The building blocks of history

MAINTOASTING THEIR COMFY HOMES: some of the womenfolk on Gorleston's Shrublands prefab estate enjoyi

MAINTOASTING THEIR COMFY HOMES: some of the womenfolk on Gorleston's Shrublands prefab estate enjoying a drink in 1957.Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

OUR borough has embraced a mayoralty for more than three centuries, but I doubt that any mayor other than John Beckett ever felt impelled to accuse some citizens of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston of behaving like saboteurs.

That was just after the war, and he felt driven to make the outburst against people whose actions were delaying the swift provision of prefabricated homes for some of those made homeless by the intensive bombing we suffered.

My predecessor as Peggotty, commenting on progress of creating Gorleston’s Shrublands estate with these temporary bungalows, wrote that while it was natural for people to be interested in their progress, some were carrying their curiousity too far.

Said Peggotty: “I have been told that these sightseers are, in fact, holding up the erection of these bungalows, for after their weekend visits half-hung doors have been found knocked over, wash-basins chipped and broken, and screws used in assembling and fitting the bungalows taken away.

“This is indeed a sorry state of affairs and I am not surprised that the mayor, Mr J W Beckett, has issued an appeal to the public to be more considerate.”

Our civic head apparently declared: “The need for these bungalows in the town is urgent and, if it were wartime, we should call these thoughtless acts which are hampering speedy progress by the grim name of...sabotage!”

Today, nearly seven decades after the 60-acre 711-bungalow Shrublands was created and nearly half a century since they were demolished to make way for conventional council and private housing, I have received a plea for help about the well-loved and sadly missed estate that was the biggest in the country.

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Tracey Lilly, of Humber Keel on the Cliff Park estate, has searched high and low, figuratively speaking, for a street map showing the layout of Shrublands when it comprised prefabs. “It is certainly not proving to be an easy find,” she tells me.

From 1959 to 1968 Tracey Howell, as she was then, lived with her family in a prefab in Maple Road before they were rehoused into Crab Lane. “The prefabs were beginning to come down,” recalls Mrs Lilly.

“I have recently seen two photos taken about 1948 but I cannot find any references to a street map showing the location of the roads as they were then. There are modern maps showing the present road layout with some of the old names re-used, and I have been lent a 1965 Kelly’s Directory listing the roads and residents - but again, no map.

“I have looked on the Shrublands heritage site, but no joy there.

“Would you know if there is an existing map in any local archive and, if so, how I could obtain a copy? I know there would be a lot of local interest in this as many people lived in the prefabs but, despite asking on local internet forums, no-one yet has been able to produce a map for the era 1947-1960s before the prefabs were dismantled and built over.”

If anyone can help us, please e-mail me at the address above.

By total coincidence, Valerie Jordan (nee Bowles), of Ludkin Square, Northgate Street, Yarmouth - who used to live on Cherry Road on Shrublands as a child – has sent me a snapshot of herself and sister Sandra playing there. “On our home-made four-wheel trailer (we didn’t call them go-karts then) we could ride on any of Shrublands car-free roads and even down the steep slope of Shrublands Way!” she writes.

“There was a whole group of us with trailers who use to race the circuit. Mine was made out of a wooden ironing board with the wheels from my pre-war pram. You had string at the front to hold on to, and your feet were on the axles. Sometimes I went down slopes head-first using my hands to steer. We had the fastest trailer.

“Shrublands was a terrific place to grow up. We were suppose to live in the prefabs for 10 years - it was 22 years before ours was pulled down and we moved to a ground floor flat in what is now Sycamore Green.”

When I mentioned Tracey Howell’s search for a map of the prefab estate to Mrs Jordan, her reply was: “We used to have a map, and were always being asked where such and such a road was.”

Each Shrublands prefab was delivered by four lorries carrying one section each. The sections, with items like kitchen units already fitted, were bolted together in 40 minutes on a concrete slab provided by the council. Then plumbing and electricity were installed, and a reputed 2500 components put in place. Also provided was a refrigerator, a luxury welcomed by tenants who had seen them only in films and glossy magazines.

Rents began at about ten shillings or 12s 6d a week (50p to 62p). The life expectancy was ten years but tenants enjoyed their cosiness and comfort for twice that duration, many sorry when eventually they had to leave for bricks-and-mortar dwellings.

The Shrublands site groundwork was done by German prisoners-of-war who had not yet been repatriated. Elsewhere in the borough were 39 other prefabs, although of different design, in Cobholm, Ordnance Road and Bells Marsh Road.

At least one prefab survives in pristine condition: at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, near Cambridge. Although visitors cannot go inside, they can peer through the windows and study the fitted-out interior.