The ebb and flow of where we had our pints
- Credit: Archant
WHEN my bus halted at the traffic lights at the Gorleston High Road junction, waiting to turn towards Great Yarmouth, the husband and wife opposite began to discuss where the Half Way House pub used to stand.
He thought it was beside us to the left at the Beccles Road turn, but his wife correctly insisted that it was more or less in front of our bus – which by then was pulling into the lay-by I still call the Half Way House stop.
Both pubs have long gone, the Lacon’s little Greyhound beer-house converted into a private dwelling in 1972 after more than a century-and a-half. The Half Way House, with its distinctive 1930s frontage, closed in 1968 to permit road-widening, having once marked the mid-point of the Gorleston-Southtown horse tramway.
According to Caister-based historian Colin Tooke’s 2006 book Time Gentlemen Please!, 386 pubs have existed in the old borough and Caister from the 18th century, known by 740 different names. By 2006, 110 remained.
Currently our pubs seem to diminish quicker than it takes to sink a pint – a gross exaggeration, but I am confident you appreciate my point. They are closing at a rate bound to alarm breweries, landlords, licensees and the customers who still enjoy what an English pub has to offer.
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As that bus on which my two fellow passengers had their little discussion about the Greyhound and Half Way House continued towards Yarmouth, it passed the still-open Rumbold Arms, then the two closed Anson Arms (the first, at the shipyard entrance, is now offices, its successor a soft-furnishings business), the Two Bears (closed), the East Suffolk Tavern (reopened under its original name after trading as Cropper’s) and the Bridge Hotel (shut after a brief reopening).
That short bus journey demonstrates the level of closures. Although not a pub-goer, I am probably like many other folk saddened by a tradition dwindling for a combination of reasons familiar to us all.
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Sometimes it is hard for the casual observer to suss out whether a pub is open or not, a dilemma intensified by those that seem in an open/reopen cycle... and I apologise to any that were closed at the time of writing but have subsequently reopened.
One that continues to enjoy leases of life is the former Mitre in George Street which, I note, is open again under another new name, Cabbys Bar... although when I passed one weekday lunchtime recently, it was shut.
The original name is still in the brickwork. In the 1970s one of its names was Fagins, after the Dickensian villain – which leads me to note that my namesake in Gorleston – Peggotty’s on Pier Walk – is a closure casualty. Post-war, when it was still The Ship, my Uncle Percy and Aunt Vi were mine-hosts.
Peggotty’s in King Street, Yarmouth, survives.
When the Magdalen College council estate was built post-war, accommodating many of those displaced either by wartime bombing or post-conflict reconstruction, people wondered if three new pubs (Magdalen Arms, Fastolf Arms and Cap & Gown) would be enough for the many thousand residents. The last two closed this year. Old habits have altered.
Despite its length, Beccles Road at Gorleston now has only two pubs (Wheelwrights and Arches) but scores of homes, and recently I puzzled over an inexplicable gap in the even-numbering on the west side near the Bradwell boundary: neighbouring homes are 232 and 242, indicating that four properties are “missing”.
Long-established Beccles Road resident Joan Roberts e-mailed: “There is an even bigger gap between my neighbours’ bungalow and mine. I am 152 Beccles Road, Gorleston, and they are 170.” That looks as though no fewer than eight properties are unaccounted for.
“When we moved into our new bungalow in 1956, we were told we would be renumbered and that we would also lose some of our garden because they were going to straighten the road. After 57 years, we are still waiting!” says Mrs Roberts, aged 91, who lives in the section between Burgh and Humberstone Roads.
“I wouldn’t want to change the number now – I quite like it.”
Another recent topic was illustrated by a 1964 photograph of the much-loved pleasure tripper Norwich Belle heading down-Yare to take passengers out to Scroby, a column that inspired Gerry Crossman to e-mail me from his home in California (Scratby) saying: “Seeing the picture of the Norwich Belle bought back some fond memories for me.
“I used to live in Northampton and come every year to Yarmouth with my parents on holiday, staying in a caravan the South Denes camp-site. I used to look forward to going on the Norwich Belle to see the seals on Scroby Sands.
“Also, one year I was given a tour of the engine-room by her engineer whilst going out to Scroby Sands which I thoroughly enjoyed as I was just starting out in working life as a engineer/mechanic.
“My wife and I moved to live in California in 2007. It was my father’s dream to live in or around Yarmouth but he never lived long enough to do so. It was something I wanted to do for many years so I suppose we are doing what my father wished for – we bought an old cottage by the California Tavern and spent a year renovating it and are now settled here and very happy.”
Mr Crossman, a site manager and school caretaker, wonders what happened to the Norwich Belle. “Was it scrapped or did it go to work somewhere else? We missed a holiday one year due to my father being ill and when we came again, the boat had gone, much to my disappointment and I am interested to find out what happened to it when it left Yarmouth.”
The last sighting was by Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, who photographed her in the Israeli port of Eilat in 1995. She was ferried out as deck cargo, and at Eilat looked to be a houseboat, perhaps used as accommodation for divers. Nobody was on board when Peter snapped her.