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Dersingham Folk
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Alfred Richard Firth - The Schoolmaster's Son
Elizabeth Fiddick ©
In the church at the rear of the side altar at the east end of the south aisle is a
memorial window in memory of Alfred Richard Firth the eldest son of Alfred Firth,
”the greatly respected schoolmaster of the village.” The window is of three lights.
St. Mary is shown in the right hand light kneeling at her prayer desk. On a scroll over
her head are the words of her reply to the salutation of the Archangel, “Behold, the
hand maid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy will.” On the left is St. Gabriel
the Archangel carrying a banner on which his words are inscribed. In the centre is a
beautiful vase of Madonna Lilies. Above, a representation of the Holy Spirit is shown
running through the heads of the
three lights. Angels appear
holding scrolls upon which are
written the opening words of The
Magnificat In the base of the
lights are shown on shields, “The
Tower of David,” “The Fountain,”
and “ The Lily” three emblems
associated with the Virgin Mary.
Above, in the tracery, are shown
the figures of angels playing
musical instruments. The
dedication is in the right hand
To the glory of God and in loving
memory of Alfred Richard Firth,
one of his Majesty’s
Vice-Consuls, who died at Kobe,
Japan, on October 12th 1912,
aged 36, this window is erected
by relatives and friends.
Alfred Richard Firth, or Dick Firth
as he was known in the village,
was the oldest of three brothers. He was born in Castle Rising in 1876 just before his father took up the position of schoolmaster in the newly
built Dersingham School. His two brothers, Harry and Fred, were born in the village. All three boys attended the village school and took a full part
in the life of the village. Harry is recorded as captain of the village cricket team in 1900.
Dick was the first of the brothers to leave the village school to attend the Grammar School of Lynn. At the end of his studies there, he received
the gold medal for academic achievement from King Edward V11. The fact that all three boys achieved this honour must have been a source of
pride to their father. Dick, while still in the sixth form, graduated from London University and then spent some time on the continent to improve his
French and German. In 1898 he passed an examination and was appointed by the Foreign Secretary, Lord Salisbury , as a Student Interpreter in
Japan. He spent the next few years in Tokyo and Yokohama passing several exams in Japanese. In 1903 he was in Manila as Acting Consul
General. In 1905 he had leave of absence and returned to England where he enrolled in the Inner Temple completing half the course and exams
before returning to his consular duties at Hakodate. He also served in Formosa. Dick wrote many letters home and sent articles to the Parish
Magazine. He wrote of experiencing an earthquake during a tutorial, ”everything began to rattle and then the house shook for about one minute
like the last carriage of a long train.” He described the houses where the walls, ”consist chiefly of paper panels stretched on wooden frames.” His
accounts of New Year, his ascent of Mount Fujiyama and travels throughout the area are full of detail and humour. In a time when international
travel was the privilege of the few it must have seemed a fascinating if not exotic life to the villagers back in Norfolk He left the island on his last
leave of absence on Christmas Day in 1910.
On arriving home he continued his legal studies and qualified as a Barrister in 1911. He returned to Kobe as Vice Consul but died there tragically
after an operation for appendicitis in 1912. The news of his untimely death must have been a great shock to everyone. Queen Mary hurried over
to the village to offer her sympathy to the family. 300 villagers contributed to the cost of the window, which was produced by Messrs. C. E.
Kempe of Nottingham Place. Some of the stained glass in Sandringham Church came from the same studio. The service of dedication was held
on Friday July 25th 1913. The Rev. Lewis of Dersingham and the Rev. Copeman of Ingoldisthorpe officiated. The Rev.W Boyce, headmaster of
Lynn Grammar School unveiled the window and it was then dedicated by The Bishop of Thetford. The church was full to capacity to hear the
Bishop’s address. He gave a moving account of the life of Alfred Richard Firth and praised his family and the village of Dersingham. “Where would
the leaders of this world be without the villages. The village boy of today might in the future become one of the world’s leaders. It was in the
village that the foundation of his character was laid.”
Alfred Firth Senior continued as schoolmaster until 1916. After he retired he continued to pursue an active life in the village. He served as
chairman of the Parish Council, President of the Football Club and the Cricket club for many years. He died in 1932 and his headstone can be
found in the churchyard.
More about Alfred Richard Forth would be appreciated