Sea-going vessels 20 miles inland
The Port of Norwich was not killed off but it certainly faded away. We can be much more certain when it became a port; by Act of Parliament, 1827. In the nineteen fifties it was still flourishing; in the sixties it seemed secure; in the seventies it was still functioning; but by the end of the eighties it was doomed. What finished it? A number of things. For a start industry deserted King Street and Riverside Road, the area that supported river traffic. The size of coasting vessels got bigger (a trend which is continuing) so that fewer and fewer vessels were capable of navigating the narrow and winding rivers that led to Norwich.
Eventually the nature of industry changed and the moving of heavy goods that could use water transport disappeared from Norwich. Instead we now have a riverside area dominated by retail outlets and night clubs. King Street was the centre of the brewing industry in Norwich, and although the brewers were not great users of the waterside for river transport, the brewing industry led the way in leaving the area. We had Read’s flour mill, which used water for deliveries of grain, then King’s scrap yard for some years in the sixties and seventies. At Baltic Wharf timber was imported from vessels from Scandinavia. That covered the reach of the river from Carrow Bridge to Foundry Bridge, the crossing which formed the upper limit of navigation for all but leisure cruisers. Bishops Bridge was too small to let even cruisers past and the river is now very restricted above that point. In the days when wherries used the port they would travel up as far as New Mills.
So far I have dealt with the Norwich side of the river. On the Thorpe side Riverside Road meant no direct access to the water from private premises, but on this bank of the river there was rail access. This was provided from the Thorpe Station yard across the road to the public quayside. I never saw a locomotive on this short stretch of siding although I did see trucks, so locomotives must have used it. This siding was outside the Boulton and Paul Works, but the firm did not appear to use the river much in my day.
There was a fleet of lighters named after trees such as OAK and BIRCH. These brought coal up beyond Foundry Bridge to the gasworks on Gas Hill. Their cargoes were transhipped at Yarmouth to be drawn up river by the steam tugs Gensteam and Cypress. The photo shows Cypress moored on Baltic Wharf and the date must be about 1959. This tug was also named after a tree, obviously. Gensteam was a contraction of the name General Steam Navigation Company which sold her to the Great Yarmouth Shipping Company in 1931. Gensteam was the first to disappear, being replaced by a powered lighter, also steam driven, and named after another tree whose name escapes me.
So far I have only considered shipping which came through Carrow Bridge. There was also much river traffic that we members of the public never saw, because it only went to that part of the Port of Norwich hidden from the road. This included such things as the shipment of concentrated fruit juice from South America to Colman’s who used it for the Robinson’s brand of squash. Lemon Barley Water was their early product.
While it was still running, Norwich power station used coal brought from Newcastle by coaster to generate electricity. These tramp steamers you would only see when entering or leaving the port, from such places as Whitlingham where a reach of the river runs alongside the road. Here you could stand very close to the foreign vessels while their dogs barked at you from the deck. (This was forbidden by the regulations which stated that any dogs must be kept locked up while in British waters, but the rules were often ignored.) At Whitlingham the river turns away from the road in a 90 degree twist which was difficult to navigate. It must have trapped many ships; I remember a heavily laden vessel on her way up to Norwich running aground on this awkward turn. The picture below shows an Everard tramp stuck across the river on her way downstream, empty.
There were other hazards too. On February 28th 1962 the ship Sultan, having unloaded above Carrow Bridge discovered she was to long for the usual turning place at the bend just by the bows of the tug Cypress in the picture above. She had to be towed out stern first by the tug Stalker, a vessel that I do not remember. She was plainly a diesel powered vessel, and unlike the steam tugs combined her function of towing with carrying cargo under her hatches. I do not know how far Sultan had to towed beyond Carrow Works, which you can see on the left, but certainly by the time she reached Bramerton she would have been able to turn and proceed under her own power. This happened occasionally, but mostly the length of the ship was checked by the master before leaving the port of origin. The building of the Norwich Southern By-pass was being planned while there was still river traffic by sea-going vessels up to Norwich. The Port Commissioners were concerned that the bridge at Postwick should leave ample headroom for the masts of boats. I remember Bryan Read talking to a meeting of the Norfolk Nautical Research Society in the 1980s. He was a Commissioner of then Port of Norwich and a director Reads flour mill on the riverside, and he said that he expected tough negotiations on this subject. In the even the head room was more than ample; I suspect this was because the place selected for the crossing made a high bridge the natural choice, rather than any consideration for a shipping route that was clearly coming to the end of its days even then.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE