At the turn of the 20th century Broadland was beginning to capitalise on the increasing
numbers of holidaymakers who were flocking to the area. The coastal resorts were
developing at a rapid pace but Broadland too was experiencing many changes. The numbers
of boat builders and owners who had begun hiring had been steadily increasing and
the first hire boat agencies had started. The villages were also growing to accommodate
and service the visitors and boatyards were competing to build craft that would accommodate
the needs and comforts of their clients. It was still the rural tranquillity which
attracted visitors to the Broads and, for some gentlemen, the challenge that sailing
offered. In 1903 William A. Dutt described Coltishall as “one of the most picturesque
waterside villages in the district”. Its amenities included an hotel, five public
houses, a cottage hospital and a railway station along with an array of shops. In
1904 Roys opened their now world famous Hoveton branch of the store and by 1908 had
opened a further two branches in Horning and Potter Heigham. Other riverside stores
were making morning deliveries of fresh milk, water and other groceries directly
to the boats moored nearby.
Yacht racing had, by this time, become a very popular and highly competitive business
attracting large prize money and heavy wagering amongst the owners. By 1902 the Waveney
Sailing Club, which was established at Oulton Broad in 1895, had over 200 members
and regattas were being held at all the major Broadland villages. Wealthy owners
strived to have the sleekest and fastest yachts built, employing professional crews
to race the boats for them. The lateener and cutter yachts were still in evidence
but many fine, large racing yachts were built during the Edwardian period. Smaller,
open racing dinghies were also now starting to be developed, some of which continue
to be raced at regattas today. Broads One Designs, known as “brown boats”, made their
debut at Oulton Broad on Whit Monday in 1901. In 1908 Ernest Woods built the first
of his Yare and Bure One Designs at Cantley for the Yare and Bure Sailing Club. He
went on to build over 60 of these “white boats” before his retirement in 1963. His
brother Walter was the official builder of the Yarmouth One Design class of lug-sailed
half deckers made for the Great Yarmouth Yacht Club.
As pleasure wherries and yachts continued to be built in ever increasing numbers,
the amount of steam launches and passenger cruisers on the waterways was also growing,
with day trips on the larger vessels costing just a few shillings. The cost of hiring
a yacht or wherry was, however, still prohibitively expensive for most holidaymakers
although smaller half deckers equipped with camping awnings and mattresses were a
slightly cheaper option for some. The summer holiday season was somewhat shorter
than that of today covering just a six to eight week period, but one man was determined
to try and extend this.
Harry Blakes 1909 brochure also contained notes on how a cruising holiday was conducted
at that time. Clients were told to ensure that they had plentiful supplies of tobacco,
cigarettes and cigars as one may not find fresh supplies of their usual brands readily
available in the villages. Where attendants were provided with the boat there was
also a choice as to the arrangements made for their board. You would either provide
food for them, prepared for the party by the steward, or pay them an extra allowance
to cater for themselves. The hiring party were recommended to take on board the
vast sailing knowledge and experience of the crews as they would ensure that your
cruise took you to “the most interesting and picturesque parts of the Broads”. He
also made mention of the holiday bungalows that were now beginning to appear along
the riverside and recommended Messrs. Boulton and Paul Ltd to clients who wished
to rent a piece of land and have a similar bungalow built.
Harry Blake discovered the Norfolk Broads in 1906 when, along with friends from his
South London hometown, he took a holiday on the wherry yacht “Olive”. He approached
the owner, Ernest Collins, at the end of the trip and offered to act as an agent
for him, promising to increase the number of weeks over which his boats were let.
He duly began booking out the boats in 1907 and in 1908 produced his first “Yachting
List”. At this stage he was acting as an agent for just this one yard but by the
following year his list covered thirteen boatyards and offered 43 cabin sailing yachts
for hire. The holiday season had indeed been extended and now ran from May to September.
Amongst his 1909 list of pleasure wherries and yachts available was the auxiliary
wherry yacht “Rambler” owned by W.S. Porter of Oulton Broad. For the 1909 season
she had been newly fitted with a 14 hp 3 cylinder motor made by J.W. Brooke of Lowestoft,
one of the first hire boats on the broads to be equipped with an engine. There were
many experiments for the internal combustion engine being done on boats around this
time. Some of the earliest examples were made with large, converted lifeboats such
as “The John Birch” which had seen service at Great Yarmouth and became the motor
cruiser “Crescent”. These early marine engines were, however, very unreliable and
difficult to use. To start the engine you had to pour a small amount of spirit into
brass cups placed directly above each cylinder head, small taps beneath were then
opened to allow the spirit to run directly onto the pistons, closed off again, then
the large starting handle had to be turned vigorously the get the motor to run. Injuries,
such as a broken wrist or arm, were often sustained if the starting handle was not
being held correctly.
Blakes introduction to the yachting list also gave an insight into what delights
the Norfolk Broads had to offer visitors. “All lovers of nature will be greatly
impressed the moment they find themselves on this wonderful lakeland, for one feels
the glamour of it stealing over you”. Although Norwich and Great Yarmouth provided
opportunities for amusement and entertainment, little else was available in the villages
at this time but some attractions were now beginning to appear. In 1910 visitors
were urged to take a trip on the Waveney to visit Frank Rice’s Zoological Gardens
at Burgh St. Peter to see the latest addition of “a sacred white camel”. In his
1912 list, Blake told potential holidaymakers that “a visit to the local inn, where
refreshments of every description are served, must not be missed, for many a good
yarn may be heard spun by veteran wherry and yacht skippers, who know little of other
life besides that of cruising up and down the Broads district, summer and winter”.
One would imagine that the locals were more than happy to spin “yarns” for the tourists
in return for a few beers!
By 1912 the number of yards that Blake was representing had increased to 20 and the
letting season had extended into April. The average cost per head for a two week
holiday including boat hire and expenditure on food and sundries, based on a party
of six, was estimated to be £5 10s 6d per person for the whole fortnight. The wherry
yacht “Olive” which slept up to ten persons could be hired for a week, along with
two attendants, for £11 early or late in the season and £14 4s during August. The
38ft “Blue Diamond” which could be hired from Wroxham and came with one attendant,
would cost between £7-£8, and the 28ft 4 berth yacht “Frolic” was advertised as having
“one sail only, to enable gentlemen to manage themselves” and cost between £3 and
£4 10s for a weeks hire depending on the season. Half deckers with camping awnings
were available from just 25 shillings a week.
There were also seven pages of motor cruisers and launches listed at the back of
the 1912 list. “Christina” was a 27’6” 4 berth cruiser which cost £7 7s per week
to hire during August. The day launches “Sunflower” and “Amy” could be hired for
picnic parties, complete with a skipper and inclusive of fuel, for between £1 10s
and £2 2s per day. Evidence that motors were really beginning to make their presence
felt in the pleasure boating world was to be found in the adverts for Boulton and
Paul marine engines and also “Motorboat and Marine Oil and Gas Engine” magazine which
was published weekly at a cost of 1d.
The Broadland landscape was ever changing, the first Breydon swing bridge, part of
the rail network, had opened in 1903 and in 1912 one of the most contentious Broadland
landmarks arrived at Cantley. The sugar beet factory was built by the Anglo-Netherlands
Sugar Corporation who were, at that time, one of the largest landowners in the area.
Production was shortlived as the factory was closed down after the outbreak of the
First World War, however, the machinery was maintained throughout its closure and
production finally resumed in 1920. 1912 also saw two other major events worth mentioning.
The railways had taken a good deal of the transportation of goods and supplies away
from the waterways but trade was still continuing. The old trading boats were being
superseded by steam tugs and the last Norfolk wherry “Ella” was built in this year.
In 1913, with the threat of war looming, the admiralty proposed to take over Hickling
broad as a reserve base for flying boats. Contractors built a concrete slipway which
is still in evidence today but the planned base did not happen. The broad was taken
over under the defence of the realm act in 1918 but even then was only used for a
couple of emergency landings and, once the armistice came, Hickling returned to normal.
The outbreak of war did little to affect the boat hire industry on the Broads. Many
young men from Norfolk and Suffolk were of course called up to fight in the trenches
but holidaymakers still visited Broadland throughout the period. Harry Blake continued
to produce his annual lists of boats available for hire and, in 1916, formed the
Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Owners Association which was to represent the many boatbuilders
for whom he was acting as an agent.
In August Broadland was dramatically transformed when eight inches of rain fell over
the region in under 24 hours causing the most devastating floods to be witnessed
since 1878. Although the occasional flooding of rivers was to be expected, the amount
of rainfall and the accompanying gales caused massive destruction all over the system.
When the lock at Buxton collapsed it caused a surge of water which also destroyed
the road bridge at Coltishall. Norwich and Oulton Broad also suffered major damage
in the Great Flood of 1912.
Whilst the war did little to diminish the boat hire industry, yacht racing came to
a virtual standstill in 1914 when most of the paid crew that the owners relied upon
were called up. It was slow to recover after this period but the first Wroxham regatta
to be held after the war took place in 1919. The large, fast racing yachts that had
dominated the racing scene in the Victorian and Edwardian era were now felt to be
too expensive to build and maintain, smaller dinghies and sailing cruisers were increasingly
becoming the more popular choice. Yacht racing had now become a strictly amateur
affair and, over the next decade, small sailing boat ownership was to increase amongst
people from all walks of life, reaching its peak in the 1930’s.