The Enchantress and the mystery of Viscountess Bury

It sounds like a Sherlock Holmes novel but all will become clear! Rather than sit twiddling my thumbs whilst I await the arrival of my rebuilt PC, I decided to work on adding some more old postcards to the Broadland Memories website this week.

It’s been a while since I updated the postcard section – mainly because I have had so many photographs to get onto the website that I just haven’t had the time to sort through the past year’s additions. I’ve still got plenty more to come, but have dug out another 30 for now which I hope to upload to the website later today. West Somerton makes it onto the list with a selection of 5 images dating from between 1908 to the 1930s and there are 12 postcards of Norwich which include riverside scenes and an interesting selection of Edwardian images of the city centre. Finally, there are 13 new additions to the Oulton Broad section dating from 1910 to the 1950s.

The Viscountess Bury at Oulton Broad c1910

Amongst these is the postcard on the left which I’ve actually had on the computer for a couple of years. It shows a heavily laden passenger boat called the Viscountess Bury of which I knew nothing. Google is a wonderful thing and I soon found the information I was looking for, courtesy of the Steam Boat Association register. She was originally built as an electric launch in 1899 by Kirby Bowen at Eel Pie Island, Twickenham for use on the Thames. In 1910 she was bought by a Henry Miller of Oulton Broad who installed an engine and ran her as the passenger boat Viscountess Bury, as seen in the photograph which was presumably taken shortly after her arrival on the Broads.  The Steam Boat register has her listed as being 56 ft 2in in length with a 9ft beam. Clearly there were no health and safety issues in 1910 with the number of passengers you could load on to the top of a vessel of this size! N.B. Since writing this article, new information has come to light which shows that the photograph above does not show the launch which became Enchantress – please see the update!

In 1923 she was sold to Leo Robinson who converted the boat for use as a pleasure cruiser and renamed her Enchantress. The forward, outside well was covered by a canopy and had seating running down either side, from here you entered the saloon which doubled as a sleeping cabin with a double and single berth. At one end of the saloon was a piano, possibly one of the small pianos which were found on the pleasure wherry’s, an example of which can be seen at the Broads Museum in Stalham. A corridor ran along the port side from the saloon leading off from which were three double cabins and a single cabin, each fitted with a wash basin. At the end of the corridor was the bathroom which was equipped with a “self emptying” WC and a full size bath with hot and cold running water. At the rear of the boat was the engine room-cum-crew quarters. The upper deck retained its guard rails and was furnished with wicker armchairs and tables “for having tea.

1929 Blake’s brochure entry for Enchantress

Blakes 1929 entry for Enchantress stated that she was “completely fitted with everything of first-class quality for living and sleeping on board“. The cost of a week’s hire in August 1929 was £30 which included the services of a skipper and a steward. By this time she had been fitted with a new paraffin fueled engine. Enchantress was part of the Leo Robinson fleet at Oulton Broad until the yard closed in the early 1960s – she had given almost 40 years of service as a hire cruiser. In one of the recent additions to the website, John Turner recalled stumbling upon the slumbering Robinson fleet during a holiday in the mid 1960s. On entering the deserted boatshed he said, “I was immediately confronted by the large profile of the sixty foot long Edwardian cruiser, the Enchantress, with her white enamelled hull with its clipper bow and counter stern, varnished wooden superstructure and stanchioned upper sun deck. I climbed aboard her easily from a trestle into her forward well and through the open door I entered her large, richly appointed saloon, the first sight of which must have thrilled her countless new hirers over the years. I worked my way aft past the individual white painted sleeping cabins; each with an electric bell connected to the crews’ quarters, and past a further cabin space housing a bath and marine toilet to the crews’ quarters themselves which also served as the galley and engine room.

What happened next? Well, in truth, I’m not entirely sure. The entry for her on the Steam Boat Association website tells us that she was sold “as a wreck” in 1971 to a buyer from Cambridge. Where she had been for the intervening years I don’t know. Did she really languish in the old Robinson’s shed for that long? …… was she elsewhere on the Broads? …… or had she already been moved to the Cambridgeshire waterways before 1971?

Enchantress, pictured in December 2011 by courtesy of Fred Dawson

In 1978 Enchantress found another new owner, restoration was completed and she was fitted with a steam engine c1990. There is a photograph of her from 1992 on the SBA page linked to above in which she looked very smart indeed. So where is she now? Well it seems that she changed ownership again and a lot can happen to a wooden boat over the course of 20 years. I hadn’t found any recent references to Enchantress, or seen any other photographs ….. was she still around? My search for further information yesterday led me to the photograph above left which was taken at Kingston-upon-Thames in December 2011. Many thanks to Fred Dawson for giving me permission to use it on here. It’s unmistakably Enchantress and, although she does look somewhat sorry for herself at the moment, it’s wonderful to know that this 113 year old lady is still with us. She epitomised elegance and luxury in her day and it would be nice to think that further restoration is on the cards so that this beautiful, and historic vessel can be returned to her former glory.

If you can help to fill in the gaps in her history, or have any memories of Enchantress then please do get in touch.

Update added October 2013: Viscountess Bury Update

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2 Responses to The Enchantress and the mystery of Viscountess Bury

  1. David Wheeler says:

    How very interesting. I have a photograph of the vessel which I identified from the name on the starboard forward lifebelt. Somewhat more hull-up than yours, just as full of people, but not the same group or quite the same location – access to the vessel is via a slim springy plank. Everybody smartly dressed, with some enormous hats. She must have been a stable vessel with so much human top-hamper.

    • broadlandmemories says:

      I do have another, different postcard of Viscountess Bury but it sounds as though your photograph is different again – if it is possible to scan it, I would love to see a copy.