‘Water Frolic’ is a new term for us at Jot HQ. But according to the art historian Trevor Fawcett, who was perhaps a Norfolk man ( he attended the University of East Anglia), these events were common festive occasions on the Norfolk rivers and broads, at least in the early years of the nineteenth century.
In his short article published in Norfolk Archaeology ( XXXVI, Part IV, 1977), a reprint from which we found in a pile of ephemera at Jot HQ, Fawcett writes about the Thorpe Water Frolic of 1824, which was captured in a superb oil painting by the provincial artist Joseph Stannard, himself a keen oarsman and the owner of a skiff—the Cytherea — the following year.
Thorpe is today a riverside place on the Yare immediately adjoining Norwich, whose station is named after it. In 1824, however, it was a picturesque hamlet ( dubbed the ‘Richmond of Norfolk’) on an important trading route to foreign markets; and on this particular occasion all the various commercial vessels on the Yare would have been immobilised to enable the ‘ frolic’ to take place.
Although annual frolics had been common events in Norfolk over the years, the Thorpe frolic had only been established in 1821 by local cloth-merchant and manufacturer John Harvey, who had bought and developed the Thorpe Lodge estate. Originally, it was attended only by the wealthy and influential in Norwich and its vicinity. In 1822 nine cutters had raced for a silver cup and five rowing boats for another trophy. But in 1823 Harvey decided to open the event to everyone—from the humblest loom-worker, farm labourer and shop assistant, to the wealthiest businessmen and landowners. Continue reading