Probing the mystery of Bluebow

USUALLY I am unmoved by family trees, but today make an exception because the inquiry is about one of my pen-wielding predecessors. Certainly the name of Peggotty would have been familiar to him, but only the Charles Dickens character because the newspaper column signed by that pen-name and dealing with Great Yarmouth district topics was not launched until after this old newspaperman’s death.

My boyhood chum Colin Sherwood, a retired headmaster living in Onslow Avenue, Yarmouth, asks: “I wonder if you can help me in finding some details about a grand-uncle of mine who apparently wrote for either the Yarmouth Independent or Mercury around the late 1800s under the pseudonym of Bluebow.

“He was James Benjamin Beckett (1872-1935), who moved from Gorleston to King’s Lynn around 1901 to write for their local paper.”

Why Bluebow, I wonder. Any local link? At least Peggotty was a major character in the Dickens novel largely set in the Yarmouth area.

According to Colin’s research, the 1891 census recorded that 19-year-old James Beckett was a grocer’s clerk living in Lancaster Road. In the next census, a decade later, his address was 96 High Street in Gorleston, and he taken a change of direction by switching from shop work to becoming a member of the so-called Fourth Estate: he was listed as “author/journalist”.

Number 96 High Street was the Gorleston branch office of the Yarmouth Mercury and, I think, also the residence of the current manager, agent or reporter; today the building is occupied by up-market men’s clothier Jimmy D’s.

So he would not have been working on the Yarmouth Independent which was the Mercury’s rival. In 1932 the Independent’s owner (the Norfolk News Company, now Archant) acquired the Mercury and acknowledged it as the district’s principal weekly newspaper by stopping publication of its own Independent.

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Two years later, in 1903, James Beckett married Bessie Maria Felmingham but, by 1911, had moved to the other side of Norfolk where his King’s Lynn occupation was described as “journalist/daily newspaper” in the 1911 census.

Presumably that daily newspaper was our sister publication, the Eastern Daily Press.

On his death at 63 in 1935, it was recorded that he had returned to Gorleston to live at “19 Barnard Road” and left �150 in his will to his widow, Bessie. I assume his address was in Bernard Road, for there is no Barnard Road in Gorleston although across the river in Yarmouth there is both Barnard Avenue and Barnard Crescent.

Bessie died in 1959 in her mid-80s. The couple appear to have had five children – four daughters and a son. Their youngest, Estelle, died in 1986. Their only son was James Bluebow Beckett (1902-1980).

Bluebow? That’s the nom-de-plume again under which his father wrote. Very curious...

Colin Sherwood is an enthusiastic and painstaking genealogist and knows his way through the procedures and research facilities available, and now hopes my readers can add more information.

Skimming through a newspaper’s business section recently I spotted an unexpected name: Lord Grade of Yarmouth. Of Yarmouth? Dear me. Had this elevation escaped my notice? Indeed, had our local media been unaware of the borough’s name being thus honoured?

The new peer is better known as Michael Grade, former chairman of both the BBC and ITV. Certainly his father, Leslie, and uncles Lew Grade and Bernard Delfont were major showbiz players nationally when their top stars spent long summers here in our entertainments heyday but it hardly warranted Michael choosing Yarmouth for his new title.

But it transpires that he has been installed in the House of Lords as Lord Grade of Yarmouth because he is a keen yachtsman and owns a holiday cottage at Yarmouth...on the Isle of Wight!

The sporting world has recently mourned the death of popular heavyweight champion boxer Henry Cooper. In retirement he paid possibly three brief visits to Yarmouth, including one in 1971 to the Caister Road Stadium to present the East Anglian Greyhound Derby trophy to the winning joint owners of Fawn Buttons, Jack Williams and Joe Jones, in the 25th year of the race.

The next year he returned to Yarmouth where he handed out the awards at a black-tie amateur boxing dinner at the Garibaldi. That same day, or within a year or two either way, he was pictured by Mercury staff photographer Les Gould emerging from a limousine, probably outside the Woolworth store in the Market Place and shaking hands with a business-suited man, perhaps the shop manager.

Another regular correspondent, Robin Hambling, of Lawn Avenue, enjoyed my columns about Norman Burtenshaw and Alf Grey, football referees who reached the top of their game, and tells me he worked with international ref Alf Grey at the Birds Eye Foods factory. “He also plays bowls at Browston,” adds Robin, who has not seen him lately.

Robin also recalls: “When I was at North Denes School during the war my headmaster was one of the officials in a war-time international at Wembley. It could even have been the one “Sailor” Brown took part in. He borrowed a car from J & H Bunn and my Dad delivered it to his house with me as a passenger.

“It was difficult to get permission to travel then, so probably some strings were pulled...”

I wonder if that headmaster was Mr H G Reynolds who, I recall vaguely, was a referee and also the head of the National Savings movement in the Yarmouth area.

Bert “Sailor” Brown was, of course, the Gorleston lad who played for Charlton Athletic and Aston Villa and in England internationals before returning to his home town to become player-manager of the Greens, leading them to that epic three-game FA Cup first round tie against league side Leyton Orient in 1951. Gorleston were knocked out in the second replay, held on the neutral ground of Arsenal’s Highbury Stadium.

Finally, Yarmouth-based songs of the past, a topic last month. I overlooked a few, because years ago Ken and Joan Saul, of Main Road, Filby, told me: “Within the folk music tradition there are several songs concerning the town, including Yarmouth Town, Pretty Nancy of Yarmouth, and Cruising Round Yarmouth.” Also, there was a traditional step-dance, The Yarmouth Hornpipe.

My feet are already a-tapping!