Thelma’s family has a strong connection to the boatbuilding industry, including the building of wherries. One particular wherry dear to her heart is the wherry Maud.
My grandfather William Henry Hall, a lively lad, his working life
My grandfather was called William Henry Hall and he was born in Reedham in Norfolk in 1877. He was the great grandson of James Hall, a man who had moved to Reedham from Norwich in the early part of the nineteenth century and started a boat yard there where they built wherries.
He was a bit of a lively lad I think, my granddad, and growing up he was a bit of a lad. One of the things that he and some of the other boys in the village used to do was to go along to the tin tabernacle, the Methodist Church hall when the ladies were having a mother’s meeting. Unnoticed by the ladies they used to climb up on to the roof and drop sods of earth down the chimney. So all the ladies sitting and having their tea and chatting in the room below would get covered with soot and smoke from the fire.
We used to laugh and say that he had sticky-out ears, because he did. On the ship yard they might have referred to them as leeboards because I understand that leeboards are a part of the ship that stick out.
Anyway when he grew up he trained as an apprentice at Hall’s Yard and he helped design and build lots of the wherries.
The wherry Maud
One of the wherries that is dear to my heart is the wherry Maud. She was called Maud apparently because that was the name of the woman that my granddad would later marry and become my grandmother. The Maud was built in 1899 and my grandfather designed her and worked on her. The reconstructed rebuilt Maud is still sailing the Broads.
My grandfather would almost certainly have helped to build the Hathor a pleasure wherry which was different from the trading wherries which he had probably worked on.
This one was built for the Colman girls, the Colman family being the mustard people in Norwich. They had a brother who had died in Egypt on a boat that was called the Hathor and when he died the girls wanted something special to commemorate him, so they had the Hathor built. It was then used as one of their pleasure boats to go out on and for holidays.
The Hathor of course, along with the Maud, is still around and sailing the Broads.
Memories of my grandfather
When they got married my grandparents moved first of all to Thorpe and then eventually to Oulton Broad. They lived out the rest of their lives in the Lowestoft area.
Although my grandad died when I was twelve I have lots and lots of memories of him he was very special to me and I was very special to him.
When I was a little girl I didn’t like to kiss him because his whiskery chin prickled me, but I soon got over that. I used to take his hand when I was little but I would never ever hold the hand that had the missing finger because I didn’t like the feel of the other fingers squashing in to the space where the middle finger would have been.
I have a very strong memory of him sitting in his arm chair after lunch, having drunk his cup of tea, not from the cup but tipped a little at a time into the saucer so that it cooled off. After that he would get the daily newspaper and put it over his face and then he’d go to sleep, it would be dark under the newspaper.
When he was sitting in his chair he would also let me brush his hair. Now, he had what we in the family used to describe as ‘nine hairs and a nit’. He had hair around the base of his skull and about nine strands of hair growing over the top, nine hairs and a nit.
Something which used to annoy my grandmother was that sometimes they would have fish and he would sit by the fire in the front room, with a frying pan and he would fry herring in the fire and the smell was horrendous.
He would make fishing rods to sell and sometime he used to have to bend certain bits of wood. He had a homemade steam tube that he would fill with water, put the wood in, heat it on the fire and the steam would bend the wood. Sometimes the water used to boil over and my grandmother would tear him off a strip for making a mess.
A golden wedding anniversary and a teddy bear
When I was about five or six my grandparents celebrated their golden wedding anniversary, and I remember a man came from the Lowestoft Journal to take their photograph to put in the paper. Nanny sat in her best dress in the chair and my grandfather sat on the arm beside her.
I was in the room at the time and I insisted that my teddy bear be in the photograph. ‘Okay’ they said ‘sit him down there at the base of the chair on the floor’. So there was teddy in the photograph or so I thought. But of course when we saw the photograph that bit was not in, the photograph was a little bit higher than teddy, and I felt cheated and let down by the grownups as teddy was not on the photograph.
Threepenny bits and tiny dab fish
Grandad used to come round to our house every Saturday morning rain or shine. He would always bring two threepenny bits as pocket money, they had to be the ones with the trefoil on not the ones with the little portcullis. I don’t know how that arose but he would look these out during the week and bring me two every Saturday.
He used to also come round after he had been fishing through the night. He was a member of the Lowestoft Sea Angling Club and they used to fish off the end of the Claremont pier. The pier stretched out into the sea and it had a T-piece right at the very end, which was where they fished.
In my possession I have some of the cups that he won for heaviest cod of the year, but sometimes he didn’t get any really heavy fish. He would get tiny dabs, no bigger than the palm of your hand.
He would come straight off the pier, which wasn’t far from where we lived, round to our house and then he would tip these dabs in to the sink and my mum would have to clean and cook these tiny fish for me. Sometimes they would still be alive and would flap about in the sink.
I have always loved fish and still love fish so maybe it started with my grandad and those tiny dabs.
Model boats and the Science Museum, London
My granddad not only worked on full sized boats he made models as well. When my mum was small the whole family was quite poor, there were seven children and in the twenties and thirties it wasn’t a good time for employment either. So my granddad earned a bit of money by making model boats.
A man came down from the Science Museum in London looking for model boats that he could pick up. He was put in touch with my grandfather who then built three boats, a wherry, a beach yawl and a boat called a keel that ended up in the Science Museum in South Kensington.
When I was about eight years old my mum and dad took me to London to stay with some friends. It was the first time that I had ever been to London and one of the places that they took me to was the Science Museum so I could see my grandfather’s boats. Well, I was really proud to see them and I was even prouder to find that in the shop there was a postcard of the wherry that my grandad had built. I purchased a couple of copies and I gave one of them to my grandad when I got home.
I was slightly disappointed that the postcard did not have his name on, but I knew whose boat it was and I still have those postcards.
A few years ago I went up to London with a friend and we went to the Science Museum and the boats were still there. So again I was very pleased to see that they’re still part of the museum.
One last little memory which occurs to me. My grandparents lived in a house right next to a bus stop, and my mum used to let me go up to their house on my own on the bus.
I used to get straight off the bus, run in through the gate, run through the door, shout ‘hello’ to nanny, through the kitchen, the conservatory and out to the shed because my granddad was the one I wanted to see. He would let me play with his carpentry horse and I remember tying string round the front for reins and making string stirrups.
He was a very very special person and I’m so proud of all that he contributed to boat building in this part of the world.
My father Herbert Walter Waller – a working life
My father Herbert Walter Waller was born in 1917 and he also worked in the boat building trade though he wasn’t the son of that particular grandfather. He trained as a carpenter and joiner at Richards shipyard in Yarmouth and then Lowestoft.
They made all kinds of vessels, some luxury yachts, cargo vessels and ferries. As my dad was a carpenter and joiner his job was to fit out the boats, He built the furniture that was inside, the cupboards, cabinets things like that. He was a perfectionist, a very skilled person. After a boat had been launched and fitted out it would then go on sea trials and sometimes there was still work to do on it. So he would do that work too. I know on one occasion he had to go out to sea on a boat doing its sea trials and he was down in the hull painting.
He wasn’t very keen on sailing but he had to go and do it, he managed all right and I can’t remember him saying if he was sea sick or not, but I don’t think he was ever so keen on doing that job. Sometimes too they would have to work overtime if there was a deadline, as the boat had to be finished on time.
He was part of a union, the Amalgamated Union of Woodworkers I believe. I don’t remember him being militant but if the workers were out on strike, he would have come out as well. When I cleared out his bungalow after he had died I found all these journals from the union that he’d kept.
Memories of my dad
As a child I can remember him doing his carpentry because he made furniture for our house. I believe that when my parents first got married he made an ironing board, a dresser for the kitchen and even the poles that held up the linen line in the garden.
We moved to our first house when I was five and I had my own bedroom for the first time and he made me a bedside cabinet of oak and stained dark. It looks very old fashioned but it has been by my bedside all my life and still is today.
When he was at Richards yard in Lowestoft there would often be a launch. As a child my mum would take me along in my pushchair as she watched the launch and when I was older I could go along by myself. I used to find the launch thrilling. Somebody important would crash the bottle down on the bows, the vessel would then go stern first down the slipway into the water, the chains would clank and the blocks and chocks would be thrown out of the way as the boat went down in to the water. It was always very exciting.
I remember one particular launch, when I returned to Lowestoft to teach after I had been away to college in Lincoln. The launch was on a dark early evening, so it must have been winter. The boat engines were built by Ruston-Bucyrus the engineers who were in Lincoln. It was the tradition that the yard always presented the owner of the vessel with a gift and there by the side of the vessel was a City of Lincoln gas lamp. So that was a link with me and my college days as there were plenty of the gas lamps around in the city when I was there.
Caledonian MacBrayne – Maid of the Isles
Another boat that I remember, this is after my dad retired, is the vessel built by Richards shipyard for Caledonian MacBrayne, the Maid of the Isles. She was going to be ferrying people from Ardrossan across to Brodick on the Isle of Arran. My dad’s friend showed us around before she sailed away to start her working life.
Strangely a couple of years later I went on holiday to the Isle of Arran and I crossed over on the very boat that was built in Lowestoft. When I was on her I walked round to the front and could see the plaque on her saying where she’d been built.
I’ve got lots of memories of my dad, one I remember very very clearly is when we had been out somewhere and came home on the bus. On the walk down our road he would give me a piggy back. I can remember looking out over his shoulder as he carried me, hearing and seeing his size ten feet coming out from under his coat as he walked along. I couldn’t see his legs, just his feet as he walked along as I was sitting on his back.
Sadly there is nobody now in the family or close to me in the family involved in boat building. But I feel very proud of both my father and grandfather because they were working in a trade that is anchored, that’s not a pun, to this area and its history. Although Hall’s yard and Richards too are long gone their ships and wherries were very useful to what went on here.
So I’m very proud of my craftsmen!
Photos supplied by the contributor.
Thelma Waller (b. 1951) talking to WISEArchive on 15th October 2018 in Carlton Colville.
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