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Memories of Broadland Holidays In The 1950s

By Ron Harrison

1950s History 1950s Memories 1950s Gallery

As I intend submitting a number of contributions to this site, I would like to make it clear, that I am not an expert on any aspect of the Broads. My contributions are only as a hirer, who has been visiting the Broads for over 50 years, (as an adult,) and as it would be virtually impossible to give a day to day account of events so far back, I will post the more memorable events, which tend to stick in ones memory.


Gross stupidity! That is 144 times more than ordinary stupidity!

An event that occurred when I was very new to the Broads. While we were moored at Reedham, for an overnight stay, in 1956, a river inspector asked us to be extra alert, as one of the big freighters (the “Warer”) from the sugar factory, would be coming through on the high tide the following morning. We had arranged to pick up a friend of ours, (who was brought up at a local farm, owned by his family), at 8am at Cantley. The reason we were picking him up at Cantley was so that his parents didn’t know that he was “bunking off” from college that day, so that he could come on the boat with us. And although he had lived at Reedham all his life, he had never been on a motor cruiser or yacht. As children, he and his friends, used to make rafts, and generally mess about by the river, but go on a boat --- NO.

The next day dawned with a thick mist over the water, (only about 10ft high, with clear skies above). So in spite of the conditions, we decided to leave, so that we could pick up our friend, or he wouldn’t have known what had happened to us,  (No mobile phones in those days). We hadn’t forgotten the warning from the river inspector, but didn’t expect the freighter to come through in those conditions. How wrong we were, we had only been under way for a few minutes, when a wall of steel loomed out of the fog, only about 20ft away! I threw the wheel hard over and opened up the throttle, we missed having a collision by about 2ft.

There was a lookout standing in the bows of the ship, but by the time he had signalled the bridge, and the horn was blasted, we would have been at the bottom of the river, Three of the crew were still in their berths, and were thrown onto the floor, but fortunately suffered no harm. After that I needed a stiff drink, so I had a hot mug of tea with THREE sugars, instead of my usual two! Later that day, on our return, our friend played the piano in the Lord Nelson, and a good “sing song” was enjoyed by all in the bar.   (See pictures).

Ron's evening at the Lord Nelson in 1956


We were approaching Geldeston Lock, I was at the helm, and my brother-in-law, Peter, was standing in the bows. It was dusk, and as we entered the tree “tunnel” it made it quite dark, at the last moment I saw an angler among the trees. Peter shouted to him, “what bait are you using mate”, as the angler franticly tried to retrieve his tackle. I couldn’t quite catch what the reply was, but Peter shouted back, “I’ve been an angler most of my life, but have never tried using them as bait”!! Then we poodled on to the Lock, all the moorings were taken, so we had to moor on the mud bank opposite. By this time it was really pitch black.

This was only the second time I had been to Geldeston, and the first time I had arrived late and went straight into the Inn with the rest of the crew, and we were away early the next morning, without time to explore the area. So this time, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the river from the Inn. At that time, the main beams on the lock gate were still in place, although all the timbers below had rotted away. So we decided to use the main beams as a bridge. My elderly parents were with us, and with the rest of us not being very acrobatic, it was a nightmare getting my parents across. When we got into the Inn, I said to Susan Ellis, “we all need a drink”, and related to her all that had happened. “Then you must be a b----y fool then, as there is a footbridge a few yards further upstream”, she said! I felt as tall as a grasshoppers kneecap, (I’m not normally much taller anyway). We were thankful that we didn’t have to undergo the same ordeal on returning to the boat. Has anyone else heard of unusual baits, when accidentally cutting up an angler?


Locks Inn Geldeston 1957

See more of Ron’s photos from the 1950s here

May 1958

We were on "Challenger39" and moored at Wroxham in 1958. All the moorings on the easy access side (in those days) were full, so we moored on the other bank and rowed across in the dinghy. Shopping etc; completed we rowed back to the boat. My wife got ashore first, ready to be handed the shopping bags, but my Dad (both of my parents were with us) swung the bag that had my wifes purse resting on top of the shopping, up to her. There was a splash and the purse disappeared into the water.I can still see the expression on my wife’s face to this day, as she had about £100 in it (which was quite a lot of money in those days).So my wife’s friend Joan, and I, got into our swim ware  and jumped in. As our feet touched the bottom we sank nearly up to our knees in mud.----Did I say MUD?

What with Wroxham being such a busy mooring place for cruisers and yachts alike, and with virtually all boats having the old "sea type" toilets which discharged directly into the river, I will leave it to your imagination, as to what we were standing in!! My sister was using one of the dinghy oars to prod along the bottom, while Joan and I were feeling with our feet. Suddenly my sister cried "I can feel something hard on the bottom". It could have been anything, but fortunately, it was the purse and was swiftly retrieved (at risk to life and limb)

Of course all the £1 notes were sodden, so we strung up some lines and clipped the notes onto them with clothes pegs. As we passed other craft we were greeted with calls of  "won the pools then"? (The lottery didn't exist then)

"Have you got Rockefeller on board"? "Bit ostentatious aren’t you"? and "Show offs", etc; etc. The money soon dried, and my wife lost no time exchanging it for goods.

 So that's what you get when you have lots of filthy lucre!!

As told by Susan Ellis

 Susan Ellis the landlady of "The Locks" Inn at Geldeston lock was a very likeable and wonderful character. The only lighting was from candles, which gave it a fantastic atmosphere. She used to get the customers to add up their drinks bill for her. Nearly every winter the downstairs got flooded and she was marooned on the upper floor (her living quarters). However she used to come half way down the stairs daily to feed the coypus that used to swim in!" (Did she leave a window or door open then)?

Another of Susan’s Tales:

A boat full of women from the WI arrived one day. They asked what drinks she had, so she gave them a list of all the drinks she had in stock. After looking at the list, they all decided to have “Baby Cham”. They stayed for quite a long time, and kept reordering.

By the time they left, her complete stock of “Baby Cham” had gone. She thinks that they didn’t realise that it was alcoholic, and by the way some of them staggered back to the Boat, she was glad to see that there was a man at the helm.

Challenger 1958

September 1958

We hired the ”Four of Hearts”, in September 1958, however she came to an untimely end a few years later, when she was moored on the Yare, and was struck by one of the freighters from the sugar factory, and sunk. I have no more information than that.


We had moored at Herbert Freemans boatyard at Beccles, it was in September, it had been raining and there was quite a chilly wind blowing, so Peter, (my brother-in-law) was wearing a duffle coat. When we were ready to leave, the wind and tide were pushing us onto the staithe, so Peter grabbed the boat hook and pushed against the staithe, to assist us to get away. As we slowly pulled away, the boathook slid along the woodwork, and he went head first into the water. I immediately stopped the engine, jumped off, and held the boat (a 40ft cruiser) away, to prevent him from being crushed. Another crew member helped him out of the water, with water pouring out of his duffle coat pockets, and a big sheepish grin on his face. Could have been nasty, but all's well that ends well.

© Ron Harrison 2006

You can view a selection of hire invoices and stores lists relating to these memories which were also submitted by Ron in the Paper & Ephemera section of the archive.

Very sadly, Ron Harrison passed away during the early hours of the 13th October 2007. I will be forever grateful for the support and contributions he made to Broadland Memories, and the friendship we formed via email. His sense of humour and fun, and his passion for the Norfolk Broads stayed with him throughout his life, he made his last trip to the Broads in August 2007 with his family. Ron was also a regular contributor to The Norfolk Broads Forum under the user name of “Ronaldo” - his posts were informative and usually extremely funny. He will be very much missed.  Carol Gingell