Wednesday 12 September 2012

My Other Passion

When I am not chasing wherries or canoeing down abandoned canals I spend a lot of my time filming steam locomotives.   One of my favourite locations for this is the platform at Weybourne station which has a timeless quality about it.  When I am on Weybourne Station I wonder just how many people have walked  these same platforms before me, and what prompted their journey.  It is not difficult to imagine elegant Victorian ladies with parasols, groups of pallid factory workers from the midlands, tearful farewells between soldiers and their sweethearts and children arriving from London with labels pinned to their coats and gas masks hung  around their necks.

A few days ago while waiting for "Tornado" to make another pass through Weybourne my imagination began to follow this familiar path.  It was this most recent visit that once again aroused my curiosity and led me to research some facts relating to the station at Weybourne. In doing so I hoped to gain a clearer picture of those who had walked these old platforms over the years.

( To see a clip of Tornado at attached link)

The station is a mile from the village of Weybourne which has always seemed a bit odd to me until I discovered the station was built in 1901 to serve the "Weybourne Springs Hotel" and not the local community.

Weybourne Station

This up-market hotel was financed by a Mr Crundle who owned nearby gravel pits. 
Mr Crundle's business venture was seen by the M&GN as offering an opportunity to increase revenue on the line, so  they went ahead and employed local craftsmen to build the station.

It was partly due to the "Springs" that a varied assortment of people arrived and departed via Weybourne during the early years of the twentieth century .

In 1910 the "Springs" hotel was the chosen venue for a Theosophical summer school.  An international group of like-minded souls searching for divine wisdom in an attempt to unravel the mysteries of the universe.   It sounds like a barrel of laughs to me.
The summer school ran from July 4th to the 18th,  guests were charged 35s per week for those sharing rooms with an extra premium of 5s per week for those who were fortunate enough occupy a room on their own.   Up to four people occupied some of the rooms, however there is no record to state if the occupants were of mixed gender or not.    The overflow of attendees were accommodated in tents pitched in the grounds of the hotel or in lodgings at Holt and Sheringham.   Some of the folks who attended the summer school travelled from Europe - one can only imagine the curiosity they must have aroused as they arrived at the station.  All this activity must have provoked a great deal of interest among the locals who themselves had,  in all probability, never set foot outside Norfolk.

A few years later, during the first world war, two companies the 2/25th County of London cyclist brigade were stationed in Weybourne at the "Springs" hotel. 
The deep water off  Weybourne and gently sloping beaches was recognised by the military as being an ideal location for a German landing.
Deep Water and Gently Sloping Beaches
 To counter this threat  look-out stations, manned by the Cyclist brigade, extended from Sheringham to Hun­stanton with two companies billeted in the "Springs" hotel.   With the hotel still relatively new the sound of army boots tramping through the corridors must have been perplexing for the owners even if there was a war on.   There were other army training camps around Weybourne and High Kelling which  increased military traffic and personnel through Weybourne station.

On Whit Monday 1915 - the "Springs" hotel was used to hold the cycle battalion's sports day.  Soldiers from as far away as Hunstanton, Brancaster, Wells and Snettisham were transported in, and assembled under canvas  in the fields around the station.
Weybourne Station

After a relatively short and unhappy life the "Weybourne Springs Hotel" was demolished in 1940.  Subsidence due to the light sandy soil was offered as one reason for its demise, another claimed it was an outstanding landmark for the Luftwaffe.  Whatever the true reason  the "Springs" was reduced to rubble at the beginning of the second world war.

Just as in the "Great" war, the coast around Weybourne was defended against enemy invasion. As early as 1935 an anti aircraft training camp had been set up.   Throughout the 1939-45 war Weybourne camp was responsible for generating a great deal of rail traffic.   Troop and munition trains arriving at Weybourne station created enough work to require six full time station staff.    Trains brought  ENSA concert parties to the camp, while soldiers and ATC girls used the trains to travel to and from Sheringham to visit the shops or spend an evening at the pictures.  The platforms at Weybourne provided the stage for hundreds of  forgotten little dramas played out against the backdrop of wartime Britain.
Wartime Britain - re-nactment.

Being stationed at Weybourne camp would have been considered a good war time posting but it had its down-side.  In the severe winter of 1941 it was so cold that the sea off  Weybourne froze.  In the Weybourne camp only one flush toilet for the entire camp remained in use, all the others were frozen solid.
The Royal Norfolk's were stationed there at the time, twelve months later they were sent from Weybourne to the Far East and soon after were captured at the fall of Singapore.  Many of them never came home.

A Mr and Mrs Dodds lived in the mill at Weybourne during the war.    Some nights flashing lights were seen from the top of the mill.  Later Mrs Dodds left her bicycle outside a tennis court, the bicycle fell over and a radio transmitter fell out of a leather shopping bag.   A few days later Mr and Mrs Dodds were taken away.
Weybourne Mill

After the war, before the advent of the family car, Weybourne station saw increasing amounts of holiday traffic as people from the midlands flocked to the Norfolk coast for their annual holidays.  In 1959 the "Beeching" axe fell on the former M&GN line and with it Weybourne station.  Fortunately the M&GN Joint Railway Society was able to preserve five miles of the old line between Sheringham and Holt.  Sitting proudly in between is the station at Weybourne.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

A Busy Ol' Summer

"Combines" drone across the East Anglian prairies as the long summer days diminish by degrees.  At sunrise Broadland is shrouded in morning mist and at sunset a chill pervades the evening air.   All these signs tell me   summer is rapidly coming to its end. 
 For me this time of year is always tempered with the slightest tinge of melancholy as the Swallows leave our shores and summer slowly fades away.    Very soon the rolling acres of golden stubble will be turned to brown by the plough and the entire county will melt from green and gold into an array of reds and browns.

Golden Stubble.

Looking back, summer has not been so bad in spite of the weather and quite productive even though good shooting days were few and far between.

By the beginning of  May we had finished a two part DVD set for the Aylsham Navigation centenary.  "A Wherry For Aylsham" and "The Aylsham Navigation".   The DVDs are currently on sale and raising urgently needed  funds for the fledgeling BNCT.  

On the North Walsham and Dilham canal work has been progressing at an astonishing pace.   The lock at Spa Common has been completely renovated and the lock gates have been built from scratch.  Both these items have been fascinating to watch and have produced some priceless archive footage.
Completed Lock at Spa Common
 At Ebridge the canal has been returned to its former glory and is teeming with wildlife.   I have never seen so many froglets at one time in my entire life.  The little critters were crawling over each other in their hundreds in the sheltered waters of the mill pool. This abundance of frogs will create a vital link in the food chain  - not the best news for frogs but it will please the Herons .   A Yellow Wagtail made himself at home on the dredger and a Kingfisher showed a great deal of interest as he sped up and down the renovated waterway, in a flash of iridescent blue.   It was at Ebridge that a (four spotted chaser) dragonfly kept me engrossed for almost two hours as it repeatedly skimmed the water and landed a few feet from the camera lens.  More great shots for the archive.

Further downstream  Briggate Mill and Honing lock are looking spruce and well cared for.   In fact the entire length of canal between Honing lock and Royston bridge has seen unbelievable progress which has been diligently recorded and safely stored.

A few miles away at WYCCT yard the wherry yacht "Olive" is undergoing some major surgery on the slipway.  My weekly visits have produced some interesting archive material.   Sister ship "Norada" was re-launched earlier this summer in time for her centenary year. Although the weather did it's best to spoil the day there was a gathering of wherries on Salhouse broad to welcome her back.
"Norada" On The Slipway

One of the highlights of the summer was the shoot on Wroxham broad,  I was invited as a guest of the Norfolk Wherry Trust.  The event was a celebration of the last Norfolk wherry to be built.  The wherry in question was the "Ella" now long gone - but not forgotten  -  sunk in Decoy broad some years ago when she reached the end of her useful life. Her skipper on that last journey, (Mr John Bircham) was among the guests. Five of the eight surviving wherries sailed into Wroxham broad in honour of "Ella"   Making a fantastic sight as they sailed in a loose formation around the broad.  It was a great filming opportunity which allowed me to capture some of my best wherry footage to date.
"Albion" Shooting Wroxham Bridge (Photo courtesey Chris Holloway)

Another highlight this summer was filming "Albion" passing under Wroxham bridge on her way to and from Coltishall where she was one of the star attractions of the BNCT centenary event.   In order to shoot the bridge it was necessary to flood the bilges to gain those precious inches of air draught that would allow her through.

 I am looking forward to Autumn and the softer light that comes with it and those sumptuous Autumn colours. 

If you would like to view clips of  the projects mentioned above click on the link below.