In September some of the crew visited Sheringham and Yarmouth, popular, vibrant seaside towns, which have retained a great deal character in various ways. In Sheringham, the pungent smell of coal smoke, from the funnels locomotives of the North Norfolk Railway lingered over the streets, blending with the salty air. In the popular High Street, leading down to the pebbly beach, an pedlar man was selling hand made wooden cloth line pegs.
The main objective of our visit was to view a marvelous touring exhibition of woolen seaman's Guernsey sweaters at the Mo Museum, located virtually on the beach. The display was composed of some 76 ganseys, suspended atmospherically above the small fishing boats and lifeboats held by the museum. The Shoal of Ganseys exhibition were brought together by the Moray Partnership ~ an enterprise group to promote the north eastern coastal communities of north east Scotland.
Each of the individual Guernsey or gansey sweaters for short (named after the island where many were first made in the 17th century) had their own story. Examples included Cornish, Humber, Irish, Dutch and North Norfolk ganseys. There is even a particular type of Leeds and Liverpool Canal gansey ~ a long, inland waterway, where Chris grew up. Most of the information behind the making of them had been lost, like many aspects of maritime and rural culture. Several had miraculously survived through the centuries and more importantly examples of ganseys are still hand knitted by local people and the skills passed on orally, down the generations. Ganseys are still popular items of clothing to wear on the Broadland rivers, especially in winter.
The method of making them is usually quite complex as four knitting needles are used to make the special patterns. A five ply navy blue coloured wool is usually used ~ this is particularly oily and hard wearing. Intricate patterns can be achieved ~ some were created specifically for a family, so when disaster struck, the bodies could be identified by their gansey. Amongst the seaside paraphernalia on permanent display is an usual exhibit, a hand made fold~away beach hut made of canvas and wood. At the railway station, we saw one of the exceptionally maintained teak paneled coaches, a London and North Eastern example from the first part of the 20th century. Several people comment on how Heather resembles an early railway carriage.
At Yarmouth's annual two day Maritime Festival, staged by committed hardworking volunteers, we browsed the many attractions, including side shows, one with a local lady sharing the secrets of making a local Norfolk gansey. There were diverse food stalls, selling Herring fish roll mops, a pickled healthy, local delicacy, albeit of an acquired taste. Another highlight was meeting Des Pawson, a leading expert on ropework, who demonstrated how mats were made from rope. Sea shanties were performed by folk groups and a number of sail and motorised craft were berthed along the quayside. A smart Humber Barge DAYBREAK had its hold converted into a comfortable living space. The sheer drop of the concrete quay, where the festival is staged is one of the reasons that so few river boats venture to the festival.
The former Great Yarmouth Port & Haven Commissioners and Custom House buildings looked forlorn. Recently, the present industrial Port Authority moved to new offices at the outer harbour. The split of administration in 1989 divided the commercial port of sea traffic from the curiously conserved rivers of pleasure craft, this in many ways segregating Broadland from the sea and the outside world ~ such is life.
Andrew and Chris rounded off by touring the old town hall ~ a solid example of mid Victorian design. It was a surprise to see the splendidly restored decorated barrel vaulted concert hall, located on the first floor. There are excellent views over the busy wharves. We took afternoon tea and were told that few local people realised this wonderful lofty venue existed. The rather immaculately kept town hall sadly, did not reflect the image of littered streets, leading from the riverside, across town to the expansive sandy beaches. Even so, there are many interesting buildings and features of character still dotted around. Amusingly, through the large plate glass windows of an old showroom or studio, we saw a live aviary with hybrid pigeons fluttering around inside the building.