A team effort to recall the borough’s past
- Credit: Archant
It was like a TV quiz with the contestants not quite up to it. Four passes but no answer. The quartet comprised local folk seldom stumped over a question about the Yarmouths of yesteryear.
An elderly visitor to Yarmouth seeking information about a local Elm House School, run by a Miss Palmer. Happened to ask a relative of mine. Unable to help but aware of my interest in the borough’s past, she passed the inquiry to me.
To mind flashed Gorleston’s Elm Avenue, Elmgrove Road and the Elmhurst Court housing estate on the site of the long-gone Super Holiday Camp...but no education-linked Elm. So I contacted two friends well-versed in these matters, but they were stumped too.
The upshot was my relative regretfully admitting to the inquirer that his question remained a puzzler.
But a few days later came a chance breakthrough! Local historian and author Colin Tooke emailed: “While looking for something else in a 1930 Yarmouth directory, I turned the page – and guess what!”
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There was an advertisement for the Elm House School, a private establishment at 10 Crown Road in Yarmouth, just past Union Place. It was a kindergarten and preparatory school for girls and boys, located “in a central position facing St George’s Park.”
It offered special preparation for local schools, adding: “Town and country buses met before and after school.”. The principal was Miss D H Palmer who was still living at that address in 1972.
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Fortunately, my relative still had the email address of the inquirer’s daughter so she was able to pass on the information on.
In a recent column about the old Blundeston Prison, the site of a new housing estate, I wrote that I had been reliably assured that neither of the notorious Kray twins had ever been inmates there, but that has been challenged by Caister reader Paul Apostoli who writes: “Reggie Kray was held their for quite a while. In one of his books that I own, he described it as the most violent jail he had ever been in.
”Reggie liked birds and was known for painting so it’s very likely that it is his picture you mentioned of a robin on a wall inside Blundeston Jail. The Kray twins visited East Anglia a lot and owned several properties in the area including a farm near Diss, a hall near Lavenham and a house at Ludham.”
Still on Blundeston Prison, regular correspondent Trevor Nicholls, the borough’s long-retired registrar, recalls my 2013 column recording his reminiscence of the mythical 150A Caister Road, Yarmouth – the tactful official non-existent alternative address for the workhouse, eliminating its embarrassing inclusion in documents like birth or death certificates. He had met a couple who had walked the entire length of Caister Road seeking that address while researching their family history.
“The same well-intended official desire for euphemism – still in force – applies also to prisons,” says Trevor. “I remember the North Suffolk Coroner, mindful of the directive, conducting an inquest upon a Blundeston inmate about 40 years ago saying that he would record the place of death as having been ‘100 Lakeside Rise’.
“I imagined the descendants of the deceased prisoner seeing the certificate and concluding that their forebear must have lived in a large house in the East Anglian countryside, set in grounds of a Capability Brown quality. In which, I suppose, they would have been correct...”
Next, big ships, and I am grateful to Bradwell reader Nigel Williamson for the information that the recent arrival in our Outer Harbour, the Glovis Splendor (652ft) was not, as I claimed, the biggest ship ever to berth here, that honour belonging to the Zen Hua 6 (771ft) in 2009.
Among my long-’uns list was the Thorland (385ft), steaming into the Yare in 1934. According to shipping enthusiast Peter Allard, of Bradwell, “She was the biggest fishing boat ever in the harbour!”
Fishing boat? Peter admits that it was a tongue-in-cheek claim. The 1903 Glasgow-built vessel – five times longer than a herring drifter - had been “a frozen whale meat carrier,” according to a directory. Her visit to Yarmouth was “to refrigerate fresh herrings.”
And from sea to land, and a 1941 photograph I published of the Yarmouth-based 11th battalion Norfolk Home Guard C Company. The information I was given was that the location was the Hospital School in Yarmouth but reader John Sadler, of Dorothy Avenue, Bradwell, assures me that the picture was taken on the Grammar School playing field in front of classrooms.
I cannot doubt his word: “I’m the sergeant fourth from the right in the back row,” says 93-year-old widower John. “I’m the only one there who is still alive!”
He says the company’s headquarters were at the old Temple Schoolroom in the town centre.
He named several of the 29 uniformed men in the picture, including Arthur Symonds, port engineer (“He and I were both in reserved occupations”), Sgt Freddie King, Sgt Major Pratt, 2nd Lieutenant Clements, Capt Ernest Applegate (Mayor of Yarmouth in 1959), Major Clowes (grocer) and Mr Todd (fireman).
“Reserved occupations” covered those whose important ‘civvie’ jobs required their presence hereabouts, so they were not enlisted into the armed forces. John spent 46 years with the East Anglian Water Company and its Essex and Suffolk Water successor, and Arthur Symonds’ role here as the port engineer was essential because Yarmouth was a prime naval base.
Off duty, Mr Sadler – who retired from work 33 years ago - was an all-round sportsman. “I played football, cricket, tennis and went swimming, and I played golf at Caister.” he tells me.
Finally, a scary moment. Recently Mrs Peggotty and I sat in sunshine outside Costa Coffee on the corner of Regent Road and Theatre Plain as a woman at the next table lifted a pastry to her mouth. In a split second, a seagull swooped in a vain bid to snatch it from her.
Luckily, no injury was caused. We swiftly left.