Working Lives

Sailing holidays on the Norfolk Broads. Keeping tradition alive at Hunter’s Yard (1909-2018)

Location: Ludham

Philip’s family has a long connection to Norfolk. Philip tells of his involvement with Friends of The Hunter Fleet and volunteering at Hunter’s Yard.

I grew up in south west Hertfordshire but my family have had a long connection with Norfolk over many decades.

My father’s first holiday on the Broads was in 1908 and I have a wonderful photograph album of this holiday. He and his friends hired a boat called the Novice from Ernest Collins in Wroxham. He got married in July 1908 so I suspect that this was actually his stag party. The photograph album is very interesting because apart from being able to read the name of the boat there is no other indication of where they went, no landmarks at all.

My mother’s family also holidayed in Norfolk before the First World War. My mother used to recall coming by train from Barnet via Peterborough and Melton Constable to Stalham. The older members of the family would then walk to Sea Palling and the younger ones along with the luggage were carried on the carrier’s cart.

They stayed in various places in Sea Palling either at the flower cottages, or in Beach Road or in another cottage in Waxham Road. I have a wonderful sketch, painted by one of the aunts, of a Mr Fish, I don’t know who he is but he obviously visited and stayed with them a while. This picture shows his departure with various items of his belongings, like umbrellas, being thrown out of a window.

I have another wonderful picture of this era. It shows my grandmother sailing on the Broads in 1909, just two years after she had been widowed and she is still sailing in her full widow’s weeds, with a lovely large black hat.

Gertrude Cockman (1877 – 1937) Philip’s grandmother, sailing on the Broads in her widow’s weeds. Widowed in 1907 five years after her marriage

My mother’s uncle had also retired to Sea Palling in the 1930s and my grandmother also rented a cottage in Sea Palling and in fact took over the lease permanently in 1934.

Sea Palling Lifeboat Launch 1919

My father and Hunter’s Yard, and the Lullaby’s maiden voyage

My father and his family were holidaying in Norfolk in the 1920s I know that they once stayed at the cottage at the end of Horsefen Road in Ludham. My father and his son, my half brother, Pat started renting sailing yachts in August 1930. Pat and his friends hired yachts from Wroxham and Potter Heigham from 1930 to 1932.

In May 1932 my father and his first wife and son hired the Lullaby from Percy Hunter in Ludham. A few years ago my half brother’s son who is a similar age to me, gave me some little notebooks as he thought that I might be interested in them.

When I flicked through I discovered that they were logs of all my half brother’s journeys. The one from Lullaby in May 1932 said that it was the maiden voyage and they had set off on the 13th May 1932. [Can be viewed on request. ed.]

It appears that my father was quite a good friend of Percy Hunter. It is interesting, my half brother was training to be an accountant and all the log books record everything in minute detail, including the cost of everything, but there was no mention of the cost of this trip. So I suspect that this was a test sail to try out the boat for Mr Hunter.

Yare and Bure One Design –number 31 – Galathea formerly Gold Crest and Meadow Beauty

Thereafter Pat and his friends hired Lullaby and or Lustre four times in 1932 and 1933. At about this time my father also bought a Yare and Bure One Design, a white boat number 31. It was called Meadow Beauty but my father didn’t like that and changed it to Gold Crest, it is now called Galathea.

My mother and father

During this time my mother was training to be a remedial gymnast, and I think that she was working for Reckitt and Colman’s in Hull. She was looking after the physical wellbeing of all the young girl factory workers, so a Colman connection.

My father’s first wife died in 1933 and he married my mother in 1935 which was a great surprise to my mother because when he was visiting the house she was convinced that he was coming to court her mother who had been widowed in 1909 and who was more of an age of my father.

I was born in 1946 much to the surprise of my parents I think because I was a very late addition to the family, my father was 64 by that stage.

The families continued holidaying in Norfolk, my grandmother took over the lease on the Sea Palling cottage in 1934 and when she died my mother took it over in 1937. The cottage was used for evacuees during the war and then the family continued to holiday there after the war.

My first memory of holidays in Norfolk

I first remember coming for holidays in Norfolk in about 1950. By this time my father had retired so we used to spend all the Easter and summer holidays at Sea Palling, with my older brother and sister and several other relations as other branches of the family had started to settle in Norfolk at that stage.

We used to have days on the beach, days sailing the Broads, walks over marshes, cycling around the quite peaceful lanes as they were in those days. We had occasional trips to Stalham and possibly once in the holiday a trip to Norwich.

In 1955 my mother had the opportunity to buy the cottage. My father died when I was twelve and unfortunately the boat was sold but my mother kept the holiday cottage and we still holidayed there and I holidayed there until I left for university in 1968.

Philip and his half brother Pat sailing on the Broad in 1952

Working abroad and a chance sighting in the Daily Telegraph

After university I started work and that took me abroad for an awful lot of the time. I married in 1974 and then we had a couple of family holidays at the cottage in Norfolk. There was then quite a gap because I was overseas for a long stretch.

In 1995 I was in Germany and one day I picked up my copy of the Daily Telegraph which used to arrive a day late. In there was an article about the sale of Hunter’s Yard. Because of my family’s connection with Hunter’s and my father’s friendship with Percy Hunter I sent him a donation and as a result I became a member of the Friends of The Hunter Fleet.

The following year I came back to England and my last job quite by chance took me to Norfolk. My wife had come from Marlow and I had come from not far away and we decided that that part of England was very busy and too much of a hurry and we couldn’t afford to buy a house in that area. We decided to retire in Norfolk so we bought a house in Swaffham and settled there.

Friends of the Hunter Fleet

I first went to the Hunter Friends annual general meeting in 1997 and there I met Tom Grapes. I mentioned my name and he said ‘oh yes Arthur Bray’ and immediately went through all my family details and all the boats they’d owned. He disappeared up in to the sail loft and came back with an old cotton main sail from Gold Crest, which had obviously been there since the mid 1950s when my father decided that a new modern Terylene sail was just the thing to have for his boat.

After that I got involved with the Friends of Hunter Fleet and when I retired in 2002 I became Secretary and started volunteering at the yard. From there it just got bigger and bigger.

I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I hadn’t picked up that copy of the Daily Telegraph in 1995.

When we came to Norfolk my wife and I decided that we wouldn’t buy a boat because we could always hire one when we wanted to. We hired a boat several times from Hunter’s but needless to say the weather was always awful.

In 2004 I had the opportunity to buy a boat, one very similar to a Hunter’s hustler, a small two berth cabin boat built in 1935 by Mr Hewitt of Wayford Bridge. My wife thought that it was a jolly good idea and I thought that it was a jolly good idea because it had a mooring at Hunter’s yard exactly in the same spot that my father had kept his boat 70 years before.

Volunteering at Hunter’s Yard

I started off as secretary of the Friends when they were building the Lucent, in 2001, which was a millennium project. They could only build it in the summer because the winter maintenance took priority in the winter. Even in the summer building the boat was second priority. It was taking a long time so I told them that I was retired and could come over once a week to cut the grass, hedges and do other odd jobs which would enable the boat builders to get on with the boat building.

I started doing that and looking after the quay heading gradually doing more and more. I was then asked if I would help do the two hour skippered sail that we do at the yard and from there it sort of developed.

Once I bought my own boat, wooden boats are expensive to maintain, I started to go over to the yard once a week during the winter to work on my boat. This was brilliant as it was undercover in a shed and I got advice and every now and then the odd little bit of help.

In 2012 the yard had its 80th anniversary and we were putting up lots of displays in the yard, which I got involved with. After that year it was decided that we would do this every year, so each year I have been going over and putting up the displays in the spring ready for the season.

Winters at the boatyard are not quiet – it’s the busiest time of the year

When I was cutting the grass on three occasions I was asked in all seriousness ‘what do you do in the winter?’ ‘Do you pull the boats out into the shed and go on holiday?’

I realised that there was a bit of knowledge misunderstanding at this point, so I decided to put up displays each year of what goes on in the winter.

So by now I was in every week and I think that the lads have got used to me. I go round taking pictures of them working and have put up a board with 50 or 60 photographs, showing the various stages that go on in the winter. So now visitors can see that winter is actually the busiest time of the year not summer.

Leaning post in Hunter’s Yard
Foreman Ian Grapes, 2018

Future of the Broads

This is a difficult question in some ways, but in some ways it is quite simple. For a sailor the growth of trees and riverside vegetation which interrupt the wind are a great concern. The stock answer is that people want the area to be natural, but my question is what is natural? The Broads are artificial in all aspects, the rivers have been straightened, marshes drained. So at what stage do you want to go back to being natural?

In all the early photographs that I have from 1908 show no trees at all and I am told that there weren’t many around in the 1930s. Certainly in the short time that I’ve been sailing, since the 1990s a lot more have grown up, clogging the rivers.

Increase in size of motorboats

Another thing I see as a problem is the size of the motor boats. In the 1950s and 1960s a reasonable sized motor boat would carry, five, eight people. Now you have a large motor boat which says that it’s luxury for two with a whirlpool. Who wants a whirlpool on a boat holiday in Norfolk? How do they heat the water? Where does the water go? I don’t know.

So we have much wider much bigger boats with fewer people on, so the length of quay heading and mooring per person is increasing. A lot of the the quay heading is being removed for flood alleviation reasons so it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find somewhere to moor your boat.

What other problems can I foresee? It is slightly worrying about this wish to become a national park and have full national park status. A lot of people think that this could be a threat to navigation, in spite of the assurances given. It could be thin edge of the wedge as if it becomes a national park navigation won’t have any priority at all.

My last concern is that the chief executive officer of the Broads Authority appears to be intent on ridding the Broads of boats. Why do people come to Norfolk? What do they look at when they go around and take lovely photographs? They take photographs of the scenery, windmills and they take photographs of sailing boats.

I think that if you get rid of sailing boats from the Broads you get rid of a lot of the attraction for the people who come to look around the Broads.

Philip Bray 2018

Philip Bray (b. 1946) talking to WISEArchive in Swaffham on December 3rd 2018.

© 2019 WISEArchive. All Rights Reserved