Friday, 9 July 2010

Billy Bluelight rides again


BILLY Bluelight was a Norfolk eccentric who – in the absence of a welfare state – lived on his wits and his charm. He’s one of the Wherryman’s Way most iconic characters, famous for racing the steam pleasure boats along the River Yare from Bramerton to Norwich – hoping for spare change from the passengers on board. His equally famous rhyme – which has to be delivered in a Victorian Norfolk accent - runs as follows:

“My name is Billy Bluelight, my age is 45. I hope to get to Carrow Bridge before the boat arrive.”

Incidentally, it works a lot better if you say “Carra” for Carrow. I mention him here because he’s just been reincarnated outside Rosy Lee’s teashop in Loddon as part of this weekend’s Scarecrow Festival in the town. Rosy Lee’s is run by Caroline Dwen, who “commissioned” it from one of her regular customers. You’ll see the rhyme has been updated in the shop’s honour.


Billy Bluelight gets a good mention in my book including this charming memory from one of the dozens of people who wrote into the EDP after his death in 1949.  This man’s family houseboat was moored every year at Bramerton:

“At half past eleven or so every morning, the tinkle of a harp would intrude upon the cooing of the wood pigeons, heralding the approach of the Yarmouth Belle or the Waterfly with her big freight of Yarmouth trippers bound for Norwich.

“Simultaneously, a strange figure would take up a stance just past the houseboat. Clad in shorts and a singlet, and hung with a prodigious array of medals, his expansive smile seemed to be exactly duplicated at a higher level by the peak of a gaily-striped cricket cap.”

He would deliver his rhyme and then sprint off.

“At the Woods End he would be no more than level, but once out of sight he was able to gain a bit on the short cut across the Whitlingham Sewerage Farm, to reappear neck and neck by the old limekiln at Crown Point.

Once more Billy would disappear from view, and while the boat passed very slowly through bends and narrow waters unsuited to her, Billy had to make the detour over Trowse Bridge; but by the time Carrow Bridge was reached (the old bridge by Carrow Works) there would be Billy, ready to receive the well-earned plaudits of the trippers and the coppers thrown onto the path by the Boom Tower.


Year after year the performance was repeated, but Billy’s age remained 45! This may have been for the sake of the rhyme, but there was enough of the Peter Pan in him to have justified it on other grounds. Peace to his memory.”


If you can’t make Loddon this weekend, a more permanent statue can be found outside the Woods End pub. Peace to his memory indeed.

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