New book reveals how Albert Einstein's stay in Norfolk may have saved his life

Einstein on Roughton Heath, September 1933. Left to right: Margery Howard, Einstein,

Einstein on Roughton Heath, September 1933. Left to right: Margery Howard, Einstein, Tom Wilson, Locker-Lampson, Barbara Goodall, Herbert Eastoe. - Credit: Supplied by Poppyland Publishing

Albert Einstein’s escape from the Third Reich involved a visit to Cromer and a three-week stay on a farm nearby.

And now the little-known chapter in Einstein’s life, and his relationship with the upper-class adventurer who got him there, is explored in a new book by Norwich-based historian, Stuart McLaren. 

A signed souvenir photo, which Locker-Lampson gave to those who had helped guard Einstein at Roughton.

A signed souvenir photo, which Locker-Lampson gave to those who had helped guard Einstein at Roughton. - Credit: Supplied by Poppyland Publishing

Called Saving Einstein: How Norfolk Hid a Genius - The Double Life of Oliver Locker-Lampson, the book tells the story of how the famous Jewish scientist was brought to the county from Belgium in 1933 - a move which may well have saved his life. 

Writer and historian Stuart McLaren.  

Writer and historian Stuart McLaren. - Credit: Supplied by Poppyland Publishing

Mr McLaren, 67, said: “He was so hated by the Nazis, he could have been assassinated in Belgium.

"There was another prominent Jew, Theodor Lessing, who was killed by Nazis sympathisers in Marienbad, a Czech city, when he thought he was safe there. 

Rare view of the Roughton camp taken before Einstein’s stay there. ‘Einstein’s hut’ (far left)

Rare view of the Roughton camp taken before Einstein’s stay there. ‘Einstein’s hut’ (far left) has not yet been thatched or clad with pine logs. - Credit: Supplied by Poppyland Publishing

“Afterwards, Einstein was getting death threats in the post saying ‘you’re next’.”

German-born Einstein moved to Belgium in 1933 after the Nazis rose to power. He had gained worldwide fame for his general theory of relativity in the first decades of the 20th century, and was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1921. 

The front cover of the book Saving Einstein: How Norfolk Hid a Genius

The front cover of the book Saving Einstein: How Norfolk Hid a Genius - The Double Life of Oliver Locker-Lampson. - Credit: Supplied by Poppyland Publishing

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Oliver Locker-Lampson was an Eton and Cambridge educated barrister and Tory MP who founded a patriotic fascist-style movement called the Blue Shirts.

During the First World War he travelled to Russia and led a squadron of armoured cars in an attempt to spirit the Tsar out of the Bolsheviks' path. 

The unflappable young candidate. Oliver Locker-Lampson publicity shot for the 1910 General Election.

The unflappable young candidate. Oliver Locker-Lampson publicity shot for the 1910 General Election. - Credit: Supplied by Poppyland Publishing

Mr McLaren said: “The two men couldn’t have been more different in background and political outlook. One is Jewish, German, an intellectual, a great genius and pacifist with a left-wing point-of-view. 

“Locker-Lampson drifted further and further to the right and even attracted the attention of the Nazis, but eventually realised he’d gone too far.

Shotguns at the ready at the Roughton camp. Left to right: Locker-Lampson, Einstein, Margery Howard, Herbert Eastoe.

Shotguns at the ready at the Roughton camp. Left to right: Locker-Lampson, Einstein, Margery Howard, Herbert Eastoe. - Credit: Supplied by Poppyland Publishing

"He was appalled at the persecution of the Jews, and he wrote to Einstein to offer help.

"By a strange coincidence they both knew the king of Belgium, who acted as a kind of emissary between them.”

At the urging of his wife Elsa, Einstein took up Locker-Lampson's offer of refuge.

The small horse group, showing the bell tents at Roughton Heath camp. Left to right: Locker-Lampson, Barbara Goodall,

The small horse group, showing the bell tents at Roughton Heath camp. Left to right: Locker-Lampson, Barbara Goodall, Einstein, Margery Howard, Herbert Eastoe. - Credit: Supplied by Poppyland Publishing

After a boat journey to Dover, Locker-Lampson whisked Einstein, then aged 54, up to north Norfolk, where he spent most of that September before emigrating to the USA. 

He spent most of his time in Locker-Lampson’s isolated log cabin at Roughton heath, where his guard consisted of a game-keeper, his son-in-law and a couple of gun-toting private secretaries of the MP, who become known as his “attendant angels”. 

Mr McLaren said: “[Locker-Lampson] was a very charismatic man who seemed to have a number of personal acolytes." 

Einstein made several trips to Newhaven Court, his host’s grand summer house in Cromer, where he could receive and post letters, use the telephone, enjoy an evening meal and take a bath.

Mr McLaren said: “He is said to have admired Cromer church and he may also have been taken on other excursions such as to Cromer lighthouse.

“He is also known to have visited Sidestrand Hall, the home of Sir Samuel Hoare on the north Norfolk coast.”

Newhaven Court became a hotel which was destroyed by fire in 1963.

When at Roughton, Einstein had several prominent visitors, including the sculptor Jacob Epstein. 

Epstein sculpted a bust of the physicist's head, and later fondly remembered his "wild hair floating in the wind".

Mr McLaren said he had been working on the book on and off for more than 15 years, as he had long had a fascination with Einstein’s stay in Norfolk.

He said: “When I was a young teenager I must have been showing off about physics or something and my aunt said ‘your uncle met Einstein in the village of Roughton where he grew up’.

"I thought that was a bit unlikely so some years ago I thought I’d try and find out a bit more about it.”

The book is available from poppyland.co.uk, Jarrolds in Norwich, or on amazon.co.uk.