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A narrow escape from death by malt

PUBLISHED: 17:56 27 March 2008 | UPDATED: 10:44 03 July 2010

SCENE OF THE NEAR-TRAGEDY: Lacons Brewery

SCENE OF THE NEAR-TRAGEDY: Lacons Brewery

AMONG the regular readers of this column today is a 72-year-old Yarmouthian lucky to be in a position to do so. For exactly half a century ago, he made headlines in the Mercury.

AMONG the regular readers of this column today is a 72-year-old Yarmouthian lucky to be in a position to do so. For exactly half a century ago, he made headlines in the Mercury. . . by cheating death when he was almost “drowned” in brewing malt.

In 1958 Arthur Beaney, 23, lived in York Road and worked at Lacons Brewery in the town centre. That day, on orders, he clambered through a hatch into a “bin” like a wooden room to level the stored malt heaped high around its sides so it would empty through a hole in the floor.

But he sank down into the malt that was like a quicksand, his foot became caught under a piece of wood and, without warning, it began to cascade down on him. Despite his struggles, the malt quickly deepened until he was embedded up to his neck and in mortal danger of being buried alive. Also, the weight was crushing him.

Luckily his friend and colleague Ray Hall, then of Chaucer Road, scrambled to reach him and began frantically to scoop it by hand to keep it clear of Mr Beaney's mouth and stop it eventually covering him.

“My mouth was full of the stuff and I kept trying to spit it out,” Arthur told me at his Sturdee Avenue home recently. The fire brigade arrived and tied a hose around his waist to try to haul him free of the sucking effect of the malt, but had to stop when told them the strain and pain were unbearable.

Mr Hall, now 73 and living on Lawn Avenue, recalls: “Arthur was in the bin more or less up to his neck, and I jumped in and was scooping the malt away from his mouth so he could breathe. I remember the fire brigade arriving and a fireman jumped in but had to jump out again because he disturbed the malt. I suggested they knock down the wooden wall to get in.”

The brigade took his advice. Mr Beaney recalls: “The bin next door was empty and they chopped their way in and let the corn run out.”

The ordeal lasted for nearly half an hour, but fortunately Mr Hall's tireless efforts saved Mr Beaney from being completely covered and probably losing his life. “I own my life to my mate Ray Hall,” a grateful Arthur told the Mercury 50 years ago, and repeated his gratitude in 2008.

He was taken to Yarmouth General Hospital by ambulance but soon allowed home to his wife, Sylvia, to whom he had been married for only a few weeks. Thanks to his escape from death in the malt bin, the couple celebrated their golden wedding last December. They have three children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

During his working life Mr Beaney was also employed by scrap merchant King's and Yarmouth Corporation, but is still angry at the way the brewery acted after the life-threatening drama, in sharp contrast to present health and safety practices.

“There wasn't a penny compensation,” he said. “And when the factory inspector came round, he never spoke to me but said to my bosses, 'I presume you have a rope with a belt on here?' (like a harness for use in incidents like this) and they said 'Yes'. But we didn't have one, and the factory inspector never asked to see it, and he never took any action!”

As for rescuer Mr Hall, he stayed with Lacons and Whitbread that acquired it, became brewer's foreman and supervisor of the wine and spirit department before being made redundant. They two men last saw one another about a year ago.

Lacons featured in two other Mercury reports in 1958. With the reconstruction and transformation of the Garibaldi almost complete, Lacons held a staff dinner in the new assembly room. The company had decided not to rebuild its adjoining Aquarium public house that was bombed during the war but instead bought the Garibaldi, converting the four-storey ex-hotel into self-contained pub, crush bar for 300 people, kitchens, lounge bar, assembly room to house 400 in rows of seats or 290 diners.

That big room, with a platform for conferences, meetings, plays and concerts, had as ancillaries committee room, press room with telephones, and retiring and dressing rooms.

The provision for drama production was first tested by the Masquers' The Beaux Stratagem, an 18th century comedy. The Mercury's theatre critic, chief reporter Ralph Sherwin White, said there were “pockets of reduced audibility” for the audience, and the lighting needed reinforcing.

The Garibaldi has been demolished and new terrace homes have been built on its site this year.

A pub sign with a difference was erected outside the Columbia Tavern on Crown Road…and is still there today. It is a 12ft Indian totem pole, hand carved and gaily painted. It was the brainchild of Bill Ecclestone, a prominent establishment citizen in the borough who was technical director of Lacons and wanted an apt symbol to fit in with the interior of the pub that had been extensively redecorated with the Canadian province of British Columbia as its theme.

The designer of the totem pole was George Bates, of St George's Road, and the carving was done by A Johnson, Lacons' joiner.

The Red Indians of British Columbia did a great deal of totem carving, it was claimed, but most would have been topped by an eagle; the Yarmouth version included a falcon - the Lacons symbol.

A suggestion was made to convert the disused St George's Church into a maritime museum - described as “one of our local gems of architecture” - but the idea was considered as jumping the gun and taken no further.

The borough council reclaimed over half of the six-acre high-walled coal store near the new South Denes power station, intending to use it for camping in summer and caravan storage in winter. The Central Electricity Authority had leased the land from the council but then decided to make the power station oil fired and not coal fired.

The £40 million power station with its distinctive 360ft chimney was in production although it would take two more years for it to be fully finished. Two 60,000 kilowatt were generating electricity, with another two to follow.

Nearby, an extra 200 men would be employed at the new Hartmann Fibre factory rising on South Denes, it was announced, and production was expected to double within two years of its opening. Hartmann currently had 400 on its payroll making egg trays and moulded products from wood pulp and waste paper at its premises adjoining the new addition.

The historic Royal Naval Hospital was passed from the Senior Service to the Ministry of Health and became the civilian St Nicholas Hospital, severing a century-old link. The property - today up-market residences - had accommodation for 236 mental patients, replacing the 151 ex-servicemen (mainly soldiers) who were there on changeover.

The medical staff were posted elsewhere and replaced by civilian doctors and nurses.

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