I came across an interesting postcard of Brundall Gardens a couple of weeks ago which dates from the early 1920s and shows the layout of the estate, which was a popular destination for day trips from Great Yarmouth and Norwich at this time. The gardens were created by Dr Michael Beverley who had purchased 76 acres of land at Brundall in 1881. Dr Beverley landscaped the grounds and filled it with many rare trees and shrubs, along with a collection of exotic birds. He also built a rather luxurious log cabin in the grounds as a weekend retreat for family and friends. After the death of his wife, Dr Beverley sold the estate in 1919 to wealthy cinema magnate Frederick Holmes-Cooper who immediately began to develop the gardens further, building a tearoom/dance pavilion alongside the landing stage, and also the magnificent Riverside Hotel. When the log cabin was destroyed by fire in 1919 he had the three storey Redclyffe House built for his family within the grounds. Frederick Holmes-Cooper also owned the Brundall Gardens Steamship Company and the postcard above was actually an advertisement for day trips on the SS Victorious which brought visitors to the gardens from Great Yarmouth. The reverse of the card tells us that; “Any person taking a trip by the SS Victorious leaving Southtown Bridge any morning except Saturday (weather circumstances permitting) to Brundall Gardens, “The Switzerland of Norfolk”, will be amply rewarded. Luncheons and teas at the commodious riverside restaurant at moderate prices.” Fares were 3/6 for adults and 2/- for children under twelve which included the 6d entrance fee. It also mentions that the SS Victorious was the only boat from Yarmouth to the gardens.
The postcard on the right shows the landing stage and riverside tearooms c1920s with what is probably the Jenny Lind passenger steamer, which used to run day trips to the gardens from Norwich, moored alongside. You can see a glimpse of the Riverside Hotel in the background, behind the thatched cottage. Holmes-Cooper also negotiated for trains on the Norwich to Yarmouth line, which ran straight through the estate, to stop at Brundall Gardens Halt, bringing in yet more visitors. In 1937, the gardens were sold and its gates were closed to paying visitors. Over the years, parcels of land were sold off and by the time it came up for sale again in 1968, the original 76 acres had been reduced to just 18. The stunning Redclyffe house was destroyed by fire in 1969 and the once magnificent gardens were neglected and became overgrown. Much of the land on which Dr Beverley first created his botanical paradise is now occupied by housing estates, the yacht basin is home to the Brundall Gardens Marina, whilst the landing stage and riverside tearoom site was developed a few years ago and now houses a small marina/ boatyard and holiday cottage complex which has been seemingly unoccupied since it was built. The Riverside Hotel was renovated in the 1970s by Colin Chapman, of Lotus and JCL Marine fame, but was later declared unsafe and it too was destroyed by fire in 1993 after being struck by lightening.
So what, if anything, remains of Brundall Gardens? A quick look on Google Maps shows that the Lily Lake still lies alongside the railway line, and that a small area of the original gardens above it survived the developers bulldozers to become the private gardens of the houses which surround it. The “Cascades” which were a series of ponds, and the remains of what is believed to be a Roman dock have been restored and lie in the grounds of Lake House which is opened to the public on selected days under the National Open Gardens Scheme. From the river itself, there is little left of the scene which once greeted the many thousands of visitors who arrived by passenger steamer. From the spring until the autumn, the riverbank which lies between the Yare and the lagoon becomes overgrown with the highly invasive Japanese Knotweed, a plant which was extremely popular in Victorian times … a legacy from Dr Beverley’s ownership perhaps? But the saddest reminder of what was once one of the most popular visitor attractions in Broadland is the derelict thatched cottage which lies between Brundall Gardens Marina and the “Mary Celeste” cottage complex (see photo above left). This is actually the same cottage which can be seen in the previous postcard of the landing stage and tearooms from the 1920s, but is now slowly crumbling away with no obvious signs of being rescued and restored.
There are some wonderful old photographs of the gardens during their heyday in the gallery section of the Brundall Local History Group website, and a more detailed history of the gardens and it’s owners can be found in “The Book of Brundall & Braydeston: A Tale of Two Norfolk Parishes” which was produced by the group and published by Halsgrove in 2007.