Superior sands make for fine modelling on Gorleston beach

Events - Festivals Sand sculpture competition during the 'Battle of Britain Week' events at Great Y

Events - Festivals Sand sculpture competition during the 'Battle of Britain Week' events at Great Yarmouth. Youngsters on the beach in front of the Pier Hotel, Gorleston. Dated 1961 Plate P9600 - Credit: Archant

The sun was pleasantly hot and the crystal sea at a comfortable temperature as wavelets rippled on to the golden sand. Mrs Peggotty and I paddled along this Mediterranean shore recently, enjoying a week’s holiday on Majorca, our first experience of all-inclusive and adults-only.



All the factors contributed to a delightful break.

But as we ambled ankle-deep, I found myself looking not seawards at all the leisurely aquatic activity, or at the other folk we passed, or at the mix of hotels, apartments, villas and trees along the rear of the narrow beach.

I was smitten with the many ornate sandcastles we passed, all just above the tide-line. Childishly, I wished I had a bucket and spade with me.

At first I thought these had survived a competition for dads and lads and mums and daughters, but dismissed the idea. It was simply that the pebble-free sand was of just the right texture for the construction squads. And as the Mediterranean is nearly tide-less, the chances are that they would not be washed away overnight but would be available for improvement, extension and modernisation the next morning.

These Majorcan sand-castles were far removed from the type I recalled not only from my childhood but also from my children’s early years, all on Gorleston’s splendid beach: a simple mound surrounded by a moat, embellished by upturned bucket-shapes of damp sand, and a few paper flags at the summit.

Seldom was there a seashell or even a pebble in sight on our perfect local shores to provide that extra something to the boringly conventional sand-castle.

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No, the Majorcan designs incorporated square-section turrets, castellations...and some oddly twisted shapes fashioned from sand a-top various bits, somewhat like the dollop of cream perched on a bun. These interesting twiddly enhancements were so regular and common that I presumed that the many “seaside requisites” shops a stone’s throw away must be selling moulds.

In its post-war heyday era, Yarmouth had a range of activities in its daily outdoor programmes for its young visitors at peak school-holiday weeks, and I was sure that sand-castle competitions were included, a presumption scotched by Caister’s Tony King, the retired long-serving stalwart of the borough’s entertainments and publicity department who rose to become its director.

He cannot recall there being any such regular competition during his era in the department – but, he continued: “There certainly was one, in the late 1940s probably,

and my brother and I went in for it. It was between the Jetty and the Wellington Pier.”

Sand modellers who created life-size “sculptures” (a dying cowboy laid beside his wounded horse, for example), were regular attractions on the beach, as were visits by so-called “sand artists” producing a variety of interesting creations.

All relied for their income on the generosity of passers-by and admirers tossing a few coins on to the square of canvas laid out on the sands. Many a Box Brownie – and other more sophisticated cameras – snapped the sandy scenes, the roll films taken to the local chemists for developing and printing when the amateur photographers arrived back home.

Later, of course, the shots were in colour, either printed out or in a frame to be inserted into an illuminated viewer or even projected and screened in their homes. Now mobile phones with incorporated camera mean a high-definition snapshot can be available for viewing on the other side of the world in seconds.

We of the older generation are not dinosaurs stuck in the past, but nonetheless cannot help but marvel at the simplicity of the complexity. Unfortunately, Mrs Peggotty and I left our mobile phones in our hotel room while we wandered along the Majorcan beach, and consequently have no images to remind us of the superior sand-castles we admired there.

People on Gorleston beach, riverside or pier at the right times half a century ago might have witnessed the local drifter-trawler Autumn Sun (YH370) sailing in or out of the harbour. As I mentioned here recently, my father was her skipper in 1958 when she was damaged by a huge sea while fishing off Cornwall and his radioed SOS emergency call resulted in the St Ives lifeboat battling through wind and waves to escort her to the safety of St Ives harbour.

A decade ago, during a holiday in Cornwall, Mrs Peggotty and I visited the lifeboat shed in St Ives so I could look at the boards recording the services and perhaps chat to anyone on duty there who might recall that 1958 mercy mission. Unfortunately it was closed.

Former Mercury colleague Tony Mallion has just e-mailed: “I certainly enjoyed reading about your Dad, all the more so as my wife Jenny and I are off by train from Yarmouth tomorrow for a week in St Ives which we regularly visit.

“Not so long ago the Royal National Lifeboat Institution model of the Louise Stephens lifeboat (on station at Gorleston from 1939 until 1967) turned up in the St Ives Museum because it was the same design as a previous St Ives one.

“This linked to both my grandfather, Bertie Beavers, the coxswain from 1949 to 1954, and my Dad who was deputy mechanic of the same boat. My cousin, Peter Johnson, also a former crew man, was attempting to restore the Louise Stephens but with Peter’s sudden death in April, the trustees have sold the former lifeboat although it will remain in Lowestoft.”

According to Roger Wiltshire’s 1994 book Norfolk Lifeboats: A Portrait in Photographs and Picture Postcards: “The Louise Stephens arrived in 1939 and all the preparations were put in place to christen her in the September. The outbreak of war intervened and this boat was never christened.”

Her design was such that she could not be launched from any slipway other than Gorleston, wrote Roger.

The Louise Stephens was followed at Gorleston by the Khami, a new all-steel class which remained afloat at the lifeboat station on Riverside Road during her 13-year stay and did not have to launch down a slipway.