End of an era as true Broads champion prepares to step down

Bryan Read pays a visit to the Wicklewood Windmill to see the sails re-attached after restoration.Ph

Bryan Read pays a visit to the Wicklewood Windmill to see the sails re-attached after restoration.Photograph Simon Parker - Credit: Archant

For more than 50 years he has been at the heart of the Broads. But now, as LAUREN COPE reports, a Norfolk man who played a pivotal role in many of the waterways' groups and projects is to step back.

Opening of the new Read Dyke at Hunters Yard in Ludham.Bryan Read, Chairman of the Norfolk Heritage

Opening of the new Read Dyke at Hunters Yard in Ludham.Bryan Read, Chairman of the Norfolk Heritage Fleet at the official openingPicture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass

Talk to anybody who has spent much time around the Broads – chances are they'll know Bryan Read.

The waterways have been a constant in his life since he can remember – whether through fond memories of his sailor father, or the reliance on the rivers to transport grain up to his family's flour milling business RJ Read.

But it wasn't until 1963 that Mr Read, now 90, succeeded his father in the role of chairman of the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commission's rivers committee – a position which would pave the way for several more.

It was through a second role on the Broads Society, of which Mr Read was president for 10 years, that he had a hand in creating the Broads Authority as it is known today.

Chairman of the Norfolk Heritage Fleet Trust, Bryan Read at the Hunters Fleet Yard in Ludham.There a

Chairman of the Norfolk Heritage Fleet Trust, Bryan Read at the Hunters Fleet Yard in Ludham.There are plans to dig a new access dyke on land next to the yard.Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

Mr Read, who later became a member of the authority, took on many of the intricacies of seeing it become a reality.

'It was an interesting post,' he said. 'We were going through applications for one of the roles on the authority and there was something like 1,500 of them.

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'Four of us went through every one of the applications and made a short list – but when we recommended one man for the job he didn't want it, so we had to start again.

'We didn't quite get 1,500 again – but there was certainly a few.'

Bryan Read, left, one of four generations of his family, with son James, grandson Dominic Copping an

Bryan Read, left, one of four generations of his family, with son James, grandson Dominic Copping and great grandson Jack Copping, nine months, with Matthew Colman at the unveiling of the bench at Town Close school in Norwich.Photo: Bill SmithCopy: Rachel BullerFor: EDP picsEDP pics © 2004(01603) 772434 - Credit: Archant © 2004

But it is arguably work that came some years later to save an iconic sailing fleet which is Mr Read's greatest legacy.

After Percy Hunter sold his family's 1930s fleet and Ludham boatyard to Norfolk County Council in 1968, it became a place in which young people were encouraged to fall in love with sailing.

But in 1995, the council announced the Hunter fleet was up for sale – something which sparked an outcry from the boating community.

Norwich-born Mr Read, a great-grandfather of 15, said: 'At that stage the Hunter fleet was the only one which was entirely sailing boats.

'It didn't have any motor cruisers and was often used by schools and children.

'There were a lot of people who didn't want to see the sale go through and the boats lost.'

A campaign group was formed, their goal simple – raise the cash to buy the boats themselves.

With the backing of an Eastern Counties Newspapers campaign, Mr Read, who has lived in his Upton Close Norwich home with wife Sheila for 70 years, led much of the work.

Their mission was given a lifeline in the form of a £200,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund – thousands more than they asked for.

'We had only applied for £140,000, but they got in touch to say it was a good project they would like to support,' Mr Read said.

In total, a remarkable £280,000 was raised and the fleet was saved, bought by the newly-established Norfolk Heritage Fleet Trust, of which Mr Read has been chairman ever since.

Today, the trust is still based at Hunter's Yard in Ludham – at which there is now a Read dyke – and maintains the wooden fleet.

'It was really quite something,' he said. 'It was quite an achievement. The support we had was tremendous, people were coming up to us and giving us five pound notes.'

Later this month, Mr Read will close a 20-year chapter when he steps down from the trust.

When asked why, his reply was simple: 'I'm 90 now – I think that says it all.'

And, when his term as trustee comes to an end, he will step down from his final group, the Norfolk Windmills Trust – marking the end of an era for a man who has spent decades at the heart of the Broads.

After his Hunter fleet victory, Mr Read was back to work – in 1996 talks turned to setting up a charity which supported Broads projects that couldn't secure funding from local governemnt.

Years later, the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads Charitable Trust was born, a body which is today best known for its successful Love the Broads visitor-giving scheme. And while his pursuits have stayed mainly on the water, Mr Read also spent time as the chairman of governors at Town Close School in Norwich, where he was a pupil in 1932.

But, he said, his heart lies with the Broads – which he says were 'very much a part of me'.

'I suppose it all started because I was brought up on the Broads,' he said. 'I learnt to sail quite young, my father bought a bungalow in Horning – it's always been there.

'We now have 15 great-grandchildren and they all love getting out on the water and it gives us so much pleasure.'

Today, he is still keen to be afloat - last month, Mr Read's veteran Broads cruiser Harrier was put back in the water after two years of repairs.

When asked how he will enjoy his new-found free time, ever-busy Mr Read was quick to point out that he'd still be around, but admitted he would be taking things at a slower pace.

And what comes next?

Jigsaws, spending time with his family and, of course, enjoying the tranquillity of time on the Broads.

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