Although a select few had already discovered the delights of boating for pleasure on the Norfolk Broads, the 1880s saw the real beginnings of its popularity as a holiday destination. It’s appeal was unarguably aided by the publication of George Christopher Davies Handbook to the Rivers and Broads of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1882. Further guides to the area followed and written accounts of cruising holidays on the Norfolk Broads began to appear in the popular publications of the day such as the Illustrated London News. These now provide us with a fascinating insight into how a boating holiday on the Broads was conducted in Victorian times and are often quite an entertaining read too.
George Christopher Davies’ handbook and Ernest Suffling’s Land of the Broads were republished many times over the following decades and copies which date from the late 1880s and 1890s can often be purchased relatively cheaply via a well know auction website. Other late 19th century titles are also available though Amazon in a republished, print on demand format, although the quality of these is often rather poor. I have a transcript of On The Broads which was originally published by the Daily Telegraph in 1883, and A Cruise on The Norfolk Broads by Anna Bowman Dodd which appeared in an 1895 edition of Century Magazine within the Newspaper Cuttings & Magazine Articles section of the main website. Both are an interesting read if you have the time to spare.
I was hugely excited to discover that a previously unpublished, amateur account of a holiday cruise on the Norfolk Broads in the 1880s had been produced by the Museum of the Broads just before Christmas. A Broads Holiday – Diary on “The Grebe” was written by an unknown London stockbroker who, accompanied by two work colleagues, engaged the services of skipper Jim and his cabin yacht The Grebe during the summer of 1887. What makes this diary especially charming is that it has not just been transcribed, the log has actually been scanned and its beautifully handwritten pages reproduced as a faithful facsimile of the original. Along with the account of the voyage, the diary also contains photographic images which the author had purchased to illustrate the log, showing some of the places they visited on both the northern and southern rivers. The diary is a sheer delight from start to finish and gives a remarkable glimpse into holidaying in Broadland during this era. In many ways, things haven’t changed a great deal, but it’s wonderful to read accounts of searching out a hot meal in a riverside pub or purchasing foodstuffs from the village shops in such different times. There are also descriptions of the local attractions, not least of which were the young ladies they encountered along the way!
The story of how the museum came by the diary is as remarkable as its content. It was apparently found in a loft during a house move and taken along to the museum by a visitor. The owner wished to keep the original, but kindly allowed the museum permission to publish it with all profits from the sale going to museum funds. The diary can be purchased directly from the museum when it reopens on the 6th of April, or can be bought now by sending a cheque for £7.50 (£6.00 for the diary + £1.50 postage) made payable to Museum of the Broads to: Nicola Hems, Curator, The Museum of the Broads, The Staithe, Stalham, Norfolk NR12 9DA. For further information, contact details can be found on the museum’s website www.museumofthebroads.org.uk