Relieving the traffic jams in towns

VITAL AMENITY: the cross-river lower ferry, used by South Denes workers who lived in Gorleston. This

VITAL AMENITY: the cross-river lower ferry, used by South Denes workers who lived in Gorleston. This boat has an engine but for decades the ferryman rowed his passengers over the Yare.Picture: JACK HARRISON - Credit: Archant

Frustrating, infuriating, excruciating... and completely beyond our control. That surely sums up those years in the Seventies and Eighties when summer traffic heading for Great Yarmouth tailed back beyond the Half Way House and far into Gorleston.

I used to drive home for lunch from our Regent Street office to Peggotty’s Hut in Gorleston but often aborted it halfway, u-turning and joining the tail end of the stop-start and crawling Yarmouth-bound traffic, knowing it was all a lost cause.

Besides, my editor would not have tolerated my absence and being out of touch (this was before the mobile phone era) for hours at midday, stuck in a traffic jam, and would have preferred me to munch a sandwich at my desk (sorry, workstation).

But hold-ups happened day after day, and I am reminded of that regular rise in blood pressure by ex-Yarmouth registrar Trevor Nicholls, his memory prompted by my reference here to the Half Way House public house and its demolition in 1970 to allow road improvements.

This, of course, was when the urban borough was struggling unsuccessfully to cope with the volume of traffic which had to squeeze over the Haven Bridge while we awaited the second river crossing and link road’s provision in 1986.

Trevor writes that although the new road created after the pub’s removal fulfilled its purpose for a few years, it certainly did not solve Southtown’s traffic problems because on summer Saturdays, race days and increasingly throughout the year, queues stretched from the Haven Bridge, along Southtown, Beccles, Church and Middleton Roads as far as the Stradbroke Road corner.

I cannot remember the queue snaking back that far, but as I never joined it that far away, I accept his word without question.

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“The extension of Suffolk Road along the line of an unmade track across allotments to link with Stafford Road led to a traffic management scheme which was a desperate attempt to squeeze a quart into a pint pot – that is, late 20th century traffic into a Victorian street system,” he comments.

“North-bound buses and heavy lorries had their own lane on Southtown Road. Everything else had to turn into Queen Anne’s Road and reach the Haven Bridge via the new length of Suffolk, Stafford and Station Roads.” There was a £50 fine for driving a car towards the bridge along Southtown Road!

Looking back to his registrar career long based at Ferryside, he tells me: “In those days we used to attend Northgate Hospital three mornings per week to register births. Because of the awful traffic conditions in Southtown, it was often quicker to cross the river by ferry, walk to the bus stop at Swanston’s fish-house in Admiralty Road and catch the number 2 bus to the hospital entrance.

This route, running the full length of the old town, was a pleasure to him because it was a trip through Yarmouth history, beginning with the smell of the fish-house. The north-bound bus even negotiated the narrow gap in the town wall, Garden Gate, between Blackfriars Road and King Street (opposite the Time and Tide Museum).

“Does it still, I wonder? It is a certainty that the fare is more than sixpence and, alas, no more can you cross by ferry for a similar sum – or any other. The ferry was busy in those days with people and, sometimes, their bicycles, travelling to and from the South Denes industries, like Hartmanns, Erie Electronics and Birds Eye.”

In whimsical mode, Trevor Nicholls says: “We hear today of public servants inadvertently leaving computer disks on trains and in taxis. In my time, in my black leather case bearing the Queen’s monogram in gold lettering, some pretty valuable documents bobbed back and forth over the combined waters of the Yare, Waveney, Bure and lesser streams in what many years previously had been a lifeboat of a passenger steamer, as well as being conveyed on Yarmouth’s blue buses of happy memory.

“Once, I even went to a wedding by ferry. It would have been inexcusable for the representative of the State to have been late, and I reassured myself as I walked along Admiralty Road that this was the sort of initiative the Registrar-General would expect all its officers to display, what with Southtown’s traffic and the Haven Bridge (raised more then than now).

“Happily, no books or papers ever went full fathoms five!”

While some older folk remember the landmark Half Way House despite the roadworks that reconfigured this length, Trevor points out that this is not always the case. “We quickly forget how surroundings once appeared. For instance, I cannot remember at all what the area between the Crystal public house on the corner of Northgate Street looked like before the Fuller’s Hill dual-carriageway was built in the early 1970s.

“Neither can I remember the north-east corner of Hall Quay before Stonecutters Way was constructed.” People have told him a so-called greasy-spoon cafe traded there but he cannot recall it.

But as Trevor saw the Beccles Road locality daily for four decades, he can appreciate how much it has changed since the early 1970s. “Whereas the Rows succumbed to enemy bombing from 1939-45, the Half Way House neighbourhood fell victim to road improvements.

“The gas-works overlooking the northern edge of this vicinity closed in 1965 although parts of it remain, including the high wall facing Southtown Road. Watney’s Maltings were destroyed by fire 16 years later.

“It was in the early 1970s, however, that with the driving through of the dual carriageway from the end of Southtown Road to the White Horse junction, the area was drastically changed. Would it have been built at all if the western bypass had been constructed as soon as the Yarmouth-Lowestoft railway closed in 1970, rather than ten years later?

“As it was, by 1970 that stretch of Beccles Road was carrying ever-increasing volumes of traffic from both the A12 and A143.Today, for a four-lane road, it seems to carry little traffic.”