Spotlight on Soddenham #2

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Ellis and Frederick Murrow on their wedding day in 1965

Ellis Clacker has run Clacker’s Cafe in the village for the last 45 years, and there are few in the village who would admit to not having eaten there at some point in their lives!

Although Ellis is known for her services to maintaining the standard of the traditional breakfast, hers is a much more interesting life. This is the first of a two part post, the second part will be a transcript of a interview she gave following the 2014 Christmas parade and dedication.

The only daughter of Dennis and Dierdre, Ellis Clacker was born in 1947 and raised in a house overlooking the cemetery in Tombstone Walk. Dennis was a lichen grader at Murrow’s Mill and Deirdre occasionally helped out at Taret’s Offal Butchers. Considered to be the most beautiful girl in Norfolk in her teens, Ellis was never without a choice of suitor and was eagerly courted by eligible bachelors from as far afield as Fakenham! After a whirlwind romance with Frederick Murrow (1946-65) she was married and widowed at the tender age of 18 following the sudden death of Frederick whilst on honeymoon in Great Yarmouth. Understandably, this was a particularly difficult time for both the young widow and the Murrow family, who never agreed with the coroner’s report or the official cause of death which was recorded as an open verdict. Although no actual suspicion or blame was ever cast upon Ellis, there was clearly some unrest within the Murrow family, but to their credit, they took responsibility for her (as a Murrow) and supported her through the grieving process. The young widow was seldom seen around the village for much of the following year and it is said that the social scene around the area never really recovered from her withdrawal.

Dylan Mulgrew 1964
Dylan Mulgrew 1964

Thirteen months after her first wedding, Ellis surprised everyone (especially the Murrow family) by announcing that she was to be married again, this time to another local man, Dylan Mulgrew. This was surprising for reasons other than the short time since her first wedding. Firstly, that no-one; including close friends and family had any idea that they were in any way involved. Secondly, the Murrow and Mulgrew families had been in a state of near-feud for at least two generations (this is a whole new story) and everyone expected this to erupt again after a period of relative calm or bearable tension depending on whose perspective you based your views. Thirdly, Dylan Mulgrew was not considered to be ideal husband material. His fondness and capacity for alcohol was unrivalled locally, and he had a reputation for violence and a hair-trigger temper, which landed him in local custody on many occasions, and a six month spell at Bullwood Hall prison in Essex in 1964 for assault and battery. Lastly, Dylan Mulgrew was considered neither socially eloquent with women, nor particularly handsome; he had the common Mulgrew feature of a thick head of straw-like hair and was prominently wall-eyed.

Ellis Murrow was publicly disowned by the Murrow Family in a full column in the Notices section of the Dereham Times* almost immediately after the news broke, and within a week Ellis and Dylan became Mr and Mrs Mulgrew at the Dereham Registry Office. Tragically, disaster stuck the young bride again when the groom collapsed and died on his wedding night, shortly after retiring to the wedding chamber. It has been noted that this marriage lasted just 8 hours and 8 minutes. He was 24 years old. Following a post-mortem, the coroner gave the verdict as ‘misadventure’ but explained that the deceased had a blood alcohol level equivalent to over twelve times the legal limit.

As well as shocking the friends and families, this also stirred up long suppressed emotions within the village, especially between the Murrow and Mulgrew families (whose long running animosity has already been referred to) which led to accusations  by each other of foul play in the deaths of the two young men. It wasn’t long before their attention turned to Ellis and the similarity in the circumstances of their demise.

It is true to say that Soddenham families have long memories and have a tendency to harbour grudges, sometimes across generations. It wasn’t long before Ellis Mulgrew was the focus of attention for the village gossips, and rumours of all kinds echoed wherever she went. This was a source of much distress to her mother and father, who spent many hours defending their daughter against the accusations against her. Dierdre Clacker then suffered a sudden and severe stroke and died with a few days.

Dennis, distraught and angry, left the village and went to live with his sister in Acle. He implored Ellis to go with him, but she flatly refused. Dennis died of a heart attack with the year, leaving the young woman with four bereavements in fewer than three years. All eyes were on Ellis at this time, some with pity and sorrow, others with malice and spite, and she left the village for a while, to travel and consider her future. This she did; exactly 18 months to the day, Ellis returned to Soddenham on a custom Harley Davidson and with several Hell’s Angels in tow.
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Over the next few months Ellis had sold the family home and bought another property. She and her entourage then set about transforming the old Lichen Licensing Offices on Main Street into a cafe and ‘Clackers Cafe’ opened to the public on Saturday 25 May 1969 attracting a cavalcade of bikers and Hell’s Angels to the village. Whilst this was a terrifying development for the locals, they (cautiously) welcomed the return of their prodigal daughter and life settled back down to its usual pace, excepting the occasional late night ‘meetings’ at the cafe that disturbed normal sleep, but furnished the village with plenty of gossip in return!

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Ellis has remained in the village of her birth and is now widely considered as one of Soddenham’s key figures, having been part of village life, its culture and its governance since her return at the end of the 60’s. Ellis is all too aware of the irony in this; in this frank and revealing interview for this website she states “I know that long ago I would have been accused of witchcraft, especially considering all the death that seemed to follow me back then. I doubt they would have bothered looking for marks – or even swimming** me – I would have been another one quickly dispatched without too much bother about the truth.” Uttered in a quiet, weary voice made coarse after a lifetime of heavy smoking, Ellis then laughs her familiar staccato laugh that has become a staple part of the Clacker’s Cafe experience.

“I know what people said about me back then and the names they used to call me. The stories eventually made their way back to me, but I didn’t care much back then. I had seen too much death to let a few rumours bother me. I chose to live my life looking forward and let everyone else talk behind their hands and entertain themselves with tales about what they thought went on when the Angels stayed over.”

Ellis Clacker
Ellis Clacker 2014

At this she stares off into the distance as if recalling a particular night in the early 1970’s, lights another cigarette and takes a long slurp of tea.

When asked about the names and the rumours, Ellis smiles and laughs louder “There were too many!” before settling into a quiet reverie. Then abruptly she looks up and stares directly into my eyes. “Too many. But that was then. Now I’m just ‘The Widow’ Clacker.” She laughs again and drains her tea.

* The Mulgrew family have requested that we do not reproduce the article on this website, but acknowledge that it may be available elsewhere on the internet. We are happy to accommodate this request.

** The traditional term for testing witches by tying their thumbs and toes together and tossing them into the nearest pond. If they drown and sank they were innocent, but if they somehow floated and survived, witchcraft was proved and they were burned at the stake, or later hanged. Nice.

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