Mystery of the missing Willing Boys vessel

PUBLISHED: 17:08 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 17:08 06 February 2018

A four-oared boat like the Storm and Calm being rowed in the river at Gorleston. Picture: PETER ALLARD COLLECTION

A four-oared boat like the Storm and Calm being rowed in the river at Gorleston. Picture: PETER ALLARD COLLECTION

Peter Allard Collection

Most of us have burning questions which usually remain unanswered, provoking frustration when there appear to be no remaining untapped sources of information left.

The present Willing Boys - perhaps the former Storm or Calm - before restoration. Picture: NIGEL ROYALLThe present Willing Boys - perhaps the former Storm or Calm - before restoration. Picture: NIGEL ROYALL

That seems to be the situation facing Nigel Royall, a 53-year-old Hoveton resident seeking help about his great-grandfather’s boat, the Willing Boys, his quest passed to me by Jack Harrison, son of the late Joe Harrison - my long-serving predecessor as Peggotty.

Nigel hopes answers might be supplied by those port enthusiasts who derive great pleasure from recalling the vessels, characters and activities along the Yare-side of yesteryear.

“Any help would be most gratefully received, although I realise that I have left it far too late and should have come over to Gorleston years ago to have a chat with the dear old boys when I was visiting any remaining wherrymen I could find, but unfortunately I did not,” Nigel admits.

“First I must make it clear that Willing Boys is what my great-grandfather Chris Royall named the boat. I believe, although I could be wrong, that she is either the Gorleston salvage boat Storm or Calm.”

The late Chris Royall. Picture: NIGEL ROYALLThe late Chris Royall. Picture: NIGEL ROYALL

He would also welcome information about the Gorleston Salvage Company “which I take it includes the Storm Company as my great-grandad’s boat - which I still own - is called the Willing Boys and described as a Gorleston salvage boat.”

In 1946 when the Gorleston Salvage and Storm companies were wound up, Nigel’s great-grandfather bought two hulls from them for £10 each. Willing Boys is 18ft 6in long minus rudder, with a 6ft 4in beam. “One enthusiast reckons she is too narrow to be a fishing boat,” says Nigel.

Comparison with the few photographs available convinces him that the boats he bought were four-oared pulling craft, possibly rigged with a lugsail at some point. She had reaching hooks forward, and he doubts that she carried a full beach boat rig or ballast.

At the time her colour scheme appears to have been a white hull and apple green waterline. A book about our beachmen led him to believe that the two craft may have been the four-oared boats Calm and Storm but admits: “That is really just a guess.

The Willing Boys after long and patient work. Picture: NIGEL ROYALLThe Willing Boys after long and patient work. Picture: NIGEL ROYALL

“I know that when the companies were wound up in 1946 there was a list of company assets saying where they were disposed of, but I cannot find a copy.

“The boats were towed up to Norwich and one hull sold to a wherryman friend of Chris’s while my grandad Ernie fitted the other hull out as a motor launch. Before the 1914-18 war when wherry trade was slack, he went out in the big Lowestoft sailing trawler Willing Boys (LT67), did not like it but it made an impression because he called his new boat Willing Boys, and Chris and her were a fixture on the Norwich river for many years.

“I still have her and have written up her and Chris’s history as best as I can, using family memories and records.

“He even took Willing Boys out to sea on a few occasions, sailing out at Lowestoft, motoring up the coast and coming back in at Gorleston.”

Nigel is eager to discover the names of the four-oared boats surviving in use up until the 1939-45 war, especially those with white hulls, and would like to know if the Salvage and Storm Company boats were evacuated anywhere during the war, what were they used for, if anything - and did they ever return?

Also, he is keen to know the names of any four-oared boats remaining on the Gorleston Salvage Company’s books in1946 when everything was wound up. And wonders about what, if any, use they were put to after the war.

Nigel and his wife have run the family hire-boat business for several years but he now concentrates on working on wooden boats, “mainly winter work on the pleasure wherry Solace, built in 1903.”

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