Update: Since writing the article below, the Boathouse (formerly Eeels Foot) reopened on 28th April 2014. As you can see from the owner’s comments, “the old pub as it was will be brought back to its original glory and run as a country family pub with real ales” and “the old pub part of the bar is to be renamed the Eel’s Foot Bar with a repainting of the original pub sign as a feature and a huge feature wall providing photo images of the old pub over the years”. We look forward to visiting soon…
The Eels Foot was a well known waterside pub in the Norfolk Broads but closed in March 2012. An application was then approved “for the renovation of the public house to improve the existing facility”. It is due to reopen in 2014 as The Boathouse, described as a “romantic wedding venue”, it’s unclear if the public house will survive the extensive redevelopment.
The inn dates back to at least 1854 when John Groom is listed at the ‘beerhouse and pleasure gardens’, but is likely to be older; he is listed in the 1841 Register of Electors’ as having ‘Freehold house and land, near the broad’. His wife Martha became the publican from 1865 when she is listed in the Post Office Directory as ‘beerhouse and gardener.’
This photo of the Eels Foot sign is from 2008. I seem to remember an earlier sign showed an Eel wearing a boot, similar to the present inn sign at the Eels Foot in Eastbridge, Suffolk which suggests the name may have come from “Eel’s Boot, a type of woven reed basket used in Eel Fishing”. However, Scandinavian Names in Norfolk (Rye, 1920) says “there is an Eelsfoot on the south side of Nordfjord in Norway”, suggesting the origin of the name may date back to pre-Roman Scandinavian settlement in Norfolk. A beerhouse at Barton Turf, about 15 miles away, was also known as Eels Foot. Hidden Inns of East Anglia (Peter Long, 2005) suggests “the very unusual name comes from the fact that eels used to swim up to here from the sea, and a map of Trinity Broad shows that it resembles the shape of a foot!” – presumably that refers to Ormesby Little Broad, although I can’t see the shape of a foot in any of the Trinity Broads.
I spent my teenage years living in a nearby village, and for want of something better to do, would find myself here some weekend evenings for the disco held in the function room. It was one of the first pubs I drank in, along with the Bridge Inn at Potter Heigham which is no longer there. I’d no doubt have been drinking whatever lager was served back then, but Hidden Inns mentions “Greene King IPA, Adnams Broadside and Bitter and Bombardier on tap”. When I was last at the disco in the mid 90s, I saw a man with a mullet haircut dance passionately to Rod Stewart’s ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ The whole place felt similarly out of date.
The Eels Foot was looking run down and in need of refurbishment. Fingers crossed that when it reopens, at least part of it will still be a public house, and visitors can continue to enjoy the beer garden overlooking the broad. Brewery History says that it had a ‘Lacon’s falcon wall tile set inside the building’. Hopefully this too will survive the refurbishment.
The pub overlooks Ormesby Little Broad, part of the Trinity Broads that also includes Rollesby and Filby. The nearby Sportman’s Arms also served visitors to these broads that were popular for rowing and fishing.
“The Eel’s Foot (Ormesby), divides with ‘The Sportsman’s Arms’ the honour of entertaining large parties of visitors from Yarmouth, who come for a day’s fishing on Ormesby Broad. The accommodation at both places is homely, but sufficient for ordinary ‘day-trippers’ who require light refreshment rather than a substantial meal.” (Jennings, 1897)
“Boats may be obtained at the Eel’s Foot, and the Sportsman’s Arms, the former having fair staying accommodation” (Davies, 1882)
A beeerhouse listed in the 1864 White’s Directory. It closed in the mid-twentieth century and by 1977 the building is shown on a map as Sportsman’s Cottages. It appears to be one large private house now.
Sun Pictures of the Norfolk Boards – Jennings, Payne (1897)
The Handbook to the Rivers and Broads of Norfolk and Suffolk – G. Christopher Davies (1882)
Hidden Inns of East Anglia – Peter Long (2005)