As I mentioned in a previous blog posting, the winter project I have lined up for myself is the editing of two reels of 16mm cine footage, totalling around 40 minutes in length, which feature two holidays taken by one family with Herbert Woods in the early 1930s. It was actually intended to be the project for last winter, but other website commitments meant that I didn’t manage to make much progress on it. The film should eventually be available via the website but it is likely to take me a while to sort it all out. In the meantime, I thought I would make a series of postings on the blog about the film in which I can publish some stills from the footage as they give a nice illustration of how a holiday cruise was conducted in those days. It will also give me the opportunity to make some notes for myself as I do the research from which I can hopefully write a commentary for the film.
I had originally intended to put it out pretty much as it was, a silent film with the addition of some on screen captioning, in the same manner I treated my grandfathers c1950 footage. However, having watched it through a few times, I felt that it deserved something a little better as it is just such a wonderful documentary of a typical family boating holiday of that era. I hope to be able to add a commentary and period background music but, having never done anything like this before, it is going to be somewhat of a steep learning curve! I purchased the film around 18 months ago, and then had it professionally transferred onto Mini-DV so that I could get it onto my computer and in to my editing software. … not a cheap thing to have done by any means, but with the fragile nature of old cine film at least it is now preserved digitally. The original film had been spliced together in quite a strange order …. I guess once they got back from the holiday and received several smaller rolls of film back from the developers, they couldn’t quite remember what was where on the Broads! I have had the same problem with photo albums in the past. I split the film down into its scenes and tidied up the transitions between them, removing jumps etc. so that it ran a little more smoothly. I then re-arranged it into an order which, hopefully, makes a little more sense, and actually follows the holidays as they cruise around the Broads. Having burnt off a DVD copy of the rough edit, this was as far as I managed to get last year.
Returning to the film over the Christmas holiday, I was so excited to watch it again as it is just such a fabulous record of a bygone era, and also in quite remarkable condition given that it is now nearly 80 years old! Having been shot on 16mm film, rather than the 8mm which my grandfather used, the overall quality is that much better too and you can really pick out so much detail. The first film dates from Whitsun 1932, and the second from Whitsun week 1933 – until 1971 Whitsun was a roving Bank Holiday and could fall anywhere between the 11th May and the 14th June. In 1932 Whit Monday was the 16th May, and in 1933 it was the 5th June. Between them, the two films cover a major part of both the northern and southern rivers and feature many bridges and buildings which no longer exist … in fact the cine-photographer does appear to have had a keen interest in the Broadland bridges as he seemed to film the passage beneath most of those that they encountered during their holidays.
Sadly, I know nothing about the family who feature in the films other than I have been able to establish that they must have lived in the Leeds area – this was only identified by the “UG” prefix on the registration plate of the car in which they travelled to Norfolk. This still from the film shows the family leaving the house in their car – a four door Morris Major saloon (UG 199) which would have been brand new in 1932. It had a 6 cylinder, 1800cc engine and apparently had a top speed of 57 mph, although I doubt that it actually attained those speeds fully laden with the family and their luggage, not to mention the state of the roads in those days! If they travelled a distance of roughly 200 miles to get to Potter Heigham at an average of 35 mph, then the journey probably took them at least six hours. In the second film, it was clear that they stopped off for a roadside picnic en-route. It would be wonderful to be able to identify the family but I think it is probably unlikely, although one would have thought that there must be descendants of the children around somewhere, so I live in hope! It is always interesting to know a little bit of the background behind the people who captured these images of the Broads, be they photographs or, as in this case, moving footage.
The next scene in the film shows the family having arrived at Herbert Woods Broads Haven yard, unloading the luggage onto their boat for the week – “Spark of Light” registration number B53 (more about that later!). Takeover time was listed as being 3.00pm on the Saturday of departure and the boat had to be returned by 10.00am the following week. Interestingly, it was noted that beginners could not hire yachts larger than 21 feet in length, or motor cruisers over 22 feet although it did state that; “If, however, you understand engines and can run a car, you can with care hire a motor boat up to 30ft“. This actually seemed to be a restriction which carried on for many years as the 1952 brochure also lists a limit of up to 34ft in length if you were a novice but could drive a car. No doubt, the family would have pre-ordered their provisions for the week from one of the stores in the village – at that time the Bridge Stores existed on it’s current site and Roys also had a branch roughly where Lathams now stands. Blakes brochure featured a list of suggested provisions to take onboard for your cruise, these included such items as Messrs. Brand’s A1 Delicacies which featured a range of tinned meats such as Pressed Beef, Oxford Brawn, Prawns in Aspic, Herrings Roes and Game Galantines. There was also a variety of canned and jarred fruits and vegetables from familiar names like Heinz, Chivers and Del Monte, and Wincarnis Beef Cubes and Wine Jelly along with the usual tea, coffee and Horlicks etc. Most of the suggested items were listed by brand name, and usually carried their own adverts elsewhere within the brochure. Upon request, the Broadland stores would send out a list of foodstuffs and other essential items which you could order in advance and your groceries would then be waiting on board for you when you arrived at the boatyard. The goods were paid for at the yard on the day of arrival, along with the balance of the hire cost of your boat, and the yard would then settle up with the relevant stores afterwards. Things were conducted in a rather different manner in those days and there seemed to have been an awful lot of business done on trust!
On to the boat! “Spark of Light” was one of the famous “Light” cruisers which were designed and built by Herbert Woods at Potter Heigham during the 1920s and 1930s, and had revolutionised the development of motor cruisers and boating holidays on the Broads. The first, “Speed of Light” had been built by Herbert in 1926 whilst he was still working for his father at Walter Woods and Co. It was, apparently, the first Broadland cruiser to have a central wheelhouse and the high standard of design, layout and internal fittings etc. set a benchmark which contemporary and future boat builders followed. Appearance and comfort were given great priority, but Herbert had also created an innovative low wash hull to minimise the impact his cruisers would have on the environment and other river users. The Light cruisers were fitted with Morris Marine engines which were far more reliable, and easier for his clients to operate and maintain, than previous marinised engines had been. The interiors were roomy with plenty of storage space, well equipped galleys which included the latest Valor Perfection paraffin stove and oven, and the saloons and cabins had large, comfortable berths and quality furnishings and upholstery. Mrs Woods was responsible for the internal furnishings, carefully colour co-ordinating everything from the curtains to the cushions, which were blue and white and emblazoned with the famous Woods blue star. You actually get a glimpse of these during the film, as there is some footage of the family inside the saloon and galley.
“Spark of Light” had been built c1927/28, was 34ft in length with a 9ft 6in beam and slept up to six persons – there were two berths in a cabin in the bow, a rear cabin with two single berths and another two berths could be made up from the seating in the saloon. In May 1932, it would have cost £14 for a weeks hire which included a rowing dinghy although, as today, fuel had to be paid for at the end of the holiday and there was also a charge made for the washing of the linen which was anything between 1 shilling and sixpence to 7 shillings and sixpence per boat, depending on size. The central wheelhouse had canvas side curtains and a folding canopy to enable it to pass under all of the low bridges. There was a large fresh water tank in the bow which supplied the taps in the galley and washbasin, and a pump action WC which, at this time, would have emptied its contents straight into the river! Byelaws to ban the discharge of effluence from boats straight into the rivers were not introduced until the 1960s, although older sailing cruisers are still exempt from this ruling due to the lack of space in which to fit a holding tank. The fact that the galley also had a hand-pump from which to draw water straight from the river into the boat for washing up purposes etc. doesn’t really bare thinking about! Spark was fitted with a self-starting 12 hp Morris Marine engine and it is mentioned that the boat was: “arranged for single-handed control with ship-type wheel from which there is an uninterrupted view in all directions“. Every possible comfort, it seems, was thought of and the Light cruisers were certainly the height of modernity, Herbert himself described them as “The Cream of the Broadland Fleet“.
Now, finally, we go out on to the river. A typical handover, we were told in Blakes brochure, would have been around 30 minutes long, where the engineer would ensure that you were familiar with the engine and was happy that you could handle the boat. I have no idea whether this was the first holiday the family had taken on the Broads, but it’s clear that they all had the same sense of excitement about setting off on their Broadland adventure as most holidaymakers do today. The first night seems to have been spent at a quiet riverside mooring somewhere on the River Bure. There is footage of the children and father rowing the dinghy around, and a passing yacht and motor cruiser. As the film progresses it is fascinating to see that a boating holiday on the Broads hasn’t really changed very much over the last 80 years, and that we all still do exactly the same things that this family did during their week afloat. The villages may have grown, buildings have come and gone, the scenery altered here and there, but the appeal of the Broads and the simple pleasures which we all enjoy were the same back then as they are today.
In the next post we will move on to Coltishall, Wroxham and Horning as the family continue their 1932 holiday. More information about the “Light” cruisers, the history of the Broads Haven yard and Herbert Woods himself can be found in the excellent book “Herbert Woods – A Famous Broadland Pioneer” which was written by his daughter Jennifer Woods.