Richard’s pride and joy: the Queen’s Victorian steam engine
- Credit: Archant
Nostalgia is something to cling to, a lifeline to the past - those so-called halcyon days when summers were hotter and longer, pleasures were unsophisticated, public toilets were always open, and policemen on the beat told you off for cycling on the pavement or without a rear light.
Links to those cherished golden years are always welcome, giving older folk the opportunity to recall those heydays, so I was delighted to hear from Richard Seago about one of the fleet of passenger trippers which sailed either between Hall Quay and Gorleston’s Brush Bend, headed into Broadland, or sailed out to sea so passengers could view the photogenic seal colonies on Scroby Sands.
Richard’s favourite is the Queen of the Broads, her name indicating that sea voyages were not her thing.
From his South Walsham home he writes: “As a boy, I would always look out for the pleasure steamer Queen of the Broads on Stonecutters Quay in Yarmouth on fortnightly visits to my grandparents at Gorleston.
“I, and a number of others, developed a particular fascination for this vessel as the last of the commercial pleasure steamers to operate out of Yarmouth. When I heard that it was to be broken up in 1976, I can remember telephoning Overy’s yard, desperate to do something but without the means.
“Last year, quite by chance, I discovered that the Cobholm-built Victorian steam engine from the Queen of the Broads was coming up for sale in a museum auction at Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight. It had been there since 1976.
“I was the successful bidder and have now returned the engine to within a few miles of where it was built and operated.
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“I have been fortunate to make contact with the son and granddaughter of Walter Rudd, the former drifter skipper who was the skipper, captured brilliantly by the ITV Bygones ‘special’ on the vessel.
“I know this pleasure steamer was held in great affection by many local people. A few of us are trying to piece together a complete history and I would be very pleased to hear from anyone with a particular connection to the vessel or its crew.
“The steam engine and associated artefacts I have been given or loaned will be on display at South Walsham Mill on open days.”
The Queen of the Broads was built on Cobholm Island in 1889 and lengthened seven years later to accommodate extra passengers. Her sister ship was the Pride of the Yare.
In his 1990 book The Norfolk Broads, author Basil Gowen says on her daily voyages up-river to Wroxham, the 74ft craft could carry up to 180 passengers paying “only a few shillings” a head for the 65-mile return trip.
“When approaching river bends or Broadland villages, she would sound her horn to warn river traffic of her proximity and resultant passing swell, and also to alert villagers she was in the vicinity” he writes.
“During school holidays, local children would assemble on the quayside and invite the Queen of the Broad’s passengers to throw pennies at them; the old penny was quite heavy and could hurt if you were not agile enough to duck, or someone’s aim was better than you thought!”
For much of the 20th century, there was a wide choice hereabouts of voyages and craft, the purpose-built vessels augmented after 1945 by two “demobbed” former Royal Navy launches, the Eastern Princess and Golden Galleon. Several of the traditional passenger trippers had been pressed into war service, but were also demobbed and resumed providing their old services.
But summer holiday visitors’ requirements and tastes altered, one casualty being the tripper business. For visitors arriving by train or coach, an excursion by steamer or charabanc enabled them to see places beyond Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, but when cars became commonplace, families could explore Broadland and beyond without the expense or bother of using the hitherto traditional methods.
A handful of the pleasure trippers survived, sailing to other locations – two to Israel and Gibraltar, another to Yorkshire and one to the Thames, for example. One became a museum piece, albeit out of character and livery.
In the Eighties Mrs Peggotty and I visited her when she was one of the historic vessels in the Maritime Trust’s ambitious St Katharine’s Dock project in the River Thames by London’s Tower Bridge. But while our Lydia Eva, the last surviving traditional steam herring drifter, was pristine in her familiar livery at a quayside, the unrecognisable former river steamer Yarmouth was put to use...as a cafeteria, propped on a cradle on a brick-weave area in front of the Dickens pub!
Her funnel and wooden steering wheel on deck had survived, but her superstructure had been removed, her cream hull had been repainted black, and a hole had been cut in her side for a door to allow customer access to the cafeteria. Very sad.
This floating museum by the Thames was short-lived; the Lydia Eva returned home and remains a Yareside icon, but the SS Yarmouth – launched in Yarmouth in 1895 - was broken up, as were most of the redundant trippers, at least saving them from falling into disrepair.
For example, the apparently abandoned Golden Galleon was scrapped when her owner could not be traced and the authorities feared she might sink at her St Olaves moorings and endanger navigation. The Resolute looked pathetic, rusting away near Ipswich, but the efforts of volunteers seeking to preserve her had some success, for she is now a houseboat in Suffolk.
Ten years ago there was a bold attempt to revive the long-gone summer amenity of pleasure-tripping with the arrival in Yarmouth of the Southern Belle which embarked from Hall Quay to cruise up-stream to the Broads, but the venture folded after about three seasons, I recall.
Richard Seago can be contacted by telephone on 01603 270214 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org