Former wherry skipper Nat Bircham recalls life on the Broads.
Documentary; Portrait of a Place
The credits of this film appear over stills showing wherries, including some at Wroxham Bridge. There is a static shot of Nat Bircham smoking a pipe. Modern film, shot in 1971, shows traffic passing through Wroxham and over the bridge. This contrasts with earlier film, taken in the 1940s, showing a quieter town. Roys department store is prominent in both sequences; these include interior shots as well as interior shots of a public house. A bus is standing at a bus stop in the second shot. There are also some schoolboys in uniform. Views of the river and modern sailing boats follow. Some shots are taken from a moving boat. Nat Bircham, a former wherry skipper, recalls that for him, sailing wherries was a full time job; he sailed trading boats in the winter and pleasure craft in the summer. Shots of wherries sailing give way to a shot of Neatishead Street and a sequence of Horstead mill showing the exterior and the interior in working order. These shots were taken c. 1950. A man fishes by the mill. There are stills of the mill in an earlier era and film showing the smouldering ruins of the mill the day after it was destroyed by fire in 1963.
The next sequence shows modern pleasure cruisers at the Swan Hotel in Horning. This contrasts with scenes from a Regatta taken in 1936. Shots of Barton Broad follow. Nat Bircham recalls boat yard owner, Billy Hewitt and his yacht, the 'Lady Violet' who feature in stills. The 'Lady Violet' was on of the fastest yachts on the Broads and won a trophy at the Barton Regatta the first time Hewitt sailed her. Over shots of Hickling Broad, Nat Bircham explains how Hickling was always a shallow broad despite dredging. He remembers having to keep to specially dug channels. A dredger can be seen at the side of the Broad. Nat bemoans the damage dome to Hickling Broad by pleasure cruisers. Nat recalls taking cargoes of sugar beet from Cantley to Horsey Staithe and Waxham. There are scenes of a motor cruiser at Horsey Staithe in the 1940s and of the beach at Waxham. Horsey Church is prominent in the background.
A sequence shows the restored wherry 'Albion' sailing in 1966. Nat Bircham recalls how fast it was to raise a wherry sail and explains the process. He recalls that he had a wonderful time ... wonderful life on the Broads but that they were hard days, not the good old days at all. He describes carting sugar beet in 1928 and we see scenes of the factory with wherries alongside laden with beet. He worked seven days a week for eighteen hours. He earned 4d per hour. There are shots of Reedham showing the railway bridge and the lift to the road bridge at Haddiscoe, which is being raised. A train passes over a bridge at Somerleyton. Further sailing scenes showing people setting off in a yacht at Horning and shots of Barton Turf and St. Benet's Abbey complete the film.
Nat Bircham died in 1981
Nat Bircham, wherry skipper; Billy Hewitt, boat yard owner
British Sugar Corporation
Horning Regatta, 1936; Horstead Mill fire, 1963
British Sugar Beet Factory, Cantley St. Benet's Abbey; Haddiscoe road bridge Wroxham Bridge; All Saints Church, Horsey Horstead Mill; Roy's Department Store, Wroxham