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History of the Boatyard

History of the Boatyard
2007-08-17

Chris "Dido" Royall (Alan's Grandfather) who had followed in the family tradition going back hundreds of years and became the skipper of a the trading wherry Rambler for Crowe of Horning at the very young age of eighteen. He had been apprenticed as mate to his Uncle Billy on William England's famous "Leveret". By the mid 1920's the trade for wherries was sadly in decline and Chris was working for Colman's of Norwich but they decided to do away with their wherries going in for tugs and lighters instead. He was offered a position in the Colman's fire brigade on proviso that he learned to write and he was taught by his wife and this is why he had such nice handwriting. He operated the steam fire pump now seen in the Bridewell Museum in Norwich. It seemed then that the Royall family's commercial interest in Broadland going back all those years had come to an end.

Chris and the family lived opposite Colman's factory at No. 278 King Street. So it was no surprise when eldest son Ernest, on leaving school, obtained a job in the wooden boxmaking part of the factory where previously William Royall (Uncle Billy) had delivered many tons of soft wood from the Baltic traders in Great Yarmouth harbour in his beloved "Spray". His job was to use the small railway trucks, which had to be pushed, to move timber up from the deal ground at Trowse "High" to the machine shop... quite a distance. The job was not really interesting enough for young Ernest and eventually Chris managed to get him an apprenticeship at Jack Powles Boatyard in Wroxham where he began to learn the art of building wooden yachts for the Broads. It was not only hard work under very strict supervision but the daily bicycle ride to Wroxham from Norwich and back in all weathers must have been quite a challenge. It was here, whilst banging in wooden piles with a wooden mallet, a splinter flew off and damaged one of his eyes causing it to be removed and replaced with a glass eye.

Before completing his apprenticeship, working on boats and also building the huge sheds which occupied the site where the Hotel Wroxham now stands, a hard winter saw Ernest moving back to a job in Norwich working as a carpenter for R.G.Carter Ltd building houses. He said that he found this totally uninteresting and when his skin was left on the frozen handle of the handsaw one morning, that was him on the move again... especially as he was now courting Gladys.

Jenner was a name well known in the Lowestoft fishing industry but one of the family thought the expanding hire boat industry would be more lucrative and built a boatyard at the "Town House" in Thorpe. They had several old boats for hire but needed to build new boats someone suggested Ernest who lived "down the road" might be interested. Of course Ernest had never built a cruiser, let alone by himself, but assured them he could do it. Drawings were prepared free by Delgano, as they were installing a Thorneycroft marine engine, and Ernest had a job which was just up his street and so the "River Boy" was built. He converted a 35 foot yacht into a cruiser called "Princess Margaret" and then virtually copied this to build "The Happy Days". Meanwhile he had married Gladys and really needed more money, and was offered a lucrative job at Eastick's yard below Acle Bridge building a 42 foot teak cruiser called "Royal Oak". This boat was virtually complete when in October 1937 Alan was born and Ernest was on the move again. The travelling distance and he always said "working in the most cold and draughty boatshed in Norfolk" had taken its toll once more.

Brooms in Brundall was easy to get to by train from Norwich and so it was here that he went and probably spent his happiest time building some of Brooms large Admiral class hire cruisers. He became foreman and remained throughout the war building small craft for the Admiralty, working long hours besides being in the Home Guard. After the war it was back to Jenners of Thorpe, which had been bought by a Mr Millbank designing and building 13 cruisers all named after navy cruisers one of which was called Amethyst. As he was virtually completing the last of these he fell out with the boss, who was trying o tell him his job, and so in 1949 he rented a small shed at the back of the Ferry Inn in King Street and started building his own boat for hire called "Royal Times". This was completely designed and built by himself aided by his willing but not always satisfactory Father Chris. Royalls was the second boatyard to join Hoseasons and Royal Times was the first new boat in Hoseason's brochure and so came "Royal Tour", "Royal Tiara", "Royal Trail", "Royal Choice" and "Royal Charm" out of this small shed where a lot of happy times were spent round the wood burning stove in the winter talking to some of the old wherrymen friends of Chris. At this time the burgee was a green background with a large yellow circle.

At this time Ernest's son Alan was getting "roped in" to help having had previous experience at Brooms and Jenners painting and cleaning machinery etc. Among Alan's many jobs, although still at school, was keeping the books. In the mid 1950's the fleet moved to Wroxham for the summer months as the Port of Norwich had become extremely busy with largish coasters and when Chris's boat (the "Willing Boys" now owned by Nigel and still going strong) was sunk on the moorings from being nipped by a coaster, much bad language ensued but it was time to go. The hiring days were spent at Brimbelow Road Hoveton and winter moorings were found either at Trowse "High" in Norwich or at Hobro's yard in Thorpe.

In 1960 the site was purchased in Riverside Road, Alan joined the company following Air Force duty and getting married to Janet and the present yard was established. The flag now changed to the present red background and yellow crown seen on today's cruisers. The first boat built at Riverside Road was "Royal Tartan" but previously "Royal Tudor" (now privately owned and renamed Kaikoura and moored opposite the boatyard in the Marina and still going strong) had been started at Norwich and completed at the Brimbelow shed. Ernest was now very ill and Alan took charge, taking the decision to modernise the fleet by switching eventually to (in Ernest's opinion) the hated fibreglass. There followed "Royal Commands", "Royal Escorts" and "Royal Consort" the first orange cruiser and various others.

During the late 1970's the decision was taken to name a new boat after the first of the fleet, Royal Times. It may have been its first week on hire but in any case whilst moored at Salhouse Broad, smoke was seen pouring out from behind the dashboard. The Royal Times was abandoned as flames took hold and she broke free to drift as a burning pile into a small bay in the far corner to burn completely down to the water line. After causing quite a stir in the local press the hulk was towed to George Smith's boatyard where the sad remains of the keel and flat bilges with only a bulky burnt out and blackened engine sticking up out of it, were winched into the boatshed and cut up. The caase was traced to a faulty fuse box. Another boat of the same type was built to replace her but this was called Royal Siesta and was worked on by Paul Allen who was not only an engineer but had earned his boatbuilding apprenticeship at his Fathers's boatyard, the old Allen's wherry yard at Coltishall.

In 1981 Alan's son Nigel started work at the company having completed the boatbuilding course at Oulton Broad Boat Building Training Centre with distinction joining Pat Penn the yard painter and handyman and Paul Allen the engineer. Around this time Andy Nunn was employed on a casual basis and amongst other jobs fitted out Royal Sovereign. There followed an intense period of building new boats as the 1980's were the boom years. This period was only marred by the catastrophic boatshed fire in 1986 in which Ambassador I was reduced to a pile of ashes. Luckily we had already purchased Dawncraft's large building shed opposite and had also just rebuilt Royall Retreat (our holiday bungalow) so a new office and store was erected on the site of the old pulling out shed. Around this time Paul Warman joined the company as a youth opportunities trainee as Paul Allen had left and remains with us today as our valued engineer. Pat Penn eventually left for pastures new and in the 1990's Steve Durrant joined us as a painter and boatbuilder. Over the years many casual staff have worked at the boatyard on turnround days, these are too numerous to mention individually. And so Alan and Janet having moved the business forward retired in 2006 and now the yard is run by Nigel and his wife Sara. Samuel their son helps out at weekends and is the resident techie having designed the boatyard website.

"Dido" and "Ernie" working in that little earth floored shed with a tortoiseshell stove for warmth surely never realised where it would all lead.