The wonderful world of Broadland – on film

A photo titled: 'Collecting...and heading home' on the Norfolk Broads (P.H. Emmerson).

A photo titled: 'Collecting...and heading home' on the Norfolk Broads (P.H. Emmerson). - Credit: Museum of the Broads

The unique beauty of the Norfolk Broads has inspired generations of photographers. In his latest column, Robert Paul, Museum of the Broads director and president (and past chairman and vice president of the Broads Society), looks into the history of capturing the area on film. 

This week, I take a look at one of my favourite of all subjects – Broadland on film.

The Broads has been a favourite place for artists and photographers for generations and images of Broadland have played a major part in how the area developed as a ‘must go to’ destination.

Robert Paul, member and past chairman of the  Broads Society.

Robert Paul, member and past chairman of the Broads Society. - Credit: Supplied by Robert Paul

Even my own great-grandfather, Richard James Paul, described in an article in the Eastern Daily Press, as a ‘prosperous city gentleman’ (maybe because he owned the family business in Bridewell Alley, Norwich) had a hobby few knew about till much later.

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

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

A photo titled: 'Picking the reed', taken on the Norfolk Broads (P.H. Emmerson). - Credit: Museum of the Broads

He left us a wonderful legacy of over 150 full plate glass negatives which have survived despite their fragility. He composed his pictures very carefully and made sure everything was in place and where he wanted it. In the 1950s, his work was featured in a series in the Eastern Daily Press entitled ‘Leaves from an Album’.

This was very different from the very early more famous Broads authors and photographers, perhaps the most well known being George Christopher-Davies.

George Christopher-Davies.  

George Christopher-Davies. - Credit: Museum of the Broads

Most Read

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

He is often regarded as the man who ‘brought the Broads to public attention’. In 1876 , ‘The Swan and her Crew’ became a hugely popular boys’ adventure book with wonderful images and sketches.

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

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

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

Perhaps the most memorable of all are the images produced by Peter Henry Emmerson (1836–1936). He experimented with ‘soft focus’ being initially influenced by naturalistic French painting. Early examples of his work, show his interest in promoting straight photography as an art form.

He abandoned his career as a surgeon to follow his love of photography becoming a distinguished member of the Council of the Photographic Society of Great Britain. His work, coupled with that of Christopher-Davies largely secured the future of Broadland as an area ideally suited for recreation and nature.

Peter Henry Emmerson.

Peter Henry Emmerson. - Credit: Museum of the Broads

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

In addition, E.R. Suffling’s books such as ‘The Land of the Broads’ (1885) and more well 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 Archive

Jennings was engaged by the Great Eastern Railway Company to take photographs of Broadland for display in their passenger carriages as part of a campaign to promote the area as a holiday destination and thereby increasing their passenger numbers!

The Museum of the Broads has an amazing archive of Broads’ photographs and images, many of which are on display, so do take the time to visit. The museum will be opening shortly before Easter.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads continues to be an area much loved by professional and amateur photographers from all walks of life, not least within the membership and committees of The Broads Society, and this year you are invited to take part in the 2022 Photographic 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 Archive

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

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

Perhaps in a future article, we can discover more of those larger than life characters who made the study of nature in the Broads their life’s work - the story of Great Yarmouth’s Arthur Patterson for one, is fascinating. And many of us will remember the wonderful Ted Ellis of Wheatfen fame and his regular TV appearances.

Contest: Give it your best shot

In the Broads Society’s 2022 Photographic 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 engraved glass trophy. The overall winner will receive the ‘David Blair’ silver trophy for one year. Also, for the first time this year there is an ‘under 18s’ category.

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