The life and times of the seafront’s open air amphitheatre, the Marina

ERIC AND ERN...struggle to untangle a sash to put over a beauty queen’s shoulders at the Marina in t

ERIC AND ERN...struggle to untangle a sash to put over a beauty queen’s shoulders at the Marina in the Sixties when they spent the summer starring in the resort. Morecambe and Wise had been judging a Miss Yarmouth competition.Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

Perhaps in the era in which it was conceived, the notoriously unpredictable English weather we know today was more reliable, because it was a bold idea to provide Great Yarmouth with an expensive show-piece summer the open air.

I refer, of course, to the Marina that occupied its prime Golden Mile site for 44 years before being demolished in 1979 to make way for another jewel in the resort’s crown, the current Marina Centre incorporating an indoor swimming pool and sport and entertainment facilities.

The neighbouring outdoor 100 yard bathing pool was also removed to accommodate the Marina Centre.

The original Marina, an amphitheatre seating 3000, replaced the traditional 19th century Chappell’s Beach Singers Ring, a boarded enclosure on the central sands in which concert parties performed outdoors.

In postwar years some show business stars spending their summers in the resort made regular appearances on the stage of the outdoor Marina, not performing their acts but usually being celebrity guest judges of bathing beauty competitions and talent shows, supporting favourite resident band-shows like Neville Bishop and his Wolves.

It was the venue for the annual pre-season Norfolk old people’s days out when full coaches of pensioners came here from towns and villages across the county. Professional wrestling also attracted the big names. Latterly, when the Marina was losing its appeal and holidaymakers were reluctant to brave the weather attending its programmes, it morphed into Cow Town, with so-called Sheriff Danny Arnold staging Wild West entertainment.

Recently I wrote here about various items of interest I found in some old scrap books of newspaper cuttings kept by the town hall. One of the biggest in its pages was a comprehensive Yarmouth Mercury account of the July 1937 official inauguration of the Marina, headlined: “Nine mayors at opening of Marina.”

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Nine mayors! Before mayors became commonplace as they did after 1974 local government reorganisation, I think the only places in Norfolk to have the office were Yarmouth, Norwich, King’s Lynn and Thetford. But, according to the Mercury, mayors came from across East Anglia.

Our then mayor, Harry Greenacre, said the guest list “shows that Yarmouth has the sympathy of the whole of Norfolk and Suffolk. It also shows that as far as East Anglia is concerned, Yarmouth is not considered simply a little fishing village. I have lived here long enough to see the development of the borough as the most up-to-date and popular resort on the East Coast.”

A fanfare of bugles greeted the civic party as it passed through the Marina gates, and the mayor told the packed audience that as a youngster he had built castles out of the sand the new attraction had replaced.

Beach committee chairman Percy Ellis described the £42,000 (the equivalent of nearly £2 million today) amenity as “one of the most wonderful sights on the East Coast.” And he added: “In the auditorium is the nucleus of something the town has been wanting for many years – a conference hall. We have only to provide a roof and we have it!”

That ambitious vision never materialised. When the formalities were over, the first performance took place, a concert party, orchestra, soloists and “BBC entertainers.”

Also in the scrapbook was a two-page spread from wonderfully named The Municipal Engineering, Sanitary Record and Municipal Motor magazine in 1932, recording the borough’s progress over the previous four years. It was taken from a paper written by A H Pavitt, the council’s chief engineering assistant, for a meeting in Yarmouth of the Eastern District of the Institution of Municipal and County Engineers.

One project was a 1000 yard extension of the sea wall, plus 11 groynes, from the south beach to the harbour’s mouth, necessitated by severe erosion. Piles were driven 14ft into sand and shingle. The year-long job was done by direct labour and cost £63,000.

He also wrote about a bypass from Caister Road to North Quay (Lawn Avenue) - “the only route for traffic passing through the town between Gorleston and Caister”. Many difficulties had to be overcome “owing to the boggy nature of this land.”

Another important task was remodelling the 30-year-old refuse destructor on Caister Road so everything was handled mechanically from the time the dustmen’s lorries were tipped into a hopper. Previously nothing had been salvaged.

During the four years the corporation bought 200 acres of land with an 1800ft cliff-top frontage at the extreme southern end of the borough, but developing it as a housing estate necessitated the provision of an outfall sewer down the cliff face to the lower promenade and along the entire parade to the rear of the sea wall as far as the mouth of the river where it would discharge into the water and be carried out to sea on ebb tides. Unemployed men were engaged to build the mile-long outfall which cost £21,200.

The refuse destructor – hit by a German bomb during the war, leaving only its chimney standing – has long gone.

The Gorleston sewer outfall was probably replaced by the major upgrade and modernisation scheme a few years ago. We walk along the southern end of Yarmouth promenade and drive along Lawn Avenue without thinking of their origins.

But the reinforced concrete Caister water tower, built during that four-year period, remains a significant landmark today at 162ft high, visible at a distance from land, air and sea. During the war it was painted in camouflage colours, I recall.

The scrapbook cutting from that municipal journal reports that it was built for the Great Yarmouth Waterworks Company and “is the largest of its type in the country.” Inside were two tanks with a total capacity of three-quarters of a million gallons.

“Water-tightness in the tanks is attained solely by careful use of the natural constituents of concrete, no waterproofing medium being added to the cement, sand and shingle. This result is only made possible by using extreme care in the selection of aggregates which are graded to give maximum density,” wrote the author.

Ownership of the water tower has presumably changed down the decades but I am sure it continues to provide many households with fresh water eight decades later.