Big changes over half a century

WHETHER you love the outer harbour because of its alleged potential long-term benefits to our borough; or loathe it because of broken promises, unnecessary secrecy, blockage of legitimate roads and loss of jobs instead of their creation, it is undeniable that it continues to be newsworthy.

The port of Great Yarmouth has always captured important headlines in the Mercury, be it the riverside for many decades or the outer harbour in recent times.

Half-a-century ago, issues were so important that the lively Gorleston Ratepayers Association organised a petition calling for the liquidation of the Port and Haven Commission and urged the Town Hall – that is, the ratepayers – to take over its responsibilities.

That did not happen, but the borough council did agree to be guarantor for the commissioners for a loan of up to �120,000 (big money in 1961) towards the cost of repairing Gorleston Pier, subject to reservations including the lease of its surface for 100 years. Initially, the commissioners accepted the loan offer, but reserved judgement on leasing the pier surface.

The pier problems were highlighted by the fact that in the highest tides for seven years, Gorleston Pier rails and decking were swept away. The rough sea had swept across beaches to the promenade wall.

This tide was strong enough to break the seven strong mooring ropes securing the double-ended pleasure steamer Resolute from the quay and she became stuck on mud. She defied initial refloating attempts by tide and tug.

The Haisbro lightship was badly gashed below the waterline when the 7000-ton steamer Marshall ploughed into her in fog; the Trinity House tender Mermaid towed her to the Southgates Road base at Yarmouth, a gaping hole in her side clearly visible.

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The most valuable cargo of livestock ever exported by sea from Yarmouth was loaded on board the Superior Trader. Some 200 Landrace pigs and 30 Fresian cattle, all pedigree stock worth �12,000, were shipped to Romania for its Ministry of Agriculture to use for breeding.

It was the first year of operation here for Superior International, its Superior Trader used for importing fruit from Holland – a trade that developed into Norfolk Line’s roll-on/roll-off ferry service that was a major port business from 1969 to 1992.

The port scene altered with the loss of a 67-year-old landmark when the old borough power station in South Denes Road was demolished. The power station, with its distinctive 140ft chimney and 70ft boiler-house, was replaced by the new one built on South Denes in the Fifties.

A veteran herring drifter, the Wyedale (YH105), was a notable absentee from the 1961 autumn fishery because she was destined for a breaker’s yard in Holland. Launched in 1917, the Eastick-owned Wydale was purported to be the last steam drifter in the country.

Two Scottish drifters got into difficulties when manoeuvring near the Haven Bridge in a strong tide; one was trapped under the bridge and began leaking, requiring a fire brigade pump to clear the water. Crowds on the bridge watched the port tug Hector Read gently tow the two drifters clear.

Yarmouth firemen put to sea in Gorleston lifeboat to fight a blaze that turned the 4124-ton Norwegian cargo vessel Gudveig into a blazing inferno 16 miles off the port. Her cargo of phosphates was burning furiously, and it took 12 hours for it to be brought under control without casualties.

Caister lifeboat was also involved in the operation during which 28 members of the Gudveig’s crew were evacuated, including a 28-year-old stewardess whose radio officer husband had to stay on board.

Another sea incident off Yarmouth, albeit much closer, was the rescue of Maurice Grover, of Brasenose Avenue, Gorleston, who was blown too far out while enjoying his “sailing surf board.”

This year-round swimmer, a member of the so-called crazy gang who entertained thousands of spectators at aqua shows in Yarmouth’s outdoor bathing pool, was on the point of collapse when Gorleston lifeboat reached him.

Another rescue, but on dry land, was that of 28 people who were enjoying a ride on the Flying Saucers Big Wheel at Yarmouth Pleasure Beach but received an unexpected thrill when the spindle came out of its bearings 50ft above the ground. This caused the wheel to tilt.

Watched by thousands, firemen a-top high ladders took 45 minutes safely to rescue all the thrill-seekers from the 14 saucer-shaped carriages. Pleasure Beach boss Albert Bottom assured the Mercury that there was “no panic and no danger.”

The Town Hall asked its engineer to prepare a five-year phased scheme and estimated cost of providing improved amenities on Gorleston sea-front, including a boating lake and children’s paddling pool near the yacht pond. Chalets, shelters and possibly a buffet built into the cliff face were suggested.

Nothing came of it, apart from the paddling pool (still there, but inaccessible earlier this month) and possibly the brick chalets overlooking it (recently demolished).

On the industrial scene, Birds Eye Foods opened a new cold store near the harbour’s mouth capable of holding 10,000 tons of frozen products. At the ceremony the company chairman, Mr J S Parratt, said Yarmouth “means a lot to Birds Eye Foods,” and anticipated that the new store would soon double in size.

The promise was fulfilled four years later...but Birds Eye closed its Yarmouth operation in 1986, transferring it to the Lowestoft factory.

The old Woolworth store in Regent Road was acquired by supermarket Fine Fare.

St Nicholas’s parish church in Yarmouth was reconsecrated after 860 years and 19 years since it was bombed during the war, with only the walls and tower left standing. State trumpeters of Household Cavalry sounded a fanfare at the ceremony.

Recently a book was due to be published detailing the long history of the church.

I would not be surprised if two schools in the borough – Cliff Park Secondary Modern (as it was) and Bradwell (Homefield) – are in celebratory mood this year, for 2011 is their golden jubilee.

It was Bradwell’s first new school for a century. At the time of opening, it was outside the Yarmouth and Norfolk boundaries, being in Lothingland and East Suffolk.