Coming down to earth with a bump

UNHAPPY LANDING: an RAF parachutist snagged on a floodlight pylon at a Gorleston fete in 1977. Pictu

UNHAPPY LANDING: an RAF parachutist snagged on a floodlight pylon at a Gorleston fete in 1977. Picture: MIKE KING - Credit: Archant

Having looked at the history of the now-closed North Denes Heliport on Caister Road in Great Yarmouth last week, let us come down to parachute. Two 20th century incidents are in focus, one exciting and the other novel but routine.

PIONEER PARACHUTIST: A W Fairlie about to land after what was claimed to be the first descent in Nor

PIONEER PARACHUTIST: A W Fairlie about to land after what was claimed to be the first descent in Norfolk. Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE - Credit: Archant

Because most people own a mobile phone with a camera facility nowadays, photographs are taken by the million and instantly viewable, without the palaver and expense of having film developed and printed. On the day in question, regular correspondent Mike King – an ex-Gorlestonian long resident in Lowestoft – had his trusty camera not only with him but also ready for instant action.

That was in the summer of 1977 at one of the big annual local events – Gorleston Football Club’s fete and gala on their home ground, the “reccer” (recreation ground) on August Bank Holiday Monday. It was always a crowd-puller.

A featured attraction was a drop-in by a Royal Air Force parachute team, and the spectators waited in excitement as the time neared. Then came the drop, the parachutists floating down towards the designated landing area on the grass.

Mike recalls: “All the parachutists landed safely in the centre but one poor chap was caught on one of the floodlight pylons. I pointed my little camera just as he was swinging.

SAFE AND SOUND:...Fairlie after his parachute jump. Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE

SAFE AND SOUND:...Fairlie after his parachute jump. Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE - Credit: Archant

“He was swiftly untangled and brought speedily to terra firma. I should have submitted the photo to the Mercury at the time but never bothered. No such photo appeared in the next week’s issue so I don’t think anybody else captured the scene.

“The following year, the team put in another appearance. As they were packing their parachutes in the centre circle, I approached and made a few enquiries and yes, the floodlight ‘captive’ was present. I took great delight in presenting him with a copy of my photo!”

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The late Clifford Temple, a professional photographer whose shots have often been featured here, caught on film the moment in September 1929 when a Mr A W Fairlie made what was supposedly the first parachute descent in the Yarmouth and Gorleston area.

At least, the two photographs in his 1993 book Great Yarmouth and Gorleston: A Pictorial History, show Fairlie about to land and then with his bundled-up parachute in his arms, the date being September 12 1929. However, John McBride’s A Diary of Great Yarmouth (published in 1996) lists “First recorded parachute jump in Norfolk by A W Fairlie at an air show in Gorleston” September 1931, two years later.

Even if Clifford Temple was there and took the photographs, recording the date, and John McBride listed the occasion when trawling through contemporary newspaper cuttings to compile his detailed diary, it is still hard to reconcile that discrepancy. But it a relatively unimportant issue.

I wonder where the intrepid Mr Fairlie landed...

Gorleston’s Bells Road shopping area has been a recent topic here, and we looked at the way the area had changed and at some of the traders in business there in its postwar heyday.

This attracted an email from David Coe reporting: “I have just read your article in the Mercury and cannot believe that there is no mention of the local newsagents on the corner of Bells Road and Upper Cliff Road for yesteryear in Kelly’s Street Directory.

“Perhaps we were too late to be entered into the directory because my parents bought the business in or around 1971-2 and were there for almost 20 years as NG & BE Coe Newsagents before adding ‘& Son’ in the early 1980s.

“We purchased the business from the Swinscoes whom I believe were not there very long; they had in turn bought the business from Mr and Mrs Spain who had run it for quite a number of years, similar to our length of time.

“When we were there the street was still, in my opinion, a very vibrant, diverse place to work and live and I recognise many of the names listed in your article and some that are missing such as Kenley’s shoe shop; he also had a store on Beach Road, and I’m sure he has only just closed his Bells Road store after 60, maybe 70+ years.

“Jary’s the butcher, between Upper Cliff and Springfield Road, was on the west side of the road. I’m also quite sure that the Barclays Bank sub-branch was still open on the corner of Bells and Springfield Road, now Norton Peskett Solicitors, and the other bank (National Provincial) was still there.

“There was also a Post Office on the corner of Lower Cliff Road and Bells Road opposite the fish and chip shop and Wrights Hardware.

“Good old days! From the street party celebrating the Queen’s 25th anniversary in 1977 to the old-style Victorian Christmas shopping nights, thanks for the memories that your article invoked.”

Ex-Yarmouthian Danny Daniels, who has lived in Canada for many decades, writes: “I’ve often thought that several of our streets were, in fact, little urban villages with all there denizens offering a whole host of services - you could get by without ever going up to town, if necessary.

“On Lichfield Road, for instance, we had the Co-op shop on the corner,

Cook’s Dairy a few doors up, then beyond Anson Road we had a sweet shop, another grocer, a butcher’s, a fish shop (both fresh and fried) and,

across the road, the pub.

“Since we also had the greengrocer’s barrow coming round regularly, the baker’s van (as you noted in your column), the coal man - and not forgetting the Wall’s ice-cream trike in the summer - we could always manage very well, thank you! And that’s without mentioning the other shops on Anson and Gordon Roads.

“Times were never easy, but there was a collective sense of neighbourliness and being able to manage. My parents had opted to pay their sixpences (2½p) each week to the men from the insurance company and the health club who collected at the door, as well putting something into the Christmas club.

“Were they ‘the good old days’? In a sense they were, even without the NHS and other government programmes.”

Reader Les Gibbs perused my column about my penchant for cheese scones and the difficulty in finding them in other parts of the country, and provided me with a useful tip: “Next time you are near South Walsham, pop into tea rooms at the Fairhaven Water Gardens where you can enjoy cheese or fruit scones as well as delicious cakes.”

Point taken, Les.