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Maritime memories in snaps of river port

PUBLISHED: 13:57 01 September 2017 | UPDATED: 13:57 01 September 2017

The hulk Lisette and the Scots drifter Coronilla in difficulties.

The hulk Lisette and the Scots drifter Coronilla in difficulties.

Robin Hambling

After a period in the dockside doldrums, the tide of success appears to be flowing into the port of Great Yarmouth. The public can catch only glimpses of sea-level activity in the Outer Harbour, but there are some fascinating high-rise structures visible for miles, a welcome sight for the many interested observers as well as the port’s owner.

Then, last month, came the hope that our port will share in the work associated with the new multi-million £ next-generation wind farm 40 miles out in the North Sea which could power the equivalent of a million homes, a project dwarfing our pioneer Scroby Sands venture in size, scale and height.

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But as for the river, it sadly lacks the activity and animation of yesteryear. Quaysides are quiet, river traffic sparse – or so it appears to casual passers-by. It seems like only yesterday that our autumn herring fishery petered out and we thought the Yare was in the doldrums, but coincidence smiled and the support craft for the fledgling offshore industry lined the quays, and roll-on/roll-off ferries added to the renewed prosperity.

Perhaps it all comes in cycles, but where that cycle is currently is hard to determine although there is optimism stemming from those burgeoning offshore wind-farm requirements.

There remains in the borough a sturdy corps of harbour enthusiasts, most of them old enough to recall the past and eager to share their memories. Often in this column we look back on those years – vessels in trouble against the Haven Bridge have featured often in recent months, for example – and enjoy some nautical nostalgia.

Today the memories are seen rather than described, for I have been sent a batch of maritime moments photographed a century and more ago. I am grateful to an old friend of this column, Robin Hambing, of Lawn Avenue, Yarmouth, for passing them to me.

They were taken by his grandfather, a General Post Office employee. The quality is iffy in some cases, but that is offset by the unique subject matter. Most are uncaptioned, although one or two have a sparse identification pencilled on the back.

Grandfather William Hambling attended Yarmouth’s Priory School from 1886 to 1892 and - according to Robin - owned “a photographic exposure recorder and diary, so it’s a certainty that he took the photographs.”

In the 1914-18 war, serving as a bombardier with the Royal Garrison Artillery, William was killed, aged 37; Robin’s father was 12 at the time, and “the Post Office paid for him to go to the Grammar School.”

Unusually, there are few herring drifters to be seen. Perhaps grandfather William was busy elsewhere when hundreds of Yarmouth and Scottish drifters crammed the river each autumn as the so-called “silver darlings” were sought in an era when they were in demand as a staple food not only in Britain but also in other regions of the world to which they were exported in sturdy steamers.

A fortnight ago I wondered here if a recent meeting between the civic heads of Great Yarmouth and Norwich at Hardley Cross in Broadland - the ancient boundary between the two authorities - had been revived as a result of my June column about the tradition. But Laura Goodman, our borough council’s events manager, assures me that the ceremony was resurrected last year by the Broads Authority when Yarmouth mayor Shirley Weymouth and her Norwich counterpart met at Hardley Cross.

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