Belle of Bure who travelled world

PLEASURE-TRIPPERS of the past are among the pleasures of the past for a valued old friend of this column. Indeed, Peter Allard and his wife once went on holiday as far away as the Middle East in his quest to locate one of the craft once familiar in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston as they took summer visitors and local people on leisurely excursions.

PLEASURE-TRIPPERS of the past are among the pleasures of the past for a valued old friend of this column. Indeed, Peter Allard and his wife once went on holiday as far away as the Middle East in his quest to locate one of the craft once familiar in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston as they took summer visitors and local people on leisurely excursions.

That was more than a decade ago when the couple, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, took the opportunity during a bird-watching trip to Israel to seek out the former Norwich Belle, for years part of our river scene as she sailed from Hall Quay to Scroby Sands so passengers could see the seals; in 1961 she left here to become a floating restaurant on the Thames, then was exported as deck cargo to Israel where they found her near the resort of Eilat.

Last summer the Allards made southern Ireland their August holiday destination for the particular reason that they wanted to try to see the St Ciaran, formerly known as the Wroxham Belle when she operated in Norfolk's rivers and broads.

“We visited New Ross in southern Eire to look for the St Ciaran and we found her moored near the main bridge in the town,” Peter tells me. “We had hoped to go on an excursion but this proved impossible as the weather was none too pleasant during our stay, but the owners did let us look around her.

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“I gave them quite a bit of her history as the Wroxham Belle and, likewise, they let me know of her movements around Ireland.”

The Wroxham Belle was built for the Yarmouth and Gorleston Steamboat Company in 1936, its first venture into a vessel of this type - a water-bus licensed to carry 200 passengers. She was built at Rowhedge Ironworks near Colchester.

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According to Mr Allard: “She was diesel engined and worked mainly along the River Bure from Yarmouth towards Horning and Wroxham, being purposely built to pass under the two Bure bridges at Yarmouth.

“Just after the outbreak of the second world war, she was requisitioned by the Army as a patrol boat on the Norfolk Broads, based at St Olaves, but was later shipped out to Freetown, Sierra Leone (West Africa), for the use by the Royal Navy.

“On her return to this country, she was sold to owners on the River Thames until being purchased by an Irish consortium in 1956. She then had her name changed to St Ciaran and spent the next 18 years in the Limerick area before being bought by her present owners.

“She looks in good shape for several more years yet and works alongside another similar vessel, the St Brendan.”

During her Yarmouth era, the Wroxham Belle possibly never ventured down-river and out into the open sea but, had she done so, she might well have been spotted from the upper windows of Gorleston's White Lion Hotel which commands splendid views of the harbour entrance and twin piers. In November I wrote about the licensed property that had existed since 1792 but was awaiting conversion to luxury flats.

That brought me a letter from Janet Young, from Surrey, saying: “I was very interested in the recent article on the White Lion as my family were licensees for much of the first half of the 20th century. My maiden name was Redgrave.

“Firstly, my great-great-grandparents ,John and Kate Keeble, were landlords from 1904 to 1911. It was then run by their daughter, my great-great-aunt Anne Fowler, and although she is listed as licensee I believe she ran it jointly with her sister, my widowed great-grandmother, Kate Redgrave.

“My grandfather, Reg Redgrave, was killed in 1917 at Passchendaele and his War Graves Commission citation mentions him as the 'son of Kate Redgrave, of the White Lion, Gorleston', before mentioning my grandmother, his wife.

“My great-uncle Oliver Redgrave ran the pub from 1942 until possibly 1950 although I understand it was damaged in the war. He was a local artist and taught my father something about painting, until it was realised that Dad was colour blind!

“Sadly my grandmother kept my father away from his Redgrave relations after Reg's death, although as a boy he and his mother spent some Christmases at the White Lion.

“I have been researching my family with some outstanding help from Gorleston-on-Sea Heritage (Gosh) and, thanks to them, was privileged in August to be shown round the White Lion by a representative of the consortium which now owns it. Indeed there are spectacular views from the upstairs front rooms, and I envy anyone who buys into such a view!”

Mrs Young sent me photographs of Annie Fowler and Kate Redgrave that are among the illustrations with today's column.

A late 19th century print of Yarmouth seafront showing two windmills behind the buildings facing the sea, an illustration with an October column, interested reader Jack Grice, of the Pastures, Burgh Road, Gorleston, for one of those mills was Greengrass's that stood where the junction of Hamilton Road and Churchill Road is now.

His interest was prompted by an old photograph he owns, another of today's illustrations, that depicts the Greengrass Post Mill in the background, standing proud on the denes with no other buildings near it.

However, in the foreground is St Paul's Church - not the building we know in 2008, but its wooden predecessor.

“I am hoping that somebody will be able to put a date to the picture,” says Mr Grice.

That must have been before 1897, the year the foundation stone of the present St Paul's - near the Caister Road-Beaconsfield Road junction - was laid; the building was consecrated six months later, in 1898. Nearly half a century earlier, Hovell's Mill had been dismantled and rebuilt as Greengrass's Post Mill that endured until its demolition in 1907.

The picture was taken on a glass plate negative by the professional photographer Sydney Yallop who built up a comprehensive collection of local people, scenes and events. After his death much of the collection passed into the hands of other photographers and historians.

However, one story claims that his widow, who lived in School Lane, Gorleston, threw out many other invaluable glass negatives, giving them to the dustbin men to cart away. One refuse collector who realised their importance saved his sackful, but a colleague dropped his when trying to open the gate, smashing most, if not all, of them.

And some of the larger glass plates measuring 10x8 inches had been used by Mrs Yallop to mend holes in her greenhouse...

The photography business of A and S Yallop traded in Gorleston High Street and the Central Arcade (now the Victorian Arcade) in Yarmouth.


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