Early 20th Century Norfolk Broads Passenger Launches

Regular blog readers will remember that I’ve written a series of articles about the history of Broads Tours, the company originally established at Hoveton by George Smith and taken over by Charles Hannaford in the mid 1930s. It’s been a while since I did an update …. so here we go!

I’ve not had the time to carry on with investigations into the history of Broads Tours, but have been quietly amassing some images which relate to the company and also to early 20th century passenger launches photographed on the River Bure. Most are unidentified and may, or may not be, some of the original Smith’s or Littleboy’s launches but could possibly have been operated by others as I suspect that many boatyards, riverside pubs and hotels etc. would have been running trips on the Norfolk Broads for the ever growing number of visitors during the busy summer months.

The first postcard (above) dates from c1905-1910 and shows the view upstream of Wroxham Bridge. A very nice steam launch has just passed beneath the bridge, but ahead on the right you can see a large passenger launch alongside the moorings for the Horseshoes Hotel. As previously mentioned, George Smith was the licensee of the Horseshoes from around 1910 to 1912, so I think this must have been one of his launches. You can see from the funnel mid-ships that this was also fitted with a steam engine. Beyond the hotel, up towards the railway line which you can see in the background, are some boatsheds standing on land which later became the Broads Tours base. It’s also interesting to see that the railway station was visible from this position in those days.

Dating from c1915, the next photograph shows the view looking upstream on the River Bure to the rail bridge at Wroxham. Again, the land on the right became part of the Broads Tours business established by George Smith, although I’m not sure whether it was owned by him at this time There is certainly no evidence of any passenger launches in this photo, but it’s quite an interesting image none the less.

This view was taken from the rail bridge, looking downstream towards to road bridge and probably dates from c1920 or possibly a little earlier. I suspect that George Smith owned the patch of land on the left by this time and there are certainly a couple of small launches moored alongside, and a larger passenger launch heading upstream. The site was developed further by Charles Hannaford after he purchased Broads Tours, with large tearooms etc. being constructed as the fleet and business grew, as seen in the photograph of the base and launches in the 1950s about half way down the page on the very first Broads Tours blog post.

Moving on to the next photograph, which I believe was taken between the mid to late 1920s, this must certainly be one of the Smith’s or Littleboy’s launches … but which one? It’s a fabulous image, with Ernest Collins boatyard seen in the background. I’ve not had the chance to try to identify the motor cruiser seen on the left which may help to pin the date down a little.

Another wonderful photographic postcard showing an unidentified passenger launch c1930, captioned as having been taken on the River Bure at Ranworth.

Slightly earlier, probably early to mid 1920s, this was also taken at Ranworth and shows yet another small passenger launch complete with it’s attendants. The name on the bow is “Sombra” which is the Spanish word for shadow …. or alternatively it’s apparently a village on the River St. Clair in South West Ontario in Canada! The name doesn’t fit with any that I know were used by either George Smith or William Littleboy so it may well have been operated by someone else. Another wonderful image though!

Another photograph which was taken at Ranworth, probably just pre WW2, showing what must have been one of the Broads Tours fleet moored alongside the staithe.

I finish with two promotional postcards for boats from the Broads Tours fleet, dating (I think) from the late 1920s or early 1930s, prior to Charles Hannaford’s purchase of the business. The first (above) shows The Prince which has been the subject of a previous blog post which you can find here: Broads Tours – The Prince. Still going strong after 90 years, The Prince now resides in Scotland under the name of Ratho Princess The final photograph below shows sister ship The Princess from the same era.

I’m sure that more Broads Tours related photographs and information will keep turning up and, hopefully, I will be able to devote more time to continuing research into the history of the company during the winter months. In the meantime, if you have any photographs or further information on the history of Broads Tours then please do get in touch. For those who are interested, or may have missed them, links to the other articles I’ve written about Broads Tours can be found at the bottom of my previous blog post on the subject: William Littleboy – Broads Tours Connections.

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