Norfolk Broads: History of Photography


Published:
08:30 april 9, 2022



The unique beauty of the Norfolk Broads has inspired generations of photographers. In his latest column, Robert Paul, Director and President of the Museum of the Broads (and former President and Vice-President of the Broads Society), looks at the region’s history of capture on film.

This week I’m taking a look at one of my favorite subjects of all – Broadland in film.

The Broads have been a favorite location for artists and photographers for generations and images of Broadland have played a major role in how the area has developed as a must-see destination.


Robert Paul, Fellow and Past President of the Broads Society.
– Credit: Provided by Robert Paul

Even my own great-grandfather, Richard James Paul, described in an Eastern Daily Press article, as a “prosperous town gentleman” (perhaps because he owned the family business in Bridewell Alley, Norwich) had a hobby few knew about until now. later.

During his life in the mid-19th and early 20th century he developed his passion for capturing Norfolk scenes on glass negatives, many of which featured Cromer, Broadland, Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft – water and people being his favorite subjects.


A photo titled: 'Picking the reed', taken on the Norfolk Broads (PH Emmerson).

A photo titled: ‘Picking the reed’, taken on the Norfolk Broads (PH Emmerson).
– Credit: Broads Museum

He left us a wonderful legacy of over 150 glass plate negatives that have survived despite their fragility. He composed his photos very carefully and made sure everything was in place and where he wanted it. In the 1950s his work was featured in an Eastern Daily Press series called “Leaves from an Album”.

It was very different from Broads’ most famous early authors and photographers, perhaps the best known being George Christopher-Davies.


George Christopher Davies.

George Christopher Davies.
– Credit: Broads Museum

He was a Shropshire barrister who only came to Norwich for a short time, married the daughter of a Norwich barrister, then moved to Newcastle.

He is often credited as the man who “brought the Broads to public attention”. In 1876 “The Swan and His Crew” became an extremely popular boys’ adventure book with wonderful pictures and sketches.

He went on to publish many other handbooks and guides on Broadland, which was undoubtedly partly responsible for the birth of tourism on the Broads. He eventually returned to Norwich where he died in 1922.


The book cover of Sun Pictures of the Norfolk Broads, by Payne Jennings.

The book cover of Sun Pictures of the Norfolk Broads, by Payne Jennings.
– Credit: Broads Museum

The images produced by Peter Henry Emmerson (1836-1936) are perhaps the most memorable of all. He experimented with “soft focus” initially being influenced by French naturalist painting. Early examples of his work show his interest in promoting direct photography as an art form.

He gave up his career as a surgeon to follow his love of photography by becoming a Distinguished Council Member of the Photographic Society of Great Britain. His work, along with that of Christopher-Davies, has largely secured the future of Broadland as an ideal area for recreation and nature.


Peter Henry Emerson.

Peter Henry Emerson.
– Credit: Broads Museum

Later, other authors, photographers and artists continued in the same vein. These included Harry Brittain, a bank manager from Norwich who sailed the Broads in his yacht ‘Buttercup’ and later owned the wherry ‘Zoe’.

Also, ER Suffling’s books such as ‘The Land of the Broads’ (1885) and the better known John Payne Jennings ‘Sun Pictures of the Norfolk Broads’ copies of which are still sought after today.


  The original Horning Ferry Public House circa 1900, taken by Richard James Paul.

The original Horning Ferry Public House circa 1900, taken by Richard James Paul.
– Credit: Paul Archives

Jennings was hired by the Great Eastern Railway Company to take photos of Broadland to display in their passenger carriages as part of a campaign to promote the area as a holiday destination and thus increase passenger numbers!

The Museum of the Broads has an incredible archive of Broads photographs and images, many of which are on display, so make time to visit. The museum will open shortly before Easter.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads continue to be a popular area for professional and amateur photographers from all walks of life, especially within Broads Society members and committees, and this year you are invited to take part in the 2022 photography competition and have the chance to add your name to those in this article.


Westwick Arch taken by Richard James Paul in 1895. It was demolished amid much controversy in the 1960s.

Westwick Arch taken by Richard James Paul in 1895. It was demolished amid much controversy in the 1960s.
– Credit: Paul Archives

Thanks to a generous sponsor, the Society is able to offer incredible prizes and a chance for your photo to be displayed publicly. The competition is open to everyone, members and non-members. See below for how to enter.

The Broads are an incredibly valuable wetland and on our doorstep – it has fired the imagination not only of eminent photographers, but also of authors, artists and naturalists.

Perhaps in a future article we can discover more of these larger-than-life figures who have made nature study in the Broads their life’s work – the story of Arthur Patterson of Great Yarmouth, for its part, is fascinating. And many of us will remember the marvelous fame of Ted Ellis of Wheatfen and his regular television appearances.

Contest: Do your best

In the 2022 Broads Society Photography Competition, there are two themes: ‘Human Life on the Broads’ and ‘Landscapes of the Broads’.

There are cash prizes and all winners will receive an etched glass trophy. The overall winner will receive the silver ‘David Blair’ trophy for one year. In addition, for the first time this year, there is an “under 18” category.

For full details on how to enter and the rules, please go to www.broads-society.org.uk

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