Ted Ellis was well-known in Norfolk as a writer, broadcaster and naturalist. He was born in Guernsey in 1909, came to live in Yarmouth as a child in 1920, and it was during his youth there that he became fascinated with ‘high adventures’ discovering the natural world.
Arthur Patterson was an early influence in Ted’s life, introducing him to both Breydon and the Broads, and Ted helped him by typing the manuscript of his book ‘Wildflowers and Poachers’ (1929) when Arthur’s eyesight failed.
Ted was not a traditional scholar or scientist. He left school at the age of fifteen, went to work in a factory making false teeth, studied at evening classes and got a temporary job at the Tolhouse Museum in Yarmouth. At the age of nineteen he was appointed as a natural history assistant at the Castle Museum, Norwich, where he developed his specialist research into fungi and rusts. Ted stayed until 1956, as Keeper of Natural History at the Castle, writing his daily notes on the countryside for the Eastern Daily Press, and broadcasting.
Much of the inspiration for Ted’s writing and broadcasts came from his beloved Wheatfen, which he and his wife Phyllis had purchased. Consisting of 130 acres of marsh carr and woods, Wheatfen is recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is one of the last tidal marshes in the Yare Velley and one of the few remaining areas of the once extensive swamp. Sir David Bellamy claimed ‘Wheatfen Broad… is probably the best bit of fenland we have because we know so much about it. That is because one man gave his life trying to understand it’.
Since Ted’s death at Surlingham in 1986, Wheatfen has been run as a nature reserve by a charitable trust.
Ted Ellis welcomed coypu onto Wheatfen. However, he was happy to eat them and wore a hat made out of coypu fur! To make your own hat, inspired by Ted’s, see below: