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1950s - An Historic Overview

1950s Photos 1950s Memories

In 1950 Britain was still recovering from the after effects of the Second World War. There had been an initial economic boom in the first few years after the war but this was followed by a downturn in the early 1950s. Petrol rationing finally came to an end in May 1950 but the rationing of certain foodstuffs continued until 1954. Around Broadland, businesses had been trying to continue building on the holiday boom which had begun prior to the outbreak of war. As fashions and leisure pursuits changed, the pubs and hotels were changing with them and new establishments were opening. Blakes 1951 brochure contained an advert for The Petersfield House Hotel and Country Club at Horning which stated “This new hotel is designed for those who desire the acme of comfort and good cuisine”. Amongst the facilities offered were a cocktail bar (a new trend advertised at several riverside establishments), lounges, tennis, badminton, miniature golf and delightful waterside anchorage along with all weather day launches for hire. Broads visitors could use the facilities for a 2 shilling short term membership subscription but this had to be paid for at least two days ahead of your holiday.


The hire fleets had all suffered greatly during the war years, as has previously been detailed, but by the early 1950s the numbers of yachts and motor cruisers for hire were increasing at a fast pace. In the Blakes 1951 brochure there were 71 pages of sailing craft, 81 pages of motor cruisers and 14 houseboats available for hire from 32 boatyards. The average cost per head for a weeks boat hire was quoted as £6 with food and other expenses estimated at £2 per person. Newly introduced this year was the “Advance Pay-As-You Go Plan” designed to allow customers to pay a deposit for their holiday followed by regular instalments of the remaining balance. The “Anchors Aweigh” booklet was now being sent out to all customers prior to the start of their holiday giving boating and holiday advice, and a 16mm full colour cine film entitled “Broadland Adventure” was available for loan in both silent and sound versions. Cine film was starting to become a popular medium, although was highly expensive at this time, and Blakes also included a note that “we also welcome the opportunity to see any films made by clients that feature Broadland scenes”.


Of the motor cruisers on offer, one of the cheapest was the tiny 17ft, 2 berth “Peter Pan” from H.T.Percival at Horning which cost between £12 and £17 a week to hire.  Brooms of Brundall were offering several classes of motor cruiser for hire ranging from the 24ft, 4 berth “Cadet” at £22 10s to £31 per week, up to the 42ft “Admiral” which had 8 berths, two toilets and a full size bath which cost from £40 to £54 10s for a weeks hire.  Herbert Woods yard were now offering ten of their 2 berth “Starlight” class for a cost of £16 10s to £23 10s per week whilst the 36ft, 4 berth “Glimmer Of Light” cost between £28 and £38 10s to hire.

Herbert Woods “Broadshaven” empire had been growing and expanding into many areas. The hire fleet continued to be added to and in 1950 the famous passenger cruiser “Her Majesty” was launched having been commissioned by Broads Tours at Wroxham.  “Her Majesty” was 60ft in length and could seat 100 people, she was constructed from English oak with mahogany planking and her cost was given as £3,500 which included the Morris engine. Some extra costs were incurred during her build including the official launch party which was attended by long term Broads visitors Mr and Mrs George Formby who had a holiday home “Heronby” at Wroxham and owned several boats. The party itself was a lavish affair for guests but the craftsmen who built her were given just a celebratory half pint of beer!

The Broads Tours fleet at Wroxham pictured in the 1950s

Woods had also purchased George Applegates yard at Potter Heigham from which he ran a fleet of half deckers and “Viking” day motor launches. These all weather launches had a canopy which could be pulled up and over and could be hired at a cost of 10 shillings an hour, £3 a day or £10 for a week. Even though the yard was close to the Broadshaven marina, he retained the Applegates name for this yard as he felt that some clients would prefer to hire from what they perceived to be a small company.  By 1950 Herbert had also acquired the Broadshaven Hotel and Bridge Stores at Potter Heigham along with a market garden nearby which provided both establishments with supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables along with eggs and honey. The stores became the supplier of grocery orders for the clients of his hire fleet. Herbert had also purchased Southgates yard at Horning along with several acres of marshland on Swan Corner as part of his new “Broadland Yachting Co. Ltd.”, new cruisers and yachts were built here under the Southgates name.


Although the motor cruiser was now becoming the more popular choice for visitors who wanted a boating holiday, sailing was still attracting many people and the choice of boats was varied. In the 1951 Blakes brochure, half deckers with camping awnings could be hired from £8 per week, the 20ft, 2 berth, “Waif” class of cruiser from the N.B.Y.Co. at Wroxham cost between £11 and £15 10s and Herbert Woods 5 berth “Leading Lady” cost from £23 to £31 10s. Whilst these craft were fitted with modern gas stoves and electric lighting, Percy Hunter’s fleet at Womack retained their oil gimbal lamps and primus stoves. By 1950, the Hunters had built their fleet up to 14 yachts and two half-deckers. Blakes had tried to persuade Percy to follow the trend and add motor cruisers to the fleet but he was apparently very much against this idea, his dislike for these craft was evident as he referred to them as “stink boats”.


Hunters had built up a good reputation for hiring out high quality sailing cruisers and were able to retain their loyal following of enthusiastic hirers who were unlikely to want to hire motor boats. In 1951 their 3 berth “Wood Rose” class cost between £13 and £18 to hire for a week and the 4 berth “Lustre” class were £17 10s out of season rising to £25 10s at peak rate. Some of the old pleasure wherries and wherry yachts were still around, although most of those that remained had now been de-masted and were being used as houseboats. The auxiliary wherry yacht “White Moth” was still under sail as was the wherry “Olive” which could be hired, accompanied by two attendants, for between £43 and £58 10s per week.


The sailing clubs too were still attracting plenty of interest, in 1953 membership of the Horning Sailing Club stood at over 700 as did that of the Norfolk Broads Yacht Club. New clubs were still forming, with both the Hickling and Coldham Hall sailing clubs starting in the early 1950s. One of the most interesting sailing clubs was formed in 1949 by a small group of enthusiasts at Potter Heigham who wished to continue sailing during the winter months. This went on to become The Snowflake Sailing Club and by 1952 they had 30 members including one George Southgate. Eventually the club were invited to sail from Horning Sailing Club where they have remained ever since. The Norwich Frostbite Sailing Club, another group or winter sailors, had formed in 1933 and by the 1950s had built their headquarters and clubhouse at Thorpe St. Andrew.

Despite the popularity that remained for sailing, it was clear by the early 1950s that motor cruisers and launches were out-numbering the sailing craft available for hire. Another new boat hire agency had arrived in 1948 in the form of Bradbeers who were based at Lowestoft and became known as the “Red Whale” fleet. Hoseasons had also been growing from strength to strength. Wally Hoseason had sadly passed away in 1950 and his son James, then in his 20s, had taken over the running of the company.  By 1953 he represented 12 boatyards and this years brochure featured 16 pages of yachts, 58 pages of motor cruisers and nearly 50 pages of houseboats, caravans, bungalows and houses to hire throughout Broadland. In the introduction to the brochure it was claimed that nearly two out of three craft offered had been built since the war and the modern conveniences on board the boats were given great prominence.

Broom Admiral

Of the newly built boats listed were several from Ripplecraft at Somerleyton including the 24ft, 4 berth “Broadland Widgeon” and “Broadland Mallard” which were available for between £20 and £34 per week, and the smaller 2 berth “Broadland Dabchick” which cost between £11 and £21 for a weeks hire. There was also the very sporty looking, 2 berth “Minna” from R.Bondon of South Walsham which was described as being “an entirely new design of speedy cruiser of very attractive appearance”, and cost from £13 to £23 per week to hire. Many of the bungalows listed in Hoseasons 1953 brochures were very simple affairs, mostly with outside toilets, which cost from around £6 to £14 per week depending on size and season. Of the caravans on offer, one of the most interesting was an old converted bus called “Annette” which could sleep four and was located on a farm at Horsey.


Hoseasons also made mention of some of the attractions which were on offer for younger visitors: “Though much emphasis has been laid on the peaceful solitude of Broadland, let it not be assumed that entertainment is lacking. Paradoxically, there are a surfeit of thrills and spills to satisfy the most speed-crazy youngster. Speedway, horse and motor boat racing, dancing and speed boat trips.” In fact the regular Thursday evening motor boat races at Oulton Broad were now attracting large crowds of spectators some of whom moored out on the Broad to watch events. Dances were still held regularly around the Broadland towns and villages but not quite to the extent that they had been during the 1930s and 1940s.


Horning Swan still advertised dancing every Wednesday and also played host to the GR mobile cinema on Friday evenings whilst the Anchor Hotel in Coltishall held dances every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and also had a bowling green on offer for guests use. At Potter Heigham, The Bridge Hotel still had their dancehall with an adjoining ice cream bar and the Thurne Haven Hotel were advertising their “fish and chip saloon”.  On the Southern Broads, the Beauchamp Arms offered riding, sailing and fishing holidays and held dances every Saturday night, Burgh Castle yacht station now had an 11 acre camping and caravan site and provided a number of day boats, yachts, houseboats, chalets and tents for hire and, at Thorpe St. Andrew, the Town House guest house offered sailing dinghies for hire with picnic baskets.

It should be mentioned that the night of the 31st of January 1953 saw the area experience its worst peacetime tragedy as sustained, force 11 northerly gales forced a sea surge to hit the Norfolk and Suffolk coastline almost eight feet above normal high tide levels. 5,000 homes were destroyed, 40,000 acres of arable land was flooded and 144 people died in the two counties. Many areas of Broadland experienced severe flooding as the water breached embankments and destroyed river banks.


By 1955 it was estimated that Broadland was now attracting 200,000 holiday visitors a year which had doubled on the pre war estimate of around 100,000. The increase in car ownership and paid holidays, along with the fact than many women were now starting to go out to work meant that, with more leisure time available, holidays were becoming an affordable option for most households in Britain. The choice of holiday available around Broadland provided something to suit most pockets and although boating still remained comparatively expensive it was attracting more and more people. The days of cheap package holidays in the sun were still a good way off so most families spent their vacations within the UK.

Gorleston pictured in the aftermath of the 1953 flood

The boatyards continued to build new motor cruisers and many developments were being made. By 1956 the first diesel marine engines were appearing on hire boats. “Caroline”, a 24ft, 3 berth boat from Porter and Haylett at Wroxham, was advertised in Hoseasons brochure as being fitted with a two cylinder Stuart Turner diesel motor “to give economical cruising at approx. 1d per mile”. She cost between £19 and £36 per week to hire. Burecraft, also at Wroxham, had the 4 berth “Lady Jane” and Lady Moya” for hire from £22 to £39 per week which were fitted with two cylinder 10hp Petters diesel engines. There were also some interesting converted boats available to hire on the Broads listed in the 1956 brochure. “Foynes” was a 72ft long ex-admiralty M.T.B. which slept between 7 and 16 people and “Blue Lagoon” was a 60ft converted M.G.B. sleeping up to 20. Both boats were moored at Oulton Broad and were regularly hired out to groups of Sea Scouts and Guides with hire prices ranging from £19 up to £34 per week. There were also 28 pages of bungalows listed ranging from “The Cabin” at Horning Ferry which was a 12ft by 12ft octagonal chalet which slept two and cost from £4 to £8 a week, up to “The Willows” at Wroxham which slept eight and cost between £12 and £14 per week.


Blakes 1958 brochure was in the new, A4+ size, upright format and hire prices seemed to have risen quite steeply in just three years. “Broadland Dabchick” from Ripplecraft now cost between £15 and £30 per week which was an increase of £9 a week on peak charges. Diesel engines were slowly increasing in numbers amongst the hire boats on offer and the first mention of a fibre glass hull was made with the 3 berth sailing cruiser “White Finch” from Robinsons of Oulton Broad.  Of note amongst the adverts in this brochure was that The Broadshaven Hotel at Potter Heigham was now under new management as, sadly, Herbert Woods had died after suffering a massive heart attack on Easter Sunday in 1954.

Hoseasons too had introduced there new A4+ upright format brochure and in 1959 made the claim that 80% of their boats had now been built since the war. In the introduction we were also told that “this year every craft carries a cold food storage cupboard (or refrigerator) and all boats are now fitted exclusively with fresh water taps to wash basins and sink. River water is not used in any way”.  Another new innovation in boat design came with the brand new 30ft, 4 berth “Shenandoah” from Faircraft at Wroxham which featured dual controls – one in the aft cockpit and a second in the forward wheelhouse. She could be hired from £23 to £47 per week. Of the other motor cruisers available, F.B.Wilds at Horning had the 5 berth “Merry Days” and “Jolly Days” at a cost of £24 10s rising to £50 a week whilst Royalls at Wroxham offered the 2 berth “Royal Tiara” for just £15 to £28.  Amongst the 44 pages of bungalows and houses available to hire around Broadland were some new “service chalets” at Brundall. These tiny, twin bedded chalets provided just a wash basin and toilet but were offered at a cost of £15 to £20 per week, fully inclusive of all meals which were taken at the adjacent White Horse Inn. Portable televisions for these could be hired for an extra £1 per week.


A decade which had started with an economic depression in a country that was still recovering from the Second World War ended with the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, claiming that we had “never had it so good” . Britain had become an affluent society, wages had risen, leisure time had increased and Broadland had become a booming holiday destination, heavily reliant on the income that the tourist industry provided. The next decade would see even greater numbers of hire boats on the rivers, more holiday bungalows and cottages to let and innovations would be made that were set to revolutionise the future of boat design on the Broads.


©  Carol Gingell 2006

Top Hickling c1957