Speedy Bertie led the way with 12mph conviction

CHANGES are currently being made to the road layout on South Beach Parade in Great Yarmouth to deter the antics of the so-called Jetty Boys who think they are in a Hollywood stunt-fest movie and consequently mix sharp accelerating and braking with flashing headlights, high-revving engines and pumping stereos which threaten innocent motorists and annoy residents.

Undeterred by soaring petrol prices and previous official initiatives, they will probably succeed in adapting to these enforced alterations by continuing to enjoy themselves at others’ expense, although we hope not.

Would these high-throttle tearaways be impressed or scornful, I wonder, to learn that speeding on our seafront is nothing new? In fact, it was well over a century ago that the first young man caught exceeding the limit on Marine Parade.

The offender was Bertie Miller, of St George’s Road, who was hauled before Yarmouth magistrates in the summer of 1899 for driving “furiously to the common danger of the public” and “threatening life and limb” in a �400 Daimler. His speed? 12mph, breaking the 8mph limit.

“The motor car in trouble at last”, declared a newspaper headline. And the prosecution claimed that not only had Miller’s speed endangered people and horse-drawn vehicles on the busy seafront but it also had breached motoring etiquette, for 3mph was reckoned to be adequate in town!

Young Bertie was unrepentant and, according to his solicitor, had spent months on tuition from Daimler which awarded him a certificate of competency. The defence plea fell on deaf ears, and he achieved the dubious distinction of being the first motorist in Yarmouth to be fined for exceeding the speed limit.

He was fined 10 shillings (50p), including costs.

Most Read

Presumably Bertie continued driving for years, undeterred by his conviction for speeding 112 years ago, but subsequently must have stopped getting behind the wheel for some reason or other because his granddaughter, Annie, tells me: “Nanny (Eva) and Grandad brought me up, and I was 15 when he died in 1955. But I never knew him to drive during my years.

“He used to cart me about with him... but on his shoulders.”

Annie is now enjoying retirement after 25 years as landlady of the Shoulder of Mutton pub in Strumpshaw, where she lives in its grounds.

Her father was Jack (“Dusty”), an ex-Army officer and civil servant who for years ran the Bridge Stores at St Olaves where he was quite a character. His brother was Harry, a musician and Labour borough councillor who was mayor of Yarmouth in 1977-78.

The Miller family, headed by Annie’s great-grandfather William, of St George’s Road, were among the local pioneers of the charabanc – the single-deck open vehicle to carry passengers on sight-seeing trips. Indeed, the Daimler in which young Bertie figuratively drove into the Yarmouth hall of fame by being nabbed exceeding the speed limit was described as a motor car in some reports of the incident and court case, and a charabanc in others; it had 7-8 seats.

The family offered charabanc trips along the Marine Parade from the Britannia Pier to the Wellington for sixpence (2�p in decimal currency), a popular attraction that enabled many local folk and holidaymakers to sample their first ride in a motor vehicle.

The Miller, Aldred and Turner families were in the forefront of the charabanc trade until the second world war, and Annie believes the Millers sold their business to Reynolds, still trading from its Caister depot today. In those early years most of the vehicles were given colourful names to add to passenger appeal and to make them recognisable.

Names included Yarmouth, The Enchantress, Lord Lascelles, Doris May, Humming Bird, Hazy Days, The Duchess, The Magnificent, Old Bill, Hiawatha, Ostler, Rose Marie, Lilac Time...

Presumably Rose Marie and Lilac Time stemmed from two favourites of pre-war musical theatre, so it is no surprise to learn from Annie Miller’s copious collection of souvenirs that they both belonged musician Harry Miller, who also drove them.

Sid Page, who owned The Hive garage on Lowestoft Road in Gorleston, adopted an apiary theme with his fleet of charabancs.

I do not know what names he chose, but the list of possibilities seems limited after, for example, Queen, Drone, Honey, Beeswax and Bumble...

I remember The Hive well, opposite the railway station and next to the Station Hotel, for I lived at that end of Gorleston for the first 18 years of my life and passed the Page premises daily. I think he used to do coach trips to London, too.

In the twenties one charabanc was reputed to be a converted Italian armoured car from the 1914-18 war, another a pre-war racing Fiat, owned by Ben Miller and Wally Field.

Perhaps it was this ex-racing Fiat that legend claims reached a speed of 80mph on the Acle New Road when it was carrying 14 passengers! An old photograph of one Yarmouth “chara” clearly shows its 12mph speed limit painted on the side of the chassis.

It did not take long for the open charabancs to become covered by canvas canopies to keep driver and passengers relatively dry and more comfortable on their trips. Another advance was the introduction of pneumatic tyres, The Enchantress pioneering the innovation and causing the obsolescence of solid rubber tyres.

The innovation of the charabanc provided a novel competitor to the traditional method of sightseeing as a passenger on a horse-drawn brake although these continued to operate for many a year after the motorised vehicle had became the norm for outings.

In this column of late we have been discussing the EX number plates that were exclusive to Yarmouth and Gorleston vehicles for many decades; EX 10 is on its original 1900 Daimler that participates annually in the London to Brighton veteran car rally.

Annie has a snapshot of her father, Jack, posing in front of EX 1101. Grandfather Bertie was driving EX 6 along the seafront when he made minor history by being the first person in the borough to be prosecuted for speeding.

Recently I read that in the visa section of the Mexican Embassy in London, ambassador Eduardo Mora was displaying a “for sale” notice advertising his 1990 Bentley automatic limousine for sale.

It has 34,000 miles on the clock, and the asking price is �6,500.

It would suit a Yarmouthian with traditional values, for its number plate is MEX 1!