A fitting send-off for Norfolk Broads legend Eric Edwards
It was a fitting send-off for a true Broads legend.
Roads around the Broadland village of Ludham were jammed with cars and every inch of St Catherine's Church was packed for the funeral and service of thanksgiving for the life of marshman Eric Edwards.
Bunches of reeds and a scythe formed a poignant tribute to greet people entering the church for the 2.30pm service today.
Among those paying their respects was a large contingent from the Broads Authority, including chief executive John Packman and past chairman Lady Knollys; others attending included Broads artist David Dane and Norfolk author and entertainer Keith Skipper.
Fellow reedcutters, including Paul Eldridge, representing a new young generation inspired by Mr Edwards, also took their places in the pews to honour a man who put their unglamorous trade in the national spotlight on such shows as The Generation Game and in famous encounters with Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles.
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Mr Edwards, 71, had retired from his job as a reedcutter for the Broads Authority in 2007, but continued working the marshes for the How Hill Trust up to two weeks before his death.
Simon Partridge, director of the How Hill Trust, said he had been humbled when Mr Edwards' widow Ruby had asked him to give a tribute.
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He said: 'Eric loved being on the marshes, he was a lucky man who loved his job.
'Being thigh deep in water in the middle of winter would not be considered nice by an average man, but he was not an average man.'
Mr Partridge said the shy character he first met in 1987 blossomed over the years into a confident ambassador for everything on the Broads.
He said people would always remember the legendary tatty hat and tatty boots that he always insisted on donning for photographs and interviews - his smart apparel being reserved for quiet days when he was out of the spotlight.
Mr Partridge said Mr Edwards - professional to the last - had given an impeccable talk to a group of visitors at How Hill only two weeks before his death.
'He started out as an apprentice marshman and left as a legend,' he said.
Reader Pauline Simpson, who conducted the service, said she was honoured to lead the celebration into the life of 'an ambassador for the Broads and the traditional skills of reed and sedge cutting'.
His MBE awarded in 2004 for services to the Broads had been so richly deserved.
Mrs Simpson, who works for the Broads Authority herself, said Mr Edwards' high standing was shown by the fact that there had been a gasp around the room at the authority's headquarters when his untimely death was announced to former colleagues.
She described him as 'always friendly and a great inspiration', a 'true Broads character and a true Norfolk man' who would be greatly missed.
A hard working man, he had only accepted his final retirement during his final days in hospital.
For a man who revelled in being on the reedbeds among the bitterns, it was fitting that All things bright and beautiful was one of the hymns.
At the end of the service donations were taken for the How Hill Trust and Ludham surgery.
Mr Edwards' large family gathered to watch him being laid to rest in the churchyard of his home village.