Founder Member of the Norfolk Wherry Trust (1911 - 2008)
lt’s not easy to cast our minds back to post war Norfolk, Norwich was still showing the scars of war time bombing and our industries were recovering from total govemment control. It was a time of great political, social and economic upheaval. So it was the more remarkable that there were people of vision who looked beyond the immediate family demands to recognise some of the implications of those changing times.
Roy Clark was such a man. He left Bracondale School with boundless energy and a love of boats, did a variety of jobs before joining the Fleet Air Arm as a photographer at the begimiing of the war. Different postings followed before he was appointed a Lt Cmdr and put in charge of a tank landing craft just before the Normandy landings of June 1944.
Those experiences never left him and he vowed if he scraped through, he would do something worthwhile in his life, such as restoring an old wherry. It was then that the seed for the formation of the Norfolk Wherry Trust was sown.
In the late 1940s it was clear that the days of the trading wherry were over forever, and the remaining fleet of wherries were fast becoming derelict and abandoned in the reed fringes of our broads and isolated dykes. There were a few that remained in service, harshly used as dredging lighters. Roy Clark decided one either had to act now or accept that they would be lost forever. There followed a period of intense activity requiring commitment, impassioned speeches and talks to Broadland communities and everyone with links to the water. He won the respect and most importantly the support of all he talked to and this culminated in the calling of a public meeting at The Stuart Hall in Norwich on 23rd of February 1949. The meeting was chaired by Lady Mayhew, and addressed by Roy Clark.
He must have been a remarkable man who inspired confidence and a belief ‘that it could be done’, no matter what the short term obstacles might be. In part of his address Roy said ‘We visualise a live active vessel, plying the waters and on which the younger generation can set their feet and learn something of the life, the sort of craft and the sort of men who raised our city and county to its current standing.’ He gathered round people of goodwill and it’s remarkable to recognise that they found a wherry, the Plane, in sufficiently good condition, being carvel built, and appointed the shipbuilders Fellowes of Great Yarmouth to restore Albion. New hatches were made, and a new mast, with lead for her counter balance weight sourced with the help of the late Ted Ellis, who together with Roy, rowed round Rockland and Surlingham Broads, checking abandoned wherries for bits of lead. There they managed to scavenge some three hundred weight of lead, including a massive lead pump!
Sails were ordered and hand made by Jeckells, and returning to her original name of ‘The Albion’ she was re launched, re rigged and sailed on 13 October 1949 to Norwich, under the flag of the newly formed Norfolk Wherry Trust. This had all been achieved in a little over thirty three weeks. We should recognise that without the courage and inspiration of Roy Clark and that handful of active supporters he gathered round in those first few months, we wound not have the joy and privilege of seeing Albion sailing our broadland waters today.
In 1961 after considerable detailed research Roy had published the book ‘Black Sailed Traders’. This remains an absorbing read chronicling the life of wherryman. Roy knew the last generation of trading skippers and their families, and had the knack of drawing on the anecdotes and detailing their unique tum of phrase. He recalls, and I quote, talking to ‘a teak skinned skipper, close on the heels of eighty, taking my arm in a still vice like grip and saying , "Why, blast, old partner, when you could draw along into a pub, lay down a tanner, order a pint, a packet o’ fags and a box of matches, and get change out of it, wot was the use of more money‘?" At the end of his book are some fifty pages of detailed index, a treasure chest of history, and one realises how much has been lost.
Extracted from the obituary published in "The Wherry 2008".