Only one statue in Great Yarmouth - or are there more?

Peggotty muses about the quirks of the St Spyridons Church clock and also the Fisherman's Hospital a

Peggotty muses about the quirks of the St Spyridons Church clock and also the Fisherman's Hospital and its statue - is it the only one in Great Yarmouth - Credit: Archant

FOR much of the 20th century the late Clifford Temple’s camera captured many iconic scenes in the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston area. In war and peace, people and places were his stock-in-trade, and many of his shots have helped to illustrate this column down the decades.

The St Spyridons Church clock and it's unusual 12...

The St Spyridons Church clock and it's unusual 12... - Credit: Archant

So when a Temple caption includes a claim of sorts, I seldom challenge it, aware of his knowledge and experience. Today I hope his usual accuracy can be relied upon...

A picturesque corner of the town centre, the Fishermen’s Hospital between the Market Place and the Minster was open to the public last month as part of a heritage open day at various interesting parts of our illustrious past. The so-called “hospital” is, in fact, homes built in 1702 for “decayed” (aged and disabled) fisherman and extensively modernised a few years ago without losing the overall character.

One of its features I am sure many heritage visitors photographed – perhaps on mobile phones, which would have affronted the traditionalist Clifford – is the cobbled front courtyard in which stands a statue of a mother and children, while in the cupola above the main entrance is one of St Peter, patron saint of fishermen.

Clifford Temple, then aged 86, included that scene in his 1993 book, captioning it: “It is interesting to note that Great Yarmouth’s only statue stands here.” That is a bold claim, inevitably causing you to strive to think of others, if only to challenge it. But, excluding those in cemeteries and Britannia atop the 144ft Nelson’s Column, I cannot think of any; even using a computer search engine proved fruitless.

Google also failed me over another poser about the numerals on the four clocks that have been on the tower of the Greek Orthodox Church of St Spyridon in Yarmouth since 1876 when it was St Peter’s Anglican Church.

Ronald King, of Pine Green, Gorleston, one of our original heritage tour guides, says the figure 12 “has puzzled me for many years” and members of parties he has escorted have also asked him about it. He hopes Peggotty readers might be able to explain why the Roman symbol for 12 is not the expected XII.

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All other 11 numbers are conventional Roman numerals, albeit ornate in style.

“I have not been able to find out despite being a Bloater and attending this church when it was the acting parish church,” says the octogenarian retired retailer.

Hitherto I had never spotted that, although these four twelves (one on each face) are in keeping with the style of the other 11 digits, they are out of sync, resembling a pair of back-to-back ordinary threes, or a fancy X for ten with a horizontal wiggly-ended bar across.

That the hands are permanently at 12 o’clock, partly obscuring the number, does not help; neither does the fact that currently the clocks are hidden because the tower is encased in scaffolding and screening during works.

The internet usually provides answers in a jiffy, but this time it took XII jiffies plus a lot more, without success. Umpteen sites explain the Roman numeral system and touch on its occasional clock-face quirk (like four usually IV but, now and again, IIII) but no Yarmouth solution is forthcoming.

Simon Knott, a churches enthusiast who has photographed the clock, says: “It appears to be an X for 10 with two Is for one crossed over it.”

Because my weekly features appear on the internet, which extracts certain passages to file them under relevant headings, two people have contacted me.

Two years ago we examined the life and career of soprano Helen Hill, a Yarmouth girl born Nellie Powell who went from appearances in local concert parties and amateur dramatic productions to become nationally known through her 500 broadcasts on BBC Radio, particularly in the war years.

Through the Mercury website I received a message from David Stone who logged on to one of my columns and “was amazed to find that a picture of my father, Eric Stone, of Church Road, Gorleston, was staring back at me!”

That photograph was of the local Merrymakers concert party, and David reports: “He was the pianist for the Christmas show in 1921 at St Andrew’s Hall, Gorleston, and many others, and was 19 at the time. Many times he accompanied Helen Hill (referred to in my childhood as Auntie Nellie) but did not pursue a professional career.”

David, 74, who followed his father into pharmacy, lives in Loddon. His pianist father worked for Halls the chemist on Pier Plain before joining Boots and at one time was employed at its all-night premises in Piccadilly Circus in London.

Referring to Elsie and Doris Waters, the “Cockney” comediennes whose career began at Gorleston Pavilion in the Thirties and who became national treasures through their wartime appearances in radio variety shows, David Stone adds: “My mother, Doris Clark, who lived in Bells Road, Gorleston, worked at Middletons in Beach Road and used to talk to them every morning as they collected newspapers and went to the Pavilion.

“She described them as lovely people and quite hilarious. Both were talented musicians. “

Then Linda Carter e-mailed from Stockport in Cheshire about her grandmother – “Musical Marie Ashton”, a name familiar to my readers because I have written about her 1954 bid in the long-gone Central Cinema on the Market Place to claim the world non-stop piano-playing record. She chanced upon my 2011 feature when searching the internet for information about her grandmother, whose real name was Agatha.

Mrs Carter hoped I might know more details or could advise her where to find photographs of Musical Marie’s Yarmouth record bid. I had to tell her I have never seen a picture other than that used to illustrate my column of Musical Marie being helped by her entourage after she collapsed from exhaustion.

“I was brought up by her, grandad and her daughter,” says Linda, aged 60. “As you get older you want to know more about your family’s history before there is nobody left to help you with information. She was a character, larger than life. She used to play the piano at Christmas parties.

“I lived with my grandparents as a young child so was always aware of the marathon piano playing my Nana did and knew that she had been in the Guinness Book of Records. She died in 1981.”