Tag Archives: FISHING



The river which forms the county boundary between Suffolk and Essex along much of its length rises in Cambridgeshire. It is navigable from Sudbury but as there are at least ten weirs that require portages this is only possible by canoe/kayak today. The first part of the river from Sudbury has a moderate amount of traffic by rowing boat but this falls away at the first portage. The river was one of the first in the country to be canalised but this has long fallen into disuse. A number of fallen trees and shallow stretches with reeds make the passage problematical but the landing places are well maintained. Most canoeists make the trip downstream only, unless they are just going fishing locally. The exertion of constantly going against the flow is exhausting otherwise. Round Dedham Vale the river again becomes populated by rowing boats belonging to the River Stour Trust. They have recently bought the Maria Constable, an electric launch which will take trippers from Flatford to Dedham and back.


The river is best known from this picture of the Haywain by John Constable, although perhaps some people do not realise that this is indeed the river that passes Flatford mill. When the picture was painted the river was at the height of its use as an artery of trade, but you can see that only relatively small vessels were able to pass along this mostly narrow and sometimes shallow river. There were many locks that the barges had to navigate on their way. Lighters were still being used on the river above Manningtree after the First World War.

The river was used for transporting loads short distances; logs to a lcal sawmill for example many centuries ago, but this route to the sea was blocked by water mills, shallows and weirs. The first written record we have concerning opening up the river to navigation is from 1634 when a meeting of the Corporation of Sudbury was held to discuss the provision of locks on the river. Various attempts were made during the seventeenth century to advance the matter but it was not until 1705 that a Bill was passed in Parliament to make the river navigable from Sudbury to Manningtree. The Act did not specify that a full tow path should be provided, but left it to the discretion of local landowners; needless to say this led to problems in later years. In particular the tow path kept changing sides of the river, which required the frequent ferrying of the tow horse back and forth.

Originally there were thirteen stanches and an equal number of pound locks on the navigable river. The waterway was operational by 1710 and only cost the Commissioners £6,500 to complete, which suggests much of the work was either renovation of existing structures or was done on the cheap – probably both. In 1781 another Act of Parliament nominated further commissioners, who included the brother of Thomas Gainsborough and the father of John Constable. We should call this painters’ river. During the following century the stanches were removed and extra pound locks were constructed, and the existing locks were improved.

The use of the river was made less important by the coming of the railway. During the second half of the nineteenth century coal was taken direct from the coal field to Sudbury by train, requiring no transshipment unlike the river. Grain, flour and malt were still transported from places like Flatford by boat. The company got into financial difficulties before the First World War but the navigation was kept open by transferring ownership to a trust. As late as 1928 £25,500 was spent on improving the locks on the lower part of the river. It is a peaceful place, and even if full navigation were ever restored – an unlikely task – it would remain so, as there is no connection with other canals in he country. The railway, which before Dr Beeching went from Marks Tey to Cambridge, now terminates at Sudbury. There is also a station at Bures, another place that used the transport provided by the river Stour.

At Manningtree there is a row of sluice gates between the A137 bridge and the railway which effectively now prevents the passage of boats to the sea. The river branches into two as it approaches Cattawade Nature Reserve and the minor northern river is also blocked by a sluice. The modest river turns into a huge estuary almost within a matter of yards. The ferry port of Harwich at the seaward end looks across to the port of Fellixstowe on the river Orwell, a port that can accommodate the largest vessels on earth. Within less than fifty miles the river has turned from a mere trickle to a major waterway.

JOSEPH MASON                                                                                                                                    joemasonspage@gmail.com





The river Waveney at Beccles on the Norfolk border. 1958

This waterway forms the boundary between the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk for most of its length. Before the county boundary changes of 1974 it formed the boundary along its whole length, but in that year Gorleston and a few other North Suffolk parishes on the Suffolk side of the river were transferred to Norfolk. The Waveney flows into Breydon Water at Burgh Castle and there the river ends; the villages of Belton, Fritton and Blundeston were once in Suffolk and now are in Norfolk. The river Waveney flows past these villages and this is where it ceases to be the county boundary. Like the conurbation of Yarmouth and Gorleston, Thetford is another town that straddles the river, but in that case it is the Little Ouse, so we will not be considering that here.

The river Waveney rises in the Redgrave Marshes, near South Lopham in Norfolk. This is also where the source of the Little Ouse is and the two rivers rise only a matter of metres away from each other. When the glaciers of the last ice age melted a lake formed in this part of East Anglia and the Redgrave Marshes are what remains of this lake.

The river passes the towns of Diss and Harleston, both in Norfolk, before reaching Bungay and Beccles in Suffolk. In the 17th century Geldeston Lock was built between these two towns and keels (later wherries) were then able to take their commercial loads upstream to Bungay. The town flourished with the lock providing access via the river Waveney to the sea. This was supplemented by coming of the railway in 1860 and this took much of the traffic from the river. Geldeston lock closed in 1934 and since then the head of navigation has been at Geldeston Locks Inn. This remote pub gets much of its trade from its proximity to the river Waveney and its motor cruisers. Beccles has a large marina and it is the major inland port on the river Waveney. The town of Lowestoft can be accessed from the river but this requires passage through Oulton Broad.

From Breydon Water you can pass up the river Yare, but another watercourse between the two rivers is the New Cut which was constructed in 1832. Being a canal through marshland it is very straight and so quite dull but there is swing bridge where the railway crosses the New Cut at Haddiscoe. It is near where it joins the river Waveney. This was intended to be a commercial venture, allowing shipping to avoid Yarmouth where the harbour authorities imposed heavy dues. Mutford Lock was built to allow passage from Oulton Broad to Lake Lothing. The New Cut cost over £150,000 to dig.As soon as it was opened Yarmouth reduced its charges and shipping from Norwich took the more direct route to the sea. The New Cut was never a financial success and after it was damaged by the 1953 Flood it was proposed to abandon it. Luckily this did not happen. (My daughter works for the Environment Agency in Flood Control for Norfolk and it is proposed that she is given responsibility for the river Waveney. She is quite enthusiastic about the prospect – as I would be too!) The New Cut is now used far more by holidaymakers than it ever was by commercial shipping.

There is an interesting structure across the river at South Elmham St Mary between Harleston and Bungay. Homersfield Bridge was built of wrought iron, cast iron and concrete in 1869. This makes it one of the oldest concrete bridges in the world. The road bridge was in use for 101 years. It is no longer used by road traffic being replaced by a new bridge in 1970. It was restored by the Norfolk Historic Building Trust in 1990.






Bishop’s Bridge, 1957.

Looking towards Bramerton Woods End, early 19th century, (Norwich School).

September 1982 at Bramerton; as the darkness falls the pleasure steamer Regal Lady goes by, the revellers aboard visible inside by electric light. The wherry yacht Lady Edith is tied up beside the common. Her original name was the Norada, a name she has since reverted to; very Edwardian in appearance, although in fact she was built in 1912, in the reign of George V. A couple of hundred yards upstream the pub (then still then called the Woods End) was serving beer to river folk as it had done every evening for hundreds of years. This snapshot of riverside life gives you a hint of the importance of the Norwich River, the Yare and the Wensum that carried trade from Yarmouth to the city.

Whitlingham Reach (A. Sandys 1860)

The nature of the vessels and their cargoes has changed greatly over the years. Two hundred years ago the largest craft were the wherries that carried goods of all sorts to and from Norwich. Reeds, lime, bricks and tiles went to supply the builders of the city. This trade was similar a hundred years before that, although the craft carrying it were the square sailed keels. Delving further into the past you find bales of wool being carried downstream from the looms of Norwich to Yarmouth for export. Almost a thousand years ago many small ships were busily employed bringing stone across the Channel from Caen in Normandy to build the castle and cathedral.

SONORITY aground at Whitlingham, 16th March 1970. The police launch is alongside.

Coming nearer to the present, a century ago sea-going steamers brought coal from Newcastle and timber from Sweden up the river. Lighters were hauled up and down from Yarmouth, and Thames barges made the last part of their journey under power, either that of their own supplementary engine or that of General Steam Navigation Co tugboats. With the decline of coal traffic as both the gasworks and the power station were closed in the 60s and 70s other cargoes took its place. Instead there was scrap metal from the city and fruit juice from South America, to supply Robinson’s squashes at Carrow works.


Coming into the 21st century the rivers of the Norfolk Broads are busier than ever, but now this is all down to the leisure industry. Occasionally new equipment is carried by barge upstream to Cantley sugar beet factory, but otherwise I can think of but one commercial enterprise that is now located beside the river. Even this one, Carrow Works, will soon close, though that has long since ceased to use river transport. Instead of wooden wherries and steel built coasters the rivers are full of plastic pleasure cruisers. Now you can sit in modern luxury as the riverside scene passes before your eyes. You can watch the news on your telly, phone anyone in the world from your mobile phone, upload to the Internet on you tablet as solar cells charge your equipment. Apart from the watery view it is just like being at home. You can even carry out your online shopping from the river and collect it at your next mooring. This is all very well, but are you any longer getting away from it all as you enjoy your holiday?

Loading scrap metal at Wensum Wharf Norwich, c 1978

How will the future change things on the Norwich river? I don’t think commercial traffic is ever coming back. Diesel is on the way out for the motive power of pleasure craft, as electric power and charging points take over as they will. At least we will return to the quietness of the age of sail. Beyond that I cannot foresee what will happen; I just hope we are not heading for some disaster. Even in my lifetime there have been massive changes which no-one anticipated.







I want to make one thing clear from the outset; I have never hunted a fox, even when it was legal to do so. I would be very bad at it for a start. Nor did I ever have any wish to hunt a fox; perhaps if it was edible and I was starving I might have a desire to hunt it down, but with a fox this does not apply. With the fox it is all about the hunt.

It is hard to find a more basic animal instinct. The desire to hunt is ages older than humanity itself.  To watch a pride of lions tracking down their prey (on television of course) will tell you this. Nor do animals only kill to eat; see the results of a fox getting into the chicken coop. It is therefore rather naive to imagine that merely by passing a piece of legislation you can banish the urge to hunt to the past.

The Dunston Harriers at Wymondham for the Boxing Day Hunt

The argument between the foxhunter and the animal rights protester is vastly complicated by the class divide between those two opposing types. In their visceral hatred the interests of the fox itself often get overlooked. From the hunting pink of the clothes, to the riding of a fine piece of bloodstock, the whole picture of a hunt reeks of the upper class. This class hardly exists anymore, and the importance of foxhunting is entirely symbolic. The number of foxes actually killed by hounds was alway tiny, and has now been legislated out of existence. What do the protesters have left to protest about? Only the toffs themselves.

To make one thing clear; the muddy booted protesters do not represent the workers in any way. The working class too has mostly vanished from the land, but in as far as it exists at all it rather approves of hunting. In this case it is hare coursing rather than fox hunting that takes their fancy. All hunting with dogs has been made illegal, unless the prey is rats or rabbits (apparently these species do not feel pain). Fortunately for Jack Russells it is still legal to catch rats.

This ban is something that would be incomprehensible only a few generations ago. Whatever could possess the great and powerful to gather in Parliament to discuss something as trivial as whether a few foxes should be killed by hounds or merely shot? This, when real problems like burglary and violence go unchecked. The hunt protesters are middle class intellectuals, who have nothing in common with ordinary people. They do not really care about the fox either, except in a purely abstract way. What they really object to is the foxhunter. They do not gather to protest hare coursing; for one thing these meets are held in secret, but the largely polite way in which the foxhunting community tolerate the hunt protesters would not hold true among the hare coursing set.

It may be illegal to hunt any mammals with dogs under UK law, but it cannot be made illegal for dogs to hunt unsupervised. Dogs have no respect for human laws, only the law of the jungle, and that not only allows hunting but demands it. What is the position when you take your dog for a walk and it picks up the scent of a squirrel? The dog may have no chance of catching it, but he is hunting a mammal while theoretically under your control; sounds like a crime to me. What do you lawyers say? My dog once hunted a mouse who was unwise enough to enter our house. He never got near enough to touch it, but it was frightened to death nonetheless. It is just as well I was in bed at the time, to be on the right side of the law.

There are several hunts in Norfolk that still exist, though the hounds no longer pursue live prey. In theory the nearest hunt to me while I was growing up was the Dunston Harriers, though their kennels are near Long Stratton. Their quarry in those days was the hare, although (in common with all hunts) they now go drag hunting after a scent like aniseed. Slightly bizarrely they still have a closed season. Perhaps the man with the scent needs a rest – it must be quite tiring dragging that cloth across the countryside. The Dunston Harriers hold regular meets around the county, and at special tines of year (like Boxing Day) these are well attended by supporters.

The shooting of game birds and rabbits is still legal, and dogs are still allowed to retrieve the birds. The increasingly arduous requirements of shotgun licensing make this increasingly difficult however. I believe that, although hunting with dogs has been prohibited, it is still legal to hunt with ferrets; perhaps because ferreting has always been a sport of the lower classes and therefore does not enter the consciousness of the hunt saboteurs. Fishing is the other kind of sport that is still fairly easy to accomplish, though how long this will continue is anybody’s guess. The killing of most kinds of fish is already frowned upon, though the unlucky trout may still be caught for supper; also good luck to anybody who attempts to disgorge an eel of its hook without first cutting off its head. People have strange thoughts about cruelty to animals. They shudder at hunting foxes who live entirely natural lives; even being hunted is part of the law of nature.  But they will happily eat chickens almost daily, whose brief existence is constrained by appalling conditions; artificial light 24 hours a day, fed till they almost burst and squeezed in so tightly that they can hardly move. C’est la vie, c’est la mort.





Tram outside Great Yarmouth Town Hall

Yarmouth was a major naval base in the age of sail, before becoming a thriving fishing port on the Yare estuary; with the growth of tourism it was the principal holiday resort for Londoners on the East Coast. It was not by accident therefore that it was the first place in East Anglia (not just in Norfolk) to get a train service in 1844, and following this Gorleston was the first place in East Anglia to get a tram service. After four years of work this was opened in 1875, and it used horse-drawn vehicles. A grand scheme for a tramway to link the towns of Lowestoft, Southwold and Halesworth with Gorleston did not see the light of day, and only the Gorleston part was realised. Southwold and Halesworth were linked by a narrow gauge railway in 1879 and Lowestoft got a separate tramway in 1903. With frequent stops the horse-drawn double-decker tramcars in Gorleston could take over two hours to complete the journey from Yarmouth South Town railway station to the area near the pier. At first it ran on a standard gauge track of 4’8″, but this was reduced to 3’6″ after a few years, in 1882.

The Haven Bridge which joins the two towns was not suitable for tramlines, so Yarmouth and Gorleston had two separate systems. Yarmouth was slower off the mark to install tram tracks. It had a horse-drawn omnibus service, but the intention to provide tramlines for an electrified service had to be delayed in 1899 because the price of steel, needed in large quantities for the project, was rapidly running out of control. It peaked at £10 a ton, but by 1901 the price had dropped to under £6 and the Yarmouth tramway was hastily completed and opened in 1902. The Gorleston tramway was electrified three years in 1905. The Yarmouth tramway was extended to Caister in 1907; this completed the network.

The tramcars were all double deckers and were painted in a livery of maroon and cream. (You can see one in the hand-coloured postcard illustration which accompanies this article.) Telephone wires were run along the tram poles, and with regular contact points the driver was able ring up the control centre to report any problems he encountered on the line. This use of up-to-date technology shows that Yarmouth was still a place of innovation, as it had been throughout the previous century. The town has since fallen on hard times, with the loss of its Royal Naval presence, the disappearance of the fishing industry, the closure of two of its three railway termini and the growth in popularity of overseas holidays. It is now one of the most deprived areas on the East Coast. The growth of North Sea gas gave the port some business, but even this has declined in recent years; there was hope that the offshore wind turbines might bring prosperity back to the port, but this business is due to go down the coast to Lowestoft.

The period before the First World War marked the high point of the Yarmouth and Gorleston tramways. In these yeas the Corporation purchased a pleasure steamer to run trips that commenced with a tram ride and culminated with a return journey to Norwich,  all for the price of sixpence. In 1920 the Corporation purchased its first motor buses and the trams were progressively withdrawn from 1924. The Great Yarmouth section was closed in 1930 and the Gorleston section three years later. Some of the tramcars ended up as holiday chalets at Caister holiday camp.






I used to regard myself as quite an artist. As an adolescent I even imagined making art my career. I produced many paintings in the 1970s, heavily influenced by my father’s expectations of what a picture should look like. Painting is a solitary activity, and by the time I was thirty I had abandoned it for the more gregarious pursuit of playing in an orchestra. Music also has the advantage that once it has been played it has gone, vanished into the ether, leaving no scraps of paper and paint to dispose of.

I did not leave art behind completely; I continued to doodle a few sketches, but my main artistic endeavours turned to woodcarving. This was a big change; I didn’t use paint brushes or palette knives any more, but I needed chisels and gouges instead. I was fortunate in having a few already, which I had inherited from my father; he was not really a woodcarver (although he did produce a charming scene on the door a grandmother clock that is now in the possession of my sister), but he was an inveterate collector of tools. I could have done with more of them, but I had enough. These tools had to be kept sharp, so a grinder was useful and an oilstone essential.


I had been taught the basics of painting and drawing by my art master Stuart Webster, but as a woodcarver I was entirely self-taught. I worked out a few principles for myself; in doing full 3-D objects the technique was very different from doing low-relief carvings (my preferred method).  In this you were essentially drawing in light and shade, and this meant exaggerated undercutting to produce the necessary shadows.

The type of wood used produced very different results. Lime wood was the medium used by that masterly carver of the 17th century, Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721).  Some of his best work may be seen at Chatsworth House. I don’t wish to minimise his achievement, but is so easy to carve in lime that it is rather like cutting cheese. The grain of the wood is not an issue, and does not affect the resulting carving in any way. With oak this is an entirely different matter; oak is a very hard wood, and an intractable material; the grain is very important. An oak carving is robust and often you can see the way the chisel was used centuries after the carver laid  down his tools. This not the case with lime. Objects in oak and lime are the two extremes, but they are also the most common woods used by the woodcarver. Other woods are also carved, but those with contorted grain (like burr walnut), while giving an excellent surface texture for furniture, are impossible to carve.

I had some success with my woodcarving; I entered a carving of a trout in a competition that was run by the Post Office for its employees. Although their number is large (well over a hundred thousand), postmen are not namely for their artistic ability, so perhaps it not surprising that I won first prize. This entailed a trip up to London (on a rail warrant provide by the PO) to the Post Office HQ, which was then still in its historic hub of St Marin’s Le Grand (it later moved to Old Street, which I also had occasion to visit on a different matter). What the prize was I have forgotten (it wasn’t much) but the occasion was special. I was presented with my prize by a man who later became Managing Director of the Post Office. He was a very unimpressive character; he may have had hidden depths, although the progress of that venerable institution into the 21st century suggests that he was as mediocre as he appeared to be.


I subsequently entered another work in the competition few years later, but this time I only came second, and that did not entail another trip to the capital. The winning entry was a sculpture of female nude, which some of my colleagues suggested had more to do with its success than genuine artistic rigour. My declining health gave me other things to think about, and woodcarving was at an end.





Sardines come from Sardinia, at least the name does. They can be any small oily fish, and a young pilchard may be so described. At one time in history the young pilchard was apparently very prolific in the seas around this Mediterranean island, which is how the sardine got its name. ‘Sardines’  are exclusively tinned fish nowadays; named ‘pilchards’ they may be sold tinned or fresh, but a tinned pilchard is a slightly larger fish than a tinned sardine. Sprats are only available as fresh fish. Sardines are a name not a species, and are a British food; they have been around for a long time. The novelist Anthony Trollope (1815 – 1882) refers to sardines; the angular sardine tins were then called boxes, and ‘fish in boxes’ were served at one of the tea parties he describes. Tins for the preservation of meat were developed for the Royal Navy by the innovative engineer Bryan Donkin in the early 1800s. The tinning of fish soon followed, and sardines were the perfect size and flavour for this.

You used to have to remove a key from the tin and wind back the lid to gain entry to the fish inside, and if the key had been lost (as sometimes happened) you had a problem; but now you just have to pull back a ring instead. The technology has improved a little, but the taste of the fish remains the same as it has always been. Tomato sauce or other more exotic flavourings are added nowadays, but in my opinion you cannot improve on the plain fish served in brine or sunflower oil. The overfed and over-indulged consumers of 2017 may dismiss the humble tin of sardines as beneath contempt, but they are much better for you than the processed snacks that the manufacturers love to force down your throat; they are also much cheaper. At one time I used to buy a tin of pilchards to feed my dog, as it was cheaper than buying a tin of dogfood; nor was it bulked out with such indigestible ingredients as ash, which happens with some commercially produced dogfood.

Besides being an inexpensive source of protein, sardines do not require cooking or even heating to provide the basis of a meal. A tin of sardines, with sufficient fish to feed a person, or even two if they are not too greedy, may be bought at Sainbury’s for under 50p; at other shops they may be had for less. When there are such nutritious and cheap foods available, people must be in dire circumstances indeed to need to access a food bank. I am glad there are those charitable folk who support these facilities; I just hope that none of these hungry recipients of free food spend any of their scarce resources on smoking. Unlike a sardine, a cigarette is both bad for you and expensive. You may protest that such people are in the grip of an addiction, but I used to smoke and I know that with just a little will power it is not hard to give it up.

‘Sardines’ is also the name of a party game, played by children. The adults in whose house the game is played have to be quite relaxed about the resulting mayhem, because the game requires that as many children as possible squeezing into small an unsuitable corners of the dwelling. My own childhood house was too small for the playing of sardines as we were squeezed in like sardines anyway, but my grandmothers home in Kings Lynn was amply big enough, and at Christmas I and my cousins would crowd under beds or into wardrobes while others found us and  joined us. It was also a popular game during the long winter evenings at weekends at boarding school. The lack of domestic furniture in which to hide was compensated for by the much larger area in which to hide,  in box rooms and cupboards. Whether at school or not, ‘lights out’ was a prerequisite of playing sardines.





WELLS QUAY about 40 years ago.

WELLS QUAY about 40 years ago.

Although in the distant past places like Cley, Thornham and even Cromer had a coastal trade, this was back in the days of sail. At Cromer ships had to be beached to unload their cargoes of coal; on the incoming tide it was possible to float them again, but only in an unladen state. With the coming of steam tramps most of the smaller ports lost their coasting vessels. However Lynn, Wells and Yarmouth retained a regular trade of seagoing steamers, which grew throughout the latter part of the 19th century. This trade lasted into living memory, but today only the port at Kings Lynn remains a regular trade in international shipping. An occasional shipment of grain leaves the outer harbour at Yarmouth, but most of the craft using the harbour are servicing the power industries. Even Lynn is slowly declining, as the size of the craft becomes ever greater; many of the vessels that now visit Lynn are too large for the Bentinck and Alexandra docks which are protected by a lock gate. More and more shipping has to be moored on the river outside the docks, where it is subject to the tide. In recent years the annual tonnage of cargo handled by Lynn Docks has fallen from three-quarters of million tonnes to half a million.

At Yarmouth the new outer harbour was hailed as representing a new beginning for the port, but it has struggled to find customers. This is partly due to the appalling road system that serves this East Coast town. The dual carriageway sections of the A47 and the A12 end many  miles short of the dock, and no motorway comes anywhere near. It is also partly because the charges are so high, according to the mariners, who mostly still use the inner harbour, where the charges are more reasonable. Only the ships associated with commissioning and decommissioning (mostly the latter) of  oil and gas platforms use the harbour on a regular basis. The servicing of the wind farms off the East Coast has been directed not to Yarmouth but to Lowestoft.

Cromer beach, circa 1970

Cromer beach, circa 1970

On the last Sunday in August 1984 Molly (then my fiancée) and her Mum and Dad were attending the Annual Lifeboat Service on the quayside at Wells-next-the-Sea. I was there too. It was high tide, and before the band could begin we had to wait while two coasters docked at the quayside. One was the  Momsunen of Scarborough, and the other was a ‘flat iron’ called Blatence. In those days there was still a trade importing soya beans into Wells and the exporting of malting barley from the harbour. There is now a new harbour there, nearer the sea, but there are no longer any trading coasters that use it. There is still a fishing trade, and this new harbour is where these boats tie up, and also the vessels which go out to service the growing number of wind farms off the North Norfolk coast.

I have already chronicled the slow decline and eventual demise of the Port of Norwich. This was established in the early part of the 19th century, when sea-going steamers could go up the river to the East Anglian capital. When sail or the quant (a type of punt pole) was the form of propulsion only keels and wherries made the voyage from Yarmouth, and these vessels only occasionally made short passages out to sea. Norwich did not see  vessels from far away, although it is probable that small ships made the passage from Normandy the bring the stone for constructing the catheral from Caen. It is sad that only yachts and motor cruisers now use the river in the city, but I can see no prospect of sea-going ships ever returning. It was a brief period in the history of the river, lasting less than 200 years. Occasionally a barge will be towed upriver to Cantley to bring equipment to the sugar beet factory, but otherwise  commercial traffic no longer uses the river Yare. Smaller sea-going vessels still use the inner harbour at Yarmouth, and go as far as lake Lothing in Lowestoft..


Snettisham 1964

The ports at Morston and Blakeney are now almost exclusively used by canoes and sailing dinghies. The fishing trade has largely been replaced by leisure boating; these harbours are left high and dry by the low tide, but the regular alternation of sea and mud hardly matters at all to these dinghies. They are hauled out to spend most of their time ashore anyway. The regular service ferrying tourists out to Blakeney Point to see the seals makes up the  boating service by slightly larger vessels.

These harbours, and that at Brancaster too, were mostly used by dinghy sailors even sixty years ago, when I first visited them. The days when they were real fishing ports was well before my time; the days when grain and flour were shipped from Blakeney and Cley to Newcastle, to be replaced for the return voyage by coal from Gateshead on Tyne, was two centuries before that. At Cromer and Sheringham the number of commercial crab boats probably still exceeds the number of pleasure craft pulled up on the beach, because the necessary launching through the surf is far from easy. In most weathers it is a wet procedure, and requires old tractors to assist the beaching of the boats. In the days before tractors were available cast iron winches were used to haul the boats out of the surf, and a few of these might still be seen in the 1970s, although they were no longer used. Years ago you could find one or two similarly beach-launched fishing boats at places like Winterton, Sea Palling or Mundesley, but now virtually only Weybourne is left with a fishing boat or two.

Look out for my next post on the leisure use of the Norfolk beaches, to be entitled ‘Summers by the Sea’.





colchesteer062Camulodunum was the first capital of Britain. This was in Roman Britain, and the whole idea of Albion being one country, let alone having a capital city, were novel concepts to the Celts. Its modern name of course is Colchester. It takes this name from the river Colne which flows through the town. As the river approaches the sea in opens up into a wide and muddy estuary which is famous for its oyster beds. The Romans of Camulodunum enjoyed oysters and the shells survive in their kitchen waste.

My most frequent view of Colchester is from the railway station on the Great Eastern mainline. All passenger trains stop there, but the last time I was passing through we were held up for nearly half an hour, with no information as to why. The railway service is much poorer than it was forty years ago, when diesels ruled the tracks. The steam hauled Britannia expresses of sixty years ago were infinitely superior to anything running today; there were plush restaurant cars for one thing, and real coffee served from a coffee pot. Now you are lucky if you get a plastic mug of instant coffee served from a trolley. Even without delays, the timings are not that much better now, in spite of modern electric traction. But back to the early years of Roman occupation.

Figure of Mercury, found in Colchester.

Figure of Mercury, found in Colchester.

Colchester had a legionary fortress built soon after the Roman conquest in AD 43. It was already a prosperous place when the Boudiccan rebels descended on the town. They were taking no prisoners; having massacred the population at Camulodunum they moved on to Londinium and Verulamium (London and St Albans), where  they also destroyed the Roman towns. They moved north to eventual defeat by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus in the Battle of Watling Street. Even now archaeological remains of burnt buildings dating from AD 61 are being turned up in Colchester, chilling evidence of the destruction wrought by Boudicca and her forces.

After the town of Londinium was established that became the capital of Britain. This importance of London did not survive the end of the Roman Empire on our shores. England became a conglomeration of kingdoms after the Anglo-Saxons arrived, and even after it became a single kingdom, Winchester rather than London was its capital. London had reasserted its primacy before the Norman Conquest and has been our undoubted capital for over a thousand years. Although it lost its status as capital early on, Colchester remained an important town from the time of its foundation.

On Wednesday 4th January 1984 we had not much work to do in Norwich, and my sister and I decided to go to Colchester to have a look round. The weather was bright but cold:

“I packed up the book I had sold (but forgot to post it in Colchester). After a cup of coffee we left at 10.15 and got to Colchester in 1½ hrs. First we called at the Tesco in High Woods and got some groceries and took Fido for walk through the woods.

To East Hills and parked outside the Youth Hostel and walked to the Goat and Boot where we had fish and chips and a G & T. A log fire was burning in the bar. I found a good bookshop where I bought some bargains. In the town centre it cost 50p to park but we were close to the museum. It has a fabulous collection of Roman artefacts, and many things to buy. The exhibition was of luxury goods, high quality glass, Samian ware and mosaics etc. I enjoyed it all. The museum is a large Norman castle built on the site of the Claudian temple. We left at 4.20 and got home at 5.55 without rushing. We had stew and dumplings for supper. I had bought some cards at Colchester museum, and put them in my scrap-book. “

It is interesting to note that with all the road improvements that have taken place in the last 30 years it still takes 1½ hours to drive from Norwich to Colchester; perhaps the roads have not been altered that much after all!

Roman glassware (Colchester).

Roman glassware (Colchester Museum).





American plane over the skies of Norfolk

American plane over the skies of Norfolk

Like the similar sounding Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire, the place-name is of Danish origin and so hints at a time of conflict in the distant past. For most of its history however Sculthorpe has been far removed from the events that have shaped the destiny of Europe.  Sculthorpe is a village north-west of Fakenham in Norfolk. It has a small population of under 1000 and would not feature in this blog but for the fact that at the height of the Cold War it was the site of Norfolk’s principal US airbase.

RAF Sculthorpe had been constructed in 1942 and hosted a succession of foreign airmen, starting with the Free French. It subsequently saw both the New Zealand and Australian Airforce before becoming a US airbase in 1949.

The skies over East Anglia were full of military jets in the 1950s. Among many others RAF Coltishall, St Faith’s, Swanton Morley and Marham flew regular sorties of British aircraft, and RAF Sculthorpe supplied the USAF quota. In those days you could always tell which were which just by glancing up. The fuel used by RAF burned clean and the aircraft left just a white vapour trail, but that burnt by the Americans was less refined, and left a brown exhaust.

RAF Sculthorpe was on our route from Norwich to Snettisham where my Aunt had her holiday home. Our journey took us through Fakenham (which in those days had two railway stations but no bypass) and then out on the A148. We soon left this road and turned right onto the B1454 which went near the runways. Just past the turning on the main road was the Four Winds cafe and filling station. This cafe was frequented by the USAF personnel from Sculthorpe airbase.

My Dad liked to call in at the Four Winds to buy me a Coke. After parking our little British car among the huge American automobiles we would sit at a table and watch these strange foreign servicemen in their fatigues. These were very informal compared to the way British servicemen were then dressed. One feature which tickled my father was the fact that their names were displayed above their breast pockets. This enabled him to address complete strangers by name; “Hi Macdonald” he could call out as we passed. This made me squirm with embarrassment of course.

The Four Winds had a jukebox; these were up-to-date items in the fifties, but they were not common. There was coffee bar at the top of Bridge Street in Bungay where the local Teddy Boys congregated that had a jukebox, but that and the one at the Four Winds were the only two I knew. My father would put in his sixpence and get me to select one of the 45s. The elaborate mechanical arm would move round, pick the record out and transfer it to the turntable. The loudspeaker was turned up on the bass and the throbbing sound was all part of the experience. It was all straight out the Mid-West of America, and nothing like sleepy rural Norfolk.

Large scale deployment of American bombers to RAF Sculthorpe ceased in 1962 and although the base remains Ministry of Defence property to this day, and is still used occasionally for training purposes, it is normally deserted. Without its customers the Four Winds closed. From being the major centre of American bombers in Europe the village of Sculthorpe returned to the peaceful non-entity of the Norfolk countryside.