Fact-finding in Europe for the first time, 1950s style
PUBLISHED: 10:55 30 December 2016 | UPDATED: 10:56 30 December 2016
James Bond villain Auric Goldfinger furiously declared to 007: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”
Recently so many coincidences occurred for me that I felt besieged - by helpful correspondents, not despots intent on world domination.
The sequence began with a call to Peggotty’s Hut by somebody ringing every local subscriber in the telephone directory with my real surname, hoping to contact a man who once worked for Great Yarmouth-based Norfolk Motor Services, a company he was researching. I could not help him.
His call came the day the Mercury published the obituary of Alfred Blackbourn, 96, who co-founded here Norfolk Motor Services which once had 30 coaches, selling the business to Neave’s in 1984.
Also by chance, I published a photograph of St Andrew’s Church and School on Fullers Hill, buildings demolished in 1964 so coach operator Norfolk could relocate to the site, now occupied by office supplier Staples. That same weekend another reader, a former pupil at St Andrew’s School, wondered if I would be interested to learn about the first holiday abroad ever made by another local coach firm, Seagull, the passengers including her as a toddler!
So, following that chain of coincidences, let us figuratively clamber aboard that Seagull charabanc in Regent Road for that pioneering three-week trip after the summer season of 1950 had ended. My correspondent - Valerie Tuttle (née Bassett), now of Cherry Lane in Browston - was only two years old and the youngest on the Continental excursion, the oldest being Mrs Alice Lafter, 63.
Valerie and brother Colin were accompanied by their parents, Hilda (née Scott) and husband Norman. “The coach party included my grandmother, cousin and great-aunts and uncles etc - they all owned hotels in the town,” says Valerie.
For most passengers, it was business and pleasure because the coach was privately chartered by 32 members of the locally well-known Scott family of hoteliers and boarding house proprietors eager to study their counterparts’ establishments, methods and facilities across the English Channel.
The 2,400-mile fact-finding and holiday tour began with an overnight crossing from Dover to Dunkirk, proceeding from Belgium into Luxembourg, France, Switzerland and Italy, including stays in Paris, on the Cote d’Azur and Lake Como.
Seagull Coaches, whose traffic manager Mr W R Colman drove the party, welcomed this charter to gain its first-hand experience of Continental travel, essential because the operator had applied for official permission to offer Yarmouthians coach holidays in Europe.
The excursion gave several of the dozen children on board an extra holiday because they had been given special leave from school.
Valerie sent me the detailed do’s and don’ts the travellers were given, some eyebrow-raising like: “Firearms and ammunition may be taken, provided the firearms certificate is produced.”
But we must not forget that in 1950 Britain was still feeling some of the after-effects of a six-year war, and austerity was stringent. Everyone could take up to 10lb of food, provided none weighed more than 2lb, but there was no restriction on biscuits, chocolates, sweets, canned fish and canned vegetables because they were not subject to export control. Up to 15lb of food, without restriction, could be taken for an infant under two.
If a passenger took a fur coat, it must not be new. Items carried on the coach would include “Primus stove, paraffin and methylated spirits, kettle and teapot.” For brewing a roadside cuppa, perhaps?
The fact-finding jaunt was arranged by Mr F J Scott, secretary of Great Yarmouth Associated Hotels. The family was prominent in the town, and George Scott, of the St George Hotel in Albert Square, was mayor of the borough in 1970. Valerie’s brother, Colin, became head boy at Yarmouth Grammar School.
Recently we looked at suggestions that the “on-Sea” appendage to the names of Gorleston, Hopton and other places was a publicity ploy by the newly-arrived railways to inform the public that they could reach the seaside by their trains, and there was debate about whether the suffix became official.
Bradwell reader Terry Sorrell, of Germander Court, sends me his Barclays Bank giro credit slip pre-printed: “Gorleston-on-Sea branch” and writes that he has banked there for 20 years and has “long associated with it being a railway station, although by title only.”
Regular correspondent Trevor Nicholls, the borough’s retired registrar, raised a figurative eyebrow when he read here that according to our local newspapers, a century ago in 1916 King George V made a brief low-key private visit to Yarmouth which received little coverage...but somehow crowds were there to cheer him.
Emphasising that wartime security considerations would have been paramount as the East Coast was vulnerable to German attacks, Trevor notes the King was driven by car from his previous Lowestoft engagements to the important and innovative Royal Naval Air Station on South Denes, having stopped on the way at Gunton Hall, a military hospital.
It puzzles Trevor that although the King had been driven past our Town Hall twice on his way to and from the South Denes, the Mayor (Edward Worlledge) and town clerk Edgar Stephens were presented only on the platform at South Town Station as the royal party was about to steam off - “they seem to have scarcely had the time to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’ as it were.”
Trevor wonders if protocol had been followed - for example, had the chief constable been notified of the royal visit. And he envisages the mayor and town clerk dashing over Haven Bridge to say their formal farewells before the King’s departure.
Noting that Chris Wright, of Caister, who regularly pens letters to the Mercury editor, is researching royal visits to the borough, Trevor thinks that after King George V’s whistle-stop visit to Yarmouth that afternoon in 1916, no reigning monarch came here until our Queen in 1985, accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh.
Before that, there was a long gap - back to King Charles II’s post-Restoration arrival in Yarmouth in 1671, suggests Trevor. However, according to John McBride’s Diary of Great Yarmouth, 19 years later King William III came here.