, a loft, and odd bits and pieces tacked onto the back and sides.

The house and the neighbouring town of Downham Market stand on a ridge which overlooks the Fens to the West. Behind us, to the East, the land rises slightly and from about half a mile away, by Royston Park, you can lookout over miles of large, unenclosed fields and a slightly rising and falling landscape that is much more characteristic of Norfolk. Crow Hall therefore stands on the border between two seperate and distinct parts of East Anglia, and draws some of its atmosphere from this tension between the still desolate Fenland to its front and the more "southern English" landscape of hills, trees and big houses behind us. (Of course it is 1974 and there are bungalows everywhere, but the past is in the present if you are sensitive to it.

Having set out something of the geography of Crow Hall I'll go on to the people, which some of you might say, is what it is all about. But I think that's wrong. The house moulds people as much as the people mould the house, and you cannot seperate the one from the other. Crow Hall is .....Crow Hall because it is a big house and there is plenty of space in it for a lot of people to live in and lead different lives without geting on each other's nerves too much. The space in the house is space, not the dormitory space of a hospital or school or lunatic asylum (though sometimes we feel that we live in a mixture of all three). How many people? There are 16 adults and 8 children as well as a number of visitors. In fact it is difficult to draw a distinction here - for there are a number of "regular" visitors who are as acceptable here as the people who live here all the time, and they take an active part in all that happens. Beyond that, taking residents alone, no-one can say for certain who is "permanent" and who is going to leave in a few months, maybe.

There is, additionally, built into the unwritten laws by which we govern ourselves, a great freedom to come and go and your place in the community is still assured. Crow Hall offers the kind of acceptance and readiness to take you back that most of us have only experienced at their parents home, yet with a freedom to do what we like. And somehow, with all the coming and going, it hangs together and keeps its identity. Commune or not, Crow Hall has a collective existence and character that is maintained quite apart from the individuals who ive in it. No one person is so essential to it that if he or she goes away the place dissolves into the kind of anarchy and rootlessness you often find in urban squats, for example.

Crow Hall isn't a club or a society, it has no written laws or set of rules, and we have no formal procedure for admitting new members. The only formal definition you cn give lies in the legal ownership of the house by 5 people. However, in all the time that I have lived here I have never heard of the fact of their ownership of the house, used as a threat or warning, in a dispute for me to toe the line. I place my trust in them and very firmly believe that the only person who will expel me will be myself.

PIC The latest building at Crow Hall is a Fino-Russian style sauna bath house with little hot-room and stove inside. It has a pitched roof made with wood and on top a proper Russian type Onion dome. This is completely constructed with larch wood tiles - originally gold, now silver in colour. Above the door is a Russian type gable. There is a special wood burning stove which creates temperatures of up to 80 degrees C. Approximately the whole sauna was £80. Outside the sauna is a paddling pond where you can have your cold dip.

Below is a film of the commune made in 1971 called "A Beautiful Way to Live". The commune movement was established in the east of England in 1965, with its headquarters at the vegetarian restaurant Arjuna in Cambridge and, by the time this film was made, nearby Norfolk, with its relatively cheap property prices and remote rural landscape, had become something of a commune hotspot.

 

Look out for Sarah Eno, the commune movement’s first secretary, who was married to ambient music pioneer Brian Eno at the time of filming. They’re a creative mix of individuals who “share a derision for what they call the bungalow society and the blatant commercialism that feasts upon it”, as the reporter observes. The Ravi Shankar-inspired sitar soundtrack enriches these priceless vignettes of 1970s counterculture.

Part two of this documentary offers a rare glimpse of life inside The Old Rectory Farm, Scoulton, near Watton. The Anglia TV crew give voice to the creative freethinking inhabitants who include artist and novelist Cressida Lindsay, a resident of the Watton commune, at a time when much of the media derided the hippy type.

 

MORE TO COME SOON