Hickling is a village situated on the edge of Hickling Broad, the largest of the Norfolk Broads. The village has two pubs, the Pleasure Boat at the staithe, and the Greyhound Inn less than a mile away in the village centre. In 1735 there were apparently five beer outlets. Two of those – the Bull and the White Horse – survived into the 20th century and the buildings exist as private houses.
The Pleasure Boat has apparently been here since at least the mid 1700s. Situated at Hickling Staithe, with views across Hickling Broad, this waterside pub recently became a freehouse and has a new lease of life under new management. Ten beers were on tap, impressive for a village pub, and the ones we tried were in good nick. An extension to the pub has a dining room overlooking the broad, and even a small shop. There are great views across the broad from the beer garden which also has a marquee for the regular live music.
Birds, Beasts and Fishes of the Norfolk Broadland (1895) describes a scene on Christmas Eve morning as crowds gathered for ‘coot-shooting’ on Hickling Broad:
“Long before the old church clock has struck eleven, crowds begin to collect at the ‘Pleasure Boat’ all crushing into the tap-room, and calling for jugs of mild whilst carts keep arriving; finally, the little green staithe is gay with laughing men and youths. Soon all the party has collected, some ninety persons, of strange dress and stranger accoutrements.There is much talk, and joking, and cheering as they crowd into the open boats – pleasure-boats, old cobles, marsh boats – some propelled by oars, others by quants (poles).
So the chaffing flotilla of forty boats, for many have brought their boats over-night from mill-outlets and distant broads and meres, goes shoving and rowing off on to the broad, whose hundreds of acres of water gleam and ripple in the cold morning sun.”
Later, after the shoot…
“You see the scattered flotilla of forty boats making for the inn… and soon the short winter day is over, and the noisy crowd at the inn disperses, making their way through the dark lanes and muddy roads for home”
Another account from the late 19th century, the Handbook to the Rivers and Broads of Norfolk & Suffolk (1891) records:
“Then we went to Hickling staithe, at the north end, where there is an inn, the ‘Pleasure Boat’… Boats of a rough kind can be obtained here for fishing purposes. They are long, narrow, and flat-bottomed, and the usual method of propulsion is by ‘setting’. The setter sits in the extreme stern, and pushes the boat along with a light pole, at a great rate. There are often setting races at local regattas, and great fun they are.
The number of broken-up lateeners on the shores of the Broad attest the decay of large pleasure-boat sailing on these remote waters, but the smaller class of centre-board boats are coming into favour, and are, perhaps, more suitable.”
Whereas propelling a ‘long, narrow and flat bottomed boat with a light pole’ is nowadays a familiar leisure pursuit in Cambridge, in Norfolk the former trading wherry Albion, all sixty feet and twenty odd tons of it, is still sometimes punted along a river when there’s not enough wind for the sails.
A photo published in 1897 (Sun Pictures of the Norfolk Broads – Payne Jennings) and a postcard from 1904 show the inn with a lean-to on the west side of the building:
A painting from 1905 shows a two-storey extension has replaced it:
By 1913 a single storey extension was added to the east side, overlooking the staithe. It’s been rebuilt and enlarged several times to create the present dining area with views across Hickling Broad.
A wonderful village pub, friendly to visitors and with plenty of local characters inside. We’ve eaten here several times and always enjoy it – there are usually a couple of veggie choices. Beers on when visited recently were Marstons EPA straight from the cask, JW Lees Bitter, Greene King Golden Hen and the ubiquitous Woodfordes Wherry.
According to the Greyhound Inn, “It is believed that the Inn dates back to the 1600s though may well be earlier than that. There are records that only go back as far as 1735, when at that time the village boasted five pubs”. For over 300 years this brick and flint building would have had views across fields until the Green was developed in the late 20th century. There is a lovely beer garden that has the feel of sitting in a private cottage garden.
The Parish Magazine records some curious sounding dinners held at the Greyhound in the 1890s – the ‘Annual Coal Meeting’, the ‘Annual Meeting and Dinner of the Hickling Commissioners of Drainage’ and in 1898 “The Rational Sick and Burial Club Dinner, which was held in the Club Room at the ‘Greyhound Inn’ on February 4th, was a great success… a large number of members sat down to an excellent dinner. After dinner there were toasts and speeches and songs”
A few doors north of the Greyhound, now a private house called White Lodge. In 1819 an auction for Hickling towermill took place at the pub. William Lambert, who was born in the village in 1916, said the pub was closed before he was born. However, the ‘White Horse P.H.’ was still shown on a 1957 Ordanance Survey map. The building recently sold for £275,000 and was described as having solid oak flooring and a beamed ceiling.
Situated on the outskirts of the village, on Town Street near St Mary’s Church, the Bull is listed in White’s Directory of Norfolk 1836 but Norfolk Pubs dates it back further to at least the late 1700s. It was closed around 1970 and is now Hickling House, a residential care home.
The pub name ‘the Bull’ is apparently “an ancient and widespread sign, which may well have begun by referring to a papal bull, the leaden seal attached to the pope’s edicts” (Wordsworth Dictionary of Pub Names, 2006). This might be the meaning here, since the pub stands on land that borders the remains of Hickling Priory, founded in 1185 and dissolved in 1536. A History of the County of Norfolk (W. Page, 1906) refers to Hickling Priory and the papal bull:
In September, 1343, Martin de Hapesburgh, canon of the priory of Hickling, petitioned the pope to order the abbot and convent of St. Benedict, Holme, to receive him as a monk according to the mandate of Benedict III from which the abbot, at the suggestion of the prior of Hickling, did remove the bull. The petition was granted, provided it was found that Pope Benedict did make a special mandate. The following December Clement VI issued his mandate to the bishop of Norwich, the dean of Lincoln, and the chancellor of Hereford to cause Martin de Hapesburgh to be received into the monastery of Holme.
Hickling can be reached by the River Thurne and Hickling Broad, just over an hour by boat or 4 miles by road from Potter Heigham.