Kenzie Thorpe recalls his life on the marshes of South Lincolnshire.
Documentary; Natural History; Television
The film begins at Kenzie Thorpe's house in Allenby's Close, Sutton Bridge, Lincolnshire. There is a shot of the street, of Kenzie's house and then Kenzie is filmed in his back garden feeding geese. At the marshes Kenzie, wearing a sweater, woollen hat and waders, and carrying binoculars, demonstrates calling hares. As he calls, the hares run towards his hiding place. There are views of the marshes and of the hares. Kenzie demonstrates some of his bird and wildlife impression, including partridges and the red leg.
Kenzie talks about how he first started poaching. He married during the war and there wasn't enough money to go round. Therefore, he began poaching to make ends meet. He teamed up with another fen character, Horace Savage, and they poached hares, pheasants, partridges. Some they kept to eat but most were sold on to local butchers and to butchers in Norfolk. Throughout there are shots of the marsh landscape. Kenzie talks about the ideal time to go poaching. He preferred bad weather, when it was unlikely anyone else was around. Snow storms were particularly good. The early hours of Monday morning were good, because the keepers would have been drinking all weekend and would still be sleeping it off. His poaching record was 93 pheasants off one man's land, although forty or fifty wasn't rare. He was caught on occasions, usually coming home in the early morning. He bares no malice towards gamekeepers, just doing their job, and usually gave up his bag and gun to make off as best he could.
Kenzie walks along the dykes, talking about the wildlife and inspecting a nest he finds. The nest contains fourteen eggs. Kenzie estimates that a 50% survival rate will mean that the bird has done well. He recounts the main obstacles birds meet in rearing young. These include rats, weasels, hooded crows, saddleback gulls and dogs. Kenzie is particularly down on dogs, believing they should be kept on leads or off the land altogether to give the birds chance to rear their young. He gently replaces the eggs and continues his walk. He finds another nest on a piece of wood in the dyke. This bird has been nesting on the same piece of wood for five years.
At Kenzie's house he shows his paintings of the marshes and the wildlife, mainly geese. He recalls that he met and worked with Sir Peter Scott. There are shots of the interior of a cafe at Sutton Bridge where some of Kenzie's paintings are displayed. There are many shots showing Kenzie's paintings. Pink footed geese are his favourite subjects. There are murials of geese on the walls of Kenzie's house. He also displays a duck decoy that he made and explains how this is done. Other souvenirs include a photograph of James Robertson Justice (whom he took shooting) a fox's head and various guns.
Back on the marsh, Kenzie displays the houseboat that he and some friends built of cedarwood. This, his second home, he uses to watch the wildlife. Shots of the interior reveal it to be fully furnished and decorated by more of Kenzie's wall paintings. He demonstrates the noise of the boat lifting. Kenzie has a sign outside his boat. Kenzie: This marsh is dangerist (sic) to children when the tide is coming in. Kenzie talks about the potential dangers of the marshes for visitors. Sitting on a bank, he recalls a visit from Prince Charles. Prince Charles reminded him that he knew the former gamekeeper at Sandringham. Kenzie admits that this was so; he used to go poaching there. The film ends with shots of Kenzie walking across the mud at high tide.
Mackenzie Thorpe was born in Sutton Bridge in 1908. His father, Mackenzey Thorpe, was a Romany and his mother was from Sutton Bridge. He was one of eight children. He left school at twelve and worked on farms. He began poaching at a young age and collected a string of minor convictions. At seventeen, he joined the crew of The Alert, an inshore cargo boat and spent nearly a year at sea. Back in Sutton Bridge, he took up boxing and became heavyweight champion of Lincolnshire. He married his wife, Cicely, by court license and they had six children.
He met Peter Scott in 1928, whilst supposedly shooting wild geese on Terrington Marsh - he was actually poaching. He met James Robertson Justice shortly after, when working as a professional guide for shooting parties. Scott set up a small wildfowl centre on the marsh and Kenzie became his assistant. The reserve was dismantled at the beginning of World War Two when Scott joined the navy. Kenzie returned to poaching. He was promptly caught and fined £7. He also had his gun confiscated.
During the War he worked at a pumping station at Tydd for 1s. 1d an hour. He was sacked for organising a strike. He joined a gang building pill-boxes along the sea wall and taught his group to shoot using catapults. As wartime rationing began to bite, Kenzie began to shoot to sell for the black market. Brent geese fetched 10s each, pheasants £2 a brace. Kenzie also shot and sold other birds that weren't usually associated with food - sea gulls and wigeon.
In 1941 he joined the navy but was discharged as medically unfit after two months. He returned to Sutton Bridge and to poaching, once being caught by the Home Guard. Between 1931 and 1956 he faced 29 charges connected with poaching. He was fined a total of £120. 17s. 9d. He had four guns confiscated. In December 1945 he was sentence to three months in gaol for assaulting a game keeper. This was unusual for Kenzie, who genuinely respected the fact that game keepers had a job to do, but there was a long standing family feud behind this. Lincoln gaol was an initial shock, but Kenzie reverted to type. A non-smoker, he had a surfeit if the one currency valued in prison above all else - cigarettes. He could trade with other prisoners at no cost to himself.
When he visited Kenzie, Prince Charles mentioned the game keeper at Sandringham. Poaching on the estate was an ambition of Kenzie's. When he tried it he was caught by the King's Head Keeper, Mr. Amos. He was also a special constable. Therefore Kenzie was charged with resisting a constable as well as the other charges relating to poaching. His total fine on this occasion was £11. Kenzie gave up poaching during the 1950s to became a professional wildfowler and a guide.
Mackenzie Thorpe; Horace Savage; Sir Peter Scott; HRH The Prince of Wales