The pleasure of taking trips out to sea

BRINY BECKONS: trippers on the United Service prepare for a jaunt down-river and out to sea.Picture:

BRINY BECKONS: trippers on the United Service prepare for a jaunt down-river and out to sea.Picture: PAUL GODFREY - Credit: Archant

IT would be easy for the layman to jump to the conclusion that the world’s oceans are littered with adventurous spirits engaged in hazardous round-the-world challenges or lesser but equally risky voyages, either on some millionaire’s mighty crewed yacht built for purpose, or single-handed in an old-fashioned galvanised bath tub, or anything in between.

MAINHOLIDAY DELIGHT: the Great Yarmouth paddle steamer United Service heads down-river for a pleasur

MAINHOLIDAY DELIGHT: the Great Yarmouth paddle steamer United Service heads down-river for a pleasure trip out to sea, possibly in the 1920s. She was used for other purposes off-season.Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE - Credit: Archant

Newspapers regularly carry reports of the rescue of novices, untutored in seamanship or navigation but optimistically armed with a dog-eared atlas, a toy compass from a Christmas cracker and a radio programmed to receive but not transmit. These foolhardy adventurers risk their own lives – and those of their eventual rescuers – as they seek to circumnavigate the globe or undertake some equally perilous escapade on the high seas.

Yes of course that is an exaggeration, but I am always amazed to read of the many who feel the urge to risk danger and a possible dice with death. It all leaves me cold, and I can raise no enthusiasm for the participants at either end of the challenge spectrum.

So in summer, I paid scant attention to the reports of the launch of the Ben Ainslie Racing, the £80 million British hope to snatch the 2017 Americas Cup, probably the most expensive and vaunted yacht race in the world and also the oldest trophy in international sport. In its 163 years, Britain has yet to triumph.

There is a link, albeit slender, between Great Yarmouth and the Americas Cup, renamed after the winner of the original race around the Isle of Wight in 1851. When the schooner America lifted that trophy, ordinary folk on both sides of the Atlantic were enthralled by the contest – but the owners of a Yarmouth craft went a nautical mile farther... by challenging the champion to a race!

The upstart was a so-called Yarmouth yawl, a Norfolk and Suffolk class that had gained a reputation as the fastest open boat in the world, achieving a speed of 16 knots; the biggest was the 69ft Reindeer, built in 1851 at Beeching’ yard at Gorleston.

James Beeching, by the way, designed the self-righting lifeboat. The yard closed in 1926.

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The local beachmen, confident of the Reindeer’s ability to out-pace the America, challenged her owner to a North Sea race for a wager of £100 a side.

But, according to Frank G G Carr’s 1934 book Vanishing Craft: British Coastal Types in the Last Days of Sail: “The (America) owner, however, avoided the contest by refusing to race for less than £1000 which the yawl-men were, of course, unable to raise.

“There seems no doubt that, with favourable conditions, the Reindeer might very well have won.”

Sadly, another case of what might have been...

In July I featured photographs of some of the pleasure boats that took our holidaymakers and day visitors on trips either out to sea or into Broadland for much of the last century but are now sadly consigned to history. They were bought as a job lot by Chris Hopkins, of Laburnum Close, Bradwell, at an auction.

“I was interested to read about Chris Hopkins’ pleasure boat photograph collection. Your mention of Box Brownies prompted me to think about the commercial photographers who snapped the passengers before they embarked on their cruise and returned with the photos printed and ready to buy,” writes a fellow regular contributor, Paul Godfrey.

“Before the last war Jackson’s Faces undertook this type of work and passengers on board the paddle tug United Service and other steamers were snapped in large deck groups. Often the customer would also buy a postcard of the vessel as well.

After the war Yarmouth-based photographers J Barker and Sons, famous for their ‘walking’ promenade photos, started taking photographs on the pleasure boats, trading as River Snaps.

“My late father-in-law George Meadows, who worked for Barkers for many seasons, often took the photographs with a Leica camera. However, unlike the Jackson’s Faces photos which were usually large deck groups, the Barker ones were usually of individual family groups or couples seated on deck ready for the trip.

“Some fairly speedy film processing and printing was then required to get the prints back and ready for sale when the passengers returned. All processing work was carried out at Barker’s photographic works on St Peter’s Plain, known to all as ‘the factory.’ In the early 1950s this was all done by hand methods – quite a task in under two hours.

“By the 1960s Meider’s Deneside studio became the major player in the Yarmouth pleasure boat photo business. In their darkroom opposite British Homes Stores’ rear doors, they printed the photos with automatic printers, thus speeding up the process.

“I worked at a developing and printing works on The Conge that traded as C A Chadwick Ltd in 1964 and 1965. At the time this was part of the Meider empire and I remember Mrs Meider and another photographer (Bob or Malcolm) they employed taking the photographs, processing the prints and selling the photos, a big job for just two people.

“I also believe the late Ivan Gould (son of long-serving Mercury photographer Les) was active in the 1960s in the pleasure boat photo business and took shots on the Golden Galleon for a short time.

“By the 1970s black and white photographs were old hat and the public wanted colour. Colour processes of the time could not be turned around in two hours (the usual length of time of a cruise). Later processes were quicker but by then it was too late and the Great Yarmouth river snapper was consigned to history.”

Paul, author of a recent book on the topic (Snapped at Gorleston-on-Sea), tells me: “I am seriously interested in the history of commercial seaside photography, especially those who operated in Great Yarmouth. If anyone has any stories or anecdotes, please e-mail me at

“The Yarmouth beach photographers are a fascinating subject for research. There is very little about them in print other than their misdemeanours. The photographic press of the time was not in their corner, believing them to bring the noble profession of the photographic artist into disrepute.

“The Photographic News of 1884 had some coverage about the beach photographers on Yarmouth sands that is very derisory!”

Last week’s column included a photograph of the Caister lifeboat Josie Neville, the caption claiming that she arrived there in 1964. In fact, she had been on station since 1941 and, in 1964, was replaced by the Royal Thames.