It causes me much sadness to report on the destruction of the sole surviving Norfolk type keel. Perhaps it is something in human nature, that at times, neglect and destruction are the norm. This could be said of the ghostly remains of this legendary keel, believed to be called DEE DAR. Her remains were thought to be safely stored in a special, protective steel cradle at Whitlingham, near Norwich.
Built of oak in the late 1700's, Dee Dar was fifty five feet long and rigged simply with a square sail. She is believed to have transported timber, plying the rivers up to the inland Port of Norwich for much of the nineteenth century. Her last skipper was 'Tiger' Smith, who carried timber to Hospital Meadow in the centre of Norwich. Later on, she was partly dismantled and set to work as a mud dredging barge for Hobroughs. Around 1910, after a long, hard life, the keel was sunk to protect the river bank at Whitlingham (a few metres below the A47 Postwick road bridge.)
The keels' place in history is significant. It was a type of small merchant ship with local variations across Europe. Keels carried cargoes of grain and coals, as well as passengers. It's design is thought to originate from the long ships of Scandinavia. Their shallow draught hull drew little water. On board, the keelmen and sometimes their family, lived for long periods in a cuddy at the forward end of the boat (as opposed to the after cuddy of the wherry.) By the time Dee Dar was launched however, the slower keels were being superseded by the faster and more technically advanced gaff rigged wherries and steam powered craft.
In 1912, the keel was raised and drawn, she was then left to rest. The valuable wreck was relocated in 1984. With a flurry of generous support from local people and organisations, the Norfolk Keel Trust, led by marine archaeologists, began the operation of cleaning the remains. Dee Dar surfaced with the aid of a custom made steel cradle and floatation barrels. In September 1984, she was moved up river to Corporation Wharf in Norwich (now part of the Riverside Development) and craned out of the water. The keel was then officially scheduled as a monument. Following several moves and complications within the trust, plans for conservation and a possible rebuild or display fell through. Fortunately, Dee Dar was recorded for posterity and models have been made of her.
Model of DEE DAR made by Nigel Royall Esq. Nigel is the direct descendant of keel and wherrymen.
Although decayed and incomplete, the surviving remains were thought to be laid out safely and stored at Whitlingham Hall Barns, near Norwich. They were believed to be in the care of the now barely active Keel Trust and the landowner. However, there have been long running disputes over ownership and payment for storage of the hulk. Several unsuccessful attempts had been made by the Museum of the Broads at Stalham to secure at least a token piece of the iconic keel to display, like the shapely transom (stern board.) This would have been apt, as the keel is the emblem of the museum.
This year Whitlingham Barns is undergoing a major redevelopment. Tragically, in September without warning the irreplaceable remains of the keel were piled into a heap and set fire to. I was privileged to see the remains and photograph them a few days before it was destroyed. It was short~sighted of some, who deliberately burnt the keel, not to have recognised the historic value of her. So ends this chapter of one of the most romantic of Broadland's classic craft. Although sadly, Dee Dar no longer exists, positive moves are being made to launch a new keel project.
For further details about the Keels of Norfolk, please see the page on facebook.
Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday.