No teenage tearaways at this town hall ball for the young
- Credit: Archant
IT was no surprise when confirmation came that not every youngster in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston received an invitation to a civic juvenile fancy dress ball at the Town Hall in 1889, the subject of a recent column.
I had assumed correctly that the young guests were from middle-class families and excluded ragamuffins, delinquents, tearaways and teenage troublemakers.
I mean, it was not like a present-day disco where you just wiggle and gyrate to the thumping beat beneath flashing lights: it was a ball, and His Worship Frederick Danby Palmer and his advisers undoubtedly expected his youthful guests, all aged six to 15, to have some social graces and at least a smidgeon of terpsichorean talent.
Besides, the prospect of wearing fancy dress might well have been off-putting to any young roughs who found themselves invited through a clerical error.
Regular correspondent Paul Godfrey, a former Gorlestonian now resident in Lowestoft, writes: “As you say in your article, not every young Yarmouth citizen was invited and the guest list did not include any poor children from the workhouse. Quite the opposite.
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“The names you have given I looked up in the 1891 census and found several of them. They all appear to be the children of business and professional people who were living or trading in the town at the time. I list the ones I have managed to find in the 1891 census and have taken two years off their ages to reflect their ages in 1889.”
They include: “Miss L Mays and Miss E Mays dressed as French peasants: Louise Mays was 11 and Elsie Mays nine, the daughters of Dr Alfred and Mrs Eleanor Mays, of Alexandra Road.
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“Miss Winifred Self (Queen of the Fairies) and Arthur Self (Earl of Leicester): Winifred Bulwer Self was six, Master Arthur George Self seven, the children of George Henry Self, a boot and shoe manufacturer, and Mary Jane Self, of King Street.
“Reginald Pearson (matador), 14-year-old son of Charles Pearson, manager of the London and Provincial Bank, Hall Quay, and Mrs Helen Pearson.
“Emily Miller, 13 (Buy-a-Broom), Alice Miller, nine (Vivandiere), daughters of the late Wallace Miller and Mrs Elizabeth Miller, proprietors of Miller’s Photographic Studio.
“Harry Johnson, 13 (jester), Ernest Johnson, nine (Dick Whittington), Bertha Johnson, seven (Dolly Varden), Emma Johnson, 11 (Night) - children of Frederick James Budds Johnson, a manufacturer, and Mary Jane Johnson, of Marine Parade.
“Ethel Press, 13 (Winter), daughter of Mr B H Press, miller and merchant, and Mrs A C Press, of High Mill Road.
“Hilda Lovewell Blake, 14 (shepherdess) and sister Nora, 12 (Dutch girl) - daughters of chartered accountant Lovewell Blake and Mary Blake, of Hemsby Road, Ormesby...”
Paul adds: “I had to look up what a ‘Vivandiere’ was (a French word for women attached to military regiments who sold refreshments or ran canteens), but ‘Buy a Broom’ appears to be based on a popular song of the time.”
In that previous column I speculated on the physical condition of the Town Hall at the time of the juvenile ball because it suffered severe subsidence in 1887 (five years after it was built) and had to be underpinned till remedial work was undertaken. Was it still not fully restored but no longer dangerous when the fancy dress ball was held?
However, local historian and author Colin Tooke assures me: “The Town Hall was underpinned in 1887 and 1888; this ball must have been immediately after that.” He sent me the photograph on this page showing the assembly room as it looked during the works, proof that it would have been impossible to hold any function there.
Harry Johnson was, I assume, the man who gave his name to Johnson’s Rooms in Northgate Street, at one time (if not still) the St John Ambulance Brigade area headquarters. He became a local historian and author, his topics including the origin of the borough coat-of-arms (three lion fronts, three herring tails) – by coincidence a subject of which I was recently reminded by John Clarke, an ex-Yarmouthian long resident in Dorset.
“Our first charter was granted by King John in 1208. This is the most treasured of all the 25 charters granted to the borough,” wrote Harry Johnson. “The half lions and half herrings...invariably arouse curiousity. The ancient arms were originally three herrings; later the Royal arms were included.
“These were dimidiated (split in two) in the reign of Edward III by special favour in acknowledgement of the town’s special services in the French wars. The motto, Rex et Nostra Jura (the King and our Liberties), was something the burgesses zealously maintained.”
Back to Poole resident John Clarke who asks: “When I was at the Greenacre School in 1948, a common pastime was to go ‘stanicling’ in the dyke on Caister Road, taking a jam jar on a bit of string, of course.
“I cannot locate the word ‘stanicle’ anywhere. It was a small fish, possibly a stickleback to most folks. Do you have any comment?”
Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, scoured Yarmouth naturalist and writer Arthur Patterson’s book Nature in Eastern Norfolk (1905), finding the following passage: “The three-spined stickleback is common and abundant and is known locally as the stanickle. The ten-spined stickleback is known as a sweep or tinker, and the 15-spined stickleback is a saw-back.”
John Clarke, recalling the German airship that had Yarmouth in its sights in the 1914-18 war, says: “My father, born in 1903, actually saw the Zeppelin fly along the coast with all lights blazing since we had nothing to shoot it down. He found it a magnificent sight.
“He was born in 1903 so may have been 14 or 15 at the time, before becoming an apprentice plumber.” Fully qualified, he was in the Fire Service and during the blitz in the last war was seconded to London on an exchange to give Cockney firemen some relief.
“When they met up again, the cockneys were pleased to be back to the smoke. They thought it much safer than Yarmouth!” adds John.