Onwards and Upwards

One of the pleasures of working on this project has been meeting the people that have become involved. They are a special bunch who are giving of their time and in some cases money freely and willingly to a common end. Our charity, the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust, is now formed and once a few remaining financial and legal nicities have been completed we will be open for membership and much more importantly will start our work on the river in earnest. One of our early aims is to hold the anniversary event on August 26th this year. Ideas on what will be involved are evolving but we could still do with some very practical support so if you want to help please get in touch. We need people to assist in all aspects of the day and would also like to hear from entertainers prepared to give freely of their time.

Consideration is being given to how we will organise and what practical projects we could undertake in the first couple of years whilst we are still fund raising for the footpath. So if you have any flashes of inspiration please let us know. Better still join us – we will shortly be opening up a membership list and although the cost of joining has not yet been decided it will not be high as we are concerned to be as inclusive as possible.

We sometimes, indeed often, talk of the river but really this Navigation is just as much canal. There is barely an inch unaffected by man and it was altered, dammed, locked and straightened to allow for ease of working, navigation and to maintain depth for mill streams. My navigation background such as it is really lies on the narrow canals of the english midlands but the labour and principles involved are nearly identical. The narrow canals however never had sailing boats and in that way the Aylsham Navigation is superior. For an interesting old film click here.

Water borne trade and traffic is central to our history as a nation and locally the navigation added to the wealth and fortune of this area. It enabled agricultural growth and at the expence of sounding political it also meant that the wealthy landowners got richer and the working classes were kept in employment. I suspect that when it went the navigation’s loss was barely felt except by those directly employed on it for by then the railways had already done their worst in killing the trade and the motor lorry had reared its head. Had the flood not occurred there is no knowing what would have happened but I do know that it is unlikely that it would be open today.

For those concerned my back is a little easier but having spent the day in London on Saturday visiting the extremely good London Transport Museum I’m afraid that I’m once again suffering but this time in the ankles and feet which I was on a lot and found the Covent Garden cobbles a bit of a shock to the system. The visit also enabled me to catch up after far too long with my eldest son and daughter-in-law along with the bump that will be my first grandchild. It was a truly lovely day although as ever it was good to get home to Norfolk.

We will shortly be announcing the winner of our logo competition, the quality of entries was staggeringly high and judging was not easy. All the entries came from young artists at Aylsham High and they are to be congratulated for their efforts. So you will see that there is a lot going on and you could be part of it. As ever, we go onwards and upwards.

The river near Little Hautbois - a lovely spot. Copyright Evelyn Simak


August 26th 2012 is the 100th anniversary of closure to the day. It is the Sunday of the bank holiday weekend and we plan a very special extravaganza event incorporating the wherry Albion and much much more from Coltishall to Aylsham. More details will be published soon but keep the day free for a really exciting time. If you would like to get involved or are skilled in the entertaining arts please let us know. Contact stu.wilson100@btinternet.com

How it once was

Home in time for tea

Lets get the advert out of the way first. We’ve got a meeting at Burgh Reading Room on 24th January 2012 at 7:30pm and you are cordially invited. There that was quick, easy and painless.

100 years ago the Aylsham Navigation had but months to live but it was still providing a service and employment to dedicated men (and I suspect that they all were men). The wherries were plying their trade and carrying a variety of cargoes both up and down the Bure. At this time of year it would have mostly been coal in the up direction for any one of the villages; there was a specific coal yard at Oxnead which relied on wherry delivered supplies and also for Aylsham. Alternatively it may have carried building material or marl to make the bricks. Outward, downstream, would have been beet or winter crops, animal feed or hay.

The boats and their crews worked very hard, two people would have struggled at times in the narrow confines of a river to sail everywhere so they would have had to resort to the quant pole or in extremis bow-hauling. Even so they maintained a good progress as we know that some boats, the Zulu and the Volunteer for two, were able to do three round trips between Aylsham and Yarmouth in a week. All with full loads that had to be manually loaded and unoaded and no engine to power the boat. The must have worked every daylight hour and in my opinion a few night ones as well but they always got home in time for their tea.

The historic record can still just be seen on the ground. Go over Burgh bridge from the Aylsham direction and on top pause to look left at the Burgh bank immediately by the bridge. You are looking at Isaac Hilsdon’s Burgh staithe from where he ran two wherries, the Mayflower and Hilda. One of these boats can be seen below either loading or unloading at this very spot. I don’t know the date or what the cargo was but I would guess late summer or early autumn at sometime in the very early 1900’s and that the cargo delivered or about to be loaded was hay. Look carefully and you will see the hatch covers are off on the boat to facilitate the movement of goods on and off. They fitted precisely and each was uniquely marked to ensure that it would be put back in exactly the right place. Close your eye for a second and you can still see it. As it pulls away it would drop its mast to pass under Burgh bridge before raising again to get under sail for Oxnead although it would need dropping again at the Cradle not far down the way.

See above - courtesy of Michael Grix

The anniversary year / it’s good to talk

2012 is the anniversary year of the navigations closure and we are planning a variety of events including exhibitions, gala event, book launch film and photographic shows. For more information contact stu.wilson100@btinternet.com

We can also provide speakers to your organisation on the history, geography, flora and fauna of the Bure Navigation – please apply to the above email address for more information. There is no charge but a donation to our new charity which has just launched, the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust, would be appreciated.

New Year / Old Times

2012 dawned green and murky and not without a little wind blown drama. It’s been wet as well and I know that the river has been grateful for it as she was in need of some refreshing having been literally in drought for some months. It needs to rain a lot more but nature recovers remarkably quickly. The Bure is a majestic old lady confined largely in her man made banks as she makes her serene way to the sea. This is a big year for her as in August we celebrate (if that’s the right word) the 100th anniversary of her closure to commercial traffic following a devastating flood in which over 6 inches of rain fell on north Norfolk in just 12 hours preceeding the 26th of that month in 1912.  This flood washed out all 5 locks and destroyed all the bridges.

Commercial traffic in 1912 was already in terminal decline following the arrival of the railways and the revenues were such as repair to the infrastructure was deemed un-economic at the time. With the benefit of hindsight we can, perhaps, judge that decision harshly. I, myself, would shout down the loudhailer of time “Don’t do it”!! But they did do it or rather they didn’t in that they actually did nothing and just let the locks, infrastructure and even boats die in situ as an abandoned eyesore.

Buxton Lock many years after closure approx 1928 – it was filled in a few short years later
The above picture shows what must have become an eyesore, even a dangerous one if children were to play there. It is easy to condemn the decisions taken back then but they did not have the advantage of fore knowledge and if they had would it have made any difference? I suspect it might as the bottom line was profit and the slowly growing tourist trade would a few short years later (after the first war) become a major business that could have turned Aylsham in to something like Wroxham is now.
At this point in 1912 little did the Navigation people, the Commissioners, users, wherrymen, dydlers and pleasure seekers have any inkling of the fate to befall them in a little over 8 months time. In 2012 we do know that certain things will happen aincluding a celebration in Coltishall, the publication of a book, the adoption of a new logo and the hanging of an Aylsham Navigation Tapestry – all concrete events and achievements to be celebrated but is it enough?
We have formed a charity, the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust, to see things protected for the future and to promote riverside access along the Navigations length. We have attracted publicity for this – please see http://www.canalcuttings.co.uk/Bure-Navigation-Conservation-Trust-2011.html as an example. What we need now more than money (which we also need) is people so lease let me know if you’re keen to share our dream – stu.wilson100@btinternet.com
Buxton Mill and lock before the flood - imagine navigating through it today.