Why Americans besiege Norfolk's fantasy castle
By David Sapsted
THE mystery of why Americans keep turning up in a quiet seaside village demanding to see a medieval castle that has never existed has been solved.
The tourists know the history of Brancaster Castle, on the Norfolk coast, and are familiar with the nobles who lived and fought there. Until now, villagers in the resort have only been able to smile and explain that the only thing approaching a castle in Brancaster is a ditch marking the boundary of a Roman fort that fell to pieces almost 2,000 years ago.
Now, Bernard Lock, a civil servant living in the village near King's Lynn, has uncovered the reason for the procession of visitors. The culprit turns out to be an American called Guy S Rix, a descendant of a 17th century emigrant from the village who, in 1906, wrote a book, now in the Library of Congress, entitled The History and Genealogy of the Rix Family of America.
In it, the late Mr Rix embellishes his family's life and standing in Britain by inventing a titled past and life in Brancaster Castle. The fad among Americans for tracing family roots prompted the pilgrimages to Brancaster Castle. Mr Rix's book gives what is believed to be an accurate history of the family since Isaac Ricks, a Quaker, sailed into Jamestown, Virginia, after his marriage in Brancaster in 1668. Only the bits before that are bogus.
He quotes a letter, supposedly written in 1894 by a Mrs HLM Fry - "daughter of Sir John Rix, son of the Earl of Offord, an ancient family, a branch of the house of Norfolk" - in which the castle comes alive. It is described as having once been "one of England's bulwarks" and "battlemented and flanked by four high towers, the northern tower looking out on the German Ocean".
Mr Lock, 65, decided to uncover the truth after being approached by four American couples hunting for the castle last year. He said: "It is quite amusing that so many Americans appear to have been taken in." Mr Lock has written to the Library of Congress, which has agreed to include a correction about the castle, as has a Massachusetts publishing company, which is re-issuing Mr Rix's book this year.