A hot drink to warm the cockles

MULTIPLE CHOICE: the range of food, drink and facilities offered at these Cocoa Rooms on Hall Quay,

MULTIPLE CHOICE: the range of food, drink and facilities offered at these Cocoa Rooms on Hall Quay, Yarmouth, around 1900.Picture: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

A RECENT financial press headline read: “Brazil hits the economic buffers.” Whimsically, I wondered if that nation was suffering a repeat of the crisis seven decades ago, allegedly highlighted by a popular novelty ditty in 1946.

FLYING THE FLAG: Edmund Palmer's Cocoa and Dining Rooms on Great Yarmouth Market Place more than a c

FLYING THE FLAG: Edmund Palmer's Cocoa and Dining Rooms on Great Yarmouth Market Place more than a century ago.Picture: COLIN TOOKE COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

The lyrics of The Coffee Song, recorded by Frank Sinatra and also Edmundo Ros (long-time pen-pal of Gorleston global traveller Malcolm Metcalf, of Magdalen Way), claimed that Brazil had such a coffee surplus that a politician’s daughter was fined $50...for drinking water!

Logic dictated that Brazil’s current woes must lie beyond the coffee plantations because it remains the world’s biggest grower at a time when the international market is probably at an all-time peak, with coffee shops proliferating internationally and thus creating demand for beans.

In Britain, the coffee culture is big business, with global brands established in town and city centres to the extent that tea must be in jeopardy as the nation’s traditional favourite beverage. Is the humble cuppa, perfect for dunking a rich-tea biscuit, no longer our flavour of the month?

The coffee shop tradition probably has existed longer than the tea house as a place for Britons to meet, mardle, relax or do business. In 1675, for example, no fewer than 30,000 coffee shops were trading in Britain!

UNCOVERED: the sign above the former Mayes confectionery shop in Gorleston town centre, revealed dur

UNCOVERED: the sign above the former Mayes confectionery shop in Gorleston town centre, revealed during work to convert it into a Costa cafe. Picture: PETER ALLARD - Credit: Archant

Gorleston, hitherto off the radar of the so-called big three, now has market leader Costa Coffee in a prime spot in the central High Street, premises previously occupied by a charity shop. It is bound to affect existing cafes despite clientele loyalty.

Oddly, many Gorlestonians seemed less interested Costa’s arrival as in the uncovering of the name of a previous occupant during the renovation work! The on-line forum Facebook publicised the revelation. The name, M E Mayes, brought back memories to some older residents.

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According to Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell: “Miss Marjorie E Mayes was a confectioner at 134 High Street between about 1940 and up until at least 1957. Prior to this, Marjorie had a confectionery business in the shops that fronted the nearby Coliseum Cinema.”

I cannot recall her shop although I do remember radio engineer and electrical contractor Bowers and Barr occupying the premises later; to the left, Norton the Tobacconist (now a bank) stood on the Church Lane corner.

The traditional tea shop looks on the wane – we recently recalled here long-gone Arnolds’ and Matthes’ former dominance in Yarmouth – although I must confess that Mrs Peggotty and I indulged ourselves recently by going to London for the day solely to have afternoon tea at the swanky Dorchester Hotel. Very enjoyable and not the daunting experience I had envisaged.

Long-gone, too, are the postwar local teenagers’ pleasures of a hot chocolate in Vettesse’s in Regent Road, although farther down rival Alfredo’s was supplying week-ending American servicemen with their kind of coffee, a different flavour from the drink UK residents had experienced probably only under the Camp label, liquid coffee with chicory essence in a bottle, launched in the 19th century.

In my National Service years in the Fifties, hardly anyone drank coffee. The standard order in the NAAFI was for “char and a wad” (mug of tea with a bun or piece of cake).

Coffee, tea...but what about cocoa? It is almost a forgotten beverage, a drink of the past.

Cocoa, my regular bedtime drink during my wartime childhood, purportedly encouraged sleep and relaxation when the household might be aroused by the wail of air-raid sirens necessitating a rush to safety of the shelters. But it might come as a surprise to learn that establishments specialising in cocoa were challenging coffee shopshereabouts before the First World War.

According to local historian Colin Tooke, there were four, all founded in 1894. On the Market Place where Vodaphone trades today, Edmund Palmer opened his Cocoa Rooms and Dining Room, becoming his Eating House in 1900 and Mrs C Palmer’s Dining Room nine years later. Later it became Smith & Daniels, featured in this column recently as a postwar stockist of Dinky Toys; it closed in 1964.

Palmer’s Coffee House was launched on Hall Quay in three-storey premises much later occupied by Malcolm Ferrow’s antique shop. In 1900 the business was renamed Edmund Palmer’s Eating House, followed by William Powell’s Dining Rooms in 1909.

Presumably to cater for the new surge in holiday visitors, Palmer’s Dining Room set up on Marine Parade (between the Bath Hotel and Lancaster Road), morphing into Lockhart with Garrett’s Coffee Room in 1900, Walter Garrett – Dining Room (1909) and Nichols’ Dining Room two years later.

Gorleston was not overlooked, for in succession Stephen Hunt (Dining Room), Henry Hall (Coffee Tavern) and Robert Taylor (Coffee Room) occupied two premises on Pier Walk, next to the former Ship pub (later Peggotty’s, now a restaurant).

Advertising on the Hall Quay building declared that Lockhart’s was primarily Cocoa Rooms, offering Rowntree’s Elect Cocoa – an old penny for a large cup, a small one half that price.

The premises also had a dining room, accommodation with “good well-aired beds”, women’s lavatories... If you fancied something other than coffee or tea, hot Bovril was available for threepence, just over a penny in today’s decimal coinage. Or there was “new milk” for a penny a glass, hot soup and “temperance drinks.”

Food included chops and steaks, cold meats, pies, beef steak puddings with potatoes (5d - roughly 2p nowadays), hot joints, sausages and bread. Oh yes: in the upper dining room a piano was available at no extra charge.

Eventually, it seems, former Lockhart’s manager Edmund Palmer took over the expanding businesses.

There could be a twist in this tale because it is possible that Lockhart’s was part of a national concern, perhaps a type of franchise, opening cocoa rooms in various towns and cities prompted by the vigorous Quaker temperance campaign – led by the Rowntree, Cadbury and Fry cocoa families - to persuade people to turn from alcohol to other beverages.