Black-Sailed Traders of the Broads

Working the Waterways: NarrowBoat, Summer 2018

Mike Sparkes

Mike Sparkes explores the history of the once-ubiquitous wherries that carried cargoes on the waterways of Norfolk and Suffolk

For many years, the river traders of Norfolk and Suffolk operated barges known as wherries. These vessels had one large sail, which was most often black from soot smuts from the cooking stove, and tended to be worked by a crew of two. Their shallow draught enabled them to navigate even to the upper reaches of most of the rivers and canals of the Broads. This wonderful c1900 picture above presents an idyllic scene of a Norfolk and Suffolk trading wherry under sail on the way to Norwich. Sadly, within 20 years most wherries had been converted to engine power. Between the wars they were stripped of their sailing rig, although some retained their masts for use as a crane. Many became simple lighters for towing behind steam tugs, mostly on the larger rivers of the Yare and Waveney.…

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