Monday, 31 January 2011

Loddon: Still no go at The Swan


WALK past on any evening and the backlit logo on the Guinness tap still sparkles back at you. But the doors of The Swan at Loddon remain shut and the prospect of a pint of anything seems more remote than ever.  You’ll recall that this pub closed its doors in a hurry back in September and has lain empty ever since. Enterprise Inns made no promises then and when I contacted them again this week they said they were still considering their options. Yes but what does that mean? Well the reply landed in my inbox today saying that “selling the pub is one of the options we are considering (any future use of the pub would rest with the purchaser)”.

My money’s on this former coaching inn being turned into flats within 12 months. And the weird thing is that despite living in Loddon, I’ve not heard a single person express any regret over its passing. Perhaps this is what happens when buildings and institutions outlive their usefulness; they quietly wither and die unmourned. The question now is what would happen to the bowling green at the rear. Bowls has been played at the  Swan in Loddon for more than a hundred years – perhaps a lot longer. My understanding is that the club don’t own the freehold, they’re just quietly playing on and hoping for the best.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Norwich: A Mardle on the Wensum


MENTION “Jonathan Mardle” to any card-carrying EDP reader over a certain age and they are bound to nod knowingly. “Jonathan Mardle” (pictured left) was the pseudonym of leader writer Eric Fowler. His weekly essays appeared in the paper from 1946 right through to his death in 1981. To my mind he was a great writer. Certainly his love for the county of Norfolk shines through every sentence. I picked up “The Best of Jonathan Mardle” from a second hand book shop in Cromer last summer and his stuff just hasn’t dated. Or at least if it has dated, it still makes sense. June 1956 sees him wishing that “Norwich from the River” would look more attractive. Compared to his description, I think you’ll agree we’ve made great strides in half a century. It is, he says:

“sadly apparent that the river, as it passes through the heart of the city becomes a very dirty stream, and moreover that great lengths of its banks are still used like a slum or a lumber yard. ..The impression of neglect is deepened if you go through Norwich by boat from Carrow to the New Mills. Few of the present generation of citizens have ever done this: and indeed I myself did it for the first time only about a month ago, through the kindness of a friend who had his motor boat at Whitlingham. The little port of Norwich with its slab-sided coasters discharging coal and grain and loaded scrap iron is fun, as any place frequented by ships must be. But once you are past Carrow Works, the flour mill and the brewery, the bank on your left as you go upstream is a horrid mixture of empty slums and dumps of waste paper and scrap iron. It is a poor sort of salute to the visiting yachtsmen whom we invited to explore the beauty of Norwich.”

“…Up to Bishop Bridge it is pleasant enough if you can ignore the oily scum on the water, Beyond that fine old bridge too, the city looks gracious, with a tree clad bank on the right …and to the left the old brick tower standing in the meadow of the Great Hospital. Then factories to the right, the Hospital gardens to left; but next – angels and ministers of grace defend us! – the gasworks. The old yarn factory (now Jarrold’s printing works) on the opposite bank, is mellow and graceful in comparison – some Georgian sense of style and proportion still pervaded the local factory architecture in 1839, Whitefriars Bridge, of the present century is distinctly inferior…”

“Above the Duke Street bridge the water was so low that we ran aground; then chugged along at half speed, with rubbish chocking the propeller, until we reached the narrows between the high brick walls of Bullard’s Brewery – more of those old industrial buildings which have a certain antique charm about them.

“So I cannot commend the voyage, except, as unusual. But I can visualise what it might be if in the rebuilding of the derelict area between King Street and the river we built some pleasant houses with lawns and gardens; if the gas works with their ugliness, dirt and effluent, were removed …and other houses with gardens put in their place; if more industrialists would think of the riverside as a frontage, and not as a backyard with a drain running through it; if all of us thought of the river as something that ought to be a joy to see.”


Well I did “Carrow to the New Mills” by kayak last summer and while we haven’t got everything right, I think I’d give today’s Wensum a good nine out of ten. Hats off to the vision of that visionary Mr Mardle.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

King Street Norwich: Plans for the Ferry Boat site

backpackers cropped 2

A PICTURE tells a thousand words for the Ferry Boat site in Norwich. Under these plans just released by Norwich Backpackers the original pub (on the left) is dwarfed by the  new building destined for the old car park. Just for reference we’re looking at things from King Street and it’s the Novi Sad pedestrian bridge on the extreme right. Until I saw these drawings I hadn’t realised how small a part of the total plan the old pub building really is. Downstairs the pub will be a real ale shop and bar, upstairs will be a flat. The new building is the hostel proper and will be timber-framed from the first floor upwards. Various environmentally-sound options like straw bale and hempcrete are being considered for many of the walls here ..or more correctly for the infilling.

Old Ferry Boat regulars will remember that the pub used to extend out towards the river at the back – my memory is that you could drink on several different levels, getting lower as you got closer to the river. All that’s going to be replaced by what will “essentially be a timber frame barn, incorporating the lovely chalk and flint wall to the South East of the back bar and the stone floor of the existing boat house. “ Storage facilities for canoes remind us that these guys are keen that people discover Norwich by water.

* More details on Norwich Backpackers own website. Thanks for the jpeg fellas.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Langley: The Wherry sails on into a new life

Wherry  (7)

I POPPED in to the Wherry Inn at Langley for a swift one this morning, but as this picture shows the old boozer isn’t quite what it used to be. In fact the Wherry hasn’t been a pub for almost eight years and I only made it inside at all thanks to owner Gary Hayes agreeing to unlock the padlocks on the temporary doors and switch on the equally temporary lighting just for my benefit. Gary runs Willow Builders – the company which will soon begin the job of converting this building into a house. And because I never made it into the Wherry when it was “alive” (see previous post) I was keen to see its interior before it starts a new life.

The last decade has not been kind to the Wherry. A succession of quick-fire landlords followed by closure, followed by squatters, followed by a rejected planning application for a restaurant, followed by endless rumours. I know that the closure itself proved controversial – with Gary copping some stick in the process. But even a dyed-in-the-wool pub romantic like me  can see that these days there just isn’t enough trade in a location like this.

Wherry  (5)

Inside there’s little left to mourn. No bar, no furniture, no soul. Gary (pictured right) says that just about everything made of wood was put on the wood burning stove by the squatters …who then left with the stove. Now Gary’s team will gut what remains, do a little light demolition here and build an extension there. And by September a five-bedroomed house with all mod-cons will emerge. So will it still be called The Wherry? No says Gary, but he is keen to reflect the history by perhaps naming the house after a wherry. Now were there any with strong local connections, or should it nod to one of the wherries which survive to this day? Suggestions please….. In the meantime one of the pub signs has found a very good new home, in my garage. Thanks again Mr H.


Wherry  (1)

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The long and winding Wensum

Ringland 5

THEY reckon that the River Wensum takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon word for winding. But the truth is that it winds less than it used to. The reason: centuries of interference from man. But now three different bodies have come together to make this beautiful Norfolk river a bit more curvaceous again. The idea is that if modern man undoes what medieval man had to do, we’ll get more of the wildlife and fish we associate with something  quiet rare – a chalk river. Here’s how they put it on the Environment Agency website (and thanks EA for letting me use the photo of your guys in action at Ringland).

“In essence the river is too wide, too deep, and too straightened, as well as being heavily impounded by mill structures.  It is also disconnected from its floodplain by spoil banks resulting from historical dredging for land drainage and industrial (milling) activities. For the first time we have looked at a whole river scale to see what action needs to be taken to restore each section of the channel.  The main recommendations of the strategy include a reduction in impoundment, reducing the width of the channel, restoring connectivity with the floodplain, and restoring the gravel bed of the river.”

That “whole river” bit is quite important. It shows the ambition of the River Wensum Restoration Strategy. Surviving mills and sluices are also under the spotlight for how much they interfere with a river’s normal flow. We forget how much man had to meddle in the past. The Strategy guys (EA plus Natural England and the Water Management Alliance) are very keen to tell more people what they’re doing. More details can be found here.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Book review: The Butterfly Isles by Patrick Barkham


I’M GOING to commit heresy now by recommending a book which disses the Norfolk Broads. What’s worse the offender – Patrick Barkham – is a Norfolk boy. But he’s written a beautiful book on British butterflies which represents much of what is good about  “new nature writing”. (I’m going to struggle for a precise definition of NNW, but basically it’s people who write lyrically about their knowledge of nature through some sort of personal journey or quest. Try Crow Country by Mark Cocker or Nature Cure by Richard Mabey and then tell me what you make of others like Robert Macfarlane and Roger Deakin.)

Barkham’s quest is to see all 59 species of British butterfly in one British summer. He does it in style of course and offers much thanks to his naturalist father who laid the foundations during childhood summer holidays spent “on the corner of the coast where north Norfolk turns into The Wash.” The Butterfly Isles sees Barkham take his dad’s teaching and run with it. He speaks to all the right people and manages to unearth fascinating stories from learned lepidopterists along the way. So of course every Broads fan is just waiting for the Swallowtail moment. And this Broads fan found the search on the boardwalks of Hickling Broad ever so slightly disappointing. For a start Barkham admits that

“it may be sacrilegious for someone born and bred in Norfolk to say so but I have never really loved the Broads. I adore the flat marshes of north Norfolk but at Hickling it seemed as if we were below sea level. It felt oppressive.”

The swallowtail is spotted, admired and has its photo taken

“but something about the experience of watching Swallowtails on the Broads failed to move me. I think it always had. Was it the order of the nature reserve, with its boardwalks and regular trudge of stunned visitors where leaving the path and plunging into the reeds – the delicious bit, the embrace of nature – was forbidden? Are Swallowtails showy but shallow. Or inbred and unfriendly?”

Harsh huh? But look, don’t let it put you off the book as whole. The Butterfly Isles published by Granta is a cracking read.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

The Ferry Boat nears its destination

Norwich Backpackers

2011 looks like being the year when The Ferry Boat finally becomes a living breathing building again  with new plans to convert it into a backpackers’ hostel being submitted to the local council. The owners, you’ll recall, already run a similar hostel on the North Norfolk coast. As well as the core business of getting bums on beds (so to speak) they also plan a cafe and a real ale shop – the latter harking back to this building’s long history as a pub. And they’re organised. There’s a website and a twitter campaign to get people to sing its praises before Norwich’s planning committee meets. And, at the risk of this post becoming all hyperlink and no content, there’s much more on why this building is so important to Norwich’s history here.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Happy New Year–but roll on summer

ON  A GREY winter’s day enjoy this superb photo from back in June at Wheatfen Broad in Surlingham. Taken by Elizabeth Cannon, it’s one of a number contained on a new flickr group for the remote Broad made famous by Ted Ellis. The group is called Wheatfen – Ted Ellis Trust reserve. Expect more details of the Trust’s 2011 programme on The Wherryman’s Web very soon.