HORSTEAD MILL

NORFOLK WHERRY

NORFOLK WHERRY

This water-mill stood on the river Bure at Coltishall until it was burnt down in January 1963. Horstead mill in Norfolk was the upper limit of navigation on the river until March 1775, when the wherry Grampus became the first vessel to use the newly constructed lock at Coltishall . The town of Aylsham was reached by the canalised stretch of the river in 1779. Coltishall was an important inland port on the Norfolk Broads until that time, being the principal unloading place for coal from Gateshead-on-Tyne. Oats, barley and malt made the return journey to Great Yarmouth and by sea-going craft to points further away. Lime from riverside kilns was also carried down the river. The lock enabled river traffic to pass beyond the mill, but it made Coltishall a less busy place (as a surveyor from Cambridge noted in 1805).

Near the King’s Head, a pub a bit further downstream from the mill on the common, the boatbuilder Stephen Wright laid down the keel of a new wherry on April 11th 1776. The growing timbers were regularly inspected by the new owner William Hardy, and on Sunday he went to the boatyard twice, on the second occasion accompanied by his children. A wherry was the most up-to-date form of river transport in the 18th century. Most water traffic from Coltishall still used the older ‘keels’ to transport grain from rural Norfolk and return with bricks or sand. These vessels had square sails, while the more efficient wherries had fore and aft sails.

A loan to the Aylsham Navigation from Horstead mill.

A loan to the Aylsham Navigation from Horstead mill.

The new wherry was ready to launch in late August, and the owners entertained their friends to tea on board. Back at home they had a good dinner and then the gentlemen drank large amounts of alcohol until well after midnight. Needless to say William Hardy had a dreadful hangover the next day. Meanwhile his wife Mary had to go and pay for all the wine glasses and crockery that the revellers had broken the previous night. The new vessel  was named the William and Mary, not after the late King and Queen, but after owners William and Mary Hardy. It was soon loaded with malt to be taken downriver to Yarmouth.

Horstead mill was rebuilt in its final form a few years after the completion of the new lock. It was built of white painted weatherboarding. The mill had belonged to St Benet’s Priory until the Reformation (together with Coltishall and Horstead Manors), when this was all given to King’s College Cambridge by Henry VIII. The mill remained in the college’s ownership until 1910, when it was bought by the local millers Reads of Norwich. I remember Reads, and the packets of their flour that you could buy at local shops. A video that includes views of the mill in operation is available on the Suffolk Local History website. The canalised section of the river Bure from Horstead mill to Aylsham remained in use until the floods of 1912 damaged the lock at Buxton. It proved too costly to repair; by then there were two railway lines to Aylsham and the canal was no longer essential.

The nearby pub in Horstead, the Recruiting Sergeant, was where the local Lodge of Freemasons met in the eighteenth century. It is still a popular watering hole, and the King’s Head in Coltishall is even more so, especially on a summer’s evening. Then you can sit by the river’s edge enjoying an evening drink, while the light drains from the sky. In the eighteenth century both pubs were frequently visited by William Hardy, for he was the local brewer, besides running a farm. He was a Yorkshireman who had been living in East Dereham as an Excise Officer; there he met Mary Raven, a Norfolk farmer’s daughter, and they married before moving to Coltishall.

I was a regular visitor to the parish of Horstead about ten years ago, when my son was himself rather keen on a farmer’s daughter. Her father worked the land around Lound Hill, where over 200 years before William Hardy’s men had sown their oats and barley. Unlike William Hardy’s attachment to a farming family, nothing came of this liaison. He is now in a long-term relationship with a charming Dutch girl who is training to be a lawyer. One of William Hardy’s descendants went into the law in London and eventually became Master of the Rolls in 1907. He was ennobled in 1914.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE STORY OF EAST ANGLIAN LIFE

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One response

  1. Excellent peep at local hsitory

    Like

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