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The Great Yarmouth tunnel plans that never saw the light of day

PUBLISHED: 10:18 13 August 2018 | UPDATED: 10:18 13 August 2018

All aboard! Passengers - mainly South Denes workers - catching the Lower Ferry in 1954. Picture: JACK HARRISON

All aboard! Passengers - mainly South Denes workers - catching the Lower Ferry in 1954. Picture: JACK HARRISON

JACK HARRISON

For as long as anyone can remember, river crossings have regularly made Mercury headlines.

Going down...in 1949 waterworks employee Mr R Calver is about to clamber down into the tunnel under the river that carries fresh water pipes from North Quay to Cobholm. Picture: YARE PHOTOSGoing down...in 1949 waterworks employee Mr R Calver is about to clamber down into the tunnel under the river that carries fresh water pipes from North Quay to Cobholm. Picture: YARE PHOTOS

At first they concentrated on an additional one in case the Haven Bridge was out of action, while others aimed at providing easy alternative access to and from the Fishwharf and industrialised South Denes.

The 1986 opening of the Breydon Bridge and bypass alleviated reliance on the Haven Bridge, easing some of the traffic problems.

And now we are promised a new £120 million opening bridge spanning the Yare from the South Denes to the Harfreys roundabout and the main roads network.

It must be hard for younger generations to believe that before 1986 the choice was either crossing the Haven Bridge or using the lower ferry favoured by scores of Gorleston area personnel working on the South Denes.

Saving a daily cycle ride from Gorleston, across the Haven Bridge and along to the South Denes industrial area: workers' bikes left under cover at the Lower Ferry in 1954. Picture: JACK HARRISONSaving a daily cycle ride from Gorleston, across the Haven Bridge and along to the South Denes industrial area: workers' bikes left under cover at the Lower Ferry in 1954. Picture: JACK HARRISON

When most of those major employers departed, the ferry followed suit in the 1990s, a victim of lack of trade and soaring costs.

Presumably the latest bridge proposal means there is no light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, for a road beneath the river although sets of previous plans may well be squirrelled away, just in case...

The first tunnel was bored beneath the Yare over a century ago - a 400ft 7ft diameter one linking North Quay to Cobholm just upriver from the bridge in 1909 to carry fresh water from the Broads through mains via the 161ft Caister water tower to serve Gorleston.

The tunnel was 15ft under the river bed and cost £15,000. Some tap water was (and, possibly, still is) stored temporarily in the grassy banked reservoir beside Gorleston’s Middleton Road.

Overflow: more cycles propped against the railings at the top of Ferry Hill. Picture: JACK HARRISONOverflow: more cycles propped against the railings at the top of Ferry Hill. Picture: JACK HARRISON

For years, water company employee Mr R Calver walked that wooden-floored tunnel six days a week, ensuring all was well.

He went through a hatch on Quay Mill Walk off North Quay to descend a 50ft shaft to cross painstakingly to Cobholm, inspecting the pipes and the 218 numbered segments joined together to create the facility.

In 1949 the Mercury sent a reporter to accompany Mr Calver on his routine inspection by torchlight.

Unsurprisingly, our journalist worried about seepage spots and mini-stalactites, and wondered why segment 108 was marked with a prominent N while neighbouring 109 had an S.

Mr Calver explained that they noted the exact middle of the River Yare and the old boundary between Norfolk (on the Yarmouth side) and Suffolk.

There was also a small tunnel under the Haven Bridge for personnel if the bridge became impassable, I believe.

Tunnels have long figured in the protracted dilemma of getting from one side of our river to the other.

As far back as 1943, when the war against Nazi Germany had raged for four years, officials were mulling over the idea.

According to Town Hall records, “a very interesting proposal” was aired at a planning committee session, resulting from a meeting between the borough engineer and a Ministry of War Transport official.

Apparently “a firm plan was produced for a tunnel under the River Yare near Baker Street, Gorleston.”

The town planning officer “stressed the post-war need for an alternative means of access across the river.

“The Haven Bridge was the only crossing of the River Yare suitable for heavy vehicles east of Norwich and it was very fortunate indeed that the bridge had not been damaged in the 1941-42 air raids,” he said.

The highways committee supported a tunnel, urging the council to recommend it to the Ministry of Reconstruction to give it priority post-war.

Unsurprisingly, it never materialised.

I think it was in the 1950s when a top official of the local rivers board reckoned a tunnel could be produced for about £750,000.

Later thought was given to incorporating one into a river barrage, another idea never to see the light of day.

In 1989 the estimate was £35 million. A tunnel was “still in the pipeline,” according to the Mercury - quickly countered by “New river crossing hopes take knock.”

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