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Bridge memories cross over the Atlantic

PUBLISHED: 16:50 04 September 2018 | UPDATED: 16:50 04 September 2018

The long-gone Upper Ferry waiting for the pleasure steamer Southtown, built in 1896, to sail past. The ferry's South Quay landing stage was opposite the Upper Ferry public house which closed in 1941 and was demolished in the 1950s. Photo: Mercury Archive

The long-gone Upper Ferry waiting for the pleasure steamer Southtown, built in 1896, to sail past. The ferry's South Quay landing stage was opposite the Upper Ferry public house which closed in 1941 and was demolished in the 1950s. Photo: Mercury Archive

Mercury Archive

Our Haven Bridge spans the Yare...and this column spans the North Atlantic, reaching expatriates Danny and Marjorie Daniels, long resident in Canada where they read this weekly offering on-line.

Recent topics about the bridge, Vauxhall railway station, the tunnel under the Yare carrying fresh water pipes, and the well-used Lower Ferry rekindled their memories. For Marjorie, it was because her childhood home was in Lime Kiln Walk, across the river from the station where her father, George Gillings, was an engine driver.

My bridge column reminded Danny of a family anecdote stemming from its formal opening in 1930 by the Prince of Wales. According to family legend, “following the Mayor’s car across the new bridge was Uncle Charlie (Ulph) driving a Bunn Brothers horse-and-cart - not just any old cart, but a muck cart!

“Since there was never a photograph published anywhere, maybe that was just Uncle Charlie regaling his fellow drinkers at the Sun Inn in Bradwell...”

Well, some ordinary citizen had to be first across the £200,000 lifeline after the VIP ceremony, so why not Uncle Charlie Ulph?

After the opening formalities conducted on the Southtown side of the bridge, the raised twin leaves descended so the official party could walk across to the Town Hall, reaching there well before the huge crowd dispersed and traffic began flowing...including Charlie Ulph’s horse-and-cart, perhaps. But if he was following the mayor’s car, only the chauffeur was in it, no VIP.

In the small motorcade conveying the official party to the other venues earlier in the day, the Prince - later King Edward VIII throughout 1936 before abdicating and becoming the Duke of Windsor - always travelled in the second car, behind that of the chief constable.

Danny was disappointed that my recent column about the Lower Ferry across the Yare failed to mention the Upper Ferry from Southtown (Ferry Lane) to South Quay, Yarmouth. “It operated regularly, even during the bombing, from the end of the passageway beside the motor works (Frank Bately’s?) across from Anson Road to South Quay.

“I used it regularly to go to the Yarmouth Library in the row by the Tolhouse, as did my Dad, when he was the caretaker at the Technical School, which burned down during the blitz.

“Joe was the ferryman, and it cost a ha’penny (penny for adults - bikes went free, but they had to be put right up in the prow) and if the tide was running strongly, a male passenger would push on the oars to help Joe angle against the current to make the steps on the other side. No engine to propel this vessel!”

The Upper Ferry was withdrawn in 1954, the Lower Ferry continued into the 1990s.

Browsing through some 1934 newspaper cuttings I spotted an item - albeit incomplete - about the opening times of the Haven Bridge. I think most local folk have always believed that vessels wanting to pass through the bridge had complete right of way, taking priority over road traffic and not having to wait.

Vehicles could stop indefinitely whereas shipping had to heed wind, tide and water depth was the reason.

But at a Port and Haven Commissioners 1934 meeting, a complaint was aired that many pedestrians thought the bridge ought not to be opened during lunchtimes (12.45-1.45pm).

The commissioners’ clerk surprised some members by reporting that it was forbidden to lift the bridge “within certain periods of the departure of trains from South Town and Vauxhall railway stations, but apart from this, any other times were permissible times.”

But the chairman warned that the commissioners would be liable to a charge of neglect of duty if they failed to open the bridge when it was required by shipping, if they caused people to miss trains or if a danger to shipping was involved.

Unfortunately the rest of the report of that meeting was missing, so the conundrum remains...

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