Downton historic car damaged: phew, only acting

yarmouth memory 1801

yarmouth memory 1801 - Credit: Archant

THERE wasn’t a dry eye in Peggotty’s Hut in Gorleston on Christmas night as the special one-off edition of Downton Abbey reached its conclusion.

Mrs Peggotty dabbed her eyes with her hankie as Matthew Crawley was involved in a dreadful road accident while driving joyfully home from hospital, preoccupied after visiting his wife who had just given birth to a baby son and heir to the Downton estate. Beside her, I also snivelled – albeit silently and unobtrusively - at a sad and unnecessary loss.

It was not the apparent death of this well-to-do young character I was mourning. No, I was shaken by the grievous damage to his car, hit by an oncoming lorry!

For that car was EX1945, the former Great Yarmouth-registered classic AC Six tourer about which I wrote recently after spotting it in an earlier episode of the Sunday night period drama.

Blood trickled from Matthew’s ear as he lay under the wreckage, but I was more dismayed because above him was the wreckage of his tourer which had been a familiar sight on our borough’s roads when it was new pre-war.

All right, yes, I know. It was all pretend, only acting, and the tragic “death” of Matthew Crawley was probably a plot device to write him out because Dan Stevens, who plays him, is currently starring on Broadway in New York.

As for the on-screen remains of his nippy AC car, that could have been a bit of old coloured plastic, the AC long-since safely back in its West Country garage, unscathed and without a scratch, awaiting its next “acting” assignment.

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The car belongs to Alec Jacobs, a collector of fine old vehicles, and in that autumn column I said EX1945 “might well drive back on to our television screens” in the Christmas Downton Abbey. There was no hint of any impending fatal accident: perhaps Alec had not been let into the plot secret.

EX vehicle registrations were exclusive to Yarmouth and Gorleston from 1903 until the Seventies, and I have reported that EX1945 was acquired new in 1927 by Yarmouth resident Violet Beazor, the adventurous spinster elder daughter of prosperous fish merchant and curer Robert and his wife (also Violet).

Their Queens Road household comprised the parents plus Violet, her two younger siblings (Robert and Nellie), and servant Annie Mitchell.

Violet, born in 1897, eventually lived for years on Caister Road, enjoyed riding motor-cycles, driving powerful cars and tending to her Fremantle Road allotment to which she cycled, carrying a bucket of necessary items to her plot and vegetables from it to take home.

Long after she sold her lunar grey AC Six tourer, it ended up on a scrap heap before an enthusiast acquired it and lovingly restored it to showroom condition. It passed to other owners before Mr Jacobs bought it in 1987 and has enjoyed caring for it and driving it, occasionally lending it out for occasional “acting” duties.

But Violet Beazor remained an enigma, the only other information about her coming from Basil Arthur, of Bradwell, who worked at the Jubilee Garage on Caister Road post-war and recalled her visits there, and seeing her cycling to her allotment.

Now, thanks to two readers, we can assemble a clearer picture of this remarkable woman. One is Valerie Jordan, whose late husband Aleyn was the son of Nellie Beazor and therefore Violet’s nephew; the other is Mrs Beryl Blair, of Balmoral Avenue, Yarmouth, daughter of Violet’s younger brother, Robert.

Mrs Jordan tells me: “Aleyn’s mother’s sister, Violet Beazor, did live on Caister Road with her friend, Mrs Myers. Aleyn took me to see them after we got engaged.” Another occupant of 82 Caister Road was an Angela Halfyard. After Mrs Myers died, the others continued living there.

One of the several cars Violet once owned bore an EX777 number-plate which was later passed to Nellie, adds Valerie.

According to Mrs Blair, Violet was a very adventurous woman, “a dare-devil although she was only five-foot nothing”. Once she motor-cycled solo from Land’s End to John O’Groats, an distance of nearly 900 miles. During the 1914-18 war, she enlisted as a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) and served in France.

Beryl Blair explains that Angela Halfyard was Mrs Myers’ daughter and had worked in theatre as a soubrette under the stage name of Angela Maude. Brought up in the household was Angela’s daughter, Catherine, who is now Mrs Williams.

Violet Beazor’s father, Robert, eminent in Yarmouth’s thriving fishery a century ago, had curing premises at the Fishwhart and on Main Cross Road, plus a fishmonger’s shop on Nelson Road Central. In later life, when she wrote to a subsequent owner of EX1945, she included information to substantiate its provenance but, inexplicably, claimed she was “the daughter of a Lord Mayor of Yarmouth”.

My checks revealed that Robert Beazor senior was never our mayor (anyway, lord mayors are city offices, not borough ones), but Mrs Blair says he was nonetheless a prominent Conservative and was also a leading Freemason. For years her own father (Robert, junior) drove a car with a distinctive Yarmouth registration, EX4567.

And talking of our long-gone herring fishery, responding to a column on that subject. ex-Yarmouthian Danny Daniels writes from Canada: “I was one of the youngsters who used to hang around on the quay, waiting - like the gulls - for the throw-aways that came sailing out on to the land as the nets were being cleaned after the boats came in.

“My mother’s speciality, however, was for pickled herring, putting them in a long dish, with vinegar and pickling spices, and then baking them in the oven. I can almost taste them now! She did the same thing with mackerel, which were even more special. Unlike yourself, I used to love herring roe fried in a pan - particularly the soft ones.

“My mother also, not every year but on occasion, used to provide bed-and-breakfast for some of the Scottish fisher-girls, and was always intrigued when their favourite meal was fried herring and fruit cake!”