Working Lives

A view of Norfolk from the air (1960s-2019)

Location: Strumpshaw

Mike gained his flying licence and over many years he has built up an extensive library of aerial photos of the Broads which show the changing landscape of the area.

I was born in Gorleston-on-Sea in 1940 and we lived in Trafalgar Road West.

My parents both died while I was young so I haven’t got much idea of what they were like. My dad came from a big family of fishermen in Lowestoft and he started his working life at the age of 18 on fishing smacks working as a cook. From there he went right through the ranks until he got to skipper at the age of I believe about 30.

Dad in his skipper’s uniform, 1938.

And then the war came along so he went into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and served as Skipper on HMS Fir. He was loading a Holman Projector which is a grenade launcher for crew training. The grenade misfired and shot out of the canister onto the deck. He yelled to the men to clear the area and he then picked this grenade up, probably knowing he had not got long before it exploded, I think about five seconds or so. He picked it up to throw it over the side but just as he threw it it exploded in his arms and unfortunately he was killed. So I didn’t really know my dad. I was two at that time, 1942. He received medals for his bravery and I’ve got some scrolls and letters from the Captain and crew. They raised £30 at that time for Mum which was a good amount in those days you know, and this was presented to her to help look after me I suppose.

School days and the photography bug

I went to the Church Road Infant School and Wroughton Junior School in Gorleston. My mum died after an illness when I was ten years old so I went to live with my grandma in Beccles. She was actually an aunt, although I called her Nanna. She brought me up in Park Drive, Worlingham and I attended Sir John Leman School there which was a grammar school at the time. At this school I was allowed to take technical subjects. The teachers were brilliant, most of them. There were one or two we always had a laugh and a joke about though. The woodwork teacher Mr Bird, was really brilliant and as I was good at woodwork he taught me a lot. I made loads of things for woodwork tests and GCE exams including a chair, sewing box and sideboard. We got the opportunity to use various tools and even used to go down to Darby’s wood yard in town where we could select our own mahogany or whatever timber we wanted. I also enjoyed crafts, metalwork, all of that sort of thing. Science and Geography I was good at, but at Maths I was useless and unfortunately I didn’t get on with this subject at all. And I’m still no good at maths!

I did get on well with Mr Browne the maths master, mainly because he ran a photography club after school hours and that’s how I really got started in photography. We used to do only black and white photography then and as we progressed we developed and processed all our own photos. That was really enjoyable.

We had a normal timetable of lessons but if we had free period or no lesson I would just go and do a bit of photography. I used to hide up from the PE teacher Mr Stewart and do some photography instead. I hated PE and sports and didn’t like the teacher.

I think my first camera was a little Zeiss Ikonette 35mm film camera which worked well. It had a good Zeiss lens on it and we got some good pictures. I’ve still got a few of them today. I started processing colour slide film when home processing kits first came available about ’63. Processing on colour slides was very much harder than black and white. I really enjoyed photography but my friends and I also made a lot of other things while at school. With my school friends we played with valve radios and stuff like that. We were even making crystal radios and trying to talk to each other in the evenings.

I then started to build a car. We all wanted to drive but there wasn’t much chance to when we were young. So to get a car we had make our own or buy a really cheap wreck and get that working. I had my driving licence at seventeen as I was taught to drive by Pop (Nanna’s husband) so I bought a scrap Ford 8 car which I split up into parts and then built a Ford 8 Special out of it. I had to purchase a fibreglass front and rear shell but it made a lovely looking car actually and was brilliant for pulling the birds ‘cos it’s a sports car. It was fantastic and I’ve still got quite a lovely photo of it with my then girlfriend posing.

The EB sports car that Mike built in about 1958 based on a Ford 8
The EB sports car that Mike built in 1957 based on a Ford 8 chassis.


Me and my friends also did a lot of fishing. We’d bike from Beccles to Covehithe which was one of our favourite spots to go beach fishing. We also liked Benacre. We’d bike down there also and go out onto the cliffs and then walk down onto the beach.

We also used to fish on the River Waveney with an old chap called Billy Thurston who taught me a lot about wildlife and fishing. He had a rowing boat and we would row up to Geldeston or perhaps down to the old Beccles Swing Bridge to fish. He knew the river like the back of his hand and we would fish in lovely reedy stretches where you’d got weeds in fast flowing waters which were so clear. We caught everything really: bream, rudd, roach, dace, tench, perch and gudgeon. Billy knew the all the good places.

We also used to bab for eels. Babbing is a process which many people probably won’t know about. We’d cut a straight hazel pole off the bank about six feet long. On that we’d wrap a piece of line, about eight foot long, something like that. And then we’d thread lobworms on to worsted wool. We would use a wire skewer or needle and this would go right through the middle of the worm! We would thread the worms up this length of worsted wool and then tie them all together in a big bundle. That bundle or Bab would then be hooked or tied on to the end of our line and we’d sit there in the boat with the hazel pole, bouncing the Bab up and down on the gravel bottom of the river. Eels would grab it and we’d lift them straight out of the water. You didn’t have to take them off anything because they dug their teeth into the worsted wool, right through the worm and into the worsted wool, so they were well and truly caught. We would lift ‘em up and drop ‘em into a tin bath where they’d wriggle around and drop off the Bab and the process would start again.

We used to get tin baths full of eels! You’d think it’s horrible actually now but eels are really fantastic things. Billy used to eat the eels. I remember going round to his once and he was frying some eels. I said, ‘They’re still alive Billy!’ He said ‘No they’re not that’s the nerves’. The eels were wriggling around in the frying pan and it was so funny. Really amused me… you know. He said that was the nerves. How true that is I don’t know. The eels were probably about an inch and a quarter, inch and a half thick in old measurements, sometimes we even got them up to two inches fishing in Fritton Lake. I mean the eels from there were massive…absolutely out of this world.

I must have left school when I was about 17. I had A-Levels in some subjects, but my maths must have been a D. When I left school I went to work at Frank Reynolds the undertakers in Beccles and got involved in woodworking and making coffins. A bit of an unusual thing for a young lad but I was only there for a few months before I got a place in Newland Park teacher training college in Buckinghamshire so off I went.

A first taste of boatbuilding

My teacher training was based around crafts. I did two years training at Newland before ‘passing out’ out and then got a job offer in Lowestoft teaching crafts. I remember going to Lowestoft for this interview probably at the beginning of the summer holidays and the job started at the end of the holidays. But a job cropped up boatbuilding at Jenner’s in Thorpe, Norwich which paid fairly well then. I was happy with this and did some training there with the team and learned how to build wooden boats. We also made fibreglass speed boat hulls and maintained their hire fleet. Quite an interesting variation was doing marine engineering installations, engine installations and the like. Some of the big boats we built were used for racing at powerboat races at Solent. I was there for several years although Norwich was a long way from Beccles. I managed to buy a new minivan which I paid £300 for. I got my aunt to sponsor me so she paid for it. I had to pay her back obviously, and did so eventually. It was a real lovely little vehicle, GEX214 was the number. I used to go through deep snow drifts in it in the winter, and it would get me there and back no trouble. I really enjoyed that part of my life. I lived with Nanna in Beccles until I was 22 when I got married.

Mike in homebuilt kayak at Beccles in 1960

Up, up and away

My three friends from school: Alec, David and Nick were all interested in mechanical things. The Waveney Flying Group had started in Seething in 1960 so we all went over there and joined it. As new members we were all involved in work on the airfield, clearing the runways of debris and generally tidying things up. We also helped build a hangar for the planes and a clubhouse from a huge caravan. It was great as everybody got involved. This was just a group of about 30 people interested in flying. The flying club was started by Jimmy Hoseason, the name behind Hoseason’s boats of Lowestoft, and three other people. Jimmy was still active at the club until a few years ago and was a real father figure to me and a lovely chap. Sadly he passed away a few years ago. Two of my friends learnt to fly there in 1962-63 but as I’d just got married and was thinking of moving to Brundall I couldn’t spend money on flying so only flew as passenger occasionally but stayed as a club social member. Someone would always take you up for a flight. The planes at Seething were a Tiger Moth, a Rallye and a Miles Messenger. So they were the first planes we flew in. That got me interested in flying and whilst in the air I used to take a few pictures, not many though, but it was nice to take aerial pictures. I’ve got one or two old ones that I took from the Messenger. They’re still damn good pictures although you’re taking them through glass.

I met my wife Gill at the flying club. She came over by one of her friends who was a teacher at the Lowestoft Grammar School. Gill and me went out together and decided to become a couple so got married. Her father Harry Cormack was chief public health inspector in Lowestoft.

Mike met his wife Gillian at Seething in the late 1960s

Marine engineering and fun with boats

Just after getting married, we moved to a new bungalow in Braydeston Crescent, Brundall which we’d bought, believe it or not for £2,500! I wish you could buy things like that these days. So we moved in there and I decided I’d move work closer to home to Brundall Gardens. I worked there for three or four years with Frank Cooper. There was only the two of us there and our job was to build hire cruisers and private boats. We didn’t do that many, perhaps two a year or something like that, but really good craftsmanship was needed for these old wooden boats. That boatyard is now Brundall Gardens Marina.

Later I moved on and went to work at Bell Boats in Brundall as marine engineer and boatbuilder. I spent several years there with Vic Bell. We made sea-going boats based more on fibreglass hulls so a lot of it was fitting out these and working on the engineering side of things. I did a lot on the installations of engines at Bell Boats. But you did get involved with everything else to do with boats including the hire fleet. I built myself a speedboat at home in my garage which we used to launch at Bells and use on the river for water skiing. This speedboat was about 16 foot long and we named it Crusader. It was painted bright day-glow orange with ‘Crusader’ written along the side and we used to water ski with that just downstream from Brundall. It had a really nice straight six Ford Zephyr engine in it. Direct drive straight to the prop so you started the engine and you were off. It was brilliant and did about 30-35 miles an hour and could tow three or four skiers in a row. There were no speed limits on the river at that time so you could have some real fun!

I never skied myself though, because I couldn’t swim. I did fall in once or twice though! At Jenner’s I fell off the back of a cruiser into the river and the river was covered in ice. I crashed through the ice and a couple of the blokes had to haul me out. And then there was another incident when I fell in off the back of my speedboat down near Strumpshaw Fen. We were down there water skiing and I happened to fall straight off the back of the speedboat, and went under about three times. All my mates just stood there laughing and they didn’t get me out. My wife shouted ‘get him out! get him out. They did help me eventually after the third or fourth time of going down and coming up. Somewhat interesting and I didn’t quite kill myself.

Mike at Bell Boats Brundall 1968

Anyway, marine engineering is in some ways similar to car repairs because you are working on diesel engines and petrol engines and get to know a lot about engines. I was quite good at this and people used to say to me, ‘Can you just have a look at my car, it’s not running right?’ or ‘Would you just have a look at those brakes on my car for me?’ So I would get involved with all of this. I had a nice little garage at my home in Braydeston Crescent Brundall which had a pit in it and I did quite a few repairs for friends. I was still working for Bells but did car repairs in the evenings for what we called ‘bunce money’. A bit of money on the side. But things got busy and the wife and I decided we wanted to start a business and work for ourselves.

From boats to cars

Gill worked in a bank so she knew all about the money side of things. Anyway we started our own business and called it ‘Page Brundall’ at that time. We rented an old barn at Vale Farm in Blofield from Mr Wheelhouse. We converted the building there and put a new roof on it. Mr Wheelhouse’s son Joe came and worked with us. We used to do car repairs and spraying and as the business took off we employed someone else so in the end there were three of us working on car repairs there all the time. We built up a good little business and were keeping full of work and always had plenty to do.

In 1974 Frank Howes decided to sell his workshop in Strumpshaw. We bought it with a big bank loan which we knew had to be paid back at a high interest so that was a worrying time. It was a lot to pay back, so we had to earn a lot of money. But we worked hard and we did alright. We modernised one of the workshops and then built a new one at the back of that. We were doing car repairs and body repairs in the back workshop and mechanical repairs in the front workshop. So we were really busy. I think we had four staff then, a painter and a panel beater and a couple of mechanics. I was running the workshop and Gill was running the office.

Mike at work in the tyre bay

Some of our bodywork involved fibreglass panels and we started making our own panels at Scaregap Farm on the Acle Straight. We started out there in a little workshop that a friend of mine owned, and he eventually went in partnership with me in another company we started called Auto Fibre, making car panels. My experiences working with fibreglass in the boatyards helped me greatly because fibreglass had come into existence before I left the boatyard. Making fibreglass moulds and other things like that were not too great a challenge. We did reasonably well really with Auto Fibre but closed it down after about five years. I built a 35ft boat there for my Auto Fibre partner. It was based on a fibreglass hull and it was interesting craning that over the river wall into the River Bure.

York Enterprise, built by Mike at Scaregap Farm mid19 70s

All of this was happening at the same time and things were really hectic and busy. But we made enough money and after many years paid the bank loan off. Today we still have a good business running at Strumpshaw trading as Page Strumpshaw. It’s quite a nice little business and we treat our customers as we would like to be treated. I think our customers are pleased with the service we give. We don’t do body repairs now though, we work mainly on all types of mechanical repairs, MOT testing and repairs, welding, parts supply, you name it.

My wife Gill passed away in late 2015 and I continued working part time with my daughter in the business and my son returned from Australia in 2018 so I have now fully retired with Martin and Nicola running the business with three other employees…. I am retired at last.

From wheels to wings

When our business was established I could get some time off and weekends free so went flying again! This was in 1977 I believe. Our car repair business of Page Strumpshaw had started in‘74 and was running well so I went and learnt the art of proper flying at Swanton Morley. I couldn’t get into Seething as by now the club was too busy to take on more students. They would only train two or three students a year so I decided to take lessons with the then Norfolk and Norwich aero club at Swanton Morley with Al Bayson and Dick Francis who taught me.

I did about 40 hours of fairly intensive training over the period of a year and got my flying licence in 1978. I decided I just had to get my own aeroplane! I bought, a Cessna 150 and I kept it at Seething airfield. I was still a member of that club although I trained at Swanton Morley. I bought one with the registration G-PAGE and I flew it for a bit myself and then leased it out to Shipdham aero club. This became another sort of business venture! Then I bought myself a small helicopter and my instructor came up from Oxford to Seething at weekends to teach me to fly it. I think I did about 25 hours to convert to that. It was really just learning the aspects of rotary wing flight which is quite different to fixed wing flying.

Mike and his Cessna in 2006

I didn’t keep the helicopter for long because it was very expensive to run although I had learnt a new skill. I also sold G-PAGE and bought another Cessna G-BOIV. I’ve still got BOIV today and have now had her for 24 years. It is ideal for me for photography as you can just open the window and take photographs! Over the last few years I have decided to share it because I don’t do quite as much flying as I used to. It’s costing us about £60-70 an hour to fly now which by owning your own aircraft is cheaper than hiring a club aircraft. The club aircraft are probably about £100-£150 an hour. The Cessna 150 is economical and there are four of us in the group. Each person will probably do 50 hours a year so this gives the plane 150-200 hours flying per year between the four of us. That balances out the costs nicely.

Over the 3,000 flying hours that I have done I have built up a massive library of photos.

I gave up my flying licence in April 2018 thanks to the EU introducing different regulations. We now have to have a European licensc to be able to fly a manufactured aircraft. If the aircraft was a kit-built aircraft I could continue to fly and get a self-declared medical. But our shared Cessna is a manufactured aircraft and we all have to have a full aviation medical to fly. Now at the age of 79 I fly as a passenger with someone else in command and continue taking aerial photos.

When I want to take a photo now it’s easy to just open the window and do my thing as the co-pilot is flying the plane. When I used to fly on my own and take pictures the plane was trimmed so would continue to fly on its own. I could just open the window and take a picture!

Norfolk from the air

When we’re taking pictures we fly at different heights. You can fly at anything from 500 feet, which is the minimum you are allowed to fly over land or over persons or property, up to 5,000 feet. I don’t generally go much higher than that ‘cos I can get everything I want in the frame from there. I just set the shots up and take them. There’s usually dozens at a time and I come back with perhaps three or four hundred shots and put them onto the computer. It’s so easy now. The technology is brilliant. I wish we’d had it years ago.

I’m using Canon 1D cameras now and I have two of these, a Canon 1D3 and a Canon 1D4. They all work well for me with a 72/ 200 lens on one camera and a 24/105 on the other. When I first started aerial photography I was also using Canon film cameras, the EOS 10 I think it was. It’s a 35mm film camera and I’ve still got it in its box. But from being a kid when I started with a Zeiss Ikonette, I have changed cameras many times but always went for Canon cameras. So when things went digital I started with a Canon EOS 1000 in 2000, and then went up from there, depending on what I could afford at the time.

I’ve got a massive library of pictures. I think there are roughly 170,000 digital images in it. There are also 40,000 film images on 35mm film not yet scanned into the library. The photography all started because I like to build up a history of an area really. What I’m really trying to do is to build a history library for people to access.

I like to study coastal erosion and this is one of my favourite subjects because of the land that disappeared at Benacre and Covehithe. There’s over a mile of coastline gone there since I was a kid! We used to go down there, to Four Winds, a bungalow next to a wartime gun emplacement. That has all disappeared into the sea and gone forever. But new building sites have appeared today out of nowhere. Things change so rapidly, every week and everyday things are different with the coastal erosion. But also the light and colours of the landscapes beneath change quite dramatically and one could spend a lifetime taking pictures of all these different things.

I also like to photograph wind farms, I mean the big wind farms. Somerton was the first over 25 years ago and small by today’s standards. There’s several massive solar farms now and thousands of solar panels on houses. So anything like that is all history as far as I’m concerned. I like to document things like development sites especially around Brundall and my own area as then and now pictures.  I have produced 16 books of East Anglia covering the whole coastline, the Broads, Norfolk and Suffolk, railway heritage and windmills, and these were published by Halsgrove. I have also done three books on churches and country houses published by Poppyland. With my co-pilot’s assistance we have made several videos and produced DVDs around the area.

My photo library on the Web is invaluable to people if they want to study the changes in our area here in East Anglia over the last 40 years. I’ve covered the whole of East Anglia.

The Norfolk Broads are particularly interesting and have changed a lot since I was young. The rivers that I remember fishing in as a teenager were so clear then, crystal clear and you could see the bottom. You could see the fish swimming about. They used to cut the reeds on the tidal rivers which I don’t think they do now. They rivers and broads deteriorated due to intensive farming in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s. They got really bad in the late ‘80s and ‘90s and became just pure muddy water. All with the chemical pollution that came off the fields due to intensive farming the Broads became the same. The Broads were all heavily silted and polluted with the mud settling. So they became very shallow. But they are slightly coming back now because of the conservation work taking place. Many of the Broads are being mud-pumped by the Broads Authority especially the smaller ones. They’re coming back and they’re beginning to clear now.

Barton Broad 1965 from G-AILL. Photo: Mike Page
Barton Broad 2007. Photo: Mike Page

The rivers and broads are growing weed again. The top end of the Waveney is good now as well as the top end of the Bure. All those rivers are becoming really quite nice now although the lower reaches are still very muddy. I do love Norfolk and Suffolk so I like comparison pictures where you can show the before and after on the Broads. Barton Broad, where they’ve put the fish barriers in and it’s crystal clear one side and muddy on the other side of the fish barriers. So the Broads Authority are finding out how to keep these areas of Broadland clear. The coastline photos are the same. For Benacre and Covehithe and the coastline up to Happisburgh, where the houses have disappeared, I’ve got before and after photos. So I’ve seen the changes.

Barton Broad. Looking down on the solar boat ‘Ra’ next to the fish barrier on Barton Broad. Photo: Mike Page

I get all sorts of people asking for my photos, coastal erosion engineers, university students, schools, libraries, book publishers, news media and many others. Everyone has got a use for an aerial photo somewhere. I’ve had people come to me and ask for pictures of the village where they’ve got a land dispute and things like that. So we get all sorts of wonderful little requests for photos.

I’ve recently been involved with the Norwich NDR (Northern Distributor Road). That was a good project for me actually and I enjoyed the monthly photo flights. We captured the complete construction of that road, every month, from when it started to when it finished. There’s lots of controversy about the roundabouts on there now so all of my pictures are quite useful for this.

The future of the photo library

Incidentally, all of this photo library is put together for charity. I don’t charge or take any money myself for any of my photo work. The money goes into a charity account. That is then distributed to various charities and causes, We raised lots for the big charities in the late 1990 early 2000 when I made video DVDs & CDs of the coastline. We worked with Roy Snelling of Blofield, Roy Waller of Radio Norfolk and David Meachen of DJM Video, all provided their time totally free. This was around 2002-2005 and we made a great amount from the DVDs which were sold by Jarrolds. I think we raised about £40,000 in total. So we sent £10,000 to the RNLI and I think there was £30,000 for the Air Ambulance. Later donations were to EACH Children’s Hospices and Big C, the cancer charity. My photography is still helping the people of Norfolk now and hopefully in the future.

I have all my images stored on computer and website but not the film images. These films are catalogued and stored but I haven’t done anything with them yet. They need scanning which is a laborious task and that’s something I need to do or get someone to come in and do for me really. There are 40,000 of these film images which go right back to the ‘70s!  Today if people request something old I have to just go through the listings and find it, because as I say, it’s all catalogued so I can trace things.

The digital library is so easy by comparison and it’s all on the web, plus it’s on my computer. I don’t really know yet what will happen to my library in the longer term. I think it will probably go to the Norfolk Record Office or somewhere like that, perhaps Gressenhall and the Norfolk Air Photo Library.

I’m now retired from business and I’m going to carry on filming as long as I can. As long as I can keep flying as a passenger, keep taking pictures, keep holding the camera. I’ll just keep going. My son and daughter are running the garage business and I do go down there occasionally to chat to customers. I have my garden and home to keep me fully occupied.

Mike Page (b. 1940)  talking to WISEArchive on 17th December 2018 in Strumpshaw.

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