Broadland Memories – The first 10 years

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Broadland Memories website – it doesn’t seem possible! I thought I’d mark the occasion by highlighting some personal favourites from the website over the last ten years and to look forward to what will hopefully be coming up over the next few months.

Back in 2006 i happened to mention that someone ought to be gathering together some of the old photographs and personal memories of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads which were being posted on  an online chat forum dedicated to boating on the Broads. It seemed rather sad that they were getting lost amongst the chat, and there didn’t seem to be a website dedicated to the history of the area at that time. There was, and still is of course, the wonderful Museum of the Broads at Stalham, but their extensive collection isn’t available to view online. There were a few websites dedicated to individual villages, usually run by their local history groups, but nothing encompassing the wider area and boating on the Broads in particular. The answer I got was “Why don’t you do it then?”

bm_mk1_compositeI really didn’t think I would be able to accomplish such a feat, having no experience whatsoever of web design, or design at all for that matter. I asked for advice and was pointed in the direction of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) software that basically worked like a desktop publisher and required no knowledge of the dark art of html coding. Eventually I settled on one that seemed to work for me. I did a lot of begging for photos and memories and spent the next couple of months creating the first version of the Broadland Memories website. Looking back at it now (and I still have a working version of that original site on my PC) makes me cringe because of it’s simplicity, hideous colour scheme and dodgy graphics. But everyone has to start somewhere, and it at least provided a portal which was discovered and added to by fellow Broads lovers. In all honesty, I was overwhelmed by the support it received from the start and over the last ten years it has evolved and grown into an incredible collection of photographs, films, memories and printed ephemera of the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads from the 1870s to the 1990s, far beyond what I ever though it would be. This is largely down to the contributions which have been made by so many people, and I’ve been truly humbled by the access I have been given to some incredible, historic material. I always love receiving old photographs, films and memories of the area. Whether it be a 1960s holiday snap or a photo of a boating party on a pleasure wherry in the 1880s, there is always something of interest to see and it all catalogues our past, our social history, the way we holidayed,  the way the region evolved to cater for the holidaymakers and local boaters alike.

There have been so many fantastic contributions and finds over the last ten years – here are a few of my personal highlights.

shieldsd03_sailing09I can’t remember how I stumbled across some the beautiful photographs of the Norfolk Broads of which were taken by amateur photographer Donald Shields in 1903 and 1904. A small selection of an old photo album had been uploaded to Flickr by Donald’s great-nephew and when I contacted him to enquire whether I could add them to the website, I was stunned to find there were a lot more photographs from the same album. John kindly sent me higher resolution copies and gave me permission to use what I wanted, which turned out to be quite a lot of it!. Where do I start. It’s impossible to pick favourites because there are so many stunning images which capture a true era of elegance on the Broads. From ladies in long dresses with elaborate hats, to gents in crisp, white flannels and plus fours with waxed moustaches, dressing up was de rigueur. The collection features many shots of a group of friends spending high days and holidays on the rivers, larking about for the camera, enjoying the Broads in much the same way we still do today.

The Donald Shields Collection show an idyllic Broadland, a bygone era where the pace of rural life was slow, a holiday destination which which was largely only affordable to the middle and upper classes. The villages remained much as they had been fifty years previously, but the riverside had begun to change. Hotels were being built to cater for the growing tourist industry, the number of boats available to hire was steadily increasing and new boatyards were appearing. . For those with the means, riverside plots could be bought and luxury bungalows erected to your specification.

shieldsd04_gy_girls03Donald also photographed places and buildings which would soon be lost to progress and redevelopment including rare shots of the ice house which stood on Surlingham Broad and the Woods and Newstead boatyard at Cantley which was demolished when the sugar beet factory was built in 1912. The photograph above is one of a series he took at the Fish Wharf in Great Yarmouth. These are some of the herring girls who followed the fishing fleets around the British Coast, gutting and packing the “silver darlings” into barrels of ice for export and the home market. It’s a beautiful photograph capturing the girls during a rare moment of rest, knitting needles in hand.

A few years after I put the collection online, I was contacted by Kevin Millican who had scanned a set of glass negatives c1910 which had been found in a loft in Lowestoft by a friend. Looking through that particular collection, I recognised the faces of Donald’s brothers who featured heavily in his photographs. The style of photography looked very similar and, after contacting Donald’s great nephew, he concluded that they were indeed the work of Donald. How they had some to be in a loft in Lowestoft is a complete mystery, but how wonderful that they surfaced and could be attributed. More photographs from the Edwardian era cme via the Joseph Benson Collection, discovered by their contributor via a chance conversation on a cruise ship!

gucht08_harrylilyLand based holidays in the region were a more affordable option for many during the Edwardian era with numerous hotels and boarding houses providing accommodation for visitors, river trips on one of the passenger steamers giving some of those a taste of boating. This was the case in Notes From An Edwardian Seaside Holiday which is one of the most interesting and unusual projects I’ve worked on for the website. Pieced together in 2012 using notes scribbled on the backs of postcards by Lily Child in 1908 and 1909, her handwriting was frequently difficult to decipher and references were often hard to track down, but the research was absolutely fascinating. The photograph above shows Lily and her fiance Harry Caston on the beach at Yarmouth.

bm15_027_smlA more recent addition, in March of this year, was an album of photographs which documented family holidays taken on the Broads during the First World War which was purchased for the archive with the help of donations. A rare and hugely important collection which it’s been an absolute privilege to be able to share. A very personal insight in to boating on the Broads during the Great War came in 2012 with the delightful original ships log of a honeymoon taken aboard the yacht “Frolic” which can be found within the Personal Memories section of the archive.

One angle that I didn’t envisage when I began Broadland Memories was that people would find the website whilst researching their family history. I’ve received quite a number of emails in this vein over the years including someone who discovered the only known photograph of a great uncle amongst a collection which in turn put someone else in touch with a branch of the family in Australia that they didn’t know existed. It’s always lovely to be able to help where I can and that is definitely one of my highlights.

gingell31_potter03The 1920s and 1930s saw many social changes and much development in both the landscape and in boat design on the Norfolk Broads. Yet more bungalows were springing up along the riverbanks and the number of boatyards was still increasing. Comparing photographs of Wroxham taken during this era to those taken just 30 years previously provides a vivid illustration of just how much the tourist industry had grown and how it was now becoming affordable for the masses. In came the new-fangled motor cruisers, the height of modernity with all the home comforts. Most still preferred a more traditional means of crusing and sailing holidays apparently reached their peak during the 1930s. There are several collections of photographs from this era on the Broadland Memories website. The image above was from an album dating from 1931 which was unusual in featuring a holiday taken by an all female group on the Ernest Collins yacht “Iverna” complete with grizzled skipper in his smart, company guernsey.  It is said that there were a larger number of young women who would never marry due to the loss of so many young men during the First World War. British Pathe  made a series of films in the 1930s with female reporter “Eve” encouraging women to seek adventure and enjoy life to the full. Perhaps this party were inspired by Eve!

Advances in film and camera technology meant that photography also became more affordable and portable. Cine photography was becoming increasingly popular too and I was fortunate to be able to purchase two reels of film shot on the Broads in the early 1930s which I had converted and then edited it to produce a DVD for Broadland Memories “Boating on the Broads in the 1930s”. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was when I watched the films for the first time. A superb record of two family boating holidays aboard the Herbert Woods motor cruisers “Spark of Light” and “Countess of Light”. Copies of the DVD are still available if your looking for Christmas stocking fillers!

The film above above is another gem from the 1930s and features Potter Heigham Regatta and Lowestoft. I stumbled across this purely by chance whilst searching for something else online. It was shot by Newbury resident and amateur cinematographer H.T. Cadd and had been digitized by Dave Smith in 2012. It is part of a longer film which contains nothing else of local interest, but I contacted Dave who kindly sent me a copy of the film and gave me permission to upload the Norfolk and Suffolk section to the Broadland Memories YouTube channel. The film section of the archive has expanded considerably over the last couple of years, largely thanks to the very kind people at Video Impact in Loddon who generously offered to transfer cine films for the archive free of charge. I’m extremely grateful for their support as it significantly reduces my outlay to enable me to share old footage of the Broads online. I love discovering these films as it really brings the past to life.

Before leaving the 1930s, I’ll mention another interesting contribution which was submitted by Mark Ladley. A jumble sale purchase of a 1939 copy of Hamiltons Map and Charts of The Broads led to the discovery of a rather poignant ships log within it’s covers, compiled by “Biddy” who was holidaying on the Broads. The Log of the Moonbeam was written suring the week that Germany entered into war with Poland. The holiday was curtailed and the couple hot footed it back to London. The outbreak of war brought the holiday industry to a halt as boatyards turned their efforts to building boats for the military and the Broads became a no go area. The need to defend the river crossings in the event of an enemy invasion saw pill boxes and gun emplacements erected and the bridges themselves were mined so that they could be destroyed should the enemy make it that far inland. There is a rumour that one well known boatyard owner offered a considerable bribe for an “accident” to occur at Potter Heigham Bridge!  The hire fleets were also called into use, many of the boats being rafted together on the open Broads to prevent enemy sea planes landing. A few became temporary homes for people who fled the towns and cities due to the threat of aerial bombardment, such was the shortage of accommodation. When the war ended, it took several years to repair the neglected boats and build new craft and for the holiday industry to get back into full swing. Needless to say, photographs of the Broads in the 1940s are a little thin on the ground, although one of the future additons to the website is an album of photos from the late 1940s and early 1950s.

hammond49_corinthian04From 1949, comes The Log of The Corinthian which was sent to me by Debbie Whymant and was written by her parents Brenda and Jeffery Hammond during a holiday taken with friends before they were married. It raised a smile from me because of the detailed diary of all of the meals eaten on board during the week! The log was accompanied by a set of photographs which can also be found on Broadland Memories.

hopthrow50s_lastwherryrace01Another ships log features in my archive highlights from the 1950s. Transcribed by John Hopthrow with accompanying notes from him, Extracts from The Wherry Dragon’s Log is a selection of entries from the original sailing log compiled by his father, Brigadier H.E. Hopthrow who owned the pleasure wherry between 1950 and 1958.  The photograph above is also from John’s collection and shows the last ever wherry race at Barton Regatta in 1950. You can just see the black sail of Albion on the left, then Ardea, Dragon and Claudian. It must have been a magnificent sight.

bell55_reedham03The Bell Family Collection were some of the earlier additions to the website and catalogue sailing holidays taken by John and Margaret Bell between 1956. The image above, taken outside The Lord Nelson at Reedham in 1955 and showing landlord Sydney Mutton with the holiday party, has always been one of my favourite photos. The 1950s saw a renewed interest in boating holidays on the Broads. Better road and rail links, and reliable and comfortable motor cars made getting to Norfolk and Suffolk a lot easier. The hire fleets grew larger and the Broads became a bustling holiday destination during the summer months. Holidays were also increasingly being taken in the spring and autumn months, extending the season for the boatyards and local business.  Special mention must go to Ron Harrison. Dear old Ron was my very first contributor and an avid supporter of Broadland Memories. In the emails we exchanged his enthusiasm for the Broads and his humour shone through and he used to tell me that he was never off the website! Ron sadly passed away in October 2007 but you can read his memories of his first boating holiday on the Broads in 1955 and find more of his photographs in the 1950s and 1960s gallery pages.

daya62_cruising01In the 1960s the Broads were booming and the rivers became increasingly crowded during the summer months. Double, and even triple mooring at the popular locations was common place. Fibreglass became the boat building material of choice, easy to repair and maintain. interiors were hidden beneath a blanket of wipe clean formica and showers were even being fitted to the latest motor cruisers. The photograph above comes from a collection of slides belonging to Andrew Day which feature an unknown family during their holidays on the Broads between 1962 and 1968.

The popularity of cine cameras grew during the 1960s and there are quite a number of films from this decade on the Broadlkand Memories YouTube Channel. One of the most popular has been this offering from 1962 which includes footage of the road journey from Baslow in Derbyshire. Sadly, I still haven’t been able to identify the family seen in the film, but it is a great record of a typical boating holiday of the era.

Concerns over pollution and sustainability of the ever expanding hire industry were raised. Holding tanks for boat toilets became compulsory on motor cruisers and there were calls to limit the number of hire boats. The idea of extending the waterways, reopening closed sections of the navigation on the upper stretches of the River Bure and the River Waveney and the cutting a canal to connect the Northern and Southern Rivers, negating the need to pass through Great Yarmouth, were all explored and rejected.

campbelld68_horning09There are so many wonderful photographs and memories from the 1960s within the archive and it’s difficult to pick just a few highlights. I love the photograph above, taken in 1968, with Dave Campbell holding one of the infamous Watney’s Party Fours! David submitted a lovely collection of photographs from this decade along with a beautifully written account of this, his first Broads holiday.

baldreyt64_richardsons01A mention too for Terry Baldrey who first visited the Norfolk Broads in 1964 with his parents, fell in love with boats and boating and later came back to work for Richardsons boatyard at Stalham. His 1960s photographs contain quite a few which show Richardsons fleet of wooden cruisers at their home yard.

As the 1970s dawned, boating on the Broads was still in boom time, but the bubble was was destined to burst sooner or later. Large corporations including Rank and Ladbrokes had seen the money earning potential and had moved in, taking over hire fleets left, right and centre. As cheap package holidays to sunnier climes began to flood the market, the takers for home grown holidays began to fall. The late 1970s and early 1980s brought the bust and the corporations moved on.

chesneyj70s_norwich05The 1970s gallery pages were substantially augmented by the John Chesney Collection. John was a teacher and keen photographer who first visted the Broads with his wife, Joyce, in 1967. It sparked a life long love of the area and the couple enjoyed over 70 holidays on the Broads together. John sadly passed away in July 2010, but the photographs he took of Broadland during the mid to late 1970s are a wonderful legacy to leave and I was honoured to be contacted by Joyce with a view to getting the collection online.  The photograph above shows Norwich Riverside with a coaster moored alongside Boulton and Paul’s on the left with Reads Flour Mills beyond on the right.

chesneyj70s_geldeston05This is another from the John Chesney Collection , taken over Easter 1979 at Geldeston Locks Inn. Proprietor Walter Coe is seen behind the bar and Adnams Old Ale was on offer.

sandersp83_lroberts01The 1980s and 1990s photo galleries and personal memories sections are much smaller by comparison to the rest of the archive but there are some gems amongst them. This was taken by Pete Sanders in 1983 and shows the recently raised and moved trading wherry “Lord Roberts” at Wroxham. The Lord Roberts was built c1899 by Ben Benns at Somerton and apparently took three years to complete. She was used in her later years as a lighter to transport dredging spoil and, in 1969, was donated to the Norfolk Wherry Trust. The costs of maintaining  their existing wherry “Albion” have meant that the planned restoration of The Lord Roberts has not been possible, and she has remained submerged in a private dyke at Wroxham ever since.  My highlight from the personal memories is the account of a honeymoon aboard “Gala Girl” in 1980 from Brijan.

Whilst it’s never regained the popularity of the 1960s and 1970s, there has been a steady stream of visitors to Broadland over the last few decades.  People who first visited the Broads as children during those decades have introduced their own children to the delights of a boating holiday and a new generation has come to love the Broads for what it has to offer. The hire fleets have sadly dwindled and boatyards have disappeared, the prime riverside land sold off for housing developments and the issues of governance and maintenance of the waterways has raised concerns amongst residents and long term boaters alike, but the holidaymakers still return. For many, like myself, once the “Broads Bug” bites you’re hooked!

The Norfok and Suffolk Broads have a rich and varied history and to be able to preserve and share a small part of that has been an absolute joy over the last ten years. Each and every submission and contribution is an important piece of the regions’ local history. Whilst it becomes increasingly impossible to use everything that I am sent on the website, I still endeavour to publish and share as much of it as possible online via the website, the Broadland Memories Blog and the website’s social media pages and YouTube channel. I’m still pretty much a one woman band although do press-gang my long suffering OH into scanning and photo remastering duties these days. Caring for elderly mums (one sadly no longer with us), and life in general has seen my free time dwindling away to zero at times, but I’m still plugging away in the background and still gathering new material to add to the archive.

hannaford20s_boatyardcarThe winter months are catch up time where the website is concerned, and I have some fabulous new additions to come. Some, like the beautiful 1934 photo journal which was compiled by Christine Thorn, have already been previewed here on the blog. I’ve got several more films to edit and upload and I still have a second DVD project, “Sailing on the Norfolk Broads during the 1930s”  to complete when time allows. There are a number of photographic collections waiting in the wings too. I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally managed to get the first set of images from the Charles Hannaford Collection online today. It’s being split into smaller, themed batches which will be added over the coming months. The first set concentrates on the 1920s and early 1930s photos and include the photograph above which shows Charles’s wife Phyllis at what is possibly Ernest Collins boatyard in Wroxham in the 1920s.  The latest purchase for the archive is a rare set of photographs from the 1880s amongst which are two wonderful shots of the counter-sterned pleasure wherry “Gladys”. I’m already working on a blog post covering boating on the Broads during the Victorian era.

I’d like to offer a huge thank you to everyone who has supported and contributed to Broadland Memories over the last 10 years. You’ve helped to create what I believe is an invaluable record of boating on the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads over the last 130 years. It’s been hard (and stressful) work at times, but overall it’s been a joy to discover so much about the history of a place that’s very dear to my heart. I’ll raise my glass to you all – cheers and here’s to the next ten years!


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2 Responses to Broadland Memories – The first 10 years

  1. Roger Wilson says:

    Congratulations on your first 10 years, and thank you for the interesting blog above.

    To celebrate, i have made an online donation towards Broadland Memories, and i hope others do likewise…

    Best wishes, Roger