2012 and all that

We are on the cusp of a new year when we have lots to do to celebrate the 100th year since navigation ceased on the Aylsham Navigation. No doubt 100 years ago people along the river were wishing each other a happy 1912 not knowing what was to come. Within twelve months the area had been devastated by a flood, navigation had ceased above Coltishall and communities had been rent asunder by the loss of bridges to the torrent of water fuelled by 6 inches of rain in 12 hours.

I will wish you a happy new year and lets hope that it will be better than it was 100 years ago. This is a short blog to pass on these wishes but normal service will be resumed next week.

Happy Xmas and a Merry New Year (or is it the other way round?)

Well it’s that time of year and I waste no time in wishing all a very happy and good time for Christmas followed by a healthy and hopefully properous 2012. I always recognise however that for some it is a wretched and lonely time; if you are one I wish you peace and some comfort.

2012 is the 100th year since the Navigation was forcibly closed by a natural disaster that thankfully only took this waterway’s life and could so easily have taken human life. We will be holding an event and a book will be published to commemorate the centenary. We have also set the Trust up which is talked about elsewhere on this website and that will be open for membership in the new year and will afford the opportunity for those so minded to participate in events to help conserve the historic and natural environment as well as campaigning for a full length footpath. All of this is in the now but what of Christmases past.

In the trading days very little stopped the movement of wherries and there is some indication that even Christmas did not completely stop trade.

See the blog below for some details of the wherries There were no movements on the Navigation in the period 25-27 December 1907 from Aylsham. However on 22 December Zulu and Cyprus departed whilst on 23rd Alexandra left and on Christmas Eve that year Volunteer sailed. Then on the 28th Palmerston followed on the 30th by Hilda and Zulu – i.e. Zulu down and up in the week – she was a girl and must have sailed throughout the period.

There were also no movements in the period 24-27 December 1908 from Buxton. although 22 December saw Emily; 23 Alexandra and again on 28 which means she was down and back in 5 days – so she too probably traded through the period.

The cargoes we don’t know but they would have included animal feed, coal, beet, timber and building materials. Of these at this time of year coal was probably the most welcome.

The wherrymen of course will have had families and friends to celebrate with and pubs to visit with yule ale to drink so even if working they surely took time to enjoy at least some of the season.

Zulu memorably was the wherry which famously escaped after the flood to trade again although her days were numbered even then. This feat has lived in the local folklore for the last 100 years and will hopefully now be remembered for ever. It is a tale of endeavour and spirit which should inspire all.

From all involved in the Project and the Trust please do have a very merry Christmas. Finally and on a personal note I would like to extend my personal thanks to all who have helped with so much this last year. Thank you. Stu W



Zulu raising sail at Acle



Zulu being man-hauled to escape the Navigation post flood from upstream of Buxton Lock



So what of the wherries? I was at a meeting last week and the conversation turned to wherries as it does from time to time and I thought it an idea to do a brief audit of what I know of those using the Aylsham Navigation. One very relevant point is that any trading vessel coming up to Aylsham had to be of a restricted size and be capable of slipping its keel. I hope this isn’t going to be just a list but here goes (my primary source is the Black Sailed Traders appendix 1 coupled with research and other local knowledge) -:

ALBERT based Aylsham owned by Tom Shreeve and skippered at the end by a Mr Bircham

ALEXANDRA a small vessel of 22 tons owned by Stanley Bullock and the last skipper was “Sink” Collier

ASLACTON owned in Aylsham and skippered by Ted Brown

AYLSHAM 25 tons owned by Stanley Bullock and skippered by B Wright

BALDWICH a 24 tonner owned in Aylsham by Barber & Ingram – unusually she had a square stern

BROTHERS a small vessel of 18 tons built in 1795 and lasting only until 1798 skippered by John Maidstone

BUCKENHAM a 12 tonner built  in 1780 and owned in Aylsham her skipper was Edward Roofe

CYPRUS a 24 tonner owned in Aylsham by A.R. Amies and skippered by Joe Bircham

DEFIANCE recorded as a 42 ton vessel owned in Aylsham and skippered by George Tuck 1795-8

ENDEAVOUR recorded as a 16 tonner operated from Burgh and with the skipper Matthew Bidney

ERNEST owned in Aylsham by Stanley Bullock

FANCY operated from Horstead by Roberet Blyth 1795-8

GLEANER owned in Aylsham by George Bircham

HILDA 22 tonner last owned and skippered by Charles Rump out of Horning. Built in 1898 she spent her early years with Isaac Helsdon at Burgh.

KATE another 22 tonner owned in Aylsham by Ben Cooke and finally skippered by “Shiner” Wright. She once did 8 round trips from Aylsham to Yarmouth in one month (that’s some going)

LITTLE SPARK later Maid of the Mist – a 12 tonner she spent her working life at the Horstead Marl pits.

MAYFLOWER based Aylsham but owned and operated by Isaac Helsdon from Burgh

MAY FLOWER an early wherry based in Aylsham of only 12 tons and skippered by William Sago

NORFOLK FARMER another early but larger wherry based in Aylsham and skippered by John Rous

OLIVE BRANCH a 36 tonner based at Aylsham and skippered by Clement Cook.

OXNEAD owned at Oxnead by William Spinks

PALMERSTON built 1898 in Aylsham and owned by Stanly Bullock

Wherry believed to be the Palmerston at Aylsham

PROSPECT a small wherry of 13 tons based in Aylsham and owned by Mr Bircham and skippered by Mr Parsons. She was the subject of my halloween blog “The Ghost of Burgh Reach” as she is said by local legend to lay sunk there between Oxnead and Burgh locks.

ROYAL CHARLIE owned at Oxnead in the 1880’s by Charles Browne.

THREE SISTERS an 18 tonner skippered out of Aylsham by John Loverick

TRADER nothing is really known about this wherry other than she was owned at Hautbois by a Mr Girling

UNION a 28 tonner built and traded from Aylsham and later under skipper John Reynolds from Horstead

VOLUNTEER a 26 tonner trading from Aylsham for Tom Shreeve and skippered by Mr Rivett

ZULU a 20 ton wherry based in Catfield she was built in Coltishall and frequently traded to Aylsham under skipper Jimmy Wright. She was owned by Mr Riches and was, famously, manhauled across and around obstructions after the flood to gain her trading freedom.

This list (you see I accept it is one) is not meant to be definiive. I am sure that other vessels traded the Navigation and it also takes no account of any pleasure traffic of which there was some in the last 30 years or so.

Either the Mayflower or the Hilda at Burgh Staithe (by the bridge)

A tall order

We’re cruising towards Xmas as time slips inevitably by at an appallingly fast rate of knots and I will try and make that the last out of place nautical reference. I was watching the television the other evening and there was a programme on about the weather, more specifically the drought that we in the east have been suffering. I must say it doesn’t feel very drought like but I’m not a farmer and only garden when there’s an absolute necessity so I’m perhaps not best suited to judge.

I can however use my eyes and they tell me a very mixed message about water levels. Upstream of Buxton the Bure looks reasonably full although flows seem a little slower than normal but downstream there is a definite need for more water. Were it still navigable the dydlers responsible for maintainance of the Navigation would be having a nightmarish time keeping the boats moving particulaly in the long pound between Buxton and Horstead. I wonder if this stretch was always difficult? Navigation of course came second in the timeline to the establishment of the mills and it was they that established the system of backing the water up in order to provide a full pressure and flow over the wheels that turned to keep their commerce moving. It was also they that really drove the establishment of a navigable system to allow for the movement of their goods.

December and the other winter months used to be a time when it rained (or snowed) and water levels were replenished but there’s not much real sign of prolonged and decent precipitation yet. However I am not a doom and gloom merchant when it comes to the climate although I am not a denier of climate change either. So often we have seen drought followed by plenty, a kind of natural balancing act and I feel sure that will happen again although hopefully soon.

The Horstead to Buxton stretch is interesting as, in my opinion, it is the one part of the Navigation which could be restored to usage by boats through a restored Horstead Lock. I am not advocating that just stating what I think is a truism. Such a restoration would be difficult and would involve dredging to the extent that habitat would be destroyed and the environmental impact would be unacceptable but it is possible which in my opinion the rest isn’t. I do often stop and look at the Navigation and in my minds eye see the wherries plying their trade but that’s where they exist and will continue – not in the real world sadly.

Now a complete change of subject – does anybody out there know of any musicians or Morris Dancers that might like to appear at our event on August 26th next year? Please let me know (stu.wilson100@btinternet.com) – there are a few challenging conditions attached. We haven’t got much money to pay anybody and what we’ve got is spoken for. It is a celebration but also a fund raiser so they’ve got to be free (or very cheap) and also rather good. A tall order isn’t it?

The photo below is another of Hostead / Coltishall lock taken, I believe, in or around 1910. The cottage whose remains can still be seen as lumps and bumps in the ground alongside the lock was the home of the toll keeper. I know little about the boathouse other than there is evidence there today if you look of where it once was. The trading boats used to slip their keels here before proceeding upstream as the depth of water was not good enough even then to allow them to proceed fully keeled.

Horstead / Cotishall Lock in 1910 or thereabouts.