Dr Syn

I should have known better than to mention my black dog (see the last blog) as it inevitably brought out tales of Black Shuck (or Old Shuck as he is sometimes called) who is the legendary black dog like beast seen hereabouts from the late middle ages onwards. There are many tales of these legendary creatures around the British isles although it is only in East Anglia that he takes on the Shuck name. I have never seen him and suspect I never will as I don’t actually believe that he ever existed. This I fully appreciate is tantamount to heresy in some minds but I think I know the origin of these tales. They all come from coastal counties where smuggling was a major industry. It has always been a criminal enterprise of the night best done in secret without prying innocent eyes to witness the illicit activities of the most unlikely members of the community. What better way to keep people indoors than to stir up a scare about a mythical beast that would attack and eat them if they ventured outside.

The history of smuggling is for obvious reasons linked to that of the coast and the rivers going inland from the ports and isolated landing grounds. Many lanes were known as smugglers tracks and even quite well inland their connections are recorded even today. In Reepham for example there is a road named Smugglers Lane. This and others like it would have been used to transport the illicit goods as far inland and away from the point of entry as quickly as was practical and consistent with the transport available. In those days, until relatively recently in fact, smuggling was always a fiscal offence designed to evade tax and provide cheap goods to those that could afford to buy. It was a trade undertaken with a relish by many and was always seperate from the the run of the mill criminality of the age. Otherwise respectable people were involved in the buying, movement and holding of smuggled goods. It spawned various literary tales but my favourite has always been the Scarecrow stories by Russell Thorndike. Set around Dymchurch on Romney Marsh it has as its hero the Revd Christopher Syn, the deliciously named rector of some Kentish parish on or near the Marsh. Dr Syn was a smuggler whose alter-ego was as the Scarecrow and he ran the revenue men a merry dance. These books date back to the early years of the 20th century and the first was published in 1915.

The first book then was published 3 years after the Aylsham Navigation closed. I have no evidence for this but it is inevitable that the wherrymen would have been involved in the “trade”. They had means, in the form of a wherry. Motive in the form of a ready market along the way and a large established distribution network centred on Aylsham. They also had the opportunity in that any sea port was rife with smuggling. Great Yarmouth was no exception and our wherries worked to and from that port where they would have come in to regular contact with seamen and others who had access to the odd bottle and a carton. It would be against human nature for them not to have indulged in a bit of “trade” on the side.

Interestingly the Bure is now accompanied on its way by the 15″ guage Bure Valley Railway which is the same sized railway as the world famous Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch line  This 13 + mile line is a true miniature mainline built in the 1920’s almost as a folly that runs across the marsh. One of the line’s locomotives was named after Dr. Syn. Occasionally the RH&D R swaps loco’s with the BVR so they can be seen on our doorstep.

Yarmouth in 1904 used by permission

 

Anniversaries

My father rang last evening to gently remind me that my sister has a silver wedding anniversary later this week and then I woke up to radio 4 this morning and someone talking about all the anniversaries in 2012 and the following few years. This year, the reporter was saying, marks 100 years since Scott reached the South Pole and then met his death and the Titanic was lost. Not a mention of the Aylsham Navigation of course but why would there be but it did make me think about human nature and the collective memory of loss. 2012 is of course the 100th anniversary of the Navigation’s enforced closure following flood damage but I thought I would look wider afield and set it in a context of what else was happening in 1912.

One event which was to have very great significance many years later was the formation, in January of the African National Congress. This organisation went through many decades of struggle to finally defeat apartheid and go on to become the party of majority government in South Africa. 1912 also saw the first ever parachute jump and also in the world of aviation which was very new was the first ever non-stop flight from Paris to London. Of course within 2 years we had the first world war and that drove developments in aviation forward with great speed. On a related note on April 16th, two days after the Titanic’s loss, Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. In the same year the first ever bombing of a target from an aeroplane occurred in a war between Bulgaria and Turkey. Man never takes long to find evil uses for his inventions.

In 1912 two of the largest entertainment icons of the 20th century were formed; Paramount and Universal began to produce pictures within 1 month of each other cementing Hollywoods role as the centre of the industry. Also in that year Piltdown man was discovered and remained the missing link until un-masked as a hoax in 1953. Believe it or not the very modern theory of continental drift was also first proposed in that year by Alfred Wegener.

One humdred years ago we were in the modern era; alright computers, television and microwaves were all in the future as was the A bomb but it was a time we would recognise and feel comfortable in. The people that lived and worked on the Navigation are still living memories to some of our older people and we need to respect and salute them. Of course in 1912 they were not to know that within 2 years mass slaughter was going to be invented on a grand scale and a mere 6 years later the flu epidemic took more young lives than the war, an often forgotten statistic.

2012 is also another anniversary, 70 years ago this year my all time favourite film was released; Casablanca – that really doesn’t seem possible.

A wherry, we believe the Palmerston, at Aylsham sometime in the early 20th Century copyright Aylsham Archive.

We are up and running

The Bure Navigation Conservation Trust is now legally formed and in business.
As a new charity we are reliant on the funds we can raise. We know times are hard but, if you can and you support what we’re doing, please give something. At this stage we can only accept cheques, postal orders or good old fashioned cash although we would prefer that not to be posted.
 
Donations made payable to the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust can be sent to 11 Church Close, Horstead, Nr Norwich, Norfolk NR12 7ET. Alternatively you may prefer to use the BACS transfer system and our account details are Sort code 08 92 99 Account Number 65531640.
The Bure Navigation Conservation Trust has been established to undertake preservation and conservation (not restoration) work on the former Bure Navigation between Coltishall and Aylsham. This link will take you to a You Tube film which demonstrates something of the rivers beauty here.
 
The Trust is also established to encourage responsible access and use by members of the public. It also has a longer term aim of establishing a riverside walk along the entire length of the navigation.
Burgh Lock

Charity formed and legal : we are open for business

The Bure Navigation Conservation Trust is now legally formed and in business.
As a new charity we are reliant on the funds we can raise. We know times are hard but, if you can and you support what we’re doing, please give something. At this stage we can only accept cheques, postal orders or good old fashioned cash although we would prefer that not to be posted.
 
Donations made payable to the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust can be sent to 11 Church Close, Horstead, Nr Norwich, Norfolk NR12 7ET. Alternatively you may prefer to use the BACS transfer system and our account details are Sort code 08 92 99 Account Number 65531640.
The Bure Navigation Conservation Trust has been established to undertake preservation and conservation (not restoration) work on the former Bure Navigation between Coltishall and Aylsham. This link will take you to a You Tube film which demonstrates something of the rivers beauty here.
 
The Trust is also established to encourage responsible access and use by members of the public. It also has a longer term aim of establishing a riverside walk along the entire length of the navigation.
The river at Oxnead (as it was) captured by and copyright of Chris GODDARD
 

Open for business

Where bound? It’s a question that may have been asked of a lot of long gone wherrymen and the answers could be many and various as there were so many places on the wider Broads network that wherries could be going to. Some are still there, most if I’m honest, but there’s no trading now; least ways not in the sense I mean. The carriage of freight has ceased sadly and is unlikely to be seen again. Of course until 100 years ago one answer to this question would have been Aylsham, or Burgh, or Oxnead, or Buxton, or Horstead and the cargoes could have been many and various. I have written before of the variety of goods carried and it really made a difference, particularly in the first 100 years. The boats and men worked hard, we know, for example, that Zulu a boat of renown in these parts, actually did the round trip between Aylsham and Great Yarmouth over 100 times in one year. That is some going I can tell you. But that was when the Aylsham Navigation was open for business before the great flood that engulfed everything on that fateful August day  in 1912 which destroyed the Navigation and rendered it beyond repair.

Of course the same question could be asked of our efforts. Where bound? Well, we’re on course to hold the celebration in August at Coltishall, a book will be published, exhibitions will be held, a film and a tapestry is being prepared and most importantly our beautiful river now has the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust, our newly formed charity, on its side. It’s taken a while to go through the legal nicities but we are now legal and have a bank account. Details of how to contribute and join will be available soon and the monies raised will be put to good use on conservation and preservation (not restoration, note) along the Navigation’s length. It will also enable us to promote responsible access and in the longer term a riverside path along the entire length. We need your money but we need you more; we are open for business.

The Zulu is, of course, the wherry which was manhauled around the destroyed lock at Buxton to sail to its freedom after the flood. She is pictured below in the middle of that manouver; we salute her – she too was soon open for business again.

Zulu escaping after the flood at Buxton