Norfolk's last Wherries

Text © Copyright Evelyn Simak, September 2018
Images are under a separate Creative Commons Licence.


TG2309 : The Pleasure Wherry 'Ardea' - vane by Evelyn Simak

Wherries were developed from an earlier vessel known as the Norfolk Keel, a design which could be traced back to the Vikings, and by the early 1800s had become the main trading vessel of the Broads with its system of interconnected lakes, rivers and man-made channels. Built specifically for the inland waterways of Norfolk and Suffolk, trading wherries carried goods of all kinds between the coast, the inland port of Norwich and the numerous village staithes as they were able to sail the narrow and often shallow rivers and also the lakes which form the Broads, but especially the larger ones could also travel a short distance off the coast to load or unload cargo from seagoing ships and, for instance, sail between Yarmouth and Lowestoft by sea rather than take the far longer inland route. Locks and canals were used to extend navigability on the rivers Bure, Ant and Waveney, and some smaller wherries were built to enable them to operate on the Ant, Bure, Thurne and the Waveney, where they had to fit between the two sets of lock gates on the canalised sections.

TG3129 : Ebridge Mill lock by Evelyn Simak TG4118 : Medieval bridge over the River Thurne by Evelyn Simak TG3327 : Navigation lock on the North Walsham & Dilham Canal by Evelyn Simak TG3227 : The North Walsham & Dilham Canal by Evelyn Simak TG3127 : Briggate lock by Evelyn Simak

Most wherries were clinker-built and both bow and stern were pointed. They could transport around 25 tons of cargo, although some had a larger capacity, such as the wherry "Wonder" which was the largest and had a capacity of 80 tons. The wooden hulls of the trading wherries were painted black, and their canvas sails were blackened with coal tar or lamp black, and treated with herring or neatsfoot oil in order to protect them from the weather. The bow was painted white to aid visibility when sailing at night with a light on the stem post. The single, gaff-rigged sail and the forward-placed mast are characteristic of wherries, although the older vessels had a central mast and a square (transom) stern. The mast is pivoted on a bolt about six feet from the butt, which is weighted with iron or lead until almost balancing the length of the mast above, and could easily be lowered before passing under the stone bridges spanning the rivers. Since in the old days the wherries did not have engines, they frequently had to be moved using a long wooden pole called a quant, which is used like a punt to push the vessel through the water. Unlike on the system of canals, horses were never used in the Broads.

Wherries sail very fast and their greatest feature is said to be their ability to hang on a wind, in part due to the flattening capabilities of the sail, but mainly because of the graceful lines of the long hull. Due to their great length, they are, however, slow to turn.

TG3724 : Museum of the Broads - wherry rudder by Evelyn Simak
This rudder comes from the trading wherry "Wonder", built with the largest carrying capacity ever built (80 tons). She was too large to sail the Broads and was primarily used as a lighter for cargo boats in Great Yarmouth. For views and a history of the museum see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3802 : The trading wherry 'Maud'  (detail) by Evelyn Simak
Maud is the second traditional trading wherry (the other is the TG3317 : Wherry Albion) which has recently been restored to her original specifications and perfect sailing order. The wherry was built in 1899 by Halls of Reedham and measures 60' in length and 16'6" in width. She was saved from her wet grave at the bottom of Ranworth Broad in 1981 by Vincent and Linda Pargeter and is presently moored on the River Yare by Hardley Mill. The metal rudder > LinkExternal link used when she was a motorised lighter can be seen at the Museum of the Broads at Stalham.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3724 : Museum of the Broads - wherry paraphernalia by Evelyn Simak
The metal rudder leaning against the wall behind the display is that of the trading wherry 'Maud' > LinkExternal link and was used during the time when she was a motorised lighter; the curved cut-out was where the propeller was situated. For views and a history of the museum see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


The era of the trading wherries came to an end in Victorian times when railways enjoyed significant development and steam-powered coasters operating on the River Yare began to take trade away from the smaller and slower wherries, but despite the fact that they had become more or less obsolete by the late 1800s, wherries continued to be built for some considerable time: around 30 were built after 1890, with "Ella", the last trading wherry having been launched in 1912.

Of the 67 still working trading wherries in 1908, only 16 remained under sail in 1929. Most had by that time been dismasted and equipped with motors, and were put to work as lighters, but eventually most were sunk. During WW2 some were moored on open water to prevent seaplanes from landing. A number of wherries lie in watery graves in Surlingham Broad, Salhouse Broad, Ranworth Broad and Oulton Broad. Traces of 12 wherries, sunk in the mid-20th century, can still be discerned at low tide near the western edge of Rockland Broad in an area known as The Slaughters, where they have since formed small islands. They are the 'Star of Hope', 'Gleamer', 'Unexpected', 'Diligent', 'Chieftain', 'Providence', 'Cambria', 'Madge', 'Tiger', 'Empress', 'Leveret' and 'Myth' and a to date unidentified vessel lies just west of the entrance into Rockland Dyke.

TG3305 : Rockland Broad in February 2016 by Evelyn Simak
At this time of year the water table in the marshes is high and the water of the Broad reaches the footpath which skirts it, held back by a concrete wall.

The Broad covers an area of 50 acres and is completely surrounded by marshland and tall reed beds. Two dykes link it to the River Yare and there is a channel linking to Wheatfen Broad. A footpath - the first kilometre of it is wheelchair-accessible - leads to a viewing point to a bird hide. Some parts of Rockland Broad are badly silted.

Along its western edge, in an area referred to as "The Slaughters", there is a line of small islands extending from near the entrance of The Fleet in the north-east to almost the entrance into Rockland Dyke further to the south-west. Twelve wherries lie buried here, sunk in the mid-20th century. They are "Star of Hope", "Gleamer" > LinkExternal link , "Unexpected", "Diligent", "Chieftain", "Providence", "Cambria", "Madge", "Tiger", "Empress", "Leveret" > LinkExternal link and "Myth", with a 13th unidentified vessel just west of the entrance into Rockland Dyke. While some of the wherries sank, soil and debris gathered in some others, over time forming permanent little islands with trees now growing on them. The islands can be glimpsed in the distance.
by Evelyn Simak


Of the many wherries once plying their trade in the Broads, only two have survived - they are 'Albion' and 'Maud'. The former has a smooth hull (carvel-built) and her upper paintwork is red, white and blue, with her roof being covered by a red tarpaulin. Her mast is blue and topped with a vane featuring a Jenny Morgan (the silhouette of a woman believed to have been a popular Welsh singer favoured by wherrymen) and a white star. 'Maud' has a hull of the more common clinker-built type (with overlapping planks). Her paintwork is green and her covers are grey; her mast is painted dark green, with the vane featuring a golden cog with her name across it.

'Albion' is the older of the two and owned by The Norfolk Wherry Trust based at Ludham.

TG3715 : The wherry Albion on the River Bure by Evelyn Simak
Albion is the oldest surviving Norfolk trading wherry. It was built by William Brighton - at his yard on the north bank of Lake Lothing, between Oulton Broad and Lowestoft - for the firm of Bungay Maltsters, W.D. and A.E. Walker, and launched in October 1898. The wherry is owned by the Norfolk Wherry Trust: LinkExternal link. For a detailed history see: LinkExternal link

Today, Albion takes the Rt Revd Graham James, Abbot of St Benetís and Bishop of Norwich, to the annual service at the site of St Benet's Abbey. The service has taken place every year since 1939, except during the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak.

The Abbey of St Benets is situated on a sand and gravel island called Cow Holm, surrounded by grazing marshes beside the River Bure. In the Middle Ages the site was approached by land along a broad causeway from Horning to the north west and by river along the Bure, and there is no doubt that before the marshes were drained in the eighteenth century it was more often than not a true island. The abbey grounds comprised gardens and fish ponds, the outlines of which are still visible on the ground, between the abbey buildings and the gatehouse. St Benets was the only Anglo-Saxon monastery in the county which continued in use throughout the Middle Ages, and moreover, the site was left undisturbed after the Dissolution because of its inaccessible location.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3317 : Wherry Albion by Evelyn Simak
The oldest surviving Norfolk trading wherry is moored here for one day on the occasion of the Norfolk Wherry Trust open day.

The Wherry Albion was built by William Brighton - at his yard on the north bank of Lake Lothing, between Oulton Broad and Lowestoft - for the firm of Bungay Maltsters, W.D. and A.E. Walker, and launched in October 1898. The wherry is owned by the Norfolk Wherry Trust: LinkExternal link. For a detailed history see: LinkExternal link
by Evelyn Simak


TG3715 : Wherry Albion approaching St Benets Abbey by Evelyn Simak
Albion is the oldest surviving Norfolk trading wherry. It was built by William Brighton - at his yard on the north bank of Lake Lothing, between Oulton Broad and Lowestoft - for the firm of Bungay Maltsters, W.D. and A.E. Walker, and launched in October 1898. The wherry is owned by the Norfolk Wherry Trust: LinkExternal link. For a detailed history see: LinkExternal link
by Evelyn Simak


'Maud' is owned by the Wherry Maud Trust.

TG3802 : The trading wherry 'Maud' on the River Yare by Evelyn Simak
Maud is the second traditional trading wherry (the other is the TG3317 : Wherry Albion) which has recently been restored to her original specifications and perfect sailing order. She has been recorded on the National Register of Historic Vessels since 1996, is a member of the National Historic Fleet and the second largest surviving clinker-built historic vessel on the Broads. The wherry was built in 1899 by Halls of Reedham and measures 60' in length and 16'6" in width. She was saved from her wet grave at the bottom of Ranworth Broad in 1981 by Vincent and Linda Pargeter and is presently moored on the River Yare by Hardley Mill. The metal rudder > LinkExternal link used when she was a motorised lighter can be seen at the Museum of the Broads at Stalham.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3802 : The trading wherry 'Maud' by Evelyn Simak
Maud is the second traditional trading wherry (the other is the TG3317 : Wherry Albion) which has recently been restored to her original specifications and perfect sailing order. The wherry was built in 1899 by Halls of Reedham and measures 60' in length and 16'6" in width. She was saved from her wet grave at the bottom of Ranworth Broad in 1981 by Vincent and Linda Pargeter and is presently moored on the River Yare by Hardley Mill. The metal rudder > LinkExternal link used when she was a motorised lighter can be seen at the Museum of the Broads at Stalham.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3207 : The trading wherry 'Maud' - the cargo hold by Evelyn Simak
For an external view and some information about this wherry see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3207 : The trading wherry 'Maud' - information boards by Evelyn Simak
The information board depicted here provides some information about Maud's best-known skippers. Her first skipper was Alfred Powley from Reedham, who was known by the nickname "Ophir" and in 1910 he was succeeded by his son Walter, and in 1916 by Walter "Nolly" Farrows. In July 1918, the vessel was sold to James Hobrough where she was soon de-rigged and used as a lighter. Her skipper from about 1919 to about 1949 was Nolly Farrow's son George. Horbrough also hired out his wherries during the sugar beet season and it has been documented that JR Adams skippered her in 1935 and Walter Gates in 1936/37. When Maud was motorised she had many skippers but the one most associated with her in her last days was John Fox at May Gurney's.

For an external view and some information about this wherry see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


Although the railways took away the cargo trade, they did bring in more visitors, and soon some of the trading wherries were converted for passenger use, and wherry yards turned their expertise to purpose-built pleasure wherries which could be hired together with a skipper and lad, on a weekly basis. The pleasure wherries retained the hull, mast and sail configuration of the trading wherry - but not always the black-painted hull, and never the black sails. They were fitted out with cabins, a saloon including a small piano, a galley and a toilet.

The most elaborately furnished and decorated pleasure wherry is 'Hathor', built for the Colman family, which is one of only three pleasure wherries to have survived. The surface woodwork is primarily sycamore and features inlaid lotus flowers of teak and dyed sycamore in the saloon. Animals such as scarabs, geese, frogs and other animals and symbols adorn the doors. The marquetry, designed by the Norwich architect Edward Boardman, was inspired by Egyptian artefacts in the British Museum. 'Hathor' is the flagship of the Wherry Yacht Charter Charitable Trust (WYCCT).

TG3619 : The Pleasure Wherry 'Hathor' - mast by Evelyn Simak
For a full view of this vessel and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3619 : The Pleasure Wherry 'Hathor' at How Hill Staithe by Evelyn Simak
The pleasure wherry 'Hathor' (Hathor is the name of an Egyptian goddess who personified the principles of joy, feminine love, and motherhood) was built by Daniel Hall of Reedham for Ethel and Helen Colman, the daughters of Jeremiah James Colman of Carrow Works (mustard), as a memorial to their brother, Alan, who died in 1897 on a trip to Egypt. Claud Hamilton, the author of Hamilton's Guides to the Broads, purchased her from the Colmans and later she was acquired by the Martham Boatbuilding and Development Company where she was used as a houseboat. In 1985, the Wherry Yacht Charter acquired her in a somewhat dilapidated condition and she Hathor transferred to the Wherry Yacht Charter Charitable Trust in 2004.

'Hathor' is unique for the quality of her accommodation, comprising two double fore-cabins > LinkExternal link and two spacious port-side double cabins, as well as the saloon > LinkExternal link which converts to two double berths and, like all the wherry yachts, also features a piano, a toilet, a main galley and a pantry. Unlike the wherry yachts, however, the passenger area above decks is at the bow and has no direct access from the saloon and features two benches with carved hawk's-head ends > LinkExternal link. 'Hathor' is not equipped with a motor and requires more work to sail than the wherry yachts.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3619 : The pleasure wherry 'Hathor' - carved hawk's head bench end by Evelyn Simak
On the deck. For a full view of this vessel and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3619 : The Pleasure Wherry 'Hathor' - double fore cabins by Evelyn Simak
For a full view of this vessel and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3619 : The Pleasure Wherry 'Hathor' - the saloon by Evelyn Simak
Note the unique Arts and Crafts oil lamp with serpents' heads in the saloon. For a full view of this vessel and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3619 : The Pleasure Wherry 'Hathor' - lamp with serpent's heads by Evelyn Simak
Unique Arts and Crafts oil lamp situated in the saloon. For a wider view of the saloon see > LinkExternal link. For a full view of this vessel and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


'Ardea' is the largest pleasure wherry ever built and owned by Andrew Scull, one of the Trustees of the WYCCT, and hired out to generate funds for the charity.

TG2309 : The Pleasure Wherry 'Ardea' by Evelyn Simak
Presently moored on the River Wensum by Jarrold Bridge. Ardea was commissioned by Howard Hollingsworth, the millionaire co-founder of the Oxford Street department store Bourne and Hollingsworth, and built in 1927 at Leo Robinsonís yard in Lowestoft. Howard Dunkerley bought her in the late 1950s and took her to France where she was used as a houseboat in Paris. In 1974 she was acquired by Philippe Rouff, who re-instated her as a charter vessel and as such she travelled the European canal system in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, until she was sold in 2005 and transported back to the Norfolk Broads by lorry. The vessel is unique amongst the surviving wherries in that she was built of teak and has a varnished, rather than painted, hull. Her name is derived from the Latin name for the heron family, and she features a heron silhouette on her vane.
by Evelyn Simak


TG2309 : The Pleasure Wherry 'Ardea' by Evelyn Simak
For a full view and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


The third pleasure wherry still sailing the Broads today is 'Solace'. She was completed in 1903 by DS Hall of Reedham for Lt FS Rogers of Ingham Hall and purchased in 1919 by Ernest Moy. 'Solace' is described as being lavishly fitted with many luxury items and since 1943 has been owned by the Rudd family. During the summer months she can usually be seen moored in Wroxham Broad, but is still in sailing order and in immaculate condition. 'Solace' is part of the National Historic Fleet.

The final evolution of the wherry was the wherry yacht, distinguished from the pleasure wherries by their carvel-built white hulls, white sails and their counter-sterns but soon the more expensive skippered wherries began losing trade to smaller, motor-powered holiday craft usually piloted by the hirers themselves. Some ended their lives as permanently moored houseboats but most were sunk.

Three wherry yachts, all owned by the WYCCT, are still operational.

TG3724 : The Wherry Yacht 'Norada' moored at Stalham Staithe by Evelyn Simak
'Norada' was built in 1909 by Ernest Collins of E Collins & Sons of Wroxham, designed to be small enough in order to pass under the low bridges at Ludham and Potter Heigham. She is named after a famous racing yacht of the era. Her interior consists of a quad cabin and a double cabin > LinkExternal link , a saloon > LinkExternal link which can be converted to two double berths and also contains a piano, a galley > LinkExternal link and a toilet.

After having been retired she was acquired by a Mr Andrew, who renamed her Lady Edith in honour of his wife and in 1964 she was bought by Barney Matthews, who sailed and then began to restore her before founding Wherry Yacht Charter with Peter Bower. Norada reverted to her original name as part of her 75th anniversary celebrations in 1987. In 2004 she was transferred to the Wherry Yacht Charter Charitable Trust.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3724 : The Wherry Yacht 'Norada' by Evelyn Simak
For a full view of this vessel and some information see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3724 : The Wherry Yacht 'Norada' - one of the cabins by Evelyn Simak
For an exterior view of the vessel and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3724 : The Wherry Yacht 'Norada' - double cabin by Evelyn Simak
For an exterior view of the vessel and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3724 : The Wherry Yacht 'Norada' - the saloon by Evelyn Simak
For an exterior view of the vessel and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


TG3724 : The Wherry Yacht 'Norada' - the well by Evelyn Simak
For an exterior view of the vessel and some history see > LinkExternal link.
by Evelyn Simak


The wherry yacht 'Olive' was built in 1909 by Ernest Collins of Wroxham, who named her after his youngest daughter. After several years offering charters, she spent WW2 moored on Wroxham Broad to prevent enemy seaplanes from landing and after the war was used as a houseboat for some time until she was sold in 1964 to Stanley Page of Beccles, who restored her to sailing order. She was then sold again in 1971 and finally, after changing hands yet again in 1973, was purchased by her present owner, Peter Bower, in 1974, and in 2004 was transferred to the WYCCT. 'Olive' is equipped with a single and a bunk cabin as well as two doubles. The saloon also converts to two double berths.

'White Moth', the third wherry yacht owned by the WYCCT, was built by Ernest Collins & Sons of Wroxham in 1915. She was the last wherry yacht ever built and after having been in private ownership she returned to Ernest Collin's fleet in 1921 and remained there until 1956, when she was hired out as a houseboat before being sold into private ownership again in 1962. In 1985 she was hauled out at Great Yarmouth to be broken up but rescued just in time by Colin Facey, who took her to his Horning yard for a restoration. The Norfolk Broads Yachting Company purchased her in 1993 and in 2012 she was bought by one of the trustees of the WYCCT. 'White Moth' is equipped with ten passenger berths, a saloon with a full-size dining table and a yacht piano, a galley and two separate toilet and shower compartments.

During the summer months Norfolk's remaining wherries can regularly be seen sailing on Wroxham, Ranworth, Salhouse and other broads as well as on rivers or stationary and open for viewing at a number of locations such as How Hill, Hardley Mill, Potter Heigham, and at Oulton Broad to name only a few, during the summer months where they always attract large numbers of visitors. The Norfolk Broads today are however primarily a centre for pleasure boating, and due to its unique geography and great natural beauty, the area attracts a vast number of tourists. Although the larger rivers still allow small coasters to travel some 30 miles inland to Norwich, most other navigable waterways now remain the preserve of smaller craft.


TG3815 : Red sails on the River Bure by St Benet's Abbey by Evelyn Simak TG4602 : Sailing down the River Waveney by Evelyn Simak TG4013 : A good sailing wind by Evelyn Simak TG4013 : Sailing boat on the River Bure by Evelyn Simak TG4319 : Sailing on the River Thurne by Evelyn Simak TG4319 : Sailing boat on Candle Dyke by Evelyn Simak TG3405 : Glimpse of a sailing boat by Evelyn Simak


For further information visit

The Norfolk Wherry Trust --> LinkExternal link

The Wherry Maud Trust --> LinkExternal link

The Wherry Yacht Charter Trust --> LinkExternal link



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