The Tales from the River project aims to discover and celebrate Brecks swimming and outdoor recreation heritage. It will train and involve volunteers in gathering history, stories and folklore about recreation in/on/by the Brecks rivers and other waters. The project is part of  The Brecks Fen Edge & Rivers Landscape Partnership Scheme, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

See also Swim history project plans 2021 for project dates.

Four training sessions have taken place, on Research and Oral History.

Please Contact me to find out more or to get involved


Presenting the findings

We will continue to gather materials into 2022, before compiling and presenting them in a variety of ways, including exhibition, video, website pieces, and to enrich the county archives. Heritage information will inform the Healing Waters river survey and map, and will appear together with safety advice at key swimming spots. Throughout we can share information that will be of interest with other projects, and within this project interesting stories, materials and oral history extracts will be made available to the Youth strand of the project, to be compiled into an exhibition and video.

Liaison with other projects

Projects that might be of interest and would be particularly relevant for liaison: the survey and mapping of the rivers element of the Healing Waters project (which I am also leading on, https://www.imogensriverswims.co.uk/blog/os-brecks-2/healing-waters-project-outline/); and the project looking into the history of trade on the rivers, Industrious Rivers (organised by the Breckland Society, https://brecks.org/bfer/projects/under-the-surface-discovering-heritage/2-3-industrious-rivers/), and perhaps some of the other BFER projects (http://brecks.org/BFER/projects/)

Reasons for the project

The rivers and other water bodies have always been very important in the Brecks, a very dry area with hot summers. There is a rich tradition of swimming and other water-based recreation across the generations, and we hope to uncover many memories, old photos and films, stories and folklore about these activities.

Although young people have carried on the tradition of flocking to local swimming spots in the rivers in the summer, and outdoor or wild swimming has become very popular in the last few years, many people have lost the knowledge and confidence to do so, and myths and fears – some exaggerated – have taken their place. The places people go to swim and enjoy the water have always been those to which they have access, often associated with footpaths and bridleways, places of baptism, ferries, mills and old ponds.

We should celebrate this heritage and– in conjunction with other projects such as Healing Waters – revive and to continue into the future our connection with the water in the Breckland landscape.

Purpose and aims

  • To train people in archive research, oral history interviewing and related skills
  • To uncover the heritage of swimming and other river-based recreation in the past and present, by gathering memories, stories and folklore, photos and film
  • To understand and celebrate the heritage and traditions of swimming and other watery recreation
  • To connect us to this important aspect of the Breckland landscape
  • To inform the Healing Waters project on the places, heritage and attitudes
  • To provide material for the youth strand of the project
  • To present material in various ways including exhibition, video, website, archives
Training and discussion programme 2021

PAST EVENT (see below)  Wed 7 July,  1230-1630 – Santon Downham

Tales from the River: doing research and intro to Norfolk Record Office, followed by a discussion on taking the project forward
PAST EVENT (see below)  Tuesday 7 September,  1000-1600 – Engine House, Brandon Country ParkTales from the River: intro to Oral History collecting , followed by a discussion on collecting stories

PAST EVENT (see below)      1 November, 10.00-13.00, Bury St Edmunds

Tales from the River: doing research and intro to Suffolk Record Office, Bury St Edmunds

PAST EVENT (see below)       8 November, 10.00-12.00

Tales from the River: tour of Norfolk Record Office Norwich  
children in a river in summer
St Helen’s family swim
Training so far

FIRST TRAINING EVENT took place Wednesday 7 July, 1230-1630, Santon Downham Community Centre. Tales from the River: Doing research and discovering the archives at Norfolk Record Office.

The trainer explained how to access the archives and do your own research, and illustrated this with examples of relevant documents/maps/material from the collection.

We followed the training with a discussion on how volunteers can take the project forward and how we would organise doing research on swimming and other river recreation.

Participants were sent handouts from the training, with links for sources for research, and groups and organisations that could help. Volunteers will do their research independently, while liaising with the project lead and keeping in touch with each other as the project develops.

The 7 July training reported in the BFER Newsletter 3; See more photos of the sessions.

people in training room
Doing Research training 7 July

SECOND TRAINING EVENT took place Tuesday 7 September 2021,Brandon Engine House, Brandon Country Park, IP27 0SU, Tales from the River: Introduction to Oral History Collecting.

The trainers, Mandy and Hannah from Suffolk Archives, gave an introduction to oral history, issues and legalities to consider, how to plan, prepare and conduct an interview, using the equipment and a chance to practice. We also discussed project planning and how to organise gathering stories and oral history recordings on swimming and other river recreation. More photos of the training.

A project plan is being developed. An Info Sheet about the oral history strand of the project and how you could get involved can be downloaded (word.doc 2 pages) . We are looking for people who might like to tell us their stories and memories about swimming later in 2021, or would like to send us information – Outdoor Swimming maps, info, photos or stories to share.

Intro to Oral History Collecting training

THIRD TRAINING EVENT: Doing research and using the Suffolk Archives, Monday 1 November, Suffolk Record Office,  Bury St Edmunds. The trainer, Hannah from Suffolk Archives, gave an introduction to the archives and the sort of records and work they do, did a tour of the strongroom and reading rooms, and showed us some very interesting and relevant documents, maps and photos from the collection. There were plenty of opportunities to ask questions and search the catalogue, and some discussion on following up and doing research at the Suffolk Archives, online and elsewhere.

people maps books
Research training November

FOURTH TRAINING EVENT: Tour of Norfolk Record Office, Monday 8 November, Norwich. Tour by Karen Gaffney, Norfolk Record Office including how to access the archives and a look at the areas behind the scenes including a fascinating talk by Nick Sellwood about conservation and preservation of important records, and a chance to look at some fascinating and beautiful photos, drawings, diaries, maps and other documents relevant to the project. 

documents and people
Looking at documents after tour at Norfolk Record Office

See also Swim history project plans 2021 for project dates.

The Tales from the River is part of  The Brecks Fen Edge & Rivers Landscape Partnership Scheme, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Contact me to find out more or to get involved

swims and swim places, and related issues