MERRY CHRISTMAS & A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OUR READERS
I’ve just finished doing some christmasy things which included paying a visit to England’s only malt whiskey distillery which, believe it or not, is in Norfolk and although a little pricey the product stands up well to scrutiny. We have another bout of wintry weather to take our minds off the routine and very seasonal it is too. I confess that when younger I longed for snow – I simply loved it but now the pins aren’t quite so sturdy and the blood a little thinner I would rather be without it I can’t deny however that it is picturesque but in keeping with my age I forgot to take the camera with me today but there’s always tomorrow!
This morning something happened that I can honestly say I have not seen since my childhood some 50 ish years ago and that is that ice formed on the inside of our windows; a really deep frost the culprit. Also this morning the milk, still delivered to us in bottles, had frozen. Hats off to our milkman as come snow, ice, hail, flood or even extreme heat he always seems to be here in the small hours. As usual my thoughts turn to the wherrymen and others who made a living from the navigation in its heyday; I wonder what they would have made of the season and the weather. Presumably they would have made sure that they were at “home” base for Christmas. I can’t believe that they would have ignored the principal winter holiday. Equally I doubt if they had many days off depending on the availability of cargo. In a year such as this there would have been a demand for coal but in a milder winter with no agricultural cargoes things might have been tighter for those involved
I suspect that all the people working on the navigation either on the bank or the boats would all have known each other well even though the wherries were in competition one with the other. At this time of year there would have been greetings exchanged and ales enjoyed to celebrate another year done. The river may, of course, have iced up sometimes bringing everything to a stop but my guess is that this didn’t happen often; it certainly doesn’t now. When all around is frozen the river continues to flow well although I know from experiences many years ago that working locks in these conditions is no joke. Not only is it perishing cold, hard work it can also be very dangerous.
Talking of ice I know that many of the narrow canals where water was stiller had problems with freezing. Some overcame it by employing ice breaking boats which were an interesting affair involving a gang of men equally divided either side of the vessel which they then rocked, quite violently I suspect, to break the ice around it. This was repeated as it was moved forward eventually clearing a channel. I know of no such vessel employed on the Bure but when the historical research is done payments may be found for ice clearance, who knows?
The above photograph courtesy of www.blisworth.org.uk illustrates an ice breaking boat of the type that I was talking about above.
Below is a photograph showing an active scene at Horstead / Coltishall Lock probably around the turn of the 19th / 20th centuries. I don’t know the time of year although I suspect it is summer or early autumn but I include it here as one of the few examples I have seen of the navigation in use for its intended purpose.
Whilst not exactly being a scene of bustling activity I do believe that this picture does well reflect what life on the navigation must have been like. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the whole thing was about getting goods from A to B and the boats and people that did that. Merry Christmas.