The Broads Authority, Richardsons, Herbert Woods and Hoseasons are all celebrating major anniversaries this year, as the Norfolk Broads boating scene continues to thrive

Long-established Broads boat companies are celebrating many years of successful business in 2014, despite financial hurdles and uncertainties faced during an uncomfortable recession.

The Norfolk Broads is saturated with history of talent and determination keeping businesses afloat through tough times, even during the First and Second World Wars.

Boatbuilder Herbert Woods is one such example with his ingenious ideas and positive attitude, combined with his reputation for being slightly eccentric.

In the mid 1920s Herbert Woods took over a family boatbuilding business when he was a young man and turned it into a lucrative and enterprising company after buying out Walter Woods and Sons, owned originally by his brothers and sisters.

It took him a lifetime to realise his ambitions and create the successful boat and cruiser building and hire fleet, together with mooring facilities, which he and his devoted team dug out to form the Broads Haven Boat Yard, in Potter Heigham.

Even with a long-term heart condition he continued working to the very end before he passed away in 1954.

The company commemorated the 60th anniversary of Herbert Woods’ death by revamping the iconic Herbert Woods Water Tower and adapting the three-storey building into holiday accommodation.

Recently Herbert Woods joined forces with Crown Travel in a £1 million deal and took on 30 cruisers built by Porter & Haylett of Wroxham, which were originally known as Connoisseur Cruisers.

The Group has reintroduced some of Herbert Woods’s classics and the Connoisseur Cruisers, which were visited by the Princess Royal recently (pictured above).

Messing about on the river

Meanwhile, Hoseasons is celebrating its 70th Anniversary this year. Wally Hoseason, a boatyard owner and harbourmaster at Oulton Broad, started the company in 1944.

Within two decades Hoseasons became a household name by offering self-catering holidays, known then as its Holiday Accommodation Collection, which gained popularity throughout the UK.

Following the advent of commercial television in the 1970s, Hoseasons grabbed the opportunity to advertise with their ‘Messing about on the river’ slogan.

With innovation and enthusiasm, the growing company installed one of the first computer reservation systems in the UK, which eventually took in waterways holidays in France, european lodges, country cottages and holiday parks during the 1980s.

In 2010 the company became part of US brand Wyndham Worldwide, one of the world’s largest hospitality companies, operating across six continents.

Based in Lowestoft, Hoseasons is one of the UK’s leading suppliers of self-catering accommodation and boasts more than 21,000 places to stay in coastal and countryside locations throughout Britain and Europe.

Hoseasons is spotlighting the Norfolk Broads with a major advertising campaign, featuring a £200,000 commercial that was launched through on-demand television and YouTube earlier this year to millions of viewers in the Midlands, London, and the South-East.

From apprentice to foreman

Another interesting and ambitious Norfolk Broads boat company celebrating a major milestone this year is Richardsons.

A family-orientated and long-established boatbuilder, Richardsons is celebrating 50 years of service from foremen Nigel Smith and Mike Lawes, who both started out as apprentices.

Richardsons boat business was founded over 70 years ago when, at the age of twenty, Robert Richardson Jr bought a motor cruiser for £175 – a considerable sum of money in the 1940s.

Just after the Second World War, he bought the Old Mill Boatyard at Oulton Broad, near Lowestoft, Together with his father, Robert Richardson Sr, and they began renting out sailing boats and a cruiser.

The business grew into a large fleet, which demanded more moorings and space to expand, so the Richardsons moved to an available boatyard on the outskirts of Stalham, where it remains today and has become the largest boat hire fleet on the Broads.

Today, at the age of 90, Robert Jr continues to oversee his long-term boating passion by attending the boatyard every day at 8.30am.

After a couple of hours checking boats and mooring ropes, as well as picking up the odd bit of strayed litter, Robert steps back and leaves the day-to-day running of his business to his sons Paul and Clive, along with CEO Greg Munford at the helm.

Richardsons boating division and its associated holiday parks now have a turnover of more than £15 million, and since making a decision to design and build a new generation of cruisers in 2008 and producing seven luxury Broadsman Cruisers booking percentages have risen considerably.

Booming Broads

The Broads Authority is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year by looking back to the year it was set up, originally as a Quango, in 1989.

Prior to this the Great Yarmouth Port Authority and Haven Commissioners managed the waterways. Staff were transferred to the newly set up Broads Authority including 13 river inspectors and three tolls staff.

The authority also inherited eight river inspector launches, two workboats and a weedcutter. Two of the original river inspectors, two administrative officers and an information officer are still working for the authority.

The BA has overseen a dramatic improvement in Broads water quality over the last 25 years and gained an international reputation for its work in managing a wetland habitats, reporting that 2008 was the best year in half a century for thriving water plants and clear water on the Broads.

The authority has become an expert in the research and development of the management of reed beds and the restoration of shallow lakes.

In 2007 the BA took over dredging operations from contractor May Gurney at the same time as taking over planning services.

John Packman, chief executive of the Broads Authority, said: “The Broads was recognised as a very special landscape in the 1930s and worthy for designation as a national park, but due to concerns about costs and complexity of the area it was never included in the first round of national parks in 1950.

“In 1989 the Broads was given an equivalent status but pollution, particularly from sewage treatment works, led to a dramatic reduction in water quality with a loss of water plants, birds and animals. The Broads was dying.”

Mr Packman added that anyone on the Broads recently would notice the dramatic improvements resulting from the authority’s work over the past 25 years.

As well as returning wildlife, improvements for boaters include 63 free moorings and efficient dredging operations using the latest techniques.

As a result of a private bill in 2009, the authority took responsibility for Breydon Water, in Great Yarmouth, and improved safety in the area, which is notoriously challenging for novice boaters.