People’s personal memories and holiday tales of the Norfolk Broads from years gone by are always interesting to read as they provide such a wonderful snapshot of the history of the area. I received an email this week, attached to which was a transcription of a sailing log for the yacht Frolic from 1918 which offers a rare glimpse into life and leisure on the Broads during the First World War.
The log was written by E.L. Champness during his honeymoon in Broadland in August 1918 and was discovered by his grandson, Bruce Robb, amongst his mothers papers a few years ago. As a regular visitor to the Norfolk Broads since the 1960s, Bruce realised the historical importance of the find and kept it to one side. The handwritten notes were apparently rather difficult to decipher, but Bruce eventually managed to transcribe the contents, which included photographs taken during the holiday, and has laid them out in a PDF document along with some helpful footnotes and background information. As regular readers of the blog are aware, my work on the website came to an enforced stop a few months ago due to ongoing health issues with my elderly mum and mum-in-law, but the fact that Bruce had essentially done all the work for me in creating this PDF has meant that it’s been a straightforward task to get it uploaded to the Broadland Memories website this afternoon.
As you can imagine, I was like a kid at Christmas when this arrived in my inbox! The log gives a very detailed account of their trip and is a wonderfully entertaining read as it was written with a great deal of humour, but it also documents some of the difficulties encountered in buying provisions as they made their way around the Northern Rivers during their fortnight’s holiday. Upon arrival at Wroxham, the honeymoon couple made mention of the fact that they had to visit the Post Office to present their ration books so that they could obtain the “necessary visitors rations” before stocking up at Roys. Milk, it seems, was a scarce commodity whilst potatoes and Bovril became a mainstay of their boating diet! There were problems with wet weather (some things never change), a faulty gramophone (repaired by one Sidney Grapes at Potter Heigham), troublesome Primus stoves and difficulties obtaining newspapers and film for the camera.
Frolic was a 28 ft sailing cruiser which slept up to four people and was built by Ernest Collins at Wroxham. The layout plan showed two fixed single berths with hammocks for additional crew above and the inventory included a portable W.C. under the stern deck. Frolic had a single lug-sail which Blakes 1918 brochure listed as being “very simple to manage, with only one sail, to enable gentleman to manage themselves.” The photograph on the left is from the log and shows R.S. Champness at the helm as the couple made their way along Candle Dyke. It’s interesting to note that, although many of the younger boatyard workers would have been sent off to fight for their country, the holiday industry continued throughout WW1 on the Broads, unlike the Second World War when it was effectively shut down, the rivers and broads becoming pretty much a no-go area, with the larger boatyards turning their efforts to constructing craft for the Admiralty. The log book does make mention that they “sailed into the entrance to Hickling Broad to have a look at it but didn’t go far into the broad” – Hickling Broad was used as a Royal Navy Air Services base for seaplanes during WW1, details of which I know very little, but this presumably means that it was out of bounds to civilian craft during that time.
The log is just delightful and I’m extremely grateful to Bruce Robb and his family for allowing me to publish it on Broadland Memories. Follow this link to the 1900-1950 section of the main personal memories page and then click on the “Honeymoon on the Norfolk Broads 1918” button to view the PDF transcription.