Tag Archives: THE BROADS


A ‘furriner’; this traction engine was made in Suffolk by Garretts of Leiston.

This traction engine was made in Suffolk by Garrett’s of Leiston.

The first hint of the coming revolution in road transport came with the Puffing Devil, a steam-propelled road engine built by Richard Trevithick early in the 19th century.  This was in Cornwall, where Trevithick was also engaged in the development of the high-pressure steam engine. Steam traction engines were being built all across the country (including East Anglia) by the middle of the 19th century.

There were several producers of this invention in Norfolk, and two firms in particular produced many machines.  Charles Burrell of Thetford was making self-propelled road engines by the 1850s. Burrells did not survive and went bust in the first half of the twentieth century, but at one time their Norfolk built traction engines were exported all over the world. Frederick Savage of Kings Lynn’s steam Juggernauts were in production by 1855; the firm moved on from making farm equipment to corner the market in fairground rides and showman’s engines, even before the 20th century dawned. They were still in business in 1973, when the firm closed.

Traction engine driving a threshing machine

Norfolk is a rural county, which may explain the early enthusiasm for steam engines, that were used in farms to power threshing machinery. Traction engines, which were self-propelled versions of the stationary engine, were later employed to move goods about the farm and drive ploughing machines. The steam-powered wagon made by Samuel Soames in Marsham was an early example of an automotive road engine for personal transport, but it was a one-off.

Soame  Wagonette

Norfolk is not particularly notable for its place in the history of  the motorcar, but that does not mean it was not involved at all. The firm of Mann Egerton in Norwich was involved deeply in the production of motor cars, building the bodywork for Rolls Royce chassis before the First World War. With the coming of war the firm moved into the production of airframes for the burgeoning aircraft industry. Two Norwich firms were involved; as well as Mann Egerton, who were commissioned by the Government to build aircraft to the deigns of others.This activity ceased with the coming of peace, but the other company who made aeroplanes during the First World War continued making aircraft throughout the Second World War. This was Boulton and Paul, whose Defiant was the most famous British night fighter of the Second World War, although by then production had been shifted to the midlands where the factory was deemed less exposed to enemy action. Earlier planes designed by Boulton and Paul had been the Overstrand and Sidestrand biplane bombers, and they had been made in Norwich.

William Marriott

Even railway locomotives were made in Norfolk. The Great Eastern made all its own locos, but their workshop was at Stratford in East London. When the M & G N was formed their works was in Melton Constable; although mot of their motive power was provided by other manufacturers, they did produce some of their own design of locomotives under their Chief Engineer William Marriott.

Before the coming of these mechanised forms of transport, the horse was the beast that moved men and goods on land. Before that it had been the ox, because horses were only used by the most exalted travellers; for the use of oxen as beasts of burden we must cast or eyes back to the middle ages. The great East Anglian horse was the Suffolk Punch, but this breed was apparently not popular in Norfolk.


With all the waterways in Broadland, water transport was the way we carried out trade before the coming of the railways. The high point of the development of boats for this trade was the Norfolk wherry. With just one sail to handle, this vessel could be sailed by one man, although the assistance of  boy was helpful. Wheat and malting barley were taken downstream for transhipment to larger craft, or upstream to Norwich, while coal was carried by wherry upstream from Yarmouth. Lime was another common cargo.


Although the use of the wherry for transport had ceased by the middle 20th century, the importance of water transport continued on the river Yare well into living memory. Sea-going coasters carried coal and timber up to Norwich, and fruit juice from South America to Carrow Works for Robinson’s Barley Water; scrap metal was exported from Wensum wharf. This trade petered out about thirty years ago, and now all the river transport beyond the sea ports is leisure craft.





There used to be many ferries across the rivers and estuaries in Norfolk. Now there are only a few; Reedham ferry across the Yare and the ferry across the Great Ouse from Kings Lynn to West Lynn. There are also the ferries to Blakeney Point; these popular trips to see the seals leave from Morston Quay and Blakeney Harbour. Going back into history, in Roman times Holme-next-the-Sea (where Peddars Way reaches the coast) used to be the base for a ferry across the Wash. Its destination was the Roman station of Vainona (now called Wainfleet) in Lincolnshire. About forty years ago Norfolk Line used to run two ferries a day from Great Yarmouth to Holland; these ferries, the Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Holland, were mostly for commercial freight, but they were also used by the general public.


In Suffolk, since the MoD left the Orfordness peninsular in 1973 there has been a ferry service to allow people from Orford to explore the sand dunes and derelict military buildings across the river Ore in the Nature Reserve. There is a ferry service between Felixstowe and Harwich on the mouths of the rivers Orwell and Stour, linking these major ports of Suffolk and Essex. There is still a rowing boat that ferries people across the river Blyth from Walberswick to Southwold, though it only operates in the summer season.  It only costs a pound. I have used the Walberswick ferry (many years ago) and also went across the Deben ferry which goes across the Deben estuary from Bawdsey to Felixstowe, with my new wife (and our bikes) in 1986.

Pulls Ferry in about 1800.

The rowing boats that used to ferry people across the river Yare were common before the 20th century. They had all been abandoned by the time I was aware of my surroundings, but many of the boats themselves survived, as battered and unloved hulks pulled up on the riverbank. One such boat was at Pulls Ferry on the river Wensum in Norwich (it was broken up by vandals around 1970). Why a ferry had lasted so long there is something of a mystery. Bishops Bridge is only a few hundred yards away, and it had ceased to charge a toll in the mid 19th century; yet Pulls Ferry only ceased to operate within living memory, during the Second World War.

The boat which used to link Brundall with Surlingham at Coldham Hall was by repute going into the 1970s, but whenever I saw it the boat always appeared disused.  I was a not an infrequent visitor to Coldham Hall in the 1960s, where my father would buy his half pint on a Sunday. I dare say we should have gone during the week to see the ferry in use. There was also a ferry that linked Surlingham with Postwick at the suitably named pub, the Surlingham Ferry. Between there and Norwich was Whitlingham ferry, and although I have never heard of a ferry at Bramerton, I am sure that at one time you could take a boat from the Wood’s End (as the riverside pub used to be called) to Hall Lane in Postwick.


The ferry at Buckenham was always remote from human habitation, although across the river was the Ferry Inn. The Ferry Inn (now rebuilt and called the Beauchamp Arms) figures prominently on this picture from 2oo years ago. It is across the river from Buckenham in Langley near Loddon. It is still a popular place of refreshment, although it draws almost all its trade from thirsty holiday makers who arrive there by boat. The only difference with the nineteenth century is that then its customers were working wherrymen.  Note that in 1826 ten sheep, two cows and three people were waiting for the ferryman to pull the pontoon across the river to pick them up; two sailing boats are tied up at the pub. I went there as a teenager with my cousin Andrew, when we spent day sailing my dinghyfrom the Buckenham Sailing Club. Despite being an almost uninhabited location, the hamlet of Buckenham still boasts its own railway station, although it served by only a couple of trains a week.

The layout of the roads shows that once it was possible to take a ferry from Cantley; in fact there were two routes across the river Yare from there, but all traces of them have been lost. Reedham car ferry has already been mentioned, and it remains in use. It was almost the last ferry before you reached Great Yarmouth; the last one was a marshland ferry near the Berney Arms pub. Heaven only knows who used it, as the pub must accessed by railway or river boat, unless you walk for miles across the marsh from the A 47; what sort of income did the ferryman earn I wonder? The steamer which used to ply the river between the South Quay in Yarmouth and Gorleston saved holiday makers a long walk via Haven Bridge.





THE AUGUSTA was Sheringham’s first purpose-built lifeboat, launched in 1838 and condemned as unseaworthy in 1894.

Early lifeboat. BITTERN

Early lifeboat. BITTERN

The National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck (which later became the RNLI) had been founded a decade before the Augusta was built, but this lifeboat was privately financed by Abbot Upcher’s widow Charlotte. The 33ft 6in open boat with 16 oars and a lugsail was called Augusta in memory of Charlotte Upcher’s daughter, who died aged 20 in 1836. The organiser of the project to build the new vessel was Harry West. He was a fisherman and leading member of the lifeboat community. The Wests have been a leading Sheringham family for centuries, and for more about them I refer you to my blog on David West. The Wests have been dedicated Salvationists for generations, but in 1838 the founder of the Salvation Army was still a little boy of under ten years old. The Augusta was built in Sheringham Park, the home of the Upcher family, from local timber. The Augusta was used as a lifeboat for 56 years, and in retirement she was used by the Sea Scouts on the Broads. She survived into the 1950s.

The launch of the Augusta, 14th November, 1838

Come comrades, gather to the boat, the rocket line prepare
For many a gallant man tonight is battling despair.
The squall comes roaring onward, driving right across the sea,
And who’s the craven that shall say “no call is there for me”.

The sky is black, iced is the wreck, yet shrink not you aghast,
And think what they are feeling who are clinging to the mast.
The sturdy tiller of the soil can lend a hand or pair
And who has not hand to lend can bring an eye to bear.

All eyes to be on that glimmering line of lurid tossing foam
So he who will not now turn out, may bide henceforth at home.
The hands of mercy’s sons are firm, their hearts are firmer still,
The Augusta mounts the billows for they pull with might and will;

Their craft is true and evermore to deeds of rescue braced,
She meekly bears the cherished name upon her quarter traced;
Oh lift up our hearts to Him who bade the storm subside,
Who in the water makes His path, who reins the foaming tide.

So may the God of heaven e’en now their earnest efforts bless,
May He who prospereth our way now give them good success.

Anna Gurney

The writer of this verse was the Quaker philanthropist Anna Gurney, born in 1795 at Keswick Hall near Norwich. She was the youngest child of Richard Gurney of the banking family. When she was still a baby she lost the use of her legs through illness. She was a great scholar, becoming fluent in Latin, Greek and Old English from an early age; she published a translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which ran to a second edition. In later life she learnt the Scandinavian tongues and also Russian, and she studied the literature of these languages.

As an adult she made her home just to the east of Cromer in the viilage of Northrepps. Her house, Northrepps  Cottage, is now a hotel; as you can see, the word ‘cottage’ hardly describes this commodious country residence.



Anna Gurney took a great interest in life saving at sea, and bought one of Captain Manby’s rocket lines. She would be carried down to the beach to direct the operation of the Mortar when there was a shipwreck on the coast. (You will note that she could not resist a reference to this apparatus in her poem.) Despite her disability, she travelled widely in Europe. She became the first female member of the British Archaeological Association and, together with Amelia Opie, had established the Norwich branch of the Anti-Slavery Society. She died at Keswick after a short illness in 1857.

To read more on East Anglian lifeboats click here.







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.





The river Chet broke its banks.

The river Chet in South Norfolk broke its banks in the 1980s.

Flooding has been in the news a lot recently. This new year the downpours in the north of the UK have flooded properties in Cumbria, Yorkshire and Aberdeenshire among other places, but last year it was the south of England that saw the worst of the flooding. The river Thames and the Somerset Levels were both badly effected.

In East Anglia, although there have been many river floods over time, it is tidal surges from the North Sea that do the greatest damage. Although the surge of December 2013 was in some cases more extreme than the surge of 1953, improved sea defences and early warning measures meant that this time it passed off without loss of life. On the night of January 31/February 1 1953 over 300 Britons were drowned in the floods. It is strong north easterly winds coinciding with spring tides that cause these surges, not rainfall.

Fortunately for me I live on top of a hill, so the possibility of flooding does not worry me greatly. This is not true of my sister who was flooded out of her home in 2013; this happened in Canada, so as you can see flooding is a problem across the world. In Norfolk the Broads and the Fens are the two area which are most at risk of river flooding. In the Fenlands it is not really a risk at all, but a certainty; controlled flooding is part of the management of the annual rainfall. The Welney Washes on the border of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire are the principal place where the flooding is concentrated. Nearly every year the ‘A’ road adjacent to the Washes is closed by flooding, often for weeks at a time.

Norwich has not suffered from flooding for over a hundred years, but in August 1912 the lower areas of the city were inundated by rainwater.  As you can see from the date, floods are not always a winter phenomenon. All of Broadland suffered too in 1912, and damage caused to the lock at Buxton ended river navigation from Coltishall to Aylsham on the canalised section of the Upper Bure. Nowadays when you look down on the tiny stream that runs under the Aylsham bypass, it is incredible to think that wherries once used to navigate this river. It was obviously wider then.

The 1912 Floods; CLICK  HERE to view a photo gallery.

Flooding is not always a bad thing; water meadows receive the benefits of annual flooding and this improves the grass that animals rely on for food. Wetland floods are regarded as essential habitats for our winter visiting birds from the Arctic. It is when places that are normally not flooded get unusually heavy rainfall or swollen rivers that the floods become a real threat.

The damage is not always from the water itself soaking people’s homes; the rushing torrents can sweep away roads, bridges and buildings.  Abergeldie Castle in Aberdeenshire came perilously close to falling into the river Dee in early 2016, but as it has dropped out of the national news headlines I assume that it must have survived.

The flooding has been blamed on global warming. We have been warned to expect more flooding in the years to come, as the warmer air will hold more moisture. This sounds reasonable, but only a few years ago, when we experience a particularly dry spring, we were told by the experts that droughts would be much more common in future. We have since been told to anticipate variable extremes of weather, which covers just about every possibility except a period of moderate weather. I wonder how the experts would explain that? The fact is that climate is a very complicated subject that defies simple explanations. It is the jet stream rather than the global temperature that determines the weather in individual countries. In the past ice ages have come and gone, to be followed by tropical periods, with no help from human intervention. Clearly climate change is a natural phenomenon, although it may well be that human activity is speeding up global warming. It is undoubted getting warmer at present, and the glaciers are shrinking, but I have noticed no dramatic rise in sea levels. It is fashionable to worry us about all this, but there is absolutely nothing that I personally can do about it. Even on a national scale we are pretty powerless; if the whole of the UK went carbon neutral tomorrow, there is no sign of the much larger countries like China reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases. India continues to burn ever greater quantities of coal. The results can be seen in frequent smogs which regularly descend on the large cities in both countries.

We know that whatever the future may hold we will have more floods; but flooding goes back to the time of Noah, so there is nothing new about that.





The nearest “Broad” to Norwich is either Whitlingham Broad or the University Broad; both lie on the outskirts of the city. But these recent additions to the expanses of water in Norfolk ought rather to be called lakes; they were dug out to provide sand and gravel for large construction projects (the Southern Bypass and the University).  This is not an irrelevant consideration, because the shores of these broads are of shingle, not the reed beds which are so emblematic of the Norfolk Broads. As everyone should know, the Broads are surrounded by peat. Since the discovery by Joyce Lambert, as recently as 1952, the Broads have been accepted as medieval peat diggings. Before that everybody regarded them as natural phenomena.

Leaving aside these new “broads” then, the first real Broad we come to as we go down the river Yare is Brundall Broad. This is not a well-known broad; it is no longer navigable, as since 1845 it has been divided in two by the railway line from Yarmouth to Norwich. The next Broads are in Surlingham to the south of the river, and to the north lies Strumpshaw Broad. These broads are all much smaller than they used to be, the reed beds having encroached on the open water. Some of these broads are now managed as Nature Reserves, and to provide a variety of habitat some reed beds have been cut back. Strumpshaw Broad, for example, is visible as open water once more, having been almost totally obscured by vegetation, until thirty years ago.

The broads at Buckenham and Hassingham are a long way from the river, and are connected to it by narrow dykes which once gave access to river boats, but appear to have been obstructed for centuries. All broads must once have had access to the river system to carry away the peat by boat, and the destination was the hearths of Norwich and Yarmouth.

Going upstream along the river Bure we come to the Broads of Flegg; Ormesby, Rollesby and Filby. These were once navigable along Muck Fleet. The river Ant has Barton Broad, and the Thurne has Hickling Broad, but the largest area of Broadland is on the higher reaches of the Bure. Wroxham Broad, Hoveton Great and Little Broads among many others (some so small they do not have names) all crowd in cheek by jowl. With so many broads Wroxham is naturally the centre of the Broadland holiday industry.



I wish to return to the subject of the digging of the broads; the pits would have flooded very soon after they were excavated. Therefore only a small pit was dug, to provide turf for the coming winter season. The blocks of peat were stacked up on the bank to dry during the summer months, while the pit filled up with water. Keels (the predecessors of wherries) came up the dyke to load the turves and when they were gone the bulwark could be breached to allow the passage of boats through to the next year’s pit. In some places you can still see the channels made through the peat. The industry was effectively ended by the Black Death in the mid-fourteenth century, which reduced both the demand for winter fuel and the number of workers available to dig it out. Wood had always been a common fuel, and as deep mining grew in popularity in the midlands and in Yorkshire, coal became universally employed. Newcastle was where our coal in Norfolk came from, brought by collier brig to coastal ports for distribution inland.

After the excavation of peat had ceased, some broads (or rather the dykes associated with them) became important watercourses for the growing trade in agricultural goods. Such produce as wheat, turnips and wool were loaded onto vessels at the New Inn quayside on Rockland dyke, to be transported upstream to Norwich or down to Yarmouth. Coal would travel up from Yarmouth. Filby Broad became the unloading point for wherries bearing nightsoil from the privies of Yarmouth. Many of the broads fell into disuse however, except for the occasional shooting expedition by wildfowlers in their gun punts. Since this use disappeared, the smaller and more remote Broads have slipped out of sight and out of mind.





I understand that the medieval walls of Great Yarmouth are the second most complete in the country. I could not tell you off-hand which place has the most extensive walls, but it will be either York or Chester. These two northern cities are well-known for retaining their ancient defences, which both date back to Roman times. York’s walls retain little Roman stonework, but in the north-western section of Chester’s walls you will see Roman ashlar in the lower courses. Yarmouth town walls date from well after the Roman period; nearby Caister and Burgh Castle have the ruins of Roman walls, but Great Yarmoth was little more than a sand spit at the time.  Yarmouth has always had special relationship with Norwich since the town was first formed at the mouth of the river Yare. Norwich too has medieval walls, although less extensive than the other cities mentioned.

The river Yare is the thing which both unites and divides the two Norfolk communities. It provided quick and easy communication when the roads were slow and difficult; but although goods could pass between Norwich and the various places on the river banks between Norwich and Yarmouth without let or hindrance, any goods being brought in from the sea had to first pass the port of Yarmouth. The town could not resist the temptation to impose excessive harbour dues on goods passing upstream to Norwich. This state of affairs continued until the Port of Norwich was established by Act of Parliament in 1827. With a flourishing trade in sea-going vessels, the Norwich City Guild found the imposition  of Yarmouth’s harbour dues intolerable.  They drove a canal from the river Yare at Reedham to the river Waveney; with the opening of the dam at Mutford (literally mud-ford) to provide a lock to Lake Lothing at Lowestoft, sea-going vessels could journey to Norwich avoiding Yarmouth altogether.

From Yarmouth’s point  of view the loss of trade was a disaster, and immediately all toll were lifted. With the straight-forward route to the sea now passable without the payment of excessive dues, the New Cut was almost redundant from its first opening, but in a way it had been a necessary (but hugely expensive) undertaking. Although not much used in the 19th century, it had freed Norwich from Yarmouth’s tyrany. Today the Port of Norwich has been completely taken over by leisure craft, and these make more use of the New Cut than ever commercial shipping did.

The eastern boom tower at Norwich

The eastern boom tower at Norwich

As I pointed out, the towns of Norwich and Yarmouth were inextricably linked by the river. At Norwich the river became an essential part of the city’s defences. The wall still marches down Carrow Hill, and where it meets the river two boom towers stood. A study chain was passed between the towers to prevent ships of war entering the city. The river became the defensive alternative to the wall for about a mile. until Norwich-over-the-Water need walls to defend it. They were continued to enclose Fishergate and Coslany. At Bishops Bridge, where access across the river was possible, this was heavily defended by a gate house.

These walls were built in warlike times, when the threat of civil war, if not of invasion, was very real. The Wars of the Roses was the most violent of these civil wars, but although it produced numerous attacks on country manor houses, the towns remained unscathed. The walls were never used in anger, but they served a useful purpose in protecting the townspeople from the depredations of nefarious night-time prowlers from the countryside. The gates were locked at dusk and the walled towns and cities became relatively safe places to sleep the night.


The picture above shows a section of Yarmouth’s walls. In an imaginative development this ancient tower on the town walls has been sympathetically converted into a home for holiday makers. This had been made  possible by the fact that 300 years ago some Georgian windows had been inserted on the tower. Modern necessities like a kitchen and bathroom have been included, but the flint walls retain the authentic medieval flavour of the holiday home. If it were not spread out over five floors I would almost be tempted to stay there myself. This picture was taken over forty years ago, and you can see from the fact that a tree was sprouting from the roof that the tower was then in a derelict state.

As you can see, there is much more to Great Yarmouth than hot dogs and sand castles. It a place that has a great history.






Freddie Fisk

Freddie Fisk

He was always Freddie to me but apparently his real name was Cyril. Cyril is a perfectly respectable name but it has been unfashionable for many years, so it is understandable that he preferred Freddie. Unfortunately Frederick too has rather passed out of the list of common names. Maybe the cycle of fashion will return both to the nation’s consciousness, but I can see no sign of that happening.

I first met Freddie Fisk in about 1980. I cannot now remember the circumstances of our first meeting. He had flat at 33 Surrey Street in Norwich, and my business was located at number 29; he was therefore a near neighbour of mine. He had just been made redundant from his job as a boatbuilder at Wroxham, so he was at a bit of a loose end. I do not know if he was ever married – he certainly did not have a wife at the time I knew him- and I rather got the impression that he had always been single. Certainly no talk of women ever occurred between us.

He was not yet at retirement age so he was in need of some odd jobs to occupy his time and provide a little income as well, to make ends meet. I was able to pay him a little to do some maintenance on the property, which he was happy to do. The four houses, numbers 29 to 35, were over 200 years old and could certainly do with the work he put in. With Fred it was mostly painting walls that I set to work on. What the house really needed was a complete re-roofing, but at five floors up this needed scaffolding but lots of it, which would have been very expensive.

Painting was what he did for me but his primary job was building himself a boat at Thorpe. This was major undertaking for an unemployed man working on his own and it took him ten years, but he completed it eventually.

The Broadsman was his boat, a motor cruiser. By the 1980s virtually all motor cruisers were built of fibreglass but Fred made his boat of wood. As a professional boatbuilder he made a good job of it, and it would have cost a fortune to buy such a craft. It must have cost Fred himself quite a lot, but he kept no account of what he had spent on it, and there was no possibility of charging for the many hours he had spent on it. At about 30 feet long it was amply big enough for him; he was obviously experienced enough to handle it on his own. He did not wish to use his boat as leisure craft however. His idea was patrol the river around Thorpe helping holidaymakers who had got into difficulties with their hire craft. The boat owners would then, in theory, pay Freddie for his assistance. I do not know if his plan ever got off the river bank; I somehow doubt it.

I have written other blogs on 29 Surrey Street, starting with one on the building’s occupants over the last 200 years. The next concentrates on the most famous resident, the botanist Sir J. E. Smith. Then comes one on the back yard and one on a roof tile, followed by Alice in Wonderland (that is a surprising connection). I cover the optician’s fitting room, the darkroom,  the workshop and the railway room. The Earl of Surrey, after whom Surrey Street is named, get a mention too. I still have a few other related subjects up my sleeve.

By the way, it is years since I saw anybody smoking a pipe, but as you may see, Fred certainly enjoyed his!





The stations that were closest to Norwich Thorpe (as NORWICH station was called in the days when there were three stations in the city) were all closed well over a generation ago. This first to go was Trowse, just across the swing bridge on the river Wensum taking the lines from London and Ely into the city. My father had many memories of Trowse station when it was a going concern and Nanny,my paternal grandmother, knew the station master very well. His name I have unfortunately forgotten but I do remember that he wore a top hat as a mark of his status as Station Master. This stop was very close to Norwich Thorpe and it was discontinued during the Second World War as an economy measure.

Besides being the first to close this station was also the only one of the Norfolk  stations to be reopened, albeit briefly, when it became the temporary terminus for the London and Breckland lines in 1986. This was while the swing bridge was replaced when the line to London was electrified. This bridge was double track previously, but is now singled, which has produced a bottleneck on the approach to a busy station at Norwich. Once the civil engineering work was completed Trowse station closed once more.

The next station near to Norwich to close was Whitlingham, just before the Bittern and Wherry lines (as they are now called) diverge. This station saw the end of passenger services in 1954. The goods sidings remained as a depot for Blue Circle Cement into the late 1970s or early 80s. The station platforms and booking hall disappeared soon after the passenger station closed, but the footbridge remains to this day as a way for pedestrians to cross the line and walk to the river Yare. Without the bridge a dyke providing  temporary mooring for pleasure boats would have no access to Thorpe. I can remember getting off the train at Whitlingham Station to walk to my Nanny’s house in Thorpe. What made it a memorable occasion was the guard allowing me, a small boy of four or five, to start the train as it moved off. During the day time this would have involved waving a green flag, but as it was dusk I had to hold up an oil lamp for the engine driver to see the green light. Although called Whitlingham Station it was in fact in the suburb of Thorpe, but then of course Thorpe station was the main terminus, what is now called Norwich Station.

The stopping trains were not fast and according to the timetable it took eight minutes to travel about half a mile from Trowse to Norwich Thorpe. The train from Whitlingham to the terminus was a minute faster, although the distance was considerably further. Walking from Trowse would have been faster, but only via the tack; the road from Trowse to Thorpe Station goes a roundabout way. I don’t think many people went from Trowse to Norwich by train, but it was a convenient place for Trowse residents to catch trains to more distant places on the London or Cambridge lines.

Hethersett station might have remained open had it been nearer to the village it was meant to serve.  Hethersett is a fair sized community with a High School and the county Fire Service HQ, and it really merits a railway station. The site however is so far distant from the village that the station was poorly used and in 1966 Dr Beeching’s axe fell. The village has continued to expand since the station’s closure and is now much closer to the railway.  There has been talk of reopening the station but there are problems of ownership of the land. Some of the station buildings remain in a very derelict state. Hethersett station was on the line to Ely in the days when expresses to London ran alternately via Ipswich and Cambridge, hauled by Britannia class pacifics. Those were the days! The next station was (and is) Wymondham, and that station remains open.

Wymondham station as it is today

Wymondham station as it is today

Some vestige of each of these closed stations remains, but of a fourth station nothing remains at all. This was Swainsthorpe which served the village five miles south of  Norwich on the London line. The small population of Swainsthorpe was not providing enough passengers to keep it open and it was closed in 1954. It was adjacent to the level crossing there. In the 1920s there were ten trains between Norwich and Swainsthorpe, four of which continued to Bungay via Tivetshall Junction and six continued to Ipswich. Because there were an equal number of trains in the opposite direction this meant that this small village was served by 20 trains a day. There was even a basic Sunday service. I cannot think that many people used these trains; the nearby villages of Dunston and Newton Flotman were just as small, and Mangreen was even smaller. Goods traffic of agricultural goods must have been more important than passengers.

The next station from Swainsthorpe on the London line was Flordon and that closed in 1966; so did Forncett, Tivetshall and Burston, all stops between there and Diss. These were all victims of the Beeching Axe. Today the first station on the London line from Norwich is Diss, and all trains stop there. I think that the existence of all these stations on the London mainline, and the stopping trains that called at them, made timetabling  the express trains difficult and this sealed their fate. None of the other lines out of Norwich saw their stations decimated in his way, and small villages like Worstead, Gunton, Lingwood, Cantley and Spooner Row all retain their stations. At one time there were only two stations between Norwich an Ipswich left open, at Diss and Stowmarket. Since then the station at Needham Market has reopened, but only trains to and from Bury St Edmunds stop there.

On the Breckland Line Wymondham is the first stop from Norwich but only some trains stop at the town. On the Bittern line the first stop is at Salhouse station. On the Wherry Line it is at Brundall Gardens, but not all trains stop at either of these stations. There is talk of moving the station at Salhouse to Rackheath to serve the proposed Eco-town and provide a service to Norwich every 15 minutes at peak times. Naturally I approve of this plan, although I think that perhaps Salhouse station could remain open too.







This is a riverside parish which takes in a wide sweep of the river Yare, which forms its northern boundary. It adjoins Bramerton to the west and Rockland St Mary to the south and east. The village of Surlingham contains Wheatfen Broad where the Norfolk naturalist Ted Ellis made his home for the last four decades of his life. I went there in about 1956 with my sister’s friend Tibby (Miss Tibbs). She was studying biology at Oxford and was spending part of her summer vacation with E. A. Ellis to absorb his knowledge of natural history. (He had no formal qualification but was widely respected in academic circles.) I recall his house, Wheatfen Cottage, was deep in the Broadland marshes. It was a very interesting place but, I think, a slightly chaotic environment.

Surlingham is nowadays a rather remote place to get to, but in the past it had two ferry services which linked it to the wider world. One was the self-explanatory Surlingham Ferry, and one was from Coldham Hall. The pubs with these names remain at both locations but there has not been a ferry at either in my memory. Surlingham Ferry does not have any houses very closed on the north side of the river; the village on the far shore is Postwick, which is not a big place.  However Coldham Hall would be very close to Brundall if the ferry were still running. You can see plenty of activity on the other bank from Coldham Hall, but it is a journey of many miles to get there, even since the erection of the bridge on the Southern Bypass at Postwick which cuts several off it. Brundall is a large village. Besides having plenty of shops, a library and a Primary School it has not one but two railway stations. In this respect it is the only place in Norfolk to be so fortunate. Across the county boundary in Suffolk Oulton Broad also has two stations, but they are on different lines. Brundall and  Brundall Gardens between them have well over 100,000 passengers a year. Many of these will be holiday makers on their way to one of the major boatyards in Brundall. So it is rather strange that Surlingham should be so near and yet so far from a major transport hub.

The tug Gensteam on the Yare

The tug Gensteam on the Are

A hundred years ago the river was a thriving place of industry and this included Surlingham. The North River, the Bure, was already mostly used for leisure craft but the Yare was still used for trade. This not only brought tugs towing barges and sea-going freighters through Surlingham, but boat builders were working along the river bank. Only about a generation before sea going sailing trawlers were being constructed at the boatyard there. You can still see the slipway where wherries were launched next to Coldham Hall. Much longer ago, in 9th century, Viking warriors sailed up the river Yare, intent on dealing death to the local population. Surlingham did not escape, but not all the action was in favour of the invaders. A Viking war axe, found when dredging near Surlingham ferry, suggests a fight took place there in which a Dane lost his axe, and undoubtedly lost his life too.

My son Peter, wife Molly and I joined other members of my family at Coldham Hall to celebrate my sister Tiggie’s 70th birthday in 2008. We used to be regular visitors to Surlingham; Tiggie and I had walked from Bramerton to Surlingham on August Bank Holiday in 1972. You may read about his riverside ramble in my blog for August 26 2012.

My family at Coldham Hall

My family at Coldham Hall