“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”. Blakes introduction to the yachting list 1909
The History of Broadland
During early medieval times, the population of eastern Norfolk was booming due to a rich wool industry, indeed, Norwich was the second city only to London. The ancient woodland was being cleared for fuel leaving the marshy and peaty flatlands beside the rivers Bure, Yare, Thurne, Ant and Waveney exposed. Peat began to be dug and dried for use as fuel during the twelfth century and over the next 100 years, large pits developed. As sea levels rose in the Fourteenth Century, the pits became flooded, preventing any further peat extraction and Broadland was born.
The rivers had always been vital transport links for the Romans, Vikings and Saxon settlers of this marshy area using wherries and keels to take to Great Yarmouth, grain, reed for thatching, cement and other agricultural products. There they would meet with the seagoing sailing barges and bring back into Broadland coal and other bulk materials.
The first railway came to Broadland in 1844 heralding the demise of the wherries but trailblazing the tourist trade. The first Blake’s boating list of boats for hire was published in 1909 and quickly developed into the vital industry of today.
Beginning of boating for leisure
During the late 1800’s, with the railways bringing increasing numbers of Victorian tourists to Broadland, many of the boatyards which previously built wherries, turned their hand to building boats for hire. One of the first was master carpenter John Loynes who set up a yard in Wroxham next to the bridge. Wherries began to be converted from trading to pleasure craft and boatyards started to build and hire out, Robert and Ernest Collins at Coltishall and then Wroxham, George Applegate in Potter Heigham, Robert Kemp in Oulton Broad and John Hart in Thorpe.
The first tourist guide to the area was written by George Christopher Davies in 1881 who was also a member of the Yare Sailing Club, the first yacht club on the Broads. The boatman of the Broads were always competitive, racing their wherries in order to be the first to deliver the goods quickly evolved into racing for pleasure and the first regattas held during the late 1800’s became firm favorites with tourists and locals.
The boating industry continued to expand into the 1930’s when motor boating became popular for those who could not sail. Many of the boats built by local yards then are still giving great pleasure to their owners now and are lovingly maintained by yards such as Norfolk Broads Yachting Co.
During the Second World War, boating on the Broads was prohibited with many of the hirecraft, particularly the wherries and sailing boats were moored across the wide expanses of water to prevent German seaplanes from landing. This, unfortunately, led to a great many being lost and neglected, and with new technologies such as GRP and Seacrete being used post war, the skills of the boatbuilders changed. Today there are still master boatbuilders in Broadland using modern and traditional skills and techniques to keep boating alive and well.
Beginning of racing
During the late 1880’s sailing clubs such as the Yare Sailing Club and the Waveney Sailing Club had become established and with regattas being held in every major Broadland village, racing became a widespread spectacle.
Wealthy owners had sleek racing yachts built which were raced by paid crew. Smaller half decker Broads One Design yachts made their debut on Whit Sunday 1901 at Oulton and in 1908 Ernest Woods built the first Yare and Bure One Design or YBOD for the Yare and Bure Sailing Club. There be over 60 YBOD’s built before 1963 which are still being raced on the Broads.
After the first World War, regattas were slow to restart, the first Wroxham regatta was held in 1919 but by the 1950’s, sailing clubs were flourishing with both Horning and Wroxham having over 200 members. Winter sailing was pioneered by Snowflakes and Frostbites and Broadland still has an abundance of sailing clubs providing year-round sailing and competition.
One of the most famous open regattas of the year is Thurne Mouth Open Regatta (TMOR) at which the Cock of the Broads is raced. This is to determine the fastest sailing river cruiser on the Broads and in 2017 was won by Tim Frary in Stellar built by him at TMF Boatbuilding.
Broadland has always been famous for wildlife as readers of Arthur Ransom’s ‘Coot Club’ will know. Spoonbills were a common sight on Breydon Water during the early twentieth century, swallowtail butterflies only breed among the milkweed of Broadland and Marsh Harriers could be seen soaring over the reeds.
During the 1960’s, boating on the Broads was at its zenith with 5000 motor craft and 2500 sailing craft available for hire. The wash from this amount of boats and the effluent caused by so many river users was beginning to take its toll on the rivers and wildlife. Marsh Harriers were rarely seen, otters were nowhere to be seen, Great Crested Grebes had been hunted for their cheek feathers to decorate ladies hats and swallowtail butterflies on the edge of extinction. Naturalist Ted Ellis established the first nature reserve at Wheatfen near Surlingham, showing that with water quality and reed bed management, wildlife could again populate Broadland.
Changes began to be put in place to lower speeds, redesign of hulls to create less wash and holding tanks incorporated to improve water quality. Farmers were encouraged not to use phosphate and nitrate based fertilisers near the water courses and restoration of broads such as Barton Broad in 2000 have begun to demonstrate a resurgence in the abundant wildlife this unique water system can support.
Swallowtail butterflies now grace the summer reed beds and if you are very lucky, you can glimpse otter and kingfisher along the river edges. In spring Great Crested Grebe once again perform their graceful courtship dance and marsh harriers and barn owl quarter the reedbed and pastures for prey.
All river users from the hire boat industry and anglers, the racing fraternity and bird watchers are involved in decisions affecting their Broadland once again making this a living and working landscape.
Broadland is closely linked with artists and authors down the years. The Norwich School of Painters was instigated by John Crome and John Sell Cotman in 1885. Their paintings of Broadland landscapes were popular throughout the nineteenth century and many can still be seen hanging in Norwich Castle Museum.
Arthur Ransom is famed for his stories of the Swallows and Amazons and following his regular summer holidays sailing on the Broads in the 1930’s wrote Coot Club and the Big Six bringing to life the Broads for generations of children and their parents. John Betjemen, also holidayed as a child in Broadland and relived those times through some of his poems.
Broadland has been the setting for many films and TV series over the years. The Go Between starring Alan Bates and Julie Christie, Tales of the Unexpected from Anglia Television and the serialisation of Swallows and Amazons by the BBC are just a few of the best remembered. Latterly the BBC’s Springwatch team has captured Broadland’s wonderful wildlife on film and brought it again to the public notice bringing a whole new generation to enjoy this unique landscape.
Website links for reference