Over the years, there have been a number of interesting uses of vessels which were not originally built for the Norfolk Broads. As the holiday trade began to increase during the early decades of the 20th century, so did the number of holiday cruisers, houseboats and passenger launches. Most were newly built, specifically for their purpose, but others were conversions that utilized the hulls of older craft which had previously had a variety of uses. A surprise delivery from the postman last week led me to investigate one such vessel.
Having seen the 1930s Smith’s and Littleboy’s boat trip leaflets which I put on the main website a couple of weeks ago, and the mention of the passenger steamer Queen of the Broads on the blog, John Hopthrow kindly sent me a 1970s leaflet for Pleasure Steamers Ltd of Great Yarmouth. At this time, the company owned the Queen of the Broads and were running regular day trips on her from Town Hall Quay. The full leaflet can be viewed as a PDF document in the Adverts & Posters section of Broadland Memories, but the image on the left shows the back page of that leaflet and features the other passenger boat which they owned – the Elizabeth Simpson. In the 1970s, the Elizabeth Simpson ran morning and afternoon trips to the Berney Arms Mill at a cost of 50 pence per person, with evening trips during the summer priced at 60 pence. On Wednesday’s only, passengers could take a full day trip over Breydon to St. Olaves for a lunch stop, the return being made along the New Cut and up to the Berney Arms where afternoon tea could be bought. The flyer boasted that she could land passengers “at Broadland moorings which are not so easily accessible for larger craft.”
The Elizabeth Simpson had been one of the private lifeboats operated by the Ranger’s Beach Company for the Gorleston Volunteer Lifeboat Association. Built by the Beeching brothers and launched in 1889, she was funded by the donation of £500 by a Miss Elizabeth Simpson Stone who had witnessed the tragic capsize of the lifeboat Refuge in 1888. The Rangers, along with the other private lifeboat operators, also ran a lucrative marine salvage business from their base at Gorleston. Originally powered by oar and sail, the Elizabeth Simpson was motorized in 1926 and, with earnings from salvage dwindling, began to run sea trips for visitors during the summer months. The trips were advertised with the slogan “Help us in summer to save drowning men in winter“. Her last launch as a lifeboat was in February 1938, having given 50 years of service during which time she had saved over 400 lives.
The Elizabeth Simpson was 47 ft in length with a 13 ft beam and, as a trip boat, was licensed to carry up to 90 passengers. Although a canopy offered some protection from the weather, she didn’t have the onboard facilities which the Queen of the Broads offered, but was still very popular with visitors and continued to carry passengers on the Broads until the 1990s. The postcard on the left dates from the 1950s and shows the Elizabeth Simpson at Oulton Broad. I’m not sure of the current situation, but the last reference I have mentioned that she was now lying in a north Norfolk garden awaiting restoration. The Gorleston Volunteer Lifeboat shed seen in the previous photograph still stands, although in a rather derelict state, it’s future somewhat uncertain having been sold to a mystery buyer at auction last year.
The Elizabeth Simpson wasn’t the only ex-lifeboat to find her way onto the Broads. The Friend Of All Nations (FOAN) was launched in 1863 and was another private lifeboat, run by the Young Flies Company at Gorleston. Like the Elizabeth Simpson, FOAN was also powered by oars and sail. On 13th January 1866, she was one of two lifeboats called out to assist a vessel which had become stricken in the “roads” during a fierce storm. The Rescuer, owned by the Rangers Company, launched first followed soon afterwards by the Friend of All Nations. It was blowing gale and the seas were rough, both lifeboats had heavily reefed sails. As they made their way towards the stricken boat, the Rescuer grounded on a sandbar and overturned, the 16 crew members were trapped beneath. The Friend of All Nations immediately changed course to assist, and as two of the crew surfaced they were hauled aboard with boat hooks. The Rescuer began to drift away, FOAN followed managing to rescue two more crew members who had scrambled to the surface and were clinging to the keel of the upturned lifeboat. Valiant efforts were made to find the remaining crew members, sadly to no avail as the remaining 12 were drowned. A news report at the time made mention of the fact that none of the crew of the Rescuer were wearing any form of life preservers. A meeting was held to discuss the establishment of a permanent fund to assist the widows and children of the men who died, and to provide for the families of any lifeboatmen who suffered similar misfortune in the future. By the end of the meeting £250 had been pledged.
I’ve not been able to establish when FOAN ceased to be a lifeboat, but by 1929 she had been converted for use as a houseboat and was being hired out by Eastick’s boatyard at Acle. The Blakes brochure entries are rather interesting as they seem to indicate that FOAN actually had two conversions. The photograph in the 1929 brochure shows a very basic houseboat. There was no engine, but the houseboat could be moved to different locations for an extra charge. FOAN slept up to eight people in three cabins and cost £9 10s per week during the peak summer period. By 1933 she had undergone a major rebuild, a 9 hp “Handybilly” Thornycroft engine was installed and she was now advertised as a seven berth motor cruiser. The hull had been remodeled and was given a very modern looking hockey stick sweep down to the side decks, a new superstructure had been built and a fourth cabin created in the forepeak. The engine was fitted aft, in the galley, along with a berth for the attendant. Comparing the layouts in the brochure entries above (note that the 1933 entry shows the bow to the left whilst the 1929 entry shows it to the right), the saloon and second cabin appear unchanged, whilst the galley had presumably been refitted to accommodate the newly installed engine. The cost of a week’s hire had more than doubled to £19 10s for the peak period. FOAN remained part of Eastick’s fleet until the outbreak of WW2, after which she seems to have disappeared from Blake’s yachting list. I don’t know what happened to her after this time, but believe I’ve read that she was kept at Wroxham for a while. In more recent years she was moored at Sanderson’s boatyard at Reedham, seeming to spend more time sunk than afloat, and looking in a very sorry state. She was put up for auction on Ebay last year but failed to sell. In recent months she was finally re-floated and craned out at Reedham Quay, unfortunately beyond salvage it would seem as she was promptly moved to a private garden where she now makes a rather unusual ornamental feature!
For more information about the volunteer lifeboats, visit the Gorleston Heritage website where there is a very interesting article on the history of the east coast lifeboats, salvage companies, coastguards and light ships.
I can’t do a feature on ex-lifeboats on the Broads without mentioning the houseboat that began life as the John Burch which served at Great Yarmouth No. 2 Station between 1892 and 1912. When she was retired, after just 20 years of service, she was bought by W.G. Johnson at St. Olaves who converted her into the six berth motor cruiser Crescent. At 34ft, she was smaller than the Elizabeth Simpson and FOAN but appears to have been well equipped and even included a piano in the saloon. After the war she became a static, five berth houseboat and the piano had been replaced by a sideboard! Crescent continued to be on hire at Johnson’s boatyard until the late 1960s, so whilst she may have only served for 20 years as a lifeboat, she gave another 50 years service as a hire boat. The brochure entry on the left shows her in 1967 – by 1969 she had disappeared from Johnson’s fleet. What happened to her after this I don’t know …. maybe she’s also sitting in someone’s garden!
Browsing through the 1930s Blake’s brochures, there appear to be at least two other boats which look as though they may also have been ex-lifeboats, most noticeably the Mayflower which was on hire from C.J. Broom & Sons at Brundall and looked very similar to the 1930s conversion of the Friend Of All Nations. Were there any others?