26 Aug. 2012: Centenary commemoration of navigation’s ending

Mary Hardy writes 1774–79 of the building and opening of the Aylsham navigation, a nine-mile waterway which brought prosperity to that market town and to villages upriver of her home village of Coltishall. However it hit Coltishall hard, for this previously thriving village lost its pre-eminence as the most upstream inland port.

The Aylsham navigation in 2011

A peaceful scene on the old Aylsham navigation, looking upstream to Oxnead Bridge and Brampton. The Great Flood of 1912 swept away bridges and broke the locks

A shock for a village’s 18th-century economy

The surveyor reporting to King’s College, Cambridge, the lords of the manor, saw the danger for the downstream village. Writing in 1805, he observed of Coltishall Manor House:

“This was originally the head of the navigation. The new cut to Aylsham must have been injurious to this property.”  John Josselyn jnr of Belstead, Suff., 1805

The far-reaching economic consequences for Coltishall and Horstead will be analysed in the last volume of the commentary Mary Hardy and her World. They suffered, as did other towns and villages across the country in a similar position.

Recreating the river traffic of the past

There were no hard feelings on display on Coltishall’s riverside common on Sunday 26 August 2012. It was filled with residents and visitors, many from far afield, commemorating the exact centenary of the ending of the Aylsham navigation. This had been brought about by a violent natural event.

The wherry Albion's cargo, August 2012

Stacked on the wherry hatches are Crisp’s malt and Green Jack Brewery beer, recreating the old economy of the waterways

On 26 August 1912 excessive rainfall had caused a great flood to come pouring down the River Bure. The powerful surge of water smashed the locks and broke the banks of the navigation. The locks were never repaired, and Coltishall regained its old position as head of the navigable Bure.

The centenary was marked by a superb commemorative event. The wherry Albion, preserved by the Norfolk Wherry Trust since 1949 and crewed by volunteers, brought a token cargo of malt and beer upriver. The former trader moored at the common where interested spectators swarmed over her.

Meanwhile the Buxton and Lamas Sea Scouts in canoes set off early in the morning from Aylsham to paddle down the old course of the navigation, bringing a cargo of local produce—barley and potatoes—which they ceremonially loaded onto the wherry.

A new book was featured that afternoon, researched and produced by the Aylsham Local History Society. It tells the story of the Aylsham navigation (also known as the Bure navigation). Sail and Storm, edited by Sarah Spooner of the University of East Anglia, is on sale from 16 September 2012. For details, see the publications page of the society.

A new organisation, the Bure Navigation Conservation Trust (BNCT)

During the festivities great interest was shown in the mission of a new charity, the BNCT. It is dedicated to the preservation and conservation of the history, flora and fauna of the old waterway. As part of that work it will seek to keep the paths open for public access along the banks, as seen at the banner upstream of Buxton and opposite Lamas Church.

You can read more about what Mary Hardy has to say on the coming of the navigation in the opening volume of her diary.


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Margaret Bird

Margaret Bird in 2016

The editor and author of the Mary Hardy volumes

You can read about the historian Margaret Bird on the link above

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