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The sleepy village of - Gorleston!

PUBLISHED: 22:04 08 March 2012

VILLAGE STREET? No, it is Gorleston town centre, in the mid-1980s, nearly a century after it lost its “village” classification.
Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

VILLAGE STREET? No, it is Gorleston town centre, in the mid-1980s, nearly a century after it lost its “village” classification. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY

Archant

ONLY recently, six months after the News of the World ceased publication in July during the phone hacking scandal, did I remember that an old copy of the huge-selling Sunday newspaper was lurking in my filing cabinet. I mused briefly upon whether its demise last July meant that my tatty and dog-eared 1955 copy has escalated in value from zilch to a figure that meant I ought to put it in a locked safe.

Probably not, I decided, although it is a vintage broadsheet issue, full of lengthy court cases with spicy and suggestive content, titillating seedy exposures usually involving an investigative reporter making his excuses and leaving before being drawn into some wicked woman’s clutches, and comprehensive coverage of the infamous Sgt Emmett-Dunne murder charge court martial in Germany that enthralled the British public.

Perhaps one item on the sports pages was eminently worth preserving: the women’s doubles finals at Wimbledon was an all-British affair!

But in fact, none of those justified this yellowing 14-page News of the World (price 1p in today’s terms) being preserved in my files. It is all because of the back-page picture of eight bathing beauties arm-in-arm on Great Yarmouth beach! A similar shot appeared in The People.

All were sales girls in Palmers department store on the Market Place, and the caption explained to the paper’s millions of readers: “The manager heard a friendly boast from a Brighton shop that it had the prettiest assistants in Britain, and this picture is, literally, his counter-claim!”

In 1990, after I featured in this column a photograph of those swim-suited young women, most were identified, including Dorothy Morris (nee Richmond) and Eileen Hardy (nee Skoyles) plus maiden-named Anne Bothams, Audrey Kippen, Judy Chipperfield and Shirley Hitcham; also in the line-up was a German girl, a relative of a Palmers employee.

Mrs Morris recalled in 1990 the day the photographer snapped them on the shore in 1955: “It was not summer – it was Whitsun, perhaps even Easter. It was freezing, perishing cold!”

If it was early or pre-season, the public toilets along our sea front might well have been closed...which leads me to the long-disused slipper baths and conveniences on the Hall Quay/Stonecutters Way corner, for years topped by a sign Yarmouthians can probably quote by heart: “Great Yarmouth Borough Council. These toilets are now closed as part of the re-assessment and refurbishment of the borough’s toilets provision. The nearest toilets are adjacent to the Market Place on the Conge and at Market Gates.”

Did the town hall ever complete that reassessment and refurbishment, I wonder.

After being there for years, that sign seems as superfluous as the substantial building itself. It is time the block, that extends many yards into Stonecutters Way, was demolished or adapted to some new use before it becomes a dilapidated eyesore. In honesty, it is hard to envisage into what it could be converted.

Long ago, when slipper baths were falling out of favour and proving increasingly uneconomic, a Mercury colleague toddled along there to sample the experience and convey it to our readers. The publicity achieved little, and I am sure I can still smell of carbolic soap that pervaded the office on his return.

Slipper baths are so named because they resemble a slipper in shape, with a high back to lean against, the other end being covered in.

When this column transferred to the Mercury 25 years ago, one of my earliest subjects concerned the public toilets at Market Gates, probably the first time any Peggotty from the previous half a century had visited a public lavatory for an editorial reason. Had my mission lasted long enough to attract police attention, my excuse might have resulted in the News of the World being interested: “I’m only here to read the poetry on the walls in the gents, officer.”

To which the investigating copper might have dismissed it as: “A likely story!”

In fact, I had been told about three poker-work wooden plaques headed Loo Laughs on display there, probably bought in a down-market seaside gift shop and put there by the attendant. One was “A present from Yarmouth,” another from Gorleston, both containing poems about lavatories; the third was an observation on life’s foibles.

All in the pursuit of a Porthole...

Well, curiosity is a journalistic essential, and I was intrigued recently to see that among the newspapers on sale in W H Smith’s town centre branch was The Irish Times “for the Irish community in Great Britain.” There must be a demand or Smith’s would stop ordering them, but I wondered how much of an Irish element there is in our borough.

In the great days of the long-gone autumn herring fishery it was sometimes possible for the participating Scottish fisherfolk to acquire copies of their local papers from back home, albeit several days late.

And from The Irish Times to the official designation of Gorleston, occasioned by a coincidence: twice within the space of a few days, it was called a village!

First, an estate agent advertised for sale a £445,000 four bedroom property in Gorleston. The description called it “a detached former farmhouse with parts dating back to the 1800s situated on an exclusive road within the village of Gorleston.” Then a Canadian working in Gorleston to whom I was talking referred to it as “the village”.

An internet check produced a Mutford and Lothingland gazetteer entry perhaps 120 years old detailing Gorleston as “a village, a parish and a sub-district in Mutford district, Suffolk.” The UK Genealogy Archive also used the word village.

Well, it probably merited “village” in those days, but not in the 21st century when its population is well over 25,000 souls.

Finally, at the end of 2011 came the death of famous Latin-American band leader Edmundo Ros, a centenarian and friend for nearly 60 years of Malcolm Metcalf, of Magdalen Way, Gorleston. Their friendship began when teenager Malcolm, confined to bed with a serious illness, was startled during a radio show when Ros featured a request for him submitted by a pal.

Malcolm sent Ros a thank-you note, the entertainer wrote back, and a postal friendship flourished. The two met only once, in 1999, when Malcolm accepted a long-standing invitation to spend a week with Edmundo Ros at his retirement villa in Spain.

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