Remembering the lost jobs on The Broads

Oby Mill, the oldest mill on the Broad built in 1753. Photo: Mike Page.

Oby Mill, the oldest mill on the Broad built in 1753 - Credit: Mike Page

This is a magnificent story book told by around 100 people with one thing in common – a passion for the beautiful Broads. Derek James takes a look at Water Mills Marshes: Life and Work on the Broads 1920-2020

It has been a bumper year for books, large and small, fact or fiction, and this offering is very special and a pure joy to read.

Open the pages and you are whisked away to a wonderful world of water, meeting great characters along the way, and it will make you think about how we should treat and respect our unique part of the country.

This book illustrates so well why the work of the WISEArchive is important.

The archive is an oral history group made up of volunteers who quite rightly believe that people’s thoughts and memories should be preserved for future generations.


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“We are interested in how things were done and how things change,” they say.

The Broads…a place where generations have worked, rested and played is a unique mixture of marshes, fens, rivers and broads which attract millions of visitors and they form the backdrop for this important local history book.

Ponies on the marshes. Photo: Broads Authority

Ponies on the marshes - Credit: Broads Authority

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Volunteers at WISEArchive have recorded almost 100 stories over three years about life, work and change in this remarkable area and believe this collection provides a valuable insight from the perspective of all those involved.

Now their memories have been written down for this book. They cover many topics and subjects… current thinking and practice, disappearing jobs and skills, restoration of mills and wherries and conservation issues.

They offer differing views about issues and challenges facing this ecologically fragile world.

And they also highlight the passion and connection so many feel for this special place and how many developed their particular interests as children or young people.

The book starts with an introduction by Professor Tim O’Riordan, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Sciences at the UEA, and ends with him taking a look at the Broads from 1973 and looking ahead to 2050.

He writes: “I do think that a very relevant part of oral history is to view history from the future, a reflection of how we perceive ourselves in say 30 years. Won’t they be saying, ‘Why did you wait so long?’

“I think this will be spelt out by our own children and their children. ‘Why did you take so long to get your head around this world, because it has gone to pieces.

You knew all this and you did nothing about it…”

Food for thought.

About WISEArchive

WISEArchive is a Norfolk-based oral history group run by volunteers. Their online archive contains more than 400 stories covering a wide range of occupations along with photographs and sound clips.

The stories are also lodged with the Norfolk Record Office to ensure memories, knowledge and experience are preserved for future generations.

They are now looking for new contributors to the archive. Recordings can be carried out by telephone or, when permitted, face-to-face. If you are interested contact admin@wisearchive.co.uk or leave a message on 07396 654289.

Photo magic
A special thanks to all those who told their stories and shared their photographs especially to our very own man in the sky…flying photographer Mike Page for his stunning pictures looking down on our world.

In Ted’s footsteps
David Nobbs spent many years as the warden at wonderful Wheatfen Nature Reserve, famous thanks to the great Ted Ellis who died in 1986.

“Through Ted’s work, Wheatfen is one of the most recorded reserves in the country. We have books of species recording over 900 beetles, 700 or 800 moths and endless records of fungi for which Ted was renowned ,” says David.

Ivan Watts in the Coypu Control Boat. Picture: Family collection

Ivan Watts in the Coypu Control Boat - Credit: Archant

Coypu Control
Ivan Watts was one of the team working on Coypu Control in the 1970s and 80s.

“We had a very leaky boat with no buoyancy aids and I often worked solo; managing the boat, sorting out the traps and trying to catch coypu. “When I look back it was a mad thing to do.

“We operated in an area stretching from north of the Thames to Humberside, about 13,000 square miles of Eastern England covered by 24 trappers. That was over 500 square miles each, even if you say it quickly,” said Ivan.

Proud family history
Thelma Waller has generations of boat builders in the family including the founder of Hall’s boatyard at Reedham and the builders of wherries Maud and Hathor.

Her father Herbert trained as a carpenter and joiner at Richards; shipyard at Yarmouth and then Lowestoft; they were building luxury yachts, cargo vessels and ferries.

“Although Hall’s yard and Richards’ are long gone, their ships and wherries were very useful to what went on in this area. I am very proud of my craftsmen,” says Thelma.

Fun childhood
Stephen Aldred writes about growing up in How Hill and Sutton.

“We had a lovely time roaming around the fields and through the woods, going out in the morning and not coming back till we were hungry.

“We built dens with bales in the fields and played cowboys in the woods. 

“At harvest time if grandfather or my uncle, who also worked on the farm, went out on the trailer we would cadge a lift to the fields and watch them load up bags of corn or bales of straw.”

Job for life
Arnold “Archie” Rednall followed his father and brother into Cantley sugar factory and remained there for the rest of his working life.

He recalls how his dad got his brother a job at the factory and he always remembered when he first went and going into the manager’s office.

“As I was trying to think of something intelligent to say to get my apprenticeship, he just said; ‘You’re Bert’s boy aren’t you?’ and I said , ‘yeah.’

“’Alright, you can start Monday.’ And that was it!”

Craftsmen. Halls of Reedham boatyard in 1908. Photo: Family Collection

Halls of Reedham boatyard in 1908 - Credit: Family Collection

Sweet memories
Kim Dowe grew up in Potter Heigham. He recalls a carefree childhood roaming the marshes, picking fruit with his grandmother and helping his father on the wherry Lord Roberts.

“I remember Mr Cray, the ‘honeycart man’ collecting the ‘honey’ at the end of the  night.

“He used to come down the road, jingle-jangle and he always stopped at mine to call up, ‘Are you awake?’ and I always said ‘Yes’ because I knew I was going to get something and he would throw me up a few sweets. 

He was a lovely man.”

Water Mills Marshes: Life and Work on the Broads 1920-2020 by WISEArchive is on sale now in the shops or can be obtained from Bittern Books at £15 plus postage. The editors are Ruth Tolland, Jen Smedley, Teresa Marriott and Olwen Gotts. They and all the volunteers are to be congratulated for this putting together this book.

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