Zenobia and Olive May

An interesting set of vintage magazine articles relating to Broadland boatyards including Harvey Eastwood, Sandersons, Eastick’s, Landamore’s and Royall’s were added to the Broadland Memories website a couple of weeks ago. Amongst them was a brief history of the Rowan Craft yard at Geldeston which included mention of the wherry yacht Olive May. The article reminded me that I had a couple of photographs and a few notes relating to Olive May lurking within the archives.

Olive May was built in 1910 by G. Bunn of Wroxham for the Spashett family of Oulton Broad. She was apparently quite distinctive with her long, flat counter stern. In his 1953 book “The Norfolk Wherry”, G. Colman Green mentioned that, internally at least, Olive May was said to have been a replica of the pleasure wherry Zenobia which was owned at that time by Green. Zenobia had begun life as the trader Olive Branch, built by Allen’s yard at Coltishall and owned for part of it’s trading life by George Applegate senior of Potter Heigham. When the river trade began to dry up, like many others, The Olive Branch was converted for pleasure use. Alfred Collins was apparently responsible for that conversion which included two saloons, two side cabins, a W.C. and bath plus a full size piano. At a later date, a counter stern was added by Peed of Oulton Broad, along with a foresail and a mizzen, giving rise to her being dubbed a “wherry yawl”. It is said that Zenobia once made the trip by sea down the coat to the Thames. I don’t think I’ve come across any photographs of Zenobia, but the illustration below was from a 1952 oil painting by Colman Green himself.

Turning attention back to Olive May, there is a wonderful transcription of an original log written during a holiday taken aboard her in September 1919 by a guest of the Spashett family. You can find that account within the online archives of the Norfolk Wherry Trust in an edition of the Trust’s “Journal” magazine published in 2000 (link to PDF version via the NWT website). It includes a lovely photograph of Olive May at Geldeston, believed to have been taken in the 1960s. Olive May was also leased out for hire, as the entry from the 1916 edition of Blake’s Norfolk Broads Yachting List below shows.

Olive May can be seen in the photograph below too which belongs to a set dating from the 1920s. She is seen here on her swinging mooring just outside the harbour master’s office at Oulton Broad.

There is no evidence of Olive May in the next earliest Blake’s brochure I have from 1929, or subsequent editions. The next time she pops up within my archives was in the rather sad photograph below which was taken in the 1960s at Geldeston, presumably soon after being recovered by Rowan Craft from the dyke at St Olaves where she had previously sunk. It would appear some restoration work took place, including the repair of her leaky bottom by Richards of Lowestoft. She was then sold and taken to the Thames by sea to be used as a houseboat. Clearly, little was done in the way of further maintenance as the 1981 article mentioned that she was in a rather derelict state by then, lying on a mud berth somewhere on the Thames. It’s too much to hope that anything survives of her now and she was probably broken up not long after this. Zenobia also ended her days as a derelict and was eventually broken up, a fate which befell far too many of these once magnificent vessels.


If you have any further photographs or information to add about Olive May or Zenobia then, as always, I’d be delighted to hear from you.

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