In the days before posting pictures to social media, four students charted their adventures on the Broads in atmospheric, accomplished and comic watercolours, writes ROWAN MANTELL
THEIR STORY is told in charming paintings of reed-fringed rivers, picnics bought direct from farms, skinny-dipping at dawn and stumbling along riverbanks after dark, raucous evenings of beer and music on board their Broads hire boat and in riverside bars, fireworks at the seaside, fleeting romances with local girls and impromptu races with fellow sailors.
The four lads, living it large on the Broads in 1889, were more than 125 years too early for Instagram and so artist SK Baker painted the week-long adventure in dozens of detailed and atmospheric pictures with handwritten captions.
The four students hired a boat, complete with a skipper, and sailed from Wroxham for a week of beer, swimming and song across the Broads, with stops including Horning, Barton Broad, Ludham, Acle, Yarmouth, Breydon Broad, Oulton Broad and Lowestoft.
SK Baker draws them dressed in blazers and boaters, gliding past windmills and bridges, preparing a dinner of bloaters, beans and turnips on board, fishing
and swimming from the boat, running aground, being serenaded by village children and taking their small rowing boat ashore to continue their merry-making and music-making in waterside pubs.
The words and pictures preserved in the original leather-bound notebook have just been published for the first time.
The four young Victorian holidaymakers were having fun on the Broads in the same year that Jerome K Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat was published, charting a two-week boating holiday on the Thames.
The new Norfolk Four Men in a Boat, A Week on the Broads: four Victorian gents at sail on a Norfolk gaffer in
1889, is introduced by Michael Goffe who inherited the diary of the holiday aboard the Broads yacht Blanche after his father was the last survivor of a group of young men who met as students at University College, London.
The artist himself was a bachelor who went on to a career in the civil service and although Michael’s father was not one of the four students on this particular trip, he too had enjoyed boating on the Broads in the late 19th century.
And a few years ago Michael, using the family heirloom as a guide, hired a yacht similar to Blanche and attempted to recreate the journey. “Though we did not venture into the tidal waters of Great Yarmouth or Lowestoft, nor did we venture into so many pubs or have adventures with young damsels, as we had our wives on board with us!” he said. A Week on the Broads: four Victorian gents at sail on a Norfolk gaffer in 1889, by SK Baker, is published in hardback by Bloomsbury for £10.