What happened to the Belles?

WHERE are they now? It is a question periodically posed in nostalgia-based features like Through the Porthole and, as often as not, those answered here concern ships and boats.

WHERE are they now? It is a question periodically posed in nostalgia-based features like Through the Porthole and, as often as not, those answered here concern ships and boats. Today the query needs a slight amendment, from the plural to the singular: where is she now?

For a century residents of east Norfolk, and the holidaymakers we welcome to our midst each summer, have enjoyed pleasure cruises into the waterways of Broadlands, up and down the River Yare within the borough, and out to sea from harbour and beaches in a variety of small craft. Today that number has dwindled, and only the Southern Belle plies upstream; I believe that there are one or two beach boats still at work taking passengers Scroby-wards, the forest of electricity-producing wind turbines perhaps being as big an attraction as the seals were.

Unlike some of the old favourites that operated from Great Yarmouth between the two world wars and into the Sixties, the Broadland Belle's pleasure-tripping career hereabouts was comparatively brief - only seven years - but nonetheless, she had her share of fans. Also, she was not of traditional design, but was a long, low water bus.

Peter Allard and his wife, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, are so enthusiastic about our old trippers that they have journeyed far and wide on holidays for the pleasure of seeing them again, albeit in new surroundings and probably under new names. For example, last summer they ventured to Ireland to see the former Wroxham Belle, today known as the St Ciaran. This year their excursion took them to Kent in search of the ex-Broadland Belle.

“The 47-ton Broadland Belle was built by Contour Craft, of Wroxham, for the Yarmouth and Gorleston Steamboat Company in 1976,” Mr Allard tells me.

“She was a catamaran type vessel, 65ft long and licensed for 100 passengers, taking them on Broads cruises between 1976 and 1983. She was always moored at Stonecutters Quay in Yarmouth in summer but in winter could be found by the ferry at Southtown.

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“In 1984 she did not run and was sold the following January to a firm on the River Medway in Kent. She is now the Kentish Lady and is owned by Tony Cheeseman, of Hire Cruisers in Maidstone.”

Next, a journey much farther afield - across the Atlantic to the three Yarmouths over there, mentioned in this column recently along with the other namesake in the United Kingdom, on the Isle of Wight. All five are coastal and holiday resorts, to some degree.

I wrote that Michael Carttiss, a Great Yarmouth borough councillor and former Member of Parliament, had visited the transAtlantic communities and established some links, but I had forgotten some other strong ties across “the pond”.

In 1977 Mr and Mrs Charles Biron came here to bring official greetings from the trio of Yarmouths - in the states of Massachusetts and Maine in the USA and in Nova Scotia, Canada, all deriving their name from settlers from our part of Norfolk in past centuries. The couple, from the Canadian Yarmouth, delivered them to the Mayor and Mayoress, Harry Miller and Cora Batley, at our Town Hall.

Nora Biron described her Yarmouth as “a friendly place full of beautiful scenery by the lakes and the sea, with a low density of population.” Fishing, farming and tourism were its principal industries and, according to a directory, many years ago wooden-hulled sailing vessels were built there.

Yarmouth Port (with Cape Cod) in Massachusetts, a 12,000 strong community and major resort, specialised in the growing of cranberries in bogs! Yarmouth, Maine? It manufactured sporting goods and wood products, and canned fish. At that time it had 2500 inhabitants.

Also, there was contact across the Atlantic in 1953 when the citizens of Yarmouth in Maine saw a cinema newsreel of the disastrous East Coast floods and sent a message hoping everyone here was all right.

If you are of a nervous disposition and demurred from reading recent columns about inexplicable incidents in the Hopton/Corton area - alleged UFO landing, humanoid on the cliffs, ley lines, a ghostly black horse portending death and disquieting feelings (both on the A12 Yarmouth-Lowestoft road) and a mystery blip on RAF radar screens - feel free to skip the next few paragraphs.

Regular correspondent Mike King, a Gorlestonian resident in Lowestoft, draws my attention to a report three decades ago about a British Transport Police constable named Colby who was driving one evening from Yarmouth to Lowestoft and, near Jay Lane, “saw a ghostly figure with long hair giving the appearance of a tramp crossing the road in front of him.

“He was quite shaken by this incident and returned for another look but could see nothing. This incident received a lot of publicity at the time including a photo-fit image of the vision. I had occasion to speak to him soon after and he was convinced that he saw what he said he saw, and ruled out reflections or lights from cars coming the other way.

“As far as I recall, the lower legs of this 'person' were not fully visible, suggesting that the road level had been increased when the Hopton by-pass was constructed a few years previously. Do the ley lines from Hopton (ruined) church to Cornwall cross near Jay Lane?”


More cherished recollections have come in about the late Gilbert (“Sammy”) Sayer, who taught art and woodwork at Yarmouth Grammar School before, during and after the war, and was the first form master of new intakes whom he firmly but gently inculcated into its ways. He was my first form master when I went there in 1946.

I first mentioned him in a column about his late son, Malcolm, who designed iconic Jaguar cars like the E-type.

From Charles Jary, of Fleggburgh, 83 this month, comes the memory of moving to the school in 1937 and, in his first year with Gilbert Sayer, quickly establishing a master/pupil rapport and excelling at the mentor's two principal subjects, winning prizes for both. “I couldn't put a foot wrong,” he recalls.

They were among those evacuated to Retford in Nottinghamshire during the war. In 1942 Charles Jary returned home and became a Blofield and Flegg Rural District Council rent collector before and after war service in the Royal Air Force. But the Sayer influence from those school days encouraged him to change direction and he enrolled in a teaching course and became head of geography and taught mathematics and games at Cliff Park senior school in Gorleston for ten years, followed by a similar period at Acle before taking early retirement in 1981.

“I owe a terrific lot to Mr Sayer,” he says. “I am totally indebted to him.”