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Days when the books were king at library

PUBLISHED: 11:05 09 November 2007 | UPDATED: 12:01 30 June 2010

ELEGANCE: The five-year-old Britannia Pier at Great Yarmouth in 1907, the year shares in the project were auctioned. The pavilion was gutted by fire in 1909

ELEGANCE: The five-year-old Britannia Pier at Great Yarmouth in 1907, the year shares in the project were auctioned. The pavilion was gutted by fire in 1909

UNTIL perhaps the Eighties or Nineties, anyone playing one of those quick-fire word association games and given “library” would probably respond instantly with “book”.

UNTIL perhaps the Eighties or Nineties, anyone playing one of those quick-fire word association games and given “library” would probably respond instantly with “book”. But go into Great Yarmouth or Gorleston public libraries today and the game is more like Spot the Book because computers dominate the scene, often with every one in use - the result of the Government's ambition to make us all IT literate and able to access the wonders of the world-wide internet.

Other libraries are similarly looking like internet cafes, appearing to relegate books to the sidelines. I spend a fair amount of time on my home computer - this feature is being tapped out on it - and they have an important role, but I would find it sad if reading is suffering as a result. We all know that few children delve into books today, and too many leave school with literacy problems.

A century ago, however, the residents of Gorleston were very excited about books when the new Carnegie library was opened in the heart of the town centre, with 4000 volumes on the shelves, bought specially to stock the new facility. It might well be that far more than that are in the library in 2007 despite the apparent dominance of the computer in the present building, built in 1974 on the same spot.

Gorleston's first library was in a room at the police station (now a solicitors' office) in High Street in 1887, moving to the long-gone St Andrew's Hall after 14 years. That first purpose-built library had the backing of £2000 from millionaire philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and was an elegant terracotta edifice..

As a child I devoured books and could not wait until I was old enough to join the children's section at Gorleston and borrow books from its crammed shelves. But on the day I proudly received my little card with its pocket, I spent what seemed hours poring the unfamiliar shelves, unable to find a book that appealed to me. As closing time approached, and the librarian appearing to be watching me all the time, I grabbed two at random to take home, and made my exit.

One was British Birds and Their Eggs, a topic in which I had not the slightest interest. The name of the other escapes me after well over six decades. But I recall that I virtually tried to memorise both, particularly swotting up on the words and photographs in the birds volume…because I thought the librarian would ask me questions when I returned them to make sure I had read his precious books

I could nearly have gone on a Mastermind-type quiz programme with British birds and their eggs as my specialist subject, so intensely had I tried to absorb the book's thousands of detailed facts. Of course, there was no examination when I handed the pair of books back to the librarian, who merely grunted. Thereafter I managed to find plenty of books to enjoy - all fiction!

By the way, the original 4000 books included a copy of Palmer's Perlustrations of Yarmouth, the definitive book on our borough. A two-faced public clock was placed on the library, jutting out of its corner and costing £110.

Near the library, “dangerous corner” and “crossroad” warning signs were placed at Feathers Plain, and elsewhere in High Street opposite the Vicarage, at the approach to the Haven Bridge and on the centre of the refuge at its Yarmouth foot, the Town Hall end of Regent Street, and either end of Regent Road. All resulted from implementation of the Motor Car Act 1903.

Also in 1907, residents campaigned for a crossing from Hall Quay to the bridge because of obstruction caused by vans and carts unloading at Star and Garter Row.

The tramway was extended to Caister, costing £13,000. The tramways committee declined to allow collectors with boxes on tramcars to raise funds from passengers for Cripples Day (long before political correctness began its relentless erosion of perfectly good words and phrases), despite a letter from the Lord Mayor of London seeking permission.

Anyone preferring to cycle instead of travelling by tram could buy a Royal Emblem for £3 15s (£3.75) or Coventry Express at six guineas (£6.30) from Fieldings' new shop (in Market Row?). Stay-at-homes wanting a gramophone needed £3 15s - or £11 if it had a horn, HMV logo style. They could wallpaper their rooms at 3d (1p) a roll, or buy Lux at one old penny a box to prevent their woollies from shrinking.

A new shipping route to the continent was inaugurated by the Flemish Line, linking Yarmouth with Zeebrugge in Belgium - at which point could I acknowledge the readers of this column who have been wondering why I have not commented so far on the work on the new outer harbour that is exciting many folk who think it will bring prosperity and jobs but ignore the downside.

I have always been sceptical about the project, and I am awaiting the arrival of the first ship that could only have been accommodated by the outer harbour and was unable to have used the river and our traditional port facility.

In 1907 a new steam dredger, Industry, with four barges arrived to work for the Port and Haven Commissioners.

A new road serving fish yards and premises was named Suffling Road, not Stornoway Road as originally intended. Barnard Avenue was built. A byelaw was introduced forcing all dogs to have a collar with the name and address of the owner. A fire at Johnson's oilskin factory on South Denes was attended by a motor fire engine incorporating a tank. A new grandstand was built at the South Denes racecourse to replace one destroyed by fire.

Shares in the Britannia Pier - rebuilt five years earlier - were offered by auction; its pavilion was gutted by fire two years later, damage estimated at £16,000.

An oak screen was given to Gorleston parish church.

A horse drawing a cart bolted into the river despite the efforts of the owner's six-year-old son to stop it. The animal drowned but the cart was salvaged from the River Bure at the yacht station.

The sum of £1000 from the sale of land to the Midland and Great Northern Railway was spent on the new Beaconsfield recreation ground, The first tree-planting scheme involved Albemarle, Wellesley and Sandown Roads, Albert Square and Camperdown. Land behind York Road and St Peter's Plain was leased for a miniature rifle range.

The corporation took over St Nicholas's Churchyard and also bought Greengrass's Mill on Hamilton Road to develop a building site.

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