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The only reminder of Super Holiday Camp in Gorleston

PUBLISHED: 18:00 20 April 2017

Having a wonderful time! Disabled guests and their relatives and helpers at Gorleston Super Holiday Camp's main building in 1955. Picture: SUBMITTED

Having a wonderful time! Disabled guests and their relatives and helpers at Gorleston Super Holiday Camp's main building in 1955. Picture: SUBMITTED

Archant

It is a simple name of eight letters forming two syllables I have known for decades. For me, it has always been synonymous with natural Englishness and tranquillity.

The ballroom where the handicapped campers would have been entertained. It was used for dancing in summer and, in post-war winters, for roller-skating. Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVEThe ballroom where the handicapped campers would have been entertained. It was used for dancing in summer and, in post-war winters, for roller-skating. Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVE

That name is Elmhurst and, although I prefer pavements, street lights and bus stops and remain unmoved by all things rural, the title conveys pleasant thoughts and images while stirring happy memories of my youth.

Until penning today’s feature, I was unaware that the dictionary defines “hurst” as a hillock or wooded rise - “archaic except in place names.”

In our recent study of a 1930s street plan of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, I expressed surprise at the omission of the new Gorleston Super Holiday Camp, a significant addition to our visitor accommodation and amenities, although there was a sketch of an isolated mansion off Lowestoft Road - probably Elmhurst, a popular local name for the holiday camp itself.

Certainly our corporation buses bore “Elmhurst” on their destination blinds, stopping near the Green Ace Garage.

A Yarmouth Corporation bus on Hall Quay in the 1950s, with ELMHURST displayed on its destination blind. Picture: RHG SIMPSONA Yarmouth Corporation bus on Hall Quay in the 1950s, with ELMHURST displayed on its destination blind. Picture: RHG SIMPSON

The art-deco style main building included ballroom and dining room, converted in post-war autumn and winters into roller-skating rinks enjoyed by teenagers; shows were produced, proficiency tests taken and hockey matches played. The management laid a small outdoor rink - opened by child star Petula Clark - to keep skaters and summer holidaymakers happy.

Then the camp closed, the spacious site redeveloped as a housing estate. Skaters decamped to Yarmouth’s Wellington Pier where the Winter Gardens was the venue off-season and an outdoor rink was built in the grounds for summer. Spectacular open-air shows attracted huge audiences, justifying the council’s decision to cater for the skaters.

Perhaps the only Gorleston reminder now is Elmhurst Close, a small cul-de-sac off Lowestoft Road on the former camp site.

My recent reference to Gorleston Super Holiday Camp was of particular interest to reader Tom Gilbert - who called it “Elmhurst Holiday Camp,” which pleased me. His memories were of a different facet of the facility - when it hosted hundreds of disabled people from far and wide for welcome breaks each year.

Tom sent me the main photograph illustrating today’s column, showing the visitors and their many helpers. “It was taken in 1955 at the end of one of the Holidays for the Handicapped, as they were then known,” he explains.

“These holidays were, I believe, organised by the Great Yarmouth and District Handicapped Association,” Tom continues. “My mother, who had multiple sclerosis, went to the holiday camp in 1954, 1955 and 1956 and thoroughly enjoyed her visits to Gorleston.

“At that time we were living near London. Many of the helpers were local young people in the Red Cross and St John Ambulance Brigade and must remember those days.

“Unfortunately I do not know how many disabled people attended. My sister, who went with my mother, has the original picture.”

Tom Gilbert, now 83 and 
retired, lives in Church Road, Gorleston. “In 1972 I was a social worker at Ferryside when Great Yarmouth was a county borough,” he tells me. “I knew Trevor Nicholls, who was the Registrar and who is frequently quoted in your column.

“I did go to Elmhurst with my mother and sister in 1956 on my return from Royal Air Force service in Singapore...and cold I found it after three years abroad!”

Tom directed me to a heart-warming eye-opening 17-minute colour film, Holiday Camp for the Physically Disabled 1956, available through You Tube and the East Anglia Film Archive. It featured a week’ stay at the Gorleston camp and the activities and outings organised for the guests. Viewers are treated to some nostalgic footage of the way we were six decades ago.

Many guests had to be gently manhandled because this was long before society was at pains to ensure that specialist equipment and facilities were available. But their handicaps proved no barrier to the pleasure of their seaside break.

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