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Albion, the Norfolk Wherry

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  • Albion, the Norfolk Wherry


    The wherry Albion at an Open Day on Ranworth Broad, Norfolk

    The Norfolk Broads are the large lakes in Norfolk formed from the Middle Ages peat diggings into which water from the surrounding fens and marshy land gradually drained. They and the interconnecting rivers form a network over a large part of the county which nowadays is immensely popular as a holiday venue for people who love boats. Some sail their own vessel, some hire one, some go just to watch the others and enjoy the excitement of the regattas.
    But it was not always so. Once the typical sight on the Broads was that of the keels and the black-sailed traders – the wherries.

    Norfolk wherries, with their one huge sail, were trading vessels built particularly to suit the shallow waterways of the Broads and the often narrow rivers linking them.
    There are various theories as to how they evolved. One takes us back several hundred years to when it was cheaper and faster to go by water than by road and, particularly in London, light boats propelled by 4 oarsmen were used to carry passengers. They were known as wherries, a name also used to signify various other similar craft. Another theory points to the keel which dates back to the 11th or 12th century and is thought to have been modelled on the Viking longships. The keel was the trading boat once most commonly seen in Britain, but as a square rigger it had manoeuvrability problems, being unable to sail very close to the wind. When a headwind was met the only alternatives were rowing or the use of a horse along the towpath. The latter was fine on canals, but more or less impossible on the Broads where towpaths were impracticable. In the last resort the keel had to lay to and wait for a wind.
    Whatever the origin of vessels like the Albion, it was Dutch boats visiting Britain 400 years ago with their fore-and-aft rig that really brought about the big change. Till then unknown in this country, this rigging possessed obvious advantages when the strength of the wind dropped.
    Ivy

    "To thine own self be true.......
    Thou canst not then be false to any man."

  • #2
    Some points about the special construction of the wherry.
    The keel, stem, sternpost and frames were of oak, the timber chosen for the frames being selected from trees where the branches had grown to an appropriate shape and would give elasticity to the vessel. In earlier boats the mast was of larch, but this frequently snapped under the weight of the large sail and future constructions used pitchpine, a single post anything up to 40 ft./12 m. long, well able to bear the sail with its 40 ft./12 m. gaff.
    The mast of the wherries was interesting both in the fact that it was much further forward than in other boats and particularly because it was unstayed apart from the forestay. Instead it pivoted on a lynch-pin piercing the mast near its base within the tabernacle, a hefty wooden framework, and had at the very bottom a block of lead or iron weighing 1 ton or more as a counterbalance. The advantage of this was seen when sailing beneath the many river bridges. Approaching one, the wherry would sail right up as if about to collide, then winch down the sail, swing down the mast and hardly having lost way the mast would be raised and sail hoisted again as soon as they were clear of the arch. I saw the speed of the operation demonstrated once when I went to a day school on wherries, although of course the Hathor was not actually in motion. It was impressive.
    The sail, measuring about 1200 sq.ft./111 sq.m. was treated with a mixture of coal tar, herring oil and lamp-black, first one side then the other 6 months’ later. All wherry sails were black apart from two Lowestoft ones, they were brown.
    In conditions of no or insufficient wind to fill the sail (hard to imagine in East Anglia), or when entering a lock where the rules forbade the use of sail in case the boat entered too quickly and rammed the far gates, then the 22 ft./6-7 m. quanting pole would be used. The wherryman would push the pole into the riverbed at the bows then putting his shoulder to the butt – the knob at its end - heave against it as he walked the length of the boat to the stern. This would be repeated over and over, very hard labour. Sawdust and husks were trodden into molten pitch on the deck to give a good foothold when quanting. At the day school we went on a short trip up the very narrow River Ant where the wherry was propelled by quanting, then a very difficult manoeuvre had to be made to turn the vessel round for the return trip. Once broadside on to the current, there was very little water between the boat and the banks, a following launch had to back and tuck itself close into the reeds at the side as the Hathor was slowly but carefully turned. Again, I was impressed by the skilful handling.
    Even without cargo, wherries lie low in the water. When the load was so great that the binns (the deck edge) were barely above water, wherrymen said that the boat was so loaded that a robin could drink off the decks. A wherry taking on a heavy cargo at the seaport of Gt. Yarmouth would likely have water over the plankways by the time it reached inland Norwich (fresh river water).

    The vane heading the mast often bore a figure which, if female, was called the Jenny Morgan or the Welsh Girl, after a popular song of the time. Albion’s figure is a woman wearing the Welsh hat and holding out a bunch of leeks, one of the national emblems of that country.




    Close-up of the Albion's Jenny Morgan
    Last edited by wherrygirl; October 10th, 2010, 11:24.
    Ivy

    "To thine own self be true.......
    Thou canst not then be false to any man."

    Comment


    • #3
      Some wherries were built on Honeypot Meadow here in my town, then brought down on a trolley passing my house on the way to the staithe, where they were launched sideways into one of the “cuts”, the narrow man-made inlets dug to allow wherries in from the river to unload. Others were built at the staithe itself.


      Much overgrown entrance from the river Waveney to an old "cut", now the only remaining one in this town.


      View further up the cut.
      Other cuts were filled in during development of the site, when the trees were also planted. I remember back in the 70's when that opposite bank was lined with tumbledown sheds which had once been used to store the wherries' cargo.

      Albion was not built in the town, but at William Brighton’s yard at Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft in 1898. However, it was for a firm of local maltsters trading on the River Waveney up as far as the town, and is a special interest of mine. She was the only one of the trading Norfolk wherries which was carvel built, the rest were clinker built. Some say it was so that she could squeeze through the river Waveney locks more easily, which I think is a bit far-fetched. Others say that she was built cheaply using available timber planks of varying lengths which could be simply butted together and therefore easy to repair. But no-one really knows the reason.
      Ivy

      "To thine own self be true.......
      Thou canst not then be false to any man."

      Comment


      • #4
        You may be asking yourself “Why is Ivy going on about this Albion?”
        The reason: in my small house once lived Jack, the man who skippered her from 1900 to 1920, taking over from his uncle - her first skipper. When I first came to live here there was a book in our local library with a photograph of him standing at the bottom of the garden next to the old wash-house (now my shed). After Jack left the Albion, her life varied greatly. In the 1930’s the name was changed to Plane and she traded on the river to Norwich until just before WW2. Then her gear was stripped out and she was used as a lighter until acquired in 1949 by the Norfolk Wherry Trust.


        Wherry trust banner on the Albion

        The Trust had been formed that year to try and preserve the tradition of the wherry, once as much a symbol of Norfolk as were the many windmills which eager volunteers restore and treasure. Now restored and with her original name back, Albion was first used for cargo, but this did not pay and finally the Trust decided to concentrate on carrying passengers. Today, as one of only two “black-sailed traders” left, Albion earns her keep as a charter vessel taking people through the unique countryside which is the Norfolk Broads.
        Ivy

        "To thine own self be true.......
        Thou canst not then be false to any man."

        Comment


        • #5
          In 2010 the Albion was runner-up in the annual Flagship Competition run by National Historic Ships, with whom she is registered as an historic vessel of national importance. Her prize money was used to purchase the new set of dress overall flags which are in my photos.
          As a consequence of the competition result Albion had the honour of displaying the House Flag of National Historic Ships during 2010 and I have established that it is the pennant at the top, above the flags which spell out the wherry's name in the photograph below. Take my word for it! The wind was very blustery at Ranworth the day I saw her, all the flags were flapping madly and cannot be seen very well! Further, it was a day of black clouds alternating with bright sunshine, as you can see from the photos.


          The National Historic Ship pennant at the very top, left of the mast
          Ivy

          "To thine own self be true.......
          Thou canst not then be false to any man."

          Comment


          • #6

            View across Ranworth Broad from the hold


            Similar view, corner of the hatch cover bottom right


            Looking along the hatch cover, the gaff lowered (is that someone hanging on for dear life at the stern?)
            Last edited by wherrygirl; October 10th, 2010, 11:27.
            Ivy

            "To thine own self be true.......
            Thou canst not then be false to any man."

            Comment


            • #7
              Finally, looking downstream at the River Waveney about 2 minutes from my home, and up which the Albion would have approached towards the cuts on the right hand side. The entrance to the only remaining cut (see above) is hidden by the trees. Near the bottom right shows where the old mill stream joins the river.


              Looking downstream, river Waveney, Suffolk
              Ivy

              "To thine own self be true.......
              Thou canst not then be false to any man."

              Comment


              • #8
                thanks for sharing (finally) the wherry story.

                i thought they whare bigger,but looking at the waterway's she couldend any bigger.
                look a lot like holland overthere,with all those little waterways.
                i asume that ranworth is you're living place,you're talking about ranworth and is 2 minutes from my house.
                a lot of beautiful images from you're place from how it was in jack's time.
                on google earth is also an image from the other wherry
                best regards Thijs

                Comment


                • #9
                  Well dear Ivy, I’ve been looking forward to this from the moment you explained your wherrygirl name, and it had truly been a treat for me today. Big thank you.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Excellent thread Ivy, thoroughly enjoyable read. Thank You

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by janihudi View Post
                      thanks for sharing (finally) the wherry story.

                      i thought they whare bigger,but looking at the waterway's she couldend any bigger.
                      look a lot like holland overthere,with all those little waterways.
                      i asume that ranworth is you're living place,you're talking about ranworth and is 2 minutes from my house.
                      a lot of beautiful images from you're place from how it was in jack's time.
                      on google earth is also an image from the other wherry
                      Have a heart, you bully., I had to wait to get to an open day to take the photos. Although I admit that was mid-August, but, well........ been doing other things.

                      No, Thijs, Ranworth is in Norfolk and was where the Albion was on show at the last of her open days. A friend and I went up there. She didn't know much about wherries but she was thrilled when she saw the Albion, especially because I'd told her about Jack. I live in Bun***, Suffolk, which is where some of the wherries were built and where the photos of the cut and my last shot of the river were taken. I should imagine the river is very little different from Jack's time apart from the new sluice a few yards further upstream. I love it down there, particularly at that spot. But the cut, as I explained, has been "smartened" up and its near bank made part of a short walk for visitors. Fortunately, few people apart from dog walkers know the walk is there!
                      Norfolk, particularly is very much like Holland with its waterways and still a few windmills dotted about. I must see if I can start taking some shots of the mills. One day......... I'd like to, certainly.
                      I do hope you managed to translate enough of what I wrote to enjoy it, Thijs, I thought of you when I was writing it all. But, honestly, your English is so good, now, that I was sure you'd get the story OK.

                      PS. My hometown spelt backwards is yagnuB. (That'll fox it.)
                      Last edited by wherrygirl; October 10th, 2010, 19:08. Reason: Drat that censor
                      Ivy

                      "To thine own self be true.......
                      Thou canst not then be false to any man."

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Thank you very much, Cecilia and Bill. Glad you enjoyed it.
                        Ivy

                        "To thine own self be true.......
                        Thou canst not then be false to any man."

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          i understand it what you wrote,some where harder,but place it in the story i know what you ment.

                          i had surch for ranworth there i found all the places where you talkt about,
                          randworth broad and others.

                          glad you find the time to tell the story about the wherry.
                          i reken that we gonna see more of her

                          never guess the place off what came after bun***,good idea off you to writhe it backwords or spiegelbeeld as we say.(mirrorview)

                          gonna look at google earth
                          Last edited by janihudi; October 12th, 2010, 21:55.
                          best regards Thijs

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            looking at google to bun*** (whats in a name) i see the sluice (is this the english name for it or do you ment the dutch name, sluis?),where you talked about.

                            somebody placed almost the same image, as you're image in de july competition
                            from off the sluice.
                            you lived a vew yards from the sluice streamupwarths,so i reken then between the sluice and the bridge.

                            oh wait the sluice was a vew yarths streamupwarts,so you live between the sluice and the coust,the vew houses further on the river has no name on google earth

                            but i think here??



                            mmhhhh,we are almost neighbours,come over for a cup of thea

                            Last edited by janihudi; October 11th, 2010, 21:59.
                            best regards Thijs

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Oh Thijs, you've put me in the Scouts' Hut.
                              I've got Google Earth, but I'm not very good at handling it, will see what I can do.
                              Be over tomorrow for tea - about 3.30 OK?
                              Ivy

                              "To thine own self be true.......
                              Thou canst not then be false to any man."

                              Comment

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