Claxton’s very own Gilbert White
William Robert Driver 1935 – 2011
Billy was a diligent amateur naturalist who collected records of sightings while working and walking on the marshes and farmland of the Yare Valley around Claxton. These records are a lasting memorial to him and are now seen as an immensely valuable reference work. Sadly Billy died on 28 June 2011. He lived in Claxton for many years.
He married Priscilla in 1957 and worked on Claxton Manor Farm for over 40 years. He was Chairman of Claxton’s Parish Council for 18 years during which time he helped to secure the necessary funding to construct the new village hall.
The following notes are taken from the book “Claxton, a thousand years of village life” which was published in 2005.
Claxton’s Gilbert White
Claxton is very fortunate in one of its long-standing residents, William (‘Billy’) Driver, who has been interested in birds most of his life and has chronicled his daily observations for over 30 years. Most of them refer to his sightings either on Langley’s Abbey Farm or Claxton Manor Farm, where he was employed for the whole of his working life (1950-2000). The notes, beautifully handwritten either in bound notebooks (1964-1982) or loose-leaf folders (1983-1997), are a meticulously detailed chronicle of nature in our parish.
Their significance lies partly in their continuous character, which required remarkable discipline from him, and partly in the narrow range of their focus. In effect Billy’s Claxton notes are a lens through which one can observe on a minute basis the changes in the bird populations of south-east England over three decades. They offer a protrait of Claxton’s wildlife in the second half of the twentieth century that is every bit as intimate as Gilbert White’s celebrated journal on Selborne. Billy describes his early life especially how he became interested in nature:
‘I was born in 1935 in the house where my mother and father, Geoffrey and Minnie, lived about three doors down from the Wherry, the old pub at Langley Staithe. We then moved further down the road to a Langley council house just outside Hardley village. My father worked at Cantley sugarbeet factory, which he reached on a boat which used to come and collect the men at Langley Staithe. Or they used to bike down the track to a point opposite the factory, where they could be ferried across.
When I was a child, my father used to trap birds in nets, presumably to make a bit of extra money. I remember him netting goldfinches and possibly also chaffinches and linnets – things that were nice to look at. I suppose I got interested in birds because of this but also I used to go round with an air rifle shooting sparrows and such. I later grew out of it and since I was seeing birds daily on the Abbey Farm, where I started to work when I was 15, it just took off from there. My wife, Cilla (Priscilla) and I married in 1957 and we lived in a series of farmhouses either in Claxton or Langley, until we moved into our present bungalow Hirundo in 1982.’