Queen’s ruled Great Yarmouth seafront

CHANGES AFOOT: The seafront Queen's Hotel in Great Yarmouth as it looked in 1889, four years after i

CHANGES AFOOT: The seafront Queen's Hotel in Great Yarmouth as it looked in 1889, four years after it was built. - Credit: Archant

THE Kings and Queens of Great Yarmouth in the last century provide this week’s subject as the result of a report in a recent Great Yarmouth Mercury. There is nothing monarchic about it, so saluting, standing to attention, bowing and curtseying, or touching the forelock, are unnecessary.

PROMINENT BUSINESSMAN: John Nightingale, original owner of the Queen's Hotel and involved in many lo

PROMINENT BUSINESSMAN: John Nightingale, original owner of the Queen's Hotel and involved in many local enterprises. - Credit: Archant

Simply, it stems from regular correspondent Mike King, a Gorlestonian long resident in Lowestoft, enjoying a bout of nostalgia when he read about a development at the New Beach Hotel at the junction of the Golden Mile and Regent Road.

The former gentrified Queen’s Hotel, built in 1885, acquired a new name and character in the 1970s when the basement and ground floor were annexed from the 75-bedroom property and became The Long Bar, open 20 hours a day, and a lap-dancing club, both amenities guaranteed to delight some but infuriate others.

But the hotel owner has now reacquired the basement and ground floor, promising that guests will no longer suffer noise disturbance and that bedrooms on the front of the building can be fully used.

Mike King says that when his future stepfather, Sergeant Don Hall, of Rodney Road, was demobbed from the Army in 1946 “his first job was as a control clerk at the Queen’s Hotel, formerly owned by the esteemed Mr John Nightingale who was said to have had the biggest funeral ever known in Yarmouth.

HAPPY DAY: Correspondent Mike King, in his school blazer, with his mother, Joan, holding baby Roxann

HAPPY DAY: Correspondent Mike King, in his school blazer, with his mother, Joan, holding baby Roxanne on her christening day in 1951, and stepfather Don Hall - Credit: Archant

“When Don arrived, the Queen’s was owned by Mrs Emily Vaughan, Mr Nightingale’s widow, but she did not get involved in running it and lived in a flat in Britannia Road. Her manageress was Mrs Pennington, whose son Rupert managed the Britannia Pier.

“Don would give out the floats to the several bars, cash up the tills, pay the bills, order supplies and do general clerical work.

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“The holiday trade was different to what it is now. In high summer the resort teemed with holidaymakers and day trippers. Many arrived by train from the Midlands. They thronged into the Queen’s Hotel in hordes!

“Light ale was 6d (2½d today) a pint in those days and during summer one bar used to take £100 a night – that’s an awful lot of pints! During winter that same bar would take only 30s (£1.50). Bars closed at 10.30pm but residents were permitted to drink longer.

“The hotel had about 100 bedrooms and these were mostly full. It also had a grand ballroom. Don’s office was next to the ballroom.”

Mike continues: “One day Dad went down to the well-stocked wine cellar beneath the hotel where there were racks and racks full of wine bottles. He took one out, covered in dust...and found it empty! He took out another and found that one empty too.

“Somebody had evidently been helping him or herself to the contents and returning the empties to cover tracks!

“When a gang of safe-breakers came to Yarmouth, they lodged in a flat opposite the hotel ballroom. They broke into safes all around the town. The police knew who they were but could not catch them in the act.

“The police got permission from Mrs Vaughan and made observations from the ballroom windows, checking the crooks in and out and pouncing one evening after they returned from a job.

“The crooks made a dash for it but were all captured. One was caught in a toilet flushing £ notes down the pan!”

According to Mike, Mrs Vaughan’s daughter married Dr Tony Deane, a member of the famed local swimming and medical family, and they had a flat in the hotel.

When Mike’s mother, a war widow, found a job at the Queen’s as a seamstress, he spent a lot of time at the hotel during summer holidays, wandering around inside, or out on the beach and Marine Parade opposite.

He recalls: “One day I nearly set fire to the building. There was an electric fire on in the room, the type with red-hot coals visible through a large grille. Before she left the room, my Mum gave me strict orders not to touch the fire. Hardly had the door closed when I stuck a piece of paper through the grille on to the hot coils. It burst into flame in my hand.

“I dropped it into a box of paper which began burning vigorously. Oh dear, what to do?

“At that instant Mum came in, picked the flaming box up and dashed to the bathroom next door where she placed it in the bath and turned the tap on. I received a severe scolding.

“Some days Mrs Deane would ring my Mum to ask if I wanted to play with her son in their flat below, which I did. Sometimes I was given unwanted toys which were most appreciated.

“The Deanes moved to a nice house in Gorleston on the corner of Poplar Avenue and Lowestoft Road, with tennis courts at the rear. The house is still there but the tennis courts have gone.

“Don (now 92 and blind) eventually married my mother and they moved to Gorleston. He left the Queen’’s Hotel and spent most of the rest of his working life at Great Yarmouth Coachworks.”

“He was the first occupant of a new house in Gorleston in 1950 and still lives there. This was not far from where an American plane crashed in 1955, killing the pilot. The crash made the front door rattle and the house shake.

“I looked out of the window and saw a plume of smoke from around where the back gardens of houses in Brasenose Avenue were built years later, not far from Bunn’s farm.”

Mike adds that John Nightingale ran the Royal Aquarium (Hollywood) and the Theatre Royal (demolished in 1929 when the Regal Cinema was built on the site). He lived at Shadingfield Lodge (now the Grosvenor Casino), was the caterer at the Assembly Rooms (now the Masonic Lodge) and owned the Queen’s, Royal and Victoria Hotels.

As for the former Queen’s Hotel, that name can still be seen in the external metal railings at first floor level.