Proof that one picture is worth a thousand words: Great Yarmouth in days gone by

I'M FOREVER bottle stoppers! Edward Green in his High Mill Road works in 1954, conti

I'M FOREVER bottle stoppers! Edward Green in his High Mill Road works in 1954, continuing a family tradition of making blown and pressed glass stoppers from 1899, mainly for the perfume industry. He was possibly the last craftsman in the country making these stoppers by hand. The business closed in 1957. - Credit: Archant

ALMOST a century ago an American named Frederick R Barnard, presumably an advertising guru commenting on the effectiveness of graphics, declared that complex stories can be told with just a single still image, or that an image may prove the more influential.

SHORT CUT: Yarmouth Way being constructed from King Street to South Quay across war-damage clearance

SHORT CUT: Yarmouth Way being constructed from King Street to South Quay across war-damage clearance land in 1956. It became one of the borough's busiest roads. - Credit: Archant

A picture usually tells a tale similar to a large amount of descriptive text, he declared in 1921, and is worth a thousand words. That opinion has been adopted by the print media and television ever since (excluding radio, of course, for obvious reasons). It even became a hit love song by David Gates and Bread in 1971, with the opening line, “If a picture paints a thousand words...”

Caister-based local historian and author Colin Tooke has taken that Frederick R Barnard philosophy to heart with his latest book, entitled A Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Photo Album. So he has abandoned his usual successful format of written chapters with illustrations chronicling aspects of our borough’s past, replacing it with a glorious wealth of pictures from those years gone by.

In his introduction he writes: “It is often said that ‘every picture tells a story’ and the reader will find that saying is true when looking at this collection of images.” At Frederick R Barnard rate of a picture saving a thousand words, I reckon Colin’s choice of about 230 pictures has spared his typing fingers about 230,000 words or thereabouts and, of course, countless key-strokes, offset to a limited degree by his introduction, captions and the explanatory paragraphs putting the photographs into context.

His readers might well hope that he has not been too liberal and near-exhausted his personal library of old photographs, bearing in mind that he is already working on a book to be published next year and, presumably, more will follow for us lovers of Yarmouth and Gorleston of yesteryear.

Not all the scores of shots this time are from his own enviable collection, for his new work includes contributions from other local and national sources, some of which help me from time to time with illustrations for this weekly column.

Many of those he has selected have never been previously published, he emphasises.

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In this run up to Christmas, it is reported that no fewer than seven books on local themes are due to appear, most – if not all – including photographs from the time when the camera was invented and history began to be recorded in pictures as well as words.

My occasional fears that there is not an inexhaustible number of hitherto-unpublished old pictures are quickly dispelled, at least for computer owners who can log on to the several websites featuring scenes – often new to me and thus stimulating the Peggotty memory - from various aspects of the borough’s rich heritage.

Mrs Peggotty is regularly showing me on her iPad pictures from an interesting site named Great Yarmouth & Surroundings – The Good Old Days, 1960 Onwards. Sometimes they are scenes seeking identification and clarification, and some are pre-1960. Also, there are on-line sites like Yarmouth on Film, Francis Frith, Weatherjackwx...

A compilation like Colin Tooke’s Photo Album serves a dual purpose. For older generations, it jogs our memory of an age sometimes hazy and near forgotten, of days that used to be but will never return; while for younger citizens, it offers a fascinating glimpse of Yarmouth and Gorleston as they have never known it and will never see it.

The volume is divided into five sections: People, Events and Entertainment, Buildings, Transport and The River, although there are overlaps and pictures that could fit into more than one category. The opening theme is People, and the author’s preface sums up and underscores the changes that have happened, in many cases almost imperceptibly.

He writes: “The first section contains images of people in many differing roles, some at leisure, some at work. The images of people on holiday illustrate how dress fashions have changed over the years. Even as late as the 1950s there were no ‘casual’ clothes, beachwear was little different from street-wear.

“Most of the people at work are engaged in jobs that no longer exist, such as the rope maker, the cooper and the glass blower. The street vendors selling ice-cream from barrows, or ginger beer and teas from make-shift stalls, have long-since disappeared, as have many other scenes, such as crowded beaches and cattle being driven through the Market Place.”

It is a Market Place photograph, albeit one without livestock, that caught my eye as also encapsulating that distinct then-and-now evolution. Snapped from a high vantage point, possibly an upper window of Jarrolds (the stationer and bookseller premises now occupied by baker Greggs) or Palmers, still trading today, the camera looks towards the parish church along a busy market day in the summer of 1958.

The market is bustling with locals and holidaymakers, the stalls stretching from end to end . “The majority of the stalls are those of the market gardeners, selling their own produce,” notes the author.

Today those traders, once the strength of our ancient market, are conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps market gardening is extinct, or official regulations or customer preferences have changed.

When I ambled through the market on a Saturday morning earlier this month, so far as I could see there was not one of these market-garden stalls although the permanent fruit-and-veg stalls are still at the southern end – the Burtons end, it will long be known by Yarmouthians and Gorlestonians despite the extensive changes being undertaken this autumn.

I could buy clothing, underwear, footwear, garden or cemetery ornaments, replacement vacuum cleaner parts, knick-knacks, books, tools and gadgets – or could even have my mobile phone unblocked or my hair permed – but could not buy a bunch or carrots straight from the grower, it seemed.

That’s evolution, I suppose. Out with the old, in with the new.

Mind you, I still have not become accustomed to chip stalls spread around, not the so-called big four (Nichols, Kelly, Brewer and Thompson) stationed in a row opposite what for years was Nichols and Wooden’s fish restaurant...

I am positive that not only will younger readers be surprised to discover from perusing the book what the borough of Yarmouth looked like decades ago but also many a memory will be stimulated, spurring so-called old-timers to exclaim: “Well, I never knew that, and I’ve lived here all my life!”

Colin Tooke’s latest work costs £12.99 from the Yarmouth town centre store of W H Smith and Cobholm Miniatures in Broad Row, and from Music Lovers in Gorleston High Street.