Remembering the glory days of Brooms - a Brundall institution
Paul Thomas remembers brilliant Brooms, builders of special yachts and motor boats and his friendship with founder Martin Broom MBE
Boats have been much of my life… the apples of my eye. Here in Norfolk, over four decades I owned a wonderful sailing yacht, then also three motor boats we took abroad as well as around the UK – all created by members of the Broom family, Britain’s oldest boat-builder, 112 years of it.
I started in boats 70 years ago - at the age of 11 on the Norfolk Broads, in a holiday hire boat.
A couple of years, and holidays later, we hired the Broom cruiser Captain Five, a magnificent boat – and met Martin Broom. Nearly 20 year later, after much dinghy racing and many more boating holidays, I fell for and bought a gaff topsail sloop, Bessie Bell, built by a member of the original Broom family in 1898.
After 20 years racing and cruising the Bell, my wife Mary (introduced to me earlier as crew to the Bessie Bell) and I decided to buy a Broom motor boat… and serious coastal and international cruising began. Our first, and greatest Broom, was Cider Apple, a 1980 Crown 37. She literally became “the apple of our eyes”!
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We crossed the North Sea and English Channel in her many times – to Belgium, Holland, France, our south coast to Cornwall, the Channel Islands. By now she’d helped me to my RYA Yachtmaster Offshore qualification and what a wonder she was… and then, after 11 years with her, we decided to go for a new Broom, a 38.
She we named Norfolk Beauty – not as many thought after my beautiful wife and by then two daughters, Marina and Louise – but after another cider apple – yes, a Norfolk Beauty apple grown in Gunton Park in the 1920s. Our maiden voyage with her was from Brundall via Le Havre and Honfleur up the Seine to Paris.
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Six years of that Norfolk Beauty, and then, with marine architect friend Andrew Wolstenholme, one of Broom’s designers, we suggested a different interior layout which Brooms introduced as the new Broom 39 2+2. We had the first which was launched at the London boat show and sold well.
Throughout these years I had been friends with Martin, that teenager when we first met at Brooms. Martin was born in 1934 in Brundall, learned the trade as a boat-building apprentice with Herbert Woods of Potter Heigham and did his National Service as a boat repairer in Plymouth. His grandfather, Charles Broom, had founded Broom Boats in 1898 and in 1964 Martin took over the business from his father, Basil.
His father and uncle both died, a cousin died in the First World War and another, Barney, decided to go into the church, leaving Martin in charge of a boatyard employing 25 men.
Subsequently Martin led the company’s change from wooden hull construction to the use of glass-reinforced plastic, helping start AquaFibre with the Macintosh family – and which became a national grp boat-builder. In the 1991 New Year’s Honours, he was made MBE for his service to the marine industry. By then the business turned over £5m and employed 130 staff at Brundall and 45 at Rackheath. The range of his firm’s craft was proving popular – at home and overseas.
For some years we had moored our Broom boats at their marina at Brundall – it was home. But by about 2008, Brooms had lost its popularity. They had ceased the hire boat business and private boats sales reduced. Martin decided to sell the firm, quietly, few knew – it was devastating news.
It had to be reported including by me as editor of Anglia Afloat :“Brooms of Brundall, Britain’s oldest boat-builder and sold to new investors… faces a tough future and is drawing up plans to reverse a decline in turn-over and recessional problems. In its 112-year history, Brooms led development of the Broads holiday hire boat-building business and more recently a boom in private motor cruisers, including for sea-going use. They have built probably 4000 boats in their history, more than 500 for defence use in the second world war, 1000 for holiday hire and up to 2,500 for private owners…”
The new owners moved the scene on. The news was a shock to the marine industry, employees and boat-owners – all of whom had considerable respect for the company and its original family owners.
Later Martin died. Our last meeting together had been at his home, over a cup of coffee and biscuits, served, as ever, with taste and distinction by his fine wife Jennifer – who I had also known well, indeed enjoying a rare dance with her at the Broom Owners Club annual dinner a few years earlier.
Now more than a decade on from the above, Broom Boats is in yet another pair of hands. The firm is very different from what it was in the good old days. I wish it new success for the future.
Paul’s biography, My Life, My Way, telling much of Norfolk business growth over two thirds of a century, is available from £10.75 including post and packing from: firstname.lastname@example.org