It’s a Dydle

My old grandfather used to say that something which was easy was a “doddle” and if he wanted to know how you were he would ask “how are you diddling”?  The latter term, I now realise, can be misinterpreted but he meant no harm or offence by it. I will declare at the outset that as far as I know neither word is Norfolk in origin not the least because my grandfather was a yorkshireman albeit one far removed from that county for many years. In this county one could be employed as a “Dydler”; indeed the Aylsham Navigation permanently employed two of them and gave them a boat.

“Dydler is local to the Broads; it comes from the implement that the worker uses, a dydle, either a sharp triangular spade or a metal scoop or dredge fixed to the end of a long pole. (The first part is said to rhyme with died.) To dydle is to clean out the bed of a river or ditch. The Oxford English Dictionary (which spells dydler with an i instead of a y — the latter spelling may be a mock archaism) guesses it is a cut-down version of dike-delve, but nobody really knows”.

The above definition is reproduced courtesy of Michael Quinion from his excellent website,

A Dydler Boat

The photograph above is reproduced courtesy of the renowned local author Robert Malster and it comes from his personal collection. I have no knowledge of where this photograph was taken and neither does Robert but there are some intriguing clues. The banks are straight and the water is still. There is also very little depth, I know this for reasons I will explain in a minute. All in all this suggests that the photograph is taken on a man made cut somewhere on the wider Broads network but it could just as easily be the Aylsham Navigation. The usual pint to anybody who can positively identify the location.

The man stood at the stern is a Dydler and the long pole he is handling with what appears to be a large spoon bowl on the end is a Dydle.  The whole device pivots and excavator like digs in to the silt to dig out a navigable channel – well eventually ! It must have taken an age and was back breaking repetitive work. By looking at the pivot point and angle of the Dydle it is possible to get an idea of the depth. Also I think, unless I’m mistaken, that the waterline can be seen on the pole about a third of the way up. Not all Dydle’s were attached to boats and could be used as standalone tools. Bob Malster writes of the Dydle that it was-: “”a long-handled tool with a metal ring at one end on which is fastened a piece of net, used to dredge out mud from a broad or a dyke. The same word is also used as a verb to describe the operation of removing mud using such an implement. It was known to Thomas Tusser, who was born at Rivenhall in Essex about 1524 and farmed at Brantham, overlooking the River Stour:
A sickle to cut with, a didall and crome
For draining of ditches that noyes thee at home.”

The Aylsham Navigation advertised a maximum draught for vessels of 3 foot 6 inches which is not much. It must be borne in mind that this would have been the low water maximum after a period of drought. However my guess is that in order to acheive that they would probably have dredged to a depth of nearer 4 feet as there would always be some silt which would back fill almost as soon as the channel was cut.

Although I doubt they were ever paid much the life of a Dydler on the Navigation must have been a healthy outdoor one although their boat as can be seen offered absolutely no protection from the cold and wet in foul weather. All in all it’s a job which I could see myself doing providing there wasn’t an “R” in the month.


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