Eel’s Foot, Ormesby St Michael

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 Boathouse


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.’

Eels Foot inn sign

Sign for the Eels Foot Inn, Ormesby St Michael

© Miss Steel

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.

Eels Foot, Ormesby

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)

Sportsman’s Arms

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.

Sportsmans Arms

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)

14 responses to “Eel’s Foot, Ormesby St Michael

  1. damn shame – another genuine proper family run pub turned into a homogenous characterless mcdonalds – had some lovely times there with my family

  2. For many years we have holidayed in Great Yarmouth and our first port of call was always the Eels Foot. Sorry but i hope this venture crashes. Another venue brought up by the rich in the hope to swell their riches even more. There are hundreds of “Boathouses” around the country!! The Eels foot was unique and for everyone. Now it has been taken away from the locals and holidaymakers. It’s a crying shame. Glad we have so many photos and happy memories that can’t be taken away.

  3. Steve Knox


    I am one of the new owners of The Boathouse and I wanted to reply to you personally with your blog posted last year which has been brought to my attention recently by an Ormesby resident.

    I can appreciate that in the face of it, it looks a complete new and modern proposition from the old pub but I can I reassure you that the old pub as it was will be brought back to its original glory and run as a country family pub with real ales.There will be a slight accent on dining but this will be good old family country grub and a touch of gastro thrown in. Yes there will be a wedding extension which was necessary to ensure the sustainability of the site but will not interfere with the running of the pub itself which will be open even during wedding days. The wedding venue has also allowed us an opportunity to spend a tremendous amount of money on the pub which needed totally overhauling as it was severely run down and as a result was attracting a very bad reputation from the public at large. We hope that you will give us the benefit of the doubt and come and see us. Mike and Belinda Minors

  4. Mrs M Paget

    Thanks for your blog and can I introduce myself again as Mike Minors one of the new owners.

    We have made a very sizeable investment in this project and hope people will welcome the return of their local. It would have been nice to retain the original name, however, firstly it had a very poor reputation as it was severely run down. Also we had to take into consideration the name to attract wedding brides.Having said that, I hope you will note my comments to Steve Knox to help put your mind at rest to a certain extent.

    As a homage to the old pub part of the bar is to be renamed the Eel’s Foot Bar where I have repainted the original pub sign as a feature and in addition there is a huge feature wall providing photo images of the old pub over the years.

    It still has the brilliant views but with a tasteful yet family friendly atmosphere.

    Please give us the benefit of the doubt and visit us when it opens mid April.Let me know when you’re coming and I will buy you a pint.

    Mike Minors

  5. Timothy Nelmes

    My name is Tim Nelmes and I have a lot to do with pubs and restaurants both socially and professionally.
    The look and work that has gone into this restoration is fantastic and has surly saved another pub from becoming flats or houses
    Clean and modern with a traditional outlook, as well as wonderful views and delightful wedding and function venue
    The old run down Eels Foot would have struggled in today’s climate and has done. I wish the new owners every success.

    Timothy Nelmes

  6. Pity people can still be so negative I too loved the Old Eels foot but there are many other things of the past I have loved and watch them disappear too but that is progress and we have to move on in this world. Nothing can survive by just meeting the needs of a few romantics . Come on all you critics wish the new owners well… to say you hope it crashes is really mean and selfish I am an 80year old and I hope I live long enough to see its great success.

  7. I used to come to the Eels Foot 25 ish years ago with my young children, have been waiting for The Boathouse to open with anticipation and after having lunch there yesterday I will be telling all I know what a fantastic venue it is and how good the food is! It is a lovely renovation and a great mix of old and new, customers and furnishings! Good luck to all there, we will return soon!

  8. Have just visited The Boathouse today just for a cold drink. very nice, very busy. Hope this continues and wish everybody well. Wicked words wrote a previous blogger.

  9. Visited The Boat house this week found it very cold and clinical no atmosphere at all. I was a regular user of the the old Eels Foot Inn but will not be back. This venue is obiviously for weddings and corporate events and there is no welcome for locals

  10. My wife myself ,my children starting from 1967 have been coming down to Norfolk and have always enjoyed going to the eels foot,either for a meal or a drink.on my way down again end of June ,hope we like the changes that has been made

  11. Does anybody remember the Felix coaches calling at The Eels foot pub for singalong nights approx 1962-63 ?

  12. i eat and drink at the boathouse approx once a week, its beautifully done, so very clean comfortable warm ( never cold unlike many in the area) spotless toilets, superb carpark, views. the staff are lovely, charming and helpful. management the same. food? i personally have so far only ate the bar food..its superb! they keep the draught Guinness superb. real ales available but sadly no adnams; but hey you cannot have it all! whats not to like? beautiful clean cutlery and condiments baskets etc. i highly recommend the boathouse.

  13. Sue Matterface

    My grandfather was landlord at the Eels Foot form 1921 until 1928, my mother had a great time there helping behind the bar and in the gardens. Will definitely visit the new place when I get the chance to come that way and would love to see the old pictures of the place

  14. Fond memories of visiting here some 40 years ago with my parents while holidaying in Gt Yarmouth, loved the music and dancing, I remember the band that played there, think one of the blokes in the band was called Tony?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s