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Cyber search uncovers physician

PUBLISHED: 16:39 15 November 2007 | UPDATED: 12:01 30 June 2010

NAIVELY, perhaps, I considered I had some knowledge of the history of Great Yarmouth, partly because much about it has been aired in this column down the decades, or in the wealth of books produced by distinguished local authors that it has been my pleasure to read.

NAIVELY, perhaps, I considered I had some knowledge of the history of Great Yarmouth, partly because much about it has been aired in this column down the decades, or in the wealth of books produced by distinguished local authors that it has been my pleasure to read.

I reassured myself that even if my knowledge of an event, person, place, building or whatever was sketchy, I would almost certainly have heard of it at least. So it was chastening when I ventured into cyberspace and logged on to Great Yarmouth websites, seeking one basic fact.

On the Wikipedia online free encyclopaedia, my missing fact was absent, but my eye was drawn to the “notable residents” entry. To my surprise, only three qualified for inclusion although many of us could have suggested worthy additions.

The second and third listed were instantly recognisable: Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty, and Sir James Paget, the Victorian surgeon after whom our district hospital was named. But the first “notable resident” baffled me - Dr Thomas Girdlestone, described as an English physician and writer.

Who? Never heard of him!

According to his biographical details, he was born in Holt in 1758 and, after a classical education at Gresham's School there, joined the army as a surgeon's mate, serving under Col Sir Charles Stuart, governor of Minorca, and in India. From 1787, he studied medicine in Holland and, after qualifying, “settled at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, where he practised as a doctor, wrote books on medicine, and was also a publisher”.

Girdlestone must have cut a striking figure in Yarmouth, for he is described as tall and thin, dressed in black with a white cravat, silk stockings and half gaiters, and had “a powdered head and pigtail, and carried a gold-headed cane”. He was married to the widow of the Rev John Close, and they had one son.

As an author, his subjects varied between medical topics and oddities, that included facts tending to prove that General Lee was never absent from this country for any length of time during the years 1767-1772, and that he was the Author of Junius”. Hmmm...

Girdlestone, who died in 1822, is listed in the 2004 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. I hope one of my readers can fill in more Yarmouth detail about him.

The picture of six elderly women, below, probably snapped in the 1940s or 1950s, was passed to me by my friend Mrs Lily Bond who, with her husband Philip, lives in Bussey's Loke, Bradwell. Her hope was that I might be able to identify some of the group because she knew that yonks ago I lived for a time in the Newtown area where those pictured resided.

She knew one of the party - her mother, Mrs Ada Hanton, who had ten children and lived in Garfield Road. Mrs Bond had a vague idea about a couple of her mother's companions in the photograph, and thought the common denominator was the fact that they all lived in the Harley/Garfield Roads area of Newtown.

I could see that none of them was my maternal grandmother, also resident in Harley Road, and I could not help in the process...but I know a man who could - and did!

Retired headmaster Colin Sherwood, of Onslow Avenue, who lived on Garfield Road when I was staying at my Nan's home in Harley Road in wartime, eagerly began making inquiries in summer, having already noted that his own grandmother was one of the coach party. Soon he was back with the names of the complete line-up.

From left to right are: Miss Hilda Palmer, who lived with her parents in Harley Road; Mrs Laura Hubbard, a Salvation Army member (Garfield); (at back) Mrs Hanton (Garfield) - Lily Bond's mother; Mrs Alice Durrant (Garfield); (at back) Mrs Ada Rachel Beckett, at one time a beatster mending herring nets (Harley) - Mr Sherwood's grandmother; and Mrs Rosie Blake, holding the handbag (Garfield).

Mrs Blake he describes as “a lovely lady, always smiling, always happy, a real character and a wonderful woman.” Mrs Durrant's son, Eric, lives in Caister and is a friend of Mr Sherwood, who was helped in naming the women by 91-year-old Don Burnett and his wife who had been living in Garfield Road for at least half a century.

Don, who sadly died in September, was a popular long-serving groundsman at the Beaconsfield. Early post-war I watched him as a Gorleston footballer - possibly the Greens' captain in a side that included Kenny Newlands and Dick Campling.

And from a coach outing to a tragic flight that ended in mystery. Seventy years ago, the celebrated American woman pilot Amelia Earhart disappeared over the South Pacific towards the end of a record-breaking round-the-world flight. This summer an expedition set out to try to ascertain what happened, and whether she and her navigator were killed in a crash or perhaps survived and became castaways on a remote island for the rest of their lives.

A US ship, the cutter Itasca, was in the Pacific to help with radio communications for Earhart's epic flight, then played a vital role in the huge air-sea search for the missing aircraft. The Itasca was conveyed in 1941 to the Royal Navy under a wartime lease-lend agreement...and was renamed HMS Gorleston as a tribute to our lifeboat station.

Recently, I wrote about my lovely Parker Duofold fountain pen with its gold arrow clip that served me for years, at school and work. I so loved it that I bought Mrs Peggotty a ladies model but she was not into fountain pens and it remained

in a drawer, unused, still boxed,

and forgotten.

A dozen years ago I espied an advertisement in a national newspaper offering top prices for vintage Parker pens, and we decided to cash in with her 30-year-old pristine gift. Vainly we searched high and low and then realised that it must have been in the haul when Peggotty's Hut was burgled a few years earlier.

So we lost the pen, the money for which we could have sold it, and insurance compensation because it was far too late to claim.

Finally, although I usually ignore anonymous letters, I could not resist the information scribbled across a June column sent by an old school chum who left the town half a century ago but enjoys my weekly jottings when they finally reach him.

He gently admonishes me for confessing that although I knew the translation of the Latin names of two Yarmouth herring drifters, I was flummoxed by the Ut Probum (YH169).

My correspondent, explaining that he has only just seen that June Mercury, writes: “It means, 'That I might be honest/virtuous'. Oh dear, Mr Peggotty, whatever would dear old Jimmy Morrow - Latin master, Yarmouth Grammar School, in our day - have said?”

If only I could think of a smart retort - in Latin, of course...

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