Victorian guidebook to the Broads warned that Norfolk people believe in goblins

Berney arms mill surrounded by marshes and wetland. Picture: James Bass

Berney arms mill surrounded by marshes and wetland. Picture: James Bass - Credit: James Bass © 2014

The placid waters and picturesque villages it describes remain instantly recognisable today. But, from naked swimming, to warnings about Norfolk cheese and 'ignorant' locals, there is much else in a newly-republished Victorian guidebook to the Broads that is somewhat less familiar.

Land of the Broads by Ernest Suffling

Land of the Broads by Ernest Suffling - Credit: Archant

The beautiful landscape of the Broads have changed relatively little in more than a century.

But some aspects of holidaying on the Norfolk Broads in the Victorian era would raise eyebrows today - not least the naked swimming before 8am.

The fascinating insight into life on the county's waterways is offered in Land of the Broads - a guidebook written by Ernest Suffling and updated through seven editions, most recently in 1895.

Land of the Broads by Ernest Suffling. Pictured: A typical Fenman.

Land of the Broads by Ernest Suffling. Pictured: A typical Fenman. - Credit: Supplied


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It has been re-published this year by Norwich husband and wife team Edward Green and Christine Stockwell to bring it to a fresh audience.

The book includes a map from the period, with some crucial differences to the charts used by holidaymakers now.

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Towns like Bungay and Aylsham, now beyond the point of navigation, were, then, very much linked up to the rest of the navigable waterways.

Some names have changed too. Woodbastwick Broad, for instance, is now known as Decoy Broad.

And other features have evolved. There is a mention of small islands on Black Horse Broad, which no longer exist.

But the biggest changes are in the people. The guide contains a dialect section, to help visiting Londoners understand the locals, and a warning to approach the local cheese with caution - 'remember that Norfolk is noted for bad cheese, so beware!'

There is also advice on the best time of day to knock on a farmhouse door, to buy milk.

Mr Green said: 'It would have been a wealthy person's holiday. The way people take holidays has changed. The Norfolk Broads was like a foreign country.

'The natives spoke a different language, ate different food and lived in a different way.'

One tradition was that women would stay in bed on the boats until 8am, so men could enjoy a naked morning swim in the Broads.

In the book, Suffling notes that Norfolk people still held many superstitions - 'goblins and fairies are, of course, firmly believed in.'

But Mr Green added: 'He warns you what to expect from the natives and says they're a lot cleverer than you think - don't take them for fools.'

Changes in the landscape included the change in focus from a working waterway, to one geared towards tourism.

There were more pubs - many of which remain - and fewer trees alongside the rivers, as they would provide sailing vessels with unwanted shelter from the wind.

'If they had a slack day with little wind, the wherrymen would often send the lad ashore with a saw and he would just cut down all the trees,' said Mr Green.

He added: 'Quite a lot has changed but Suffling would still recognise it.'

Mrs Stockwell said: 'It was a fantastically popular book. We thought it was just something people would love to see as it's still the same place.'

Suffling died in 1911.

Suffling warns Victorian gentlemen preparing to visit Norfolk that 'the natives are exceedingly superstitious, even in these days of enlightenment; but doubtless much of this is due to ignorance.'

Here are a few:

If a crow croaks over a house, someone will die there within 12 months

Nobody ever thinks of buying or selling, or commencing any new undertaking, on a Friday

When going to market, to see corn or oxen, if you meet a cross-eyed man or woman you had better return, as your dealing will not prosper

If a red bee flies in at an open window, a male visitor will pay a visit; if a white one, a lady will call

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