Swimming under Breydon Viaduct!

Recollections of Arthur Lark (born 1911)

Transcribed from a recorded interview (August 2001)

"Us boys, we used to go in for a swim, near where Porters factory was. Just between Porters and the riverside there were some old punt houses, they've pulled them down lately. Off the back of them there was a bit of a slipway, like a little beach, where you could walk down and get to the river. Well, we used to play about there, swimming in front of that place during the holidays. I would have been about 15 I should think, I doubt whether I was 15, perhaps 14.

Anyway, to belong to the gang of boys who used to go swimming, you were more or less accepted when you'd swam from one side of the river to the other. I remember another boy, going down there, just us two, and he say 'How about swimming across the river'. Yeah, I said, I'm game, I couldn't swim all that strong though. Where you came out the other side was almost directly opposite, there's a little slipway there now. Well, we started off but of course upstream is the outfall of the Bure and the tide was running up, and it must have been a strong tide, 'cos as we went across the tide was carrying us up river and it was obvious we weren't going to make where we was s'pposed to get out. Just a little lower down was the quayside and we wouldn't have got out at all and then there was the mouth of the Bure. This other chap, Trowbridge his name was, big boy, a lot bigger than me, he shouted 'I got cramp, I can't swim no further' and he was trying to swim against the tide to make the slipway. I shouted to him 'Let it go, come with me, you can't do it, come with me' but he went right across the mouth of the Bure on to that bit of rond (Norfolk river bank or reed bed). I can remember putting my feet down and I couldn't touch the bottom so I kept going. We got to the other side and he had the wind up properly. 'What an earth are we going to do' he said. I said 'Well we're going to get wind first and then we'll walk as far as we can, we were on that rond so that would have been the back of Vauxhall Station, 'til the water get too deep and then we'll set off for home', which we done after we had a bit of a rest. I can remember him starting off and again he kept trying to swim against the tide, shouting he'd got the cramps and I hollered to him 'Come with the tide with me' and he was shouting ' I'm drowning'. I can remember someone putting out the row boat and hauling him in but they didn't pay no regard to me. I wasn't making much noise and all the time I was getting closer and closer to that bridge.

I was swimming straight for the other side, letting the tide take me and all of a sudden the river steamer came through. He saw me and he blew for me. I can remember treading water 'til he went past and all the holidaymakers were on there, all looking, just my head out of the water. Course, when he went past, I started off again and lo and behold there's another one and then I had to wait for him to go past. When I started out again I thought to myself 'I'm getting very close to that bridge'. I must have been a sensible kid 'cos I thought to myself 'I'll never make the other side and I mustn't bump into that thing'. It was all awash with tide and barnacles and stuff. I thought 'The only thing to do is go through the bridge'. So I did and I can remember the fella up there, he was having a look, he didn't shout, he was having a look. Anyway I went through there like a cork, just went 'swoosh'. As soon as I got through, I struck out for the shore again. I can remember running back 'cos we were ever so far away from where our clothes were. Course, when I got back his clothes were gone.

Lovely memory, lovely memory.... my mother never knew. Funny thing, in the water like that, I knew I was in a muddle, I must have been cool-headed because I didn't panic or anything, I just kept striking out and done the right thing but it was lovely."