The River Thurne Bungalows
Di Cornell is a lady with a mission – to protect and enhance the bungalows that line a mile or more of the banks of the River Thurne and have done so for over one hundred years. Most are in Potter Heigham and Repps but several are in the parish of Martham. Over forty people came to hear her.
Imagine yourself in 1880, standing on Potter Heigham Bridge looking to the left. What would you see? Boats, and little else. There is a small pub nearby, what people call a windmill and a small brickyard – all surrounded by marsh. Look the other way and there is the gaunt structure of the railway bridge, constructed in 1875, and next to it a small wooden platform – a “halt”, where trains could deliver passengers right onto the river bank. This evidently gave people ideas.
In the next ten years George Applegate had created his boatyard and become the first person to hire out boats. In the 1890s the first bungalow was built, right by the rail bridge, by a man who later went on to work on the Trans-Siberian railway.
Early 1900s photos show more bungalows springing up, often replacing boat sheds. Some were rather tatty, not much more than wooden sheds themselves. Three were converted train carriages and others were developed from moored houseboats, which could look very attractive. Perhaps the most remarkable is still there. Known as Dutch Tutch, because it looks like a windmill, it is actually the two halves of a helter-skelter brought from Britannia Pier, Great Yarmouth, in 1909.
The heyday seems to have been the 1920s and 1930s when the fashion was for an elegant veranda on which equally elegant ladies and gentlemen could pose for their photograph. The arrival of electricity in the thirties no doubt aided this growth. Unfortunately, as none owned the land on which they were built, and leases were often as short as only one year, many were not well-maintained.
Boatyards and stores catering for bungalows and boats proliferated, even including a temporary appearance by Roy’s of Wroxham, although some were merely sheds on the riverside.
WWII saw bungalows become refuges for prosperous people avoiding the bombs in Yarmouth and for less fortunate families bombed-out from London. Military personnel occupied many, as did Herbert Wood workers building vessels for the war effort. Some bungalows became more worn.
Putting all this together led The Broads Authority, soon after its 1978 creation, to decide on a clean-up scheme which essentially involved destroying many, if not all, of the bungalows. Nationwide, even worldwide, objections were raised in a campaign led by the Tenants Association. The result was that very few went and all were granted leases ranging up to 99 years. Even further, many have been given Grade II Listing. The Tenants Association has organised numbering and signage, and also voluntarily undertaken litter clearance in the face of fly-tipping by nobody knows who!