Bike history on a glass plate

THE popular 1944 Harold Arlen ditty with the ingeniously clever lyrics by Johnny Mercer - Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative – was a kind of musical sermon intended to help listeners to find happiness. The title and sentiments were probably latched onto by management psychologists preaching sound business practices and requiring a so-called mission statement.

Today, it probably sums up the content of this column as we look at photographs captured on glass-plate negatives but developed and printed as positive pictures to delight the public long before roll-film cameras were invented and no genius had envisaged the instant digital imaging techniques that we take for granted in 2012.

The topic arose when I mentioned Woodlands, a large family house near the Gorleston High Street-School Lane corner. It was once the home of Robert Hewett, who moved here from London to supervise his family’s famous Short Blue fishing fleet in the late 19th century, and later it was occupied by distinguished local photographers Alfred Yallop and his son, Sydney.

They took many of the iconic pictures that recorded life in the borough for decades. I have published plenty down the years – in March one of the illustrations with my feature about Woodlands was of the public ox roast that was part of the celebrations of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897 - and most local history books have benefited from Alfred and Sydney’s prolific output.

Ex-Gorlestonian Paul Godfrey, whose father launched a DIY store on the cleared site, recalled here visiting the Yallop premises in 1968 while seeking equipment to help him launch his own photographic business in Yarmouth. Reading Paul’s recollections prompted an old friend of this column, Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, to contact me.

“I believe that prior to Robert Hewett living at Woodlands in the late 1860s, a military man was in residence: a Captain Plummer springs to mind,” says Peter.

“When Alfred Yallop came to Gorleston, he took over the photographic business of Alice O Yardley, who had a shop in the High Street and one near Brush Quay; both took the Yallop name.

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“I well remember Mr Yallop and all his glass plates, many of which were in his garage and about to be thrown out. I managed to get a few and informed Alf Hedges (then borough librarian) of the collection. They eventually purchased quite a number of these glass plates, and (local photographer) Brian Ollington perhaps bought the remainder.”

There was a story that before the extensive Yallop glass-plate portfolio could be examined and salvaged, hundreds of those precious glazed negatives were deliberately but innocently smashed by somebody who did not appreciate their considerable significance as an historical record of our borough. The fragments of the glass plates were either used, or intended for use, for some mundane purpose.

Phil Kersey has been well-known for years in Gorleston and beyond because of his passion for motor-cycles: selling them, repairing them, renovating them, watching them in racing action... In 1950 his father began a motorcycle business in Beach Road, and Phil joined him nine years later.

Phil is retiring at the age of 68 and the business is in the throes of closure, although his enthusiasm remains undiminished. His interests are wide-ranging and include collecting model railway equipment, especially items that have long-since ceased to be manufactured and have thus acquired a rarity value.

But Phil, who lives on High Road in Burgh Castle, has good reason to be grateful to the Yallops who rode and – more importantly – photographed the motorcycles they rode in their younger years, and he possesses several of the pictures of men and machines.

The shots were printed for him from the original glass-plate negatives by Jack Grice, of The Pastures in Burgh Road, another resident keen on photography and with an abiding enthusiasm for our heritage.

Not only does Phil Kersey focus his attention on their Yallops’ motor-cycles and side cars but also on their number plates that are early examples of the EX index prefix allocated to the self-contained borough of Great Yarmouth under the Motor Car Act of 1903.

At the back of my mind I have a feeling that Yarmouth adopted and used the EX prefix before it was officially regularised in 1903, and that for a time at least, there were two EX series running in parallel, one for cars and the other for motor-cycles. If that was so, it must have caused confusion in the bureaucracy and elsewhere.

EX is a topic often been aired in this column – for example, EX6, the first local vehicle to be booked for “speeding” more than a century ago; EX10, still participating in the annual London to Brighton veteran car rally; AEX1, affixed to a new Vauxhall from Tommy Watson’s garage on Southtown Road in 1956 when the sequence reached EX9999.

Eager to trace the history of the Yallop machines, Mr Kersey succeeded in obtaining copies of the licensing documentation of two of them from the Norfolk Record Office in Norwich. Incidentally, he believes the oldest EX motorcycle still running is EX604, which takes part in the two wheeler London-Brighton rally each March.

The Yallop motorbikes all had a mechanical speedometer running off the front wheel. We will never know whether or not it was the same gadget transferred from one machine to the other, or a new one fitted each time. But Phil Kersey reckons they are keenly sought by collectors and can fetch hundreds of pounds at auction.