Potter Heigham is a village on the River Thurne in Norfolk with two pubs – The Falgate Inn and the Broadshaven Tavern. Several pubs have closed, including the much missed Bridge Inn which burned down in 1990.
By far the oldest of the two remaining pubs, apparently shown in a painting from the 1770s, in 1781 the Norfolk Chronicle records an auction was held at the pub. Faden’s map of 1797 shows the area as ‘Heigham Furlgate’. The building was originally a farmhouse, the name of the inn refers to its use as a toll house.
The pub’s sign was highlighted as early as 1879 (Tourist’s Guide to the County of Norfolk – Walter Rye) when mention was also made of “a splendid hawthorn hedge nearly 25 feet high” which stood ‘nearly opposite’ the pub.
Its signboard is sure to attract the visitor’s attention. It consists of a small gate hanging over the door, upon which is inscribed the following verse:
This gate hang high,
But hinder none;
Refresh and pay,
And travel on.
(Broadland Sport – Everitt, 1902)
Successive refurbishments have removed that sign and any trace of the verse.
Bygone Norfolk (Andrews, 1898) contains the following curious note:
The saying applied to a certain spot near the village inn at Potter Heigham. Now a falgate is a small cross- way green where several roads part, and where there is generally a gate or gates terminating private roads some say the swinging or falling-gate gives the derivation.”
The folk signer Harry Cox lived in the area and was known to frequent the Falgate and the closed Railway Tavern and to have held singing sessions here.
The roof of the pub was thatched until 1993 when it caught fire. Patricia Munday, a former resident whose father Vernon Le Neve Painter was landlord from 1934 to 1954 recalls:
It had a beautiful thatched roof which was renewed once during our time (1934-1954) but which was destroyed in the dreadful fire in 1993. When the housed was rebuilt, the roof was tiled. The wooden frame surrounding the front door was added about 1938 and has a Latin inscription meaning ‘Welcome or rest, traveller’.
(Melton Constable to Yarmouth Beach – Adderson and Kenworthy, 1987)
Mrs Munday has written a history of the pub, which we were kindly shown by current landlady Annette, which records some of her memories during that time.
“One of the regular customers came in on his way home to lunch, leaving his horse standing outside. He met an old friend and his usual one pint went to two or three, at which point the horse decided he had been long enough and came right into the bar to fetch his master! Other customers remarked that it was bad enough having a nagging wife but when a nag starts nagging too that really is bad!”
Annette told us the pub is thought to have been used as a mortuary when it was taken over by wheelwright and carpenter William Shepherd George in 1888 who may have laid coffins out in the pub. It is also supposedly haunted by the ghosts of two former landlords. Charles Downing fell down the stairs and broke his neck when chasing one of the servant girls. The other is said to be Mary Anne Frost who lived here first with her husband John Frost, licensee of the pub in the 1820s and 30s. When he died in 1834, she took over and the following year married Edward Rust who is later listed as the landlord until the mid 1840s. Nothing much else is known about her, but apparently she makes her presence known.
No ghosts were encountered when we visited, it’s a very friendly, welcoming place with beamed walls and a fireplace, well worth a visit. Woodfordes Wherry and Greene King IPA are the choice of ales, the Wherry perhaps the nicest pint of it we had from any pub during a recent visit to Norfolk.
The buildings appear to be shown on a map of 1938 but may have been a cafe and restaurant until the 1950s when Herbert Woods bought them as the Broadshaven Hotel. It is named after ‘Broads Haven’, the home of Herbert Woods fleet of hire craft that stands opposite the tavern.
It’s a large pub with a main bar, a dining room and a function room. Not much appears to have changed since the early 1990s when I would occasionally and somewhat reluctantly find myself here at ‘Tigers’ disco, except that there doesn’t seem to be much activity here these days, and without the large number of visitors that Potter Heigham used to attract, it can feel empty and in need of life. It had been neglected for a number of years but in 2011 came under new management; when we visited it was friendly and clean, the only real ale, Woodfordes Wherry in good nick. The outside seating area is the real draw here, overlooking the River Thurne and the narrow medieval bridge. On the opposite bank used to stand the Bridge Inn.
Originally the Waterman’s Arms, it had been pulled down and rebuilt as the Bridge Hotel by 1896 (Fishing in Norfolk Waters – Arthur Rudd, 1896). It stood on the banks of the River Thurne opposite where the Broadshaven pub stands. The Handbook to the Rivers and Broads of Norfolk and Suffolk (G. Christopher Davies) published in 1882 mentions:
At the bridge is the ‘Waterman’s Arms’ where one or two bedrooms, and a small parlour, all scrupulously clean, are obtainable.
In the mid 20th century, each year when the Regatta was held:
Rhubarb Underwood’s fun fair set up its colourful collection of rides, dodg’ems, cakewalk, coconut shies, boxing booth and other stalls in front of the Bridge hotel… the pubs were open all day, until midnight, and well patronised… wherries berthed in front of the Bridge Hotel.
(Potter Heigham, The Heart of Broadland – Olga Sinclair, 1989)
In the late 80s and early 90s this was my first local, the first pub I felt I was a part of, drank regularly in, bought my first round of drinks in – lager, lager tops, lager and lime – danced in, cycled home drunk from. In the summer, on Friday and Saturday evenings it was busy and lively, groups of people spilling outside next to the river, boats moored here, sometimes a DJ would play in the small extension room. It was a landmark in the Norfolk Broads, captured on many old photographs, postcards and paintings, then it burnt down.
It was destroyed by a fire in September 1990 and eventually the remains were cleared away. In 1997 the Broads Local Plan stated “The Broads Authority has granted planning permission for a suitable scheme for the reconstruction of the hotel.” but nothing came of it. Apparently problems with insurance, building regulations and investments prevented rebuilding the inn. Twenty years later, this prime site in the heart of the broads remains inaccessible, overgrown, unloved and used as a private car park by the River Thurne Tenants Association who lease the site and were given planning permission by the Broads Authority.
It existed since at least 1881 when the census lists Charles Chase as ‘innkeeper & grocer’. The railway line through Potter Heigham to Catfield opened in 1880 and closed in 1959.
Old, thatched, originally just a simple beerhouse, the Tavern stood at the corner of Church Road and Station road and despite its name was probably there before the advent of the railway. Beer was kept in a cool flagged room, down several steps, and drawn straight from the barrel. In front of it was a small shop where groceries were sold. It was a popular meeting place for the men, and had a bowling green, surrounded by a hedge of sweetly scented syringa.
One regular customer always gave his horse a pint of beer when he stopped to partake of refreshment for himself. It would seem that they were a well-matched pair, equally addicted to the god Bacchus, for the horse would stop and refuse to move on until he had had his tipple.
It was still a shop and pub in the early 20th century:
In 1935 Alfred Amis’ parents owned a combined shop and pub, the Railway Tavern, at nearby Potter Heigham, where they had a six day licence, being closed on Sundays. They bought all their beer from Bullards and that must have helped Alfred to be accepted as one of that brewery’s landlords.
(Tales of the Old Countrywomen – Brian Martin, 1997)
It was still shown as a public house on a 1982 map but must have closed soon after. It has been since been demolished and replaced by modern housing.
Cringles Country Club
Cringles was built by Herbert Woods for his family in 1936 and later became Cringles Country Club, a 10 bedroom hotel. I visited once or twice in the early 90s and played pool in a room overlooking the gardens, but it was more of a hotel and restaurant than a pub. It closed later in the 1990s and is now a private house, with new houses built on what were the gardens and pond.
Once a thriving spot on the broads, the village seems to have suffered as a result of losing the Bridge Inn, followed by a decline in the hire boat industry over the past couple of decades, the loss of several shops and the closure of the school. Still, it’s well worth visiting for the Falgate Inn, one of the most welcoming pubs we’ve visited in Norfolk. Lathams village store, just behind the Broadshaven Tavern, is a good place to pick up a range of bottled beers from Humpty Dumpty brewery.