Holiday trade was no picnic for B&B businesses
PUBLISHED: 21:05 24 September 2015 | UPDATED: 21:05 24 September 2015
FROM a “no mod cons” boarding house in post-war Great Yarmouth to millionaire playgrounds in the Caribbean and United States is the stuff of blockbuster jet-set fiction or fanciful daydreams. But it was a reality for one young woman whose family featured in a recent column.
To illustrate my feature about our holiday industry recovering after the war, I included 1952 photographs of Frank and Alex Hall at their guest house on Nelson Road Central. This resulted in their youngest daughter, now Moira Hitchcock, contacting me from her Derbyshire home, having received the Mercury from her long-time friend, Linda Smowton, of St Anne’s Crescent, Gorleston.
Moira forwarded me her comprehensive history of the Hall family.
Frank, a Rolls-Royce worker suffering ill-health, was advised by his doctor to move from Derby to either the South of France…or our East Coast. The France option being out of the question, the family came to Yarmouth where they found a property in which they could establish a B&B to provide income.
Their choice, a three-storey dwelling with eight bedrooms, sounds primitive by today’s standards but was probably nothing out of the ordinary for visitors in 1946. The Halls named it Britwell “because we were situated between the Britannia and Wellington Piers and took the first four letters from each,” explains Moira.
They moved in during a bitter winter: “It was freezing, with no heating, just a fireplace for a coal fire in the back lounge.” There was one toilet in the yard, another in a bedroom, “so all that first summer our visitors had to come downstairs and through our lounge (where our parents slept on a bed settee) and kitchen and outside to the toilet, disturbing everyone, but it couldn’t be helped.”
Eldest daughter Audrey slept on a camp-bed in the kitchen while her sisters Ruby and Moira spent their nights in the greenhouse, necessitating checks to see if visitors were watching from their windows as the nightie-wearing girls scurried to bed through the yard.
“Everything was less than basic at that time,” recalls Moira. “There were no wash sinks in the bedrooms, just a jug and basin, so our father had to get up every morning at 6am to boil water to take upstairs in the jugs for the visitors.”
After “a disastrous first year”, improvements were made and business picked up. At the high-summer periods of the so-called railway and Rolls-Royce holiday fortnights, when thousands of employees flocked to the seaside, extra space was found at the Britwell by sending Ruby and Moira back to Derby!
Audrey found a job, and her sisters were pupils at the Greenacre School before Moira became one of the first scholars at the new Technical High School (now the Ormiston Venture Academy) in 1954. In the summer holidays Moira worked at a Mr Jones’s three Trafalgar restaurants on the promenade and the Nelson Road South boarding house of a Mrs Meadows; after leaving school, she was employed by grocer Star Supply Stores and electrician Bowers & Barr.
Ruby joined the secretarial staff at the Yarmouth Mercury office in Regent Street where she was working when I entered journalism as a trainee reporter there in 1955.
Two years earlier, Audrey and Ruby had been at Gorleston’s Floral Hall ballroom on the fateful Saturday night when the huge 1953 floods caused death and destruction along the East Coast, but both managed to get home safely – nearly 18 hours later in Ruby’s case because she was one of the many marooned there overnight.
A boyfriend of Ruby named Ron was not so lucky. “Seeing the water rising in Exmouth Road where he lived, he got a ladder out to save his budgies outside in an aviary,” reports Moira. “As he climbed the ladder, it slipped in the water. Ron fell off, banged his head and was drowned. It was all very sad.
“I went out for a walk with my Dad on the Sunday morning and everywhere was devastation. Dead animals that had been people’s pets, people’s belongings, carpets and everything in their houses, had all been thrown out on to waste ground, all saturated.
“The smell around was terrible, with the mess that the water had left behind. It was a tragedy that would never be forgotten, and the silence and then the sobbing were heart-breaking.”
In 1956, when few people ventured on overseas holidays, Ruby went to Spain but her homecoming was delayed because she was rushed into hospital in Madrid with acute appendicitis requiring immediate surgery. The operation cost her £45 because at that time there was no reciprocal agreement between the two nations.
Ruby made front-page headlines in the Mercury in 1957 when she and three friends embarked for Canada and the United States in search of adventure and new surroundings, aiming to find jobs there to earn money to sustain them for at least a year.
Ruby’s travelling companions were: 22-year-old Southtown Pharmacy worker Rita Cotton, daughter of dairy owner and former Yarmouth mayor Tom Cotton, of North Drive; and ex-teachers Audrey Loncaster, 25, of Salisbury Road, and Ann Mattocks, 24, of School Road, Ludham.
Eventually Rita and Audrey returned home, but Ruby and Anne remained in the US where they met their future husbands, and married. Ruby and Bahamian husband Don Thompson, superintendent of a radio plant in Nassau, had a house there and also an apartment in Florida. Their family comprised two children.
When the Halls made their life-changing decision to leave Derby and venture into the holiday accommodation industry in Yarmouth, they anticipated that their summer income would be enough to tide them over through the winter, but misjudged the potential business and Frank had to take off-season work at Cantley beet-sugar factory and as a postman.
But his health deteriorated and in 1957 he died, aged 57. Two years later Moira and her mother left Yarmouth to return to their native Derbyshire. Moira - a typist and later a care home assistant - wed railwayman Brian, and they had two daughters.
Eldest sister Audrey married and went to live in London, dying in 1977. Ruby died in 1999, aged 64. Mum Alex, 77, passed away in 1979.