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Billy Bluelight

Sculpture of Billy Bluelight on the Wherryman's Way at Bramerton, Norfolk. The River Yare can be seen in background

William Cullum (10 April 1859[1] – July 1949),[2] known as Billy Bluelight, was a popular English flower vendor and cult figure in Norwich. He was well known for his races, when he would run the 20-mile stretch alongside the steam pleasure boats beside the rivers Wensum and Yare.[3]

Early life

Cullum was born in the slums of his home city of Norwich. He never received a formal education, but he did however teach himself to read. He worked briefly at Caley's chocolate factory and by 1907 he was already legendary for his racing and street selling activities.

Later life

Cullum never married and lived with his mother, until her death. They lived at several addresses in the city including Oak Street, Colegate and Pkyerell House at St Mary's Plain. After his mother's death around 1930 he was reported to have entered Woodlands, part of the West Norwich Hospital. By 1939, he was living at Palmer Road on the Mile Cross Estate which was built between the wars. In his 80s, he entered the West Norwich Hospital and was later moved to St James Hospital at Shipmeadow, Suffolk, where he died in 1949, aged 90.

Five years after his death, writer R L Potter wrote this description of him:

Nickname

Many theories have been put forward to how he received his name. In 1907, a reference was made to the 'bluelight' of his eloquence; another suggestion was that of his blue nose in winter, or that he sold blue-tipped matches.

'Bluelight' was also a Victorian term for teetotaller or temperance worker. Although he spoke out against the dangers of alcohol, there is no evidence to prove that this was the case.

Legacy

There are several reminders of him in the Norwich area.

The Crude Apache theatre company produced a play about his life, entitled "Nature's Gentleman - The Story of Billy Bluelight" [4]

Close to the Woods End Inn in Bramerton, a life-size statue has been erected in his memory on the Wherryman's Way long-distance footpath.

In 1994 Woodforde's Brewery renamed their outlet The Freemasons Arms in Hall Road, Norwich to The Billy Bluelight. Since March 2005, and after a change of ownership, the pub has now reverted to its former name.[5]

Racing career

Cullen was slight and wiry, and typically dressed in long white shorts, cricket cap, and plimsolls with medals on his chest. He would issue his challenge to pleasure boat passengers that he would beat them to their destination. Setting off, walking and running, he would be waiting to meet the boats at the next landing stage to receive acclamation and pennies of his admirers. On the return journey he would regale day-trippers with the following rhyme

He is said to have remained '45' for many years.

References

  1. ^ 1939 England and Wales Register
  2. ^ England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007
  3. ^ Biography Archived May 9, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. retrieved August 4, 2008
  4. ^ Natures Gentleman- The Story of Billy Bluelight Archived May 14, 2008, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved August 4, 2008
  5. ^ The Billy Bluelight public house Retrieved August 5, 2008