You know you’re at the top of your profession when people simply refer to you by the one name. Picasso, Pele, Cheryl, Bowie, Norman.
Norman (Weatherburn), owner of the renowned Boathouse at Wylam, Northumberland, passed away in June but he’ll simply be forever Norman. From Edinburgh to Darlington, people would invariably ask: “How’s Norman?” They never had to qualify it with a surname, we all knew who we were talking about.
Norman was the quintessential landlord – welcoming, friendly, witty and generous. His nurturing of the Boathouse over virtually 20 years (and latterly Kings Manor in Newcastle) was an example to all publicans – give customers a quality experience and they’ll not only return time after time but they’ll tell their friends to do likewise.
He built the pub up to feature a forest of 15 handpulled ales and was rightly regularly selected to represent the region in the Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) search for its national pub of the year. More local awards came, year in, year out – all deservedly. The Boathouse beer festivals were stuff of legend and his love of live music made the pub a must for bands and impromptu folk and blues sessions.
An entrepreneur, Norman’s actual trade was in precision engineering and at one time he juggled running pubs with working for the likes of Twinings and SSL Industries – often all over the country – where he was highly regarded. But he was dedicated to the hospitality business and was a caring father to Mark and Lyndsey as well as being a proud grandfather.
To celebrate the life of a super guy, several friends have contributed a few words in his memory.
“Norman was of the best friends Sarah and I have ever had. I’ve enjoyed beer festivals, meals and trips away with him and have great memories. I hope you’re enjoying your king prawn vindaloo in heaven, mate. And I hope we meet again one day.”
Dave and Sarah Cook, The Sun Inn, Swalwell.
“My main memory is of always staying longer at the Boathouse and hardly ever being sober. Norman always seemed to have a habit of chatting away to you just as the train was due. I missed lots of trains.”
Pete Fenwick, Mithril Brewery.
“In The Bridge one time Norman started singing, ‘There’s a tiny house by a tiny stream’ and soon virtually the whole pub had joined in. Typically, he supped up and left them to it.”
Neil Amos, The Newcastle Arms.
“Norman was one of the best mates I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing were in not for him. The knowledge he passed on to me was just amazing and the legacy he left at the Boathouse is something that will go on forever. Everything I know about this business and everything I do came from him – everything. He was just an amazing man.”
Jay Bennett, manager, The Boathouse.
“Norman was always welcoming and always wanting to buy you a pint when you walked through the door. Having visited the Boathouse over the last dozen years or so, I got to know Norman well and I could also see how popular the pub was. This was down to the excellent reputation both he and his staff had created. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to miss trains due to Norman’s hospitality.”
Darlington Camra member Ian Jackson.
“I remember about 10 of us going for a meal at the Big Mussel in Newcastle, where you get a whole kilo of mussels, a good sized bowl of hand-cut chips and a fresh baked bread bun with a mayonnaise dip. It’s substantial by anyone’s standards.
“Norman said he wouldn’t come for a drink with the rest of us after as he’d arranged to meet an old workmate for a curry and that he had felt awful about putting him off several times, so we went our separate ways.
Back in the Boathouse about 10.15pm, the door opened and in came Norm. He ordered a half which took him the best part of an hour to drink. His evening had gone very well but not wanting to let this guy down or appear out of sorts, he didn’t tell him about the earlier bucketful of mussels. In the Indian restaurant he had ordered the only curry I ever knew him to choose over the 27 years I knew him – king prawn butterfly with popadoms and pickles, king prawn vindaloo, vegetable pilau, garlic naan and for good measure, a side dish of Bombay aloo. What a guy, he’d eaten the lot – he would do anything not to disappoint or let people down. RIP Norman.”
Martin Hamill, Hadrian Border Brewery.
Finally, to celebrate Norman’s sense of humour, most Boathouse regulars will never forget his karaoke rendition of All My Loving – only he sang All My Washing, which was always hilarious. But you had to be there.
An all-time favourite, though, was when he said he’d got a job on the dodgems at The Hoppings but eventually got the sack. He took his employers to an industrial tribunal and won his case for funfair dismissal.
Again, you had to be there – and that was the essence of Norman and The Boathouse. You had to be there.
Long-term friend Neil Amos sums Norman up: “I wish we’d had the chance to tell him how much we thought of him. He was loved by so many; a genuinely good man.”