Category Archives: Uncategorized

Stuart Wilson

It is with great regret that I have to report the death of Stuart Wilson on Friday, 24th February. Stuart was the inspiration and driving force behind the formation of the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust, and Chairman from its inception until his premature death. In Stuart the Trust was fortunate to have someone who knew all the right people in the upper Bure valley, and he readily used these contacts to help the Trust achieve its objectives. He will be a hard act to follow, but the members of the Trust will continue with the work that he so strongly believed in.


Our thoughts are with Sue and his family in these difficult times.


The funeral will be held at St Faith’s Crematorium on Monday, 20th March at 1:15pm.

Please see for more details

UEA Research – do you enjoy walking and would you like to volunteer?

The University of East Anglia is involved in research into the presence of the Campylobacter microorganism within the natural environment. They are seeking the assistance of people who enjoy a good walk in the country who might agree to undertake a number of walks on an agreed route in either the Reepham or Horsey areas of Norfolk. The walkers must be adults and no pets or children are allowed. Walks will normally be taken on a Monday around mid-day so this would probably best suit the active retired. The attached document gives details of what is required and how to volunteer. It is worth noting that those who participate will be compensated for their trouble and I can add, having spoken to one of the research team, that there is no perceived risk involved over and above any that would normally accompany a walk in the country.

UEA request

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 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 –
Buxton Mill and lock before the flood - imagine navigating through it today.

A Charity will be born and you are invited to the birth

We are finally at the point of being able to launch the BURE NAVIGATION CONSERVATION TRUST at a meeting on November 22nd 2011 at the Burgh Reading Room. This charity will promote the interests of the river and have a longer term aim of establishing a footpath along the entire length from Aylsham to Coltishall. You will be made very welcome if you would like to attend. The meeting starts at 7.30pm.

Postcards from the past

I received a postcard this week from my father who is now in his 80’s although he wouldn’t thank me for saying so. He is currently on holiday in Wales and is taking the opportunity of riding some of that countries narrow guage railways. The postcard is of the Vale of Rheidol line and my father said on the back that he had travelled behind the depicted locomotive. It got me thinking about how few postcards we receive these days relative to even just a few years ago. I guess email and texting are slowly making them redundant although I hope they never die entirely as they ae a great source for future historians.

There used to be postcards of everywhere including the Navigation. One of my favourites is this one issued by the Great Eastern Railway and depicting a colour print of Horstead / Coltishall lock. Ironic really given that the railways were at least partly to blame for the Navigations decline.

GER postcard of Coltishall Lock circa 1907

This card which is idealised to make it look even more attractive than it was is saying this is one of the beautiful places that you can visit on the GER. The card dates from the first decade of the 20th Century. Other cards were more gritty giving a realistic view of the area.

Buxton Lammas around the turn of the 19th / 20th Centuries

In this picture we see Coltishall Road, Lammas in a staged but otherwise realistic photograph. I suspect that the youngsters were in their Sunday best for the photographer as well as the adults having a staged conversation. Apart from all that this is a scene devoid of todays vehicles but otherwise little changed.

As I write I’m told my Sunday lunch is ready which reminds me – perhaps we could do an Aylsham Navigation Xmas lunch. If you’re interested let me know on

Must fly – bye for now.

Soap Opera

Sometimes I get really stuck for a title to these blogs so today I thought I would share with you that I am writing this as my wife watches one of her favourite soap operas. I’m sat in the computer chair right on the edge as the kitten, the most recent addition to the already large family of cats, is sat at the back of the chair making intermittent attempts to climb my back. As I write she has actually moved and has now jumped on the printer just to attract attention.

In a recent blog I metioned slipping keels. These were essentially detachable wooden keels that would be attached to make sailing easier and safer in the deeper, wider waters of the Broads in the widest sense. In the upper reaches of the rivers, particularly the Aylsham Navigation and the Dilham Canal (she’s now sat on my lap sharing her opinion with me which turns out to be a precursor to a full blown assault on the keyboard) where the depths were critically low at times these keels would be removed to enable onward passage. On the Navigation the normal place to slip was the Horstead / Coltishall Lock. The keels could be removed easily and quickly and being made of wood were always left wet; that is to say in the water so they could not dry out.

Bonny, the kitten, has now achieved one of her goals; I’m typing one fingered and one handed as she lies along my left forearm.

I spent a few minutes the other day on Burgh bridge (try typing that with one hand) looking at Isaac Helsdon’s old staithe. If you stand on the bridge and look upstream the staithe was immediately on your right. The photograph below shows either the Mayflower or the Hilda, both owned by Helsdon and based at Burgh. You can see the hatch covers are off and she is quite low in the water so I suspect that she is taking on a load. Presumably, from the photograph, we can assume that the cargo was to be hay. The staithe itself has left few remnants in the landscape but look closely and you will see a few clues. Then close your eyes for a moment and go back in time – isn’t it a delicious site.

Now that darn cat is using my leg as a scratch post so time to go.

WherryHilda or Mayflower at Burgh courtesy of Michael Grix

History – as a way to spend a morning

This morning I was honoured to spend my time attending a meeting of various and assorted local personae all linked by a love of history and an interest in the navigation. It was a meeting organised by the Aylsham local history society and was the launch of the historical research side of this project. The research is being supported and mentored by the UEA in the form of one Sarah Spooner who specialises, I believe, in landscape history. Ultimately it will lead to a book on the definitive history. As part of this meeting we were treated to a glimpse of the Aylsham Town Archive which includes many source documents which will have to be gone through and also a number of photographs of both the flood (which I must say was of almost biblical proportions) and the navigation. Yours truly, in time honoured fashion, ended up volunteering to do this and that but all around the periphery. One thing I was asked to do was research what material may be held elsewhere than Aylsham in parishes along the navigation. In this you can help me; if you know of any material that may be useful please let me know

The reason I agreed to do this and in fairness the reason I was asked is that this project is inclusive. It is not and never will be exclusive to Aylsham. How can a history of the navigation be written without considering the perspective of Coltishall or Horstead or Buxton or Oxnead or Burgh, you get the idea.

Amongst the photographs in the archive were some relating to one of the most engaging stories of the navigation’s end and that is what happened to the Wherry Zulu. After the flood she was stranded upstream of Buxton Lock along with others which were abandoned. Her owners however were made of sterner stuff and she was man-hauled from the water and taken overland around the obstructions. An heroic and ultimately succesful bid for freedom.


More reflections

To stick with the seasonal feel I have to tell you that the other morning I was down on the navigable river by the Staithe at Belaugh. It was cold and a mist was hovering just off the surface. All was quiet and I couldn’t help wondering how the trading boats would get on if they met here as it is quite narrow and I doubt if they could pass. I closed my eyes and for one second thought I could hear shouted warnings but just in case you think I’m going completely Doolally I quickly realised that the calls from the past were very much from a timeless present as it was the Geese honking as they stirred in the early morning light. This is a sound heard by us but it would also have been heard by the working men so many years ago. It would have told them, as if they needed to know, that autumn was here and winter not far behind.

At this point the river is still tidal albeit barely but of course once through the lock at Coltishall the boats would lose all tide and just have the current to contend with which at times of spate would have been considerable. The Mills and Locks would help to control flood water at times of spate so the torrential rain that fell in August 1912 must have been something else to completely overwhelm the infrastructure. Thankfully it really was a once in one hundred years event although that isn’t to say that there isn’t flooding occasionally in the present time. Thankfully there are no boats left to get trapped upstream only the memories lingering in and around the river.

Under normal circumstances the current would not have been that great, much as now, although still harder work upstream than down particularly if the boat was being punted as was normal when the sail couldn’t be utilised.

Weather in one form or another would have dominated the lives of the Wherry men (for they were all men) as it had the ability to both blight their lives and to give them a real boost. Balmy summer evenings versus frosty winter nights. I know which I would prefer but it had to be all the same to them.

As Halloween approaches we can expect frost and fog so beware in the gloom a wherry makes it way forward on its long gone journey. To where is it headed with it’s ghostly cargo? If you see it let me know.