How the meaning of words has changed over the decades

INNOCENT! This old advertisement for day trips from Yarmouth to the Continent never misled passenger

INNOCENT! This old advertisement for day trips from Yarmouth to the Continent never misled passengers into expecting anything other than a carefree, light-hearted visit.Picture: COLIN TOOKE COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

LANGUAGE and attitudes have changed dramatically in the past half-century to the extent that a student can face prosecution for making a remark to a mounted policeman about the sexual orientation of his horse...which is why I can guarantee that you will never see a Great Yarmouth Mercury headline in 2013 to match that above our front page lead story in 1963.

It read, simply: “THE ‘GAY LOOK’ PRISON OPENS.”

Gay? Prison? Hmm, yes. You get my point?

The report was about the new Blundeston jail, and the journalist used the word “gay” in the appropriate sense familiar to people of that current generation and their forebears who had probably sung The Gay Cabellero or seen Thirties films like the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers The Gay Divorcee or others with that three-letter word in their titles. Decades ago, day trips by steamer from Yarmouth Fishwharf to “Gay Ostend” were widely advertised – and our local Press office manager was Mr Gay.

According to that 1963 Mercury: “The new ‘gay look’ prison at Blundeston that is a complete break from traditional prison architecture was opened by the Home Secretary, Henry Brooke. It is the first to be built in half a century and looks more like a modern school, in its setting of wooded parkland and flower beds leading down to a lake.”

Four months earlier, the Home Secretary had been hereabouts for another official opening – that of the new Great Yarmouth borough police headquarters on the corner of Howard Street North and The Conge, today the HQ of this area of Norfolk Constabulary (mission statement: “Our Priority is You”).

The year Blundeston Prison opened was also the year in which the nation – including Yarmouth - was on full alert for sightings of the so-called Great Train Robbers who had stolen £2.6 million from Royal Mail vans on a Glasgow-London “travelling Post Office”, stopping it in Buckinghamshire to make their escape.

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Yarmouth police investigated a report that a man resembling one of the suspects had stayed in a Bedford hotel and registered as “P Costello, of 59 Middlegate.” But at that council flat, Mrs Janet Costello assured police that Patrick, her husband, was working in the Bedford a steeplejack.

An Ipswich-Yarmouth train was checked after a report that one of the robbers was on board, but that was also a case of mistaken identity.

A man trying to obtain diesel oil for a luxury launch moored at the riverside was brought to the attention of police because he had said “money doesn’t matter” and “the boat cost £36,000”. The report came from dairyman Jack Nicholls, of Chaucer Road, who was approached by the man near the town hall late at night and asked where he could find the harbour-master.

The man was annoyed that the harbour-master was not on duty at 11.30pm and told Mr Nicholls the craft needed to be filled up with diesel for a voyage to Margate the next morning. The man left in a taxi. The next morning Mr Nicholls saw the vessel, down-river from the Haven Bridge, just slipping her mooring rope.

It proved another well-meant false alarm.

Farther downstream in 1963, the first ship to be launched in Yarmouth for more than a decade slid into the Yare from the Fellows yard after being formally named Frivolity. The small coaster was built for Fellows’ parent company F T Everard and joined its 100-vessel fleet after fitting out and sea trials.

Even closer to the twin piers stood the pioneer herring reduction plant, built in 1952 for £100,000 to produce oil, fertiliser and cattle food from surplus fish, but the forecast glut never materialised, catches dwindled, and the plant shut in 1963 when the fishery was in terminal decline.

Eight crew from the Lowestoft trawler Kirkley, aground on Scroby Sands, were rescued by Caister lifeboat as their rubber dinghy was in danger of being carried on to the notorious bank by a flood tide.

A startling suggestion was made to our borough council by George Holmes, a member who was also president of Gorleston Chamber of Trade. At the business group’s annual dinner, he said the need for a second river crossing was so vital that the corporation should pay for it by selling its £350,000 bus undertaking and the racecourse.

“The second river crossing is the greatest need in the town,” he declared. “Without it, Gorleston will surely die.”

At that time the long-term plan was for either a tunnel or a high-level bridge between Gorleston and Yarmouth South Denes towards the harbour mouth. Eventually the second river crossing materialised 22 years later – the Breydon Bridge, in 1985.

“Mine host” at the Feathers public house in Gorleston town centre celebrated her half-century behind the bar. Mrs L M Hunn, for 22 years its licensee and 28 years the landlady, was given a silver salver by brewer Steward & Patteson.

Other significant events a half-century ago in 1963 included the opening of the £75,000 St Edmund’s Roman Catholic School in Gorleston and the start to building the new Edward Worlledge School in Southtown, estimated to cost nearly £100,000. In Caister the Centurion public house was opened, as was the £100,000 bowling alley in Regent Road, Yarmouth.

Also, 1963 was the year the imposing 1200-seat Methodist Temple on Priory Plain closed, three-quarters of a century after it was founded. Its organ – likened to a Rolls Royce – was not broken up but six years later was dismantled and given to an Anglican church in Kent.

One night Yarmouth police were summoned to the Temple after receiving a report that ghostly strains of organ music could be heard from inside the decaying long-empty building...but they found the dismantling team were testing the instrument before removing it to Kent!

There had been fanciful rumours in 1972 when the demolition gang at the Temple (which was to give its name to the relief road into the town centre) discovered a so-called time capsule in a cavity under a stone step. Speculation that it contained a jar full of gold sovereigns was rife. But the jar held only some liquid but was smashed as it was prised from the concrete.

Other capsule contents were an 1875 local newspaper, a Methodist service sheet and conference minutes.