A time when Thursday was a big football day

IN recent weeks this column has included comparisons between shops and shopping past and present, and the names of some retailers of yesteryear have stirred memories for readers. One overlooked aspect has been the early-closing day, when most of the privately-owned shops and some high-street multiples closed for an afternoon – Thursday, in the case of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston.

Thursday? Well, that was the traditional half-day, although I have a feeling that the the independent group representing Gorleston traders decided well after the war to switch to a Wednesday so shoppers in either half of the borough could enjoy six full days of opening (on Sundays everywhere was closed) by crossing the river.

When I was sent from Yarmouth, where I began my journalistic career, to ply my trade in Thetford in 1956, it was a culture shock. Despite the A11 Norwich-London road passing through its centre, Thetford was a bit of a backwater, with overspill from London still only an idea in a planner’s pending tray. The Thetford shops were disappointing for me, born and bred in Yarmouth: I doubt if there was a walk-round store. Perhaps a Woolworth?

One day my weekly newspaper was stumped for a page one lead story, an unthinkable crisis, and my chief reporter and I wracked our brains against the clock to come up with something with print day looming. Our deliberations continued across the road as we repaired to our usual haunt, Adderley’s bakery and tea shop...and a chance remark by our waitress was the prompt we needed to solve our dilemma.

She told us she loved to bus into Bury St Edmunds to look round its array of shops, but had little opportunity because her only afternoon off was a Thursday when the shops there were also shut. With her input, a supportive statement from the chambers of commerce in both towns, and quotes from people we button-holed in the street, we had our lead story, reporting a groundswell of public opinion in favour of Thetford being a pioneer by changing its half-day closing from Thursday to Wednesday so people could widen their shopping horizons to Bury or Norwich.

That report led to tradition being broken, and Thetford adopting Wednesday closing within a few months.

Back in Yarmouth, any suggestion that early-closing should move from Thursday would have met opposition from an unexpected source: the Thursday afternoon football league in which there were teams from several retail businesses plus, I recall, the police (still only borough-wide, before amalgamation with Norfolk).

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Forgive me if I am wrong, but I doubt if a Thursday league survives in an era of seven-day retail trading, but I was reminded of it when readers Mrs Sheila Edmonds, of Fulmar Close, Bradwell sent me a shapshot of the Arnolds football team from 1959-60, plus one of players and supporters outside a ground.

Her brother is Wesley Price, long resident in Spalding in Lincolnshire but at that time an employee of the town centre major department store that maintained the name of its 1869 founders, brothers Frank and William Arnold, until 1972 when it became Debenhams, in line with the other stores nationwide owned by the company that acquired the Yarmouth business in 1936. The King Street-Regent Street store closed here in 1985 but moved back into the town a couple of years ago, operating in the Market Gates mall.

“We played in the Lowestoft and Yarmouth Thursday League and the photographs were taken when we were going to play Lowestoft Railway in the final of the cup. Unfortunately, we lost,” recalls Wes Price, who is now 74. “When that league finished, we competed in the Norwich Business League, and did quite well.”

All had gone well for several years, but things began to go wrong when the Arnolds Social Club decided the team was including too many outside players. Among the Arnolds team photographed in their blue-and-white quartered shirts and white shorts before that cup final were two non-employees: Peter Grimmer, from hardware retailer Coopers, and Keith Skoyles, named as working for Fieldings (the cycle dealer in Market Row?) and also for newsagent Middleton.

The outcome was that Arnolds morphed into the Nomads, comprising mainly staff of the department store but supplemented by outsiders who helped to make it a strong XI. Indeed, the team gained promotion from division two of the Norwich Business League and won their way to two cup finals, unfortunately losing both.

When half-day closing ended, Thursday soccer had to rethink, and many sides switched to Sunday leagues.

Wesley Price, an asthmatic, moved to Yarmouth for health reasons and studied at Yarmouth Art College. He spent 10 years at Arnolds, working in turn on signs and ticketing and internal displays before being appointed publicity and advertising manager. He left the store but rejoined and for 15 years worked in sales as manager in various departments, like toys, kitchen furniture and travel goods.

Then he left Yarmouth for Peterborough and finally to moved to Spalding, where he still lives.

And from the football field to the boxing ring, and the recent splendid news that the Kingfisher Amateur Boxing Club has moved from Yarmouth to the riverside at Gorleston into a former dance studio converted into its new gym, with considerable financial aid from the Amateur Boxing Association and Sport England.

I hope aspiring young boxers will benefit immensely from the new headquarters, and that one day the club will nurture a talent to equal the borough’s most celebrated fighter: Bandsman Jack Blake, born in Yarmouth in 1890 and the subject of my column last September.

His professional career lasted from 1912 until 1921. On retirement from the ring, he became a no-nonsense schools swimming instructor and was also a Yarmouth Town footballer, prizewinning angler, boxing referee and publican. He died in 1970.

His photographs helping to illustrate today’s feature belong to Dr Bill Hamilton-Deane, of Gorleston, a survivor of the noted local swimming family; he was given them by his friend, Jack Blake, with whom he spent many hours at the old Yarmouth outdoor pool.