Boats of the Norfolk Broads ~

Sailing on the Norfolk Broads

I recently found a family photograph album with pages illustrating holidays spent under sail in the 1930’s.

Breakfast on the Norfolk Broads ~ Easter 1939
Joan with her friends having breakfast on the Norfolk Broads ~ Easter 1939

Not all the black and white photographs are as horizontal or as sharply in focus as one might wish but they show the glorious boats available for hire.

Sailing on the Norfolk Broads - Easter 1939

They also reflect what fun was had out on the water.

Joan Hampton - Norfolk Broads - Friends1

We were rather shocked by the cigarettes held in the mouths of the young men but Joan, who is pictured with them, was still agile at the age of ninety-nine.

Martin Neville on the Norfolk Broads
Martin Neville sailing on the Norfolk Broads with friends in the early 1950s

Having sailed up to Horsey Mere with friends, my father hired a Hullabaloo boat to take us out on the Boards when we were little.

Sophie Neville with her sisters on the Norfolk Broads

We went out of season, when boat hire was cheaper. As there was no one on the water my father let me take the helm mile after mile, despite the fact that I was only about seven years old.

Sophie Neville on the Norfolk Broads
Sophie Neville wearing a life jacket c. 1968

 We loved living aboard and were often surrounded by wild geese.

Sophie Neville on the Norfolk Broads

It seems Arthur Ransome, who had fished on the Broads with Titty’s father, Ernest Altounyan, in 1923, also enjoyed cruising in the spring. His biographer, Roger Wardale, said that ‘Both the Ransomes liked to visit the Broads just after Easter, before most of the motor cruisers had started the season and it was the best time of year for birdlife.’ He went on to describe how Arthur Ransome kept a log of his three weeks spent in a Fairway yacht, the essence of which he used to write Coot Club in 1933/34. ‘As well as visiting Roy’s of Wroxham, tying up at Horning Hall Farm and watching the racing boats go by, towing through bridges, mooring beside a Thames barge at Beccles and watching a fisherman catching eels with a bab, there are numerous details that combine to make Coot Club a valuable account of the social and natural history of the Broads as they were more than 70 years ago.’ 

Roger Wardale illustrated his book Arthur Ransome Master Stroyteller, using wonderful photographs and sketches by Arthur Ransome, including a very jolly one of the Hullabaloos that had not been published before. Do get hold of a copy of the book, to read the chapter on Coot Club for yourself.

I’ve written a little about working on the BBC adaptation of ‘Coot Club’ and the ‘Big Six’ for the DVD Extras for re-mastered 30th Anniversary DVD of the series which has this cover: 

Swallows and Amazons Forever
Swallows And Amazons Forever! (Coot Club & The Big Six) SPECIAL EDITION [DVD]

I have written about appearing in the original film of Swallows and Amazons here, where you can read the first section free of charge:

Author: Sophie Neville

Writer and charity fundraiser

24 thoughts on “Boats of the Norfolk Broads ~”

  1. Thank you so much for the mention! I love your atmospheric photographs, capturing the spirit of those carefree days.
    By the way, ‘Arthur Ransome on the Broads’ is due to be published in the spring by Amberley Publishing in full colour. It tells the story of AR’s half a dozen or so holidays on hired yachts and of the youngsters who sailed in his fleet in the 1930s, as well as the story of Coot Club and The Big Six. I spent six days last summer trying to find places AR visited that had NOT changed, for the pics. VERY difficult.
    If i had known about your 1930s pics, I would have come begging, but I fear the book is too far down the line by now.
    Keep up the fascinating story, please.

    1. My mother-in-law’s photos were taken in 1939, at Easter time. It is so poiniant to know that all those young men were soon invollved in the war. I must ask her the details. She joined MI5, working as a secretary at Wormwood Scrubs when they were given offices in the cells. They were later moved to Blenheim Palace.

  2. Having looked at those 1930s photos again. The yacht in ‘Breakfast’ looks identical to the ‘Fairway’ class that was Ransome’s favourite Broads cruiser. Another detail: the line of moored yachts looks like a photo I have seen of Ransome’s ‘Northern River Pirates’ that Magnus mentioned, who were also sailing at Easter 1939.
    If not ‘Fairways’, then they were most probably from the Hunter’s Yard (Ludham) fleet of mahogany hulled cruisers.
    Hunter’s ‘Lullaby’ had a false transom fitted and became ‘Teasel’ for your filming. I photographed the transom and also ‘Titmouse’ that is kept in their yard for the book last summer, and have tried to unsuccessfully to post here. If you could email me your email address I will send so that you can post.

    1. Thank you so much. I’d love to include your photosgraphs on the Blog. People always ask – ‘What are they doing now?’ You must tell me how to accurately describe how the Ludham yachts are rigged.
      I have a few secrets yet to post!
      Grannie’s photos are all tiny. She has some larger ones of sailing from Seaview that are lovely – you could publish them in Vogue. Do contact me if you need them for a book on Peter Duck.

  3. Most of the yachts in the hire fleets, including Hunter’s, were/are ‘gunter-rigged’. That is a having a gaff mainsail with a high peak, and a jib. ‘Lullaby’/’Teasel’ is a good example.There is a good scene in the film when ‘Teasel’ is seen in close up as Tom defies the wreckers of Yarmouth.
    Many of the yachts had a ‘self-acting’ jib, which according to Ransome was too large, so that there were times when he lowered his and sailed better without it!

  4. Strictly speaking she is a 4-berth ‘Lustre’ class yacht built in 1932 and operated by the Hunter’s Fleet. Her youngest ‘sister’ was built by Hunter’s Yard in 2001. There are 14 sailing cruisers in the fleet and none have an engine and all are available for hire! They are truly beautiful yachts. i was lucky enough to be invited to sail one of the ‘sisters’ on Barton Broad a few years ago. Magic!

      1. Yes, and completely unspoilt as far as I can tell. I still remember with great pleasure my only week sailing on the Broads, and that was in 1963 or ’64!

          1. I would love to. ‘Out of season’ isn’t a problem for me; finding a companion brave enough to go on the water with me might be!

              1. I hadn’t thought of anything like that. I will, thank you for the idea.

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