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vaughans posts of memories of thorpe and the broads.


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Vaughan has kindly agreed to let me transfer his posts containing memories of the broads to this section and Im hoping he may add to them later.

Posted 9 Dec 2015

I emailed commander ashbys son, Vaughan yesterday evening to give him a link to this thread as I thought he may have liked an update and I received this reply ...


Hello Jill, and very nice to hear from you.

 you are welcome to quote me on the forum, on anything I say in this mail from this point on.

Those who live in the development at Old Hall Close had no idea (when I spoke to some of them years ago) that their houses are built on the site of the old Wards boatyard, which was part of the Jenner Group in the late 60's. A.G.Ward and son was one of the finest and oldest hire yards on the Broads in its day. When the Old Hall, which was part of the yard, was sold, the new owner developed the boatyard site in order to finance the renovation of the hall itself. The planning permission for this included a specific covenant (which is still carved in stone) that the land on the island opposite could only ever be used for moorings. This may clear up some mis-apprehensions.


I worked weekends for Jenners in the late 60's and early 70's and it was a huge and ambitious operation. it incorporated the Yards of Hearts, Wards and Jenners itself, which was a yard on the main road beside the Town House, also one of the oldest on the Broads, and that site is now residential apartments and the Town House car park. The owner, David Millbank, had bought boats from several other yards and moved them to Thorpe where, at its peak, the business was running over 200 hire boats from between the two bridges in Thorpe. Boats were moored stern-to on both banks of the river with just enough room to drive a boat between them. The basin was two thirds covered by a "wet" boathouse, whose supporting pillars can still be seen in the basin, and there was a "dry" shed, on the land behind the road bridge, about the size of an aircraft hanger and capable of storing and maintaining 100 boats in winter. The rest of the land was dotted with buildings for toilet pumpout, boat cleaning, linen stores and all the other services required. Most of the spare land was a large park for customers' cars in summer. All of this, by the way, had full planning permission. There was also permission (phase three of the overall plan) to build a clubhouse and leisure facilities, which would have included the basin for the mooring of its members' private boats. if the business had not gone bust owing to cash flow, I wonder what the "newcomers" on the Yarmouth Rd would think of their view then??


I have already attested, for Roger's appeals, that these moorings were still in regular use for mooring hire boats right up to the early 90's. I towed a lot of them up there myself. Hearts, of course, continued running under Ladbrokes and then Richardsons, until fairly recently. Both companies also owned the land on the island opposite the Old Hall, and thus the moorings were still in regular use.


By the way, it's not a Site of Natural Beauty, a Preservation Area, a Wildlife Reserve or an SSSI - it's just an over-grown railway embankment. So do tell us, what else would they want to do with it? What is THEIR plan? Especially as they have already forbidden any other use except moorings?


Interestingly, the Jenners development was heavily supported by Blakes and the then River Commissioners (come back, all is long forgiven!) since one of its main purposes was to encourage greater use of the southern rivers by pleasure craft and thus alleviate the serious overcrowding of the northern Broads. That overcrowding still exists, despite the demise of hire boats and so I am surprised that the BA does not actively support this principle rather than deliberately trying to close down good off-river moorings on the Yare, within a bus ride of the city of Norwich.


So now let's clear up all this stuff about "Morning Flight" being an "abandoned live-aboard" and I will tell you not only the true story but with whom the blame for the wreck really lies!


My parents bought Hearts at the end of the War when housing was in very short supply and having served in Coastal Forces in the War, bought an ex navy M.G.B. from a yard in Rochester. The deal was that they could have the engines, shafts and all other machinery in return for slipping and repairing the hull and then towing it to Gt Yarmouth, where May Gurneys (then Ho' Bros) towed her to Thorpe. It is true they had to fill the bilges with water and strip off all the superstructure to get her under the bridge, and I saw a photo taken by the EDP in 1947. I am sure they still have a record of it somewhere. She cleared the bridge by a half inch at the top and 4 inches either side. The photo looks like toothpaste coming out of a tube! The idea was to live on board for a couple of years and then build a house on the island, for which they did get planning permission, but they were so comfortable, with a lovely garden of over an acre, that they stayed on board for 41 years.


Father actually sold the gunboat to Jenners in 1966 when he sold Hearts, with the deal that he could live on board free of charge for the rest of his life, including the maintenance of the boat free of charge. I eventually moved him off in 1989 owing to ill health and we moved to a house "ashore". So Ladbrokes were faced with what to do? They couldn't haul the boat out for repairs at Hearts, the hull was too weak to be craned out and she could not be taken back under the bridge. After a few years she was bought by a group of young men who had the serious intention of re-fitting her, installing engines and cruising offshore. They bought the boat for £100 on the condition that they removed her from her mooring at Hearts. To this end they stripped off all the superstructure and prepared to get her under the bridge, to be towed to a yard in Lowestoft.


But along came the new Broads Authority who said they were not allowed to tow the boat down the main river! By this time the boat had become an eyesore in danger of sinking in the Navigation and so Ladbrokes towed her up to the basin (which they still owned) and moored her round the corner on the east side where she was out of sight of the Town House. There she sank and was heavily vandalised by kids coming across the road bridge at night. Which they don't now, of course, because people live there!


Next chapter was when she came to the  attention of the British Power Boat museum in Portsmouth since she was actually a rare historic prototype, built in 1936 with genuine Rolls Royce Merlin engines. It seems her design (by Scott-Paine) was used for the famous American PT (patrol torpedo) boats. Their plan was to fit a steel framework inside to support the hull for transport by road and so they re-floated her and moved her to the centre of the basin ready for the work. Soon after this plan was found to cost too much money (no surprise) and so there she duly sank again and remains to this day.


So hardly an "abandoned live-aboard" and the fault for her ending up there actually lies with the BA themselves!


I hope all this may be helpful and please keep me in touch if I can supply any other info.

I notice there have been even more posts since I have written this!


All the best,


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Posted 10 Dec 2015 · Report post

a glimpse of morning flight in this 1962 footage
Posted 11 Dec 2015 · Report post


I would just like to thank Vaughan for taking the time to fill in some of the lost history.

luckily he saw the clip I posted and it triggered these memories ....


Hi Jill,

I have just seen your post on the forum with a film of Thorpe. Good isn't it?

It was actually filmed from one of Ward's day launches which they must have hired for the day. The tide is high, but you can see how difficult it must have been to get the gunboat under the bridge.

Points of interest:

The pleasure wherry Dragon is on her (liveaboard) mooring at Thorpe Gardens (now the Rushcutters). Notice how nice the gardens were in those days - it's now a car park.

The hire boats moored on the green were from Jenners.

The green is only partially quay headed : the part in front of the Buck and the church was a grass bank with osiers. the rest of the quay was made of railway sleepers.

3 more liveaboards on the north bank, in front of the old rectory and right on the main road. All had been there since the 40's.

To the right of the Town House you can see the offices and fuel pumps in front of Jenners' sheds. They used the Town House quay for hire boats, since the hotel was owned by David Millbank's parents.

You can see how lovely Wards yard and the Old Hall were when it was a business on its own. Like something out of "Wind in the willows".  Alf Ward lived in the hall in those days. David Millbank later got into awful trouble with the council when he cut down that lovely old cedar and turned the front lawn into a car park! David lived in the hall for a time until the Caister Group made it into Jenners offices. By the way, this is the spot where the crane fell in the river when they were building the road bridge!

In the next shot where they look back at Wards you can clearly see that the bank on the island was fully quay headed in those days and had been in use for mooring hire boats since before the War.

I also love the bit where they are so busy filming under the bridge that they vey nearly run into a steel motor wherry coming up the back reach! Funny we don't get to hear what the wherry skipper said!

Feel free to post this if you wish.

All the best,

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Vaughan joined the forum and posted .........

Posted 21 Dec 2015 · Report post

Hello folks,

Thought I had better join this forum, in case Jill R thought I was hiding behind her skirts! In any case this subject is becoming more and more interesting.

First a point of technical order : today's EDP article suggests the "live-aboards" are having their power cut off and are thus being forced out of their homes "before Christmas". All suitably emotive, but in my experience of solar power on boats, (a) it provides DC and not 240v AC and (b) if these panels are actually supplying power to the boats in the basin they would probably need to extend over most of the site in order to do so. If they are powering a water pump then I assume Roger has installed a well; if not, why do they need an extra pump to provide mains water? If it is well water why not install a hand pump? If these boats (as they say themselves) have engines and Broads Safety Certificates, they can provide power from their own batteries and can also take a trip down to Hearts to top up their water and fuel tanks (and get their toilets pumped out). I understand most of them are heated in winter by solid fuel woodburners. They are not therefore, in my opinion, being driven out of their homes.


The real battle, as I see it, is over the right to moor boats on a site whose "provenance" for this purpose (and this alone) goes back to well before the war and probably right back to the building of the railway. The covenant, let's not forget, is not specific to the basin - it covers the whole site.

The residential use of boats on said moorings is a different planning matter entirely as recently identified (and won) in the WRC mooring basin.

I am shocked, however, to read that the chair of the BA (no less) has described these legitimate boat owners as "feral people living in a shanty town". Wikipedia defines feral as an "animal living in the wild but descended from domestic individuals". That a public servant, chair of a quango, should make such a repugnant and insulting remark in public meeting should surely be a matter for resignation.

But maybe this has turned the tide? If the BA are now to be accused (and maybe quite rightly) of "social cleansing" with regard to boat owners then they may, let us hope, have made one mistake too many in their handling of what should have been a simple matter of up-dating the status of mooring permission in an off-river basin, built for that purpose only.

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Posted 25 Dec 2015 · Report post

Can I go off piste for a moment, on this Christmas morning? I wanted to share some memories with you. Some say that is what I am here for.

Morning Flight was one of dozens like her on the Broads in the 40s and 50s. The Navy sold off all their Coastal Forces craft : MGBs, MTBs, HDMLs, air/sea rescue launches, even landing craft and they all made excellent houseboat dwellings. There must have been more than a hundred of them all over the Broads in those days when housing was so short after the war. I remember all the Arcon pre-fabs that were erected round Norwich, to try and get people housed. The big Heartsease housing estate was still Boulton and Paul's airfield then. My father used to shoot pheasants over it. So living on a boat was commonplace : the sensible thing to do. They had all been thrown together for the war, without needing to last, so after a few years they just had to be dragged off into a dyke or cutting and left to rot. That was commonplace too.

Anyone remember the wreck of the "Longmynd" in a cut near Brundall Gardens? She was a lot bigger than Morning Flight - a Fairmile "D". One of the famous Dog Boats. In the Mediterranean in 1943, where one flotilla of them was commanded by my father, they became the most heavily armed warships of their type in the World. Any fighter pilot trying to attack one of them had better have his life jacket on! But now? Just an old hulk in a basin.

Remember the Golden Galleon? She was a harbour defence motor launch, a Fairmile B, just like the ones built in the war by Herbert Woods and Percivals. The mooring basin in the marsh across from Lower St in Horning is known as Perci's dyke. It had to be dug out in the war so that the Fairmiles built in Percival's sheds could be launched. The river wasn't nearly wide enough. Imagine the undertaking of building ships the size of the Golden Galleon on a little yard in Horning. They called it war effort!

Remember the big pleasure wherry sunk on the bank at Surlingham Ferry, for all those years? Or the long line of wherry hulks on the north bank of the Yare between Postwick Grove and the Wood's End? One of them is said to be the Faun - the fastest wherry ever built.

So it's not strange for me to see Morning Flight, resting there, in the basin. She is just the last of so many, that's all. Why? She was built well before the war of seasoned timber. That's why my father chose her - he knew she would last a long time. Her bottom under the chine is triple diagonal teak, inches thick. It had to be, if you were going to charge around the North Sea in the dark at 38 knots on three Merlin engines.

I sometimes wonder how we, and the BA, really see the Broads now. They are not natural; they have to be maintained by Man or they will go back to a peat bog - faster than we think - so why can't Man be allowed to make best use of them, for his money? The navigations are not commercial any more, so they are maintained just for pleasure boating. But boating means mooring, and sometimes living on board. That's part of the fun.

In the 50's the Broads had a big income, from tourism and boatbuilding and were run and well maintained by the River Commissioners. We certainly made best use of them then, I can tell you!

So now, as this sounds like Gray's Elegy - "The paths of glory", and all that - I think I'd better go and open a bottle of wine.......

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Posted Sunday at 11:53 AM · Report post


The bridge was built as part of the first phase of Jenners' plans and had full permission.

As it was built to join two pieces of private land owned by the same company (A.G.Ward) there is no ancient public right of way or footpath. I imagine Roger (as he only now owns the island side), is entitled to close the bridge in the same way as a house-holder might put a gate on his front drive.

It has just occurred to me that this is how the badgers must have got onto the island. I was there when they were building that bridge and the crane fell in the river. I remember the driver, sitting there in his cab looking straight up in the air, like a space shuttle pilot waiting to take off! Luckily no-one was hurt so we all had a good laugh. I must say the Jenner Group was a bit like Fred Karno's Army in those days.

If you are looking for a right of way, however, there is one. I have proved from old maps that what they call the Horsewater, beside Point House, was actually a cattle swim, which crossed the river and joined the road between Trowse and Whitlingham, on the Crown Point Estate. There is a similar slipway to the Horsewater on the island, but it is now hidden behind the quay where the boats moor at Hearts. Might explain why that house is called Point House.

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I recently heard a story about the Sea Smugglers. Hearts/ Wards / Jenner's (he is not sure who owned which at the time) purchased 4 delapidated Majestic Eagle class boats from Leo Robinson's in Oulton Broad. Chaps were duly sent to collect the new acquisitions only to find, on arrival at Robinson's, that all four boats were ashore. Evidentially Robinson's were expecting them but had not launched in case they did not arrive. It turned out it was more down to in case they sank! Anyway, 4 boats were quickly launched and lashed together ready for their trip back to Thorpe. It fell to the lad to man the (manual) bilge pumps on the trip and he had the job of jumping between the fleet and pumping as fast as he could to keep them afloat during the trip. I am told his blisters took weeks to heal...

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Good to see Vaughan back :). I'm not sure if you are interested but here on the medway there are still some MTB's and patrol vessels used as houseboats, sadly we just lost the tidiest of them and she was broken but there's a couple still surviving. :) 

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28 minutes ago, JanetAnne said:

I recently heard a story about the Sea Smugglers. Hearts/ Wards / Jenner's (he is not sure who owned which at the time) purchased 4 delapidated Majestic Eagle class boats from Leo Robinson's in Oulton Broad. Chaps were duly sent to collect the new acquisitions only to find, on arrival at Robinson's, that all four boats were ashore. Evidentially Robinson's were expecting them but had not launched in case they did not arrive. It turned out it was more down to in case they sank! Anyway, 4 boats were quickly launched and lashed together ready for their trip back to Thorpe. It fell to the lad to man the (manual) bilge pumps on the trip and he had the job of jumping between the fleet and pumping as fast as he could to keep them afloat during the trip. I am told his blisters took weeks to heal...

Boat pumps, back in the middle of the last century, tended to be like this 'thing' but probably green, red and rust or blue red and rust. For the amount of effort required they lifted remarkably little water and at whatever angle you worked them they very quickly took their toll with blisters and aching muscles. Possibly WWII surplus, built to last to eternity and beyond but they were dreadful things to work for any length of time, hated the one my father had fitted to his launch with a vengeance! They needed to be fitted to a bulkhead and almost universally they were, it seemed, fitted in an inaccessible corner of a hull. 



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Vaughan has mentioned  Simon Whitmore, of Surlingham Ferry, I remember him well, indeed a hero of mine. Simon was a master of pink gins, couldn't stand the stuff but worth having in order to watch the master at work. He'd swill the bitters around the glass, setting fire to it, the residue adhering to the insides of the glass, he'd then glaze the rim of the glass with ice before adding the gin, all accompanied with the latest riverbank gossip & humour and probably the wearing of several different hats. Simon was a raconteur, entertainer, gentleman and master of his trade, a landlord of the old school.

Vaughan also mentioned Mr Hunt, as I knew him, the Yare river inspector. A gang of us once invited Mr Hunt aboard for a gin, to which he was very partial. He was there to inspect our tolls discs but being early in the season none of us had bothered with such frippery. One of our group was Ivan Darby, landlord of the Commodore in Oulton Broad, a man with several bottles on board. It wasn't long before Mt Hunt was several sheets to the wind and only one or two more before he was fast asleep on the bunk of his inspectors launch. Too good a chance to miss, we drove him and his launch from Coldham Hall and up to Simon's pub where we left him moored up to sleep it off rather than check our tolls! I remember that trip well, having borrowed Mr Hunts official 'white top' hat and waving down all the hire boats even if they weren't speeding!

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Another memory, although not my photo. It was taken in 1950, on my father's annual 'lad's week', something of a Broads tradition! Back in time everyone who lived or worked on the Broads knew everyone else, which included the landlords of all the Broads pubs, the aptly named LSD Rich at the Wherry in Oulton Broad, the Archers at Reedham Ferry, Harry Last at Coldham Hall, the afore mentioned Simon at Surlingham just to mention a few. A 'lad's week' would ensure friendships were maintained, even strengthened as the flotilla moved from pub to pub, boatyard to boatyard.

I remember several crew members, for example one was an undertaker, he taught me to dowse, two others were farmers, another owned a shipyard, all people I found interesting and who tolebrated me as a youngster. They were business associates, two ex POW's in Japan, old school chums, war-time comrades and so on. My mother always expressed some amazement at the mass of food & drink that went aboard, and in her opinion they were like a bunch of school boys let out for the week!  

This photo has May 1950 written on the back, not much changed in all that time. Probably photographed many tens of thousands of times from pretty much the same spot.


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If you went past Surlingham Ferry in a boat during opening hours, Simon would come out and flag you down with a tea-towel. People would turn round and moor up, fearing there must be some urgent message from home or something, but Simon just said "well, this is a pub, and it's open". Once you were trapped like that, it was the end of your day's cruising! If he thought you were a very good customer he would come out while you were casting off and sound a fanfare on his post-horn as you pulled away.

And Jack Hunt! I have seen a similar occasion to Peter's. He always attended Coldham Hall Regatta, where he would go down the line of moored boats and have a drink off every one that had not got a toll up yet. He also had several with my father even though he did have a toll! One afternoon about teatime he got back in his launch to go home to Reedham and got half way round before falling asleep at the wheel. He went round in circles in the middle of the river for ages, while we all yelled at him and in the end Barry Johnson had to go out in a dinghy and throw out a rope to catch the propellor. Don't forget there were 800 ton coasters coming up the river in those days.

But don't let Peter and I mis-lead you about Jack Hunt. He was an excellent river inspector. The best, for me. He had a "nose" for trouble and whenever you were aground in the middle of no-where, or even sinking, it never seemed to take more than a quarter hour before he appeared round the bend, leaning out of his window and giggling, as always.

Another time at Coldham, we waved him away as usual and he got all the way to Reedham with a Hearts Cruisers flag on the front of his launch, before he noticed!


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Another memory of the Yare. The first shed on Bungalow Lane, towards Norwich, was where Nobby Clark lived. He ran a ferry service across to the old village of Whitlingham, where there was still road access then, and also had a salvage business, where he would drag the river for lost outboard motors and sometimes, I was told, for dead bodies in Norwich. He built a little catamaran with a paddle wheel powered by a bicycle mounted in the middle, called "Nutty Slack". At the Frostbites Sailing Club on "rum punch Sunday", he would arrive on this boat dressed as Father Christmas, with presents for all the children. He modernised his business by getting some diving gear (he had already been a Navy diver) and from that moment a sign appeared across the front of his boathouse :


                                                            NOBBY CLARK 

                                                 My Business is going down.

The Frostbites, as you may know, is on the last bend before the first Thorpe bridge, going upstream, where it used to be called Thorpe Broad. One Sunday morning in mid-winter, the Norfolk Dinghies were out racing, with the Enterprises out as well, in a flat calm. No wind at all and about 30 dinghies sitting spread out all over the river, in the mist. At this moment the Everards coaster "Ellen M" came round Whitlingham bend with the tide under her and a full load for Norwich power station.  Confronted with this lot, she somehow managed to weave her way gently through, while everybody paddled. As she came abeam of the Frostbites clubhouse, the skipper took his pipe out of his mouth, looked down from the wing of his bridge to the race officers standing below, and said "Why don't you buggers go to church?"

This incident is recorded in the Frostbites' visitor's book.


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Barry Johnson I remember well. he had the Johnson's hire fleet at St Olaves. A man with an incredible enthusiasm for the Broads and cleanliness. He had a shed with a slatted floor that drained into the river. Barry would be hard at it, rubber thigh-boots and rubber apron, scrubbing away,sweat poring down his face as he cleaned everything from tea-spoon to bunkboards. He was also a very successful sailor, numerous trophies, and an ability to attract some beautiful crews! We were to remain friends for many years, until he died, his immaculate cruiser moored a couple of dykes along from mine.

Barry & I both raced in Waveney One Designs as youngsters. Barry generally being the better sailor, well, he did take his racing more seriously than I ever did. I did beat him a few times but I did soundly out-sail him once, virtually no wind, when a coaster sailed through the fleet at Coldham Hall, the undertow off its propeller dragged me from the back of the fleet to near the front by the time that we reached the buoy that we went round, ohhh that was a struggle to push us away from that undertow, we managed it by the time we got to the bouy!! 

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