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All this to inspire Ordinary Men

PUBLISHED: 14:56 18 December 2008 | UPDATED: 12:35 03 July 2010

AS IT WAS: Students hard at work at Great Yarmouth College of Art in 1966

AS IT WAS: Students hard at work at Great Yarmouth College of Art in 1966

FOR yonks, many of us have been saddened by the neglect suffered by the former Great Yarmouth College of Art, the elegant seaward-facing building just off the Golden Mile that graced the area for decades before it fell into disrepair.

FOR yonks, many of us have been saddened by the neglect suffered by the former Great Yarmouth College of Art, the elegant seaward-facing building just off the Golden Mile that graced the area for decades before it fell into disrepair. Thankfully, its exterior is to be preserved because it has been officially listed, the interior being converted into apartments.

It was built as a school of arts and crafts in 1913 at a cost of £4,855, gave generations of gifted pupils the groundwork of their future careers, and, according to my records, closed only about 12 years ago, although it seems to have been empty, deteriorating and the subject of wrangles for far longer than that.

If memory serves me right, it never recovered from art education being centred on Norwich, one of the results of 1974's sweeping reorganisation of local government that lumped Yarmouth in with Norfolk and Norwich, robbing the borough of the self-contained role it had enjoyed before then.

Although the stepped frontage is in Nelson Road Central and looks across the long green, its address is popularly given as Trafalgar Road, which runs alongside the building and where the abundance of windows benefits from the north light. To my mind, its design, incorporating terra cotta facing, has all the hallmarks of John “Concrete” Cockrill, the long-serving Yarmouth borough surveyor, who left his mark on our town with many distinctive buildings still in use today. And yet it is absent from my list of edifices designed by Cockrill or his family, which was steeped in architecture.

If anybody who takes up residence in one of the planned 18 flats is extra-perceptive with a feel for buildings and their past, they might sense not only the tang of artists' paint but also the sounds of classical music and the tensions of war.

The art connection needs no explanation, but the music does. After the war, the principal, William Corrie, organised regular recitals by pianists, singers and ensembles such as string quartets under the banner of, I think, Music for the Ordinary Man. That sounds a bit patronising these days.

As for the wartime association, the building was the hub of Civil Defence during the 1939-45 conflict when it was the urban borough's report centre, receiving all the information from the air raid wardens and police, and

co-ordinating rescue efforts after German bombing attacks.

I am indebted to a reader for giving me the opportunity to focus this week's column on “the art school”, as everyone called it. The photograph of the school's football team of 1920-21 helping to illustrate today's feature was passed to me by Dorothy Pillar, of Colomb Road, Gorleston, whose father, Robert Charles Henry Harvey, was one of the team. Although the side posed for the camera, there was no cup or shield displayed to be captured for posterity.

At the college, young Mr Harvey learned signwriting, among other skills, and was obviously so proficient at it that he later returned to the school of art to teach the subject part-time. Perhaps he painted the sign in the front of the photograph?

After his education at the Priory and art schools, Bob Harvey worked all his life as a signwriter and decorator, first with Charles Munford, of Deneside, and then with Yarmouth Corporation. As a council employee, his assignments included the Wellington Pier, where his painting of a tall fish wearing a top hat amused people at the bar, and the Venetian Waterways, for which he painted the decorative heads affixed to the tripper boats' bows. The bandstand at the old outdoor Marina was another of his enduring designs. His four children - three daughters and a son - were always distinctive at their schools because their leather satchels were monogrammed in gold letters by him; using gold leaf was one of his specialities.

Bob was also a prominent sports administrator, serving as secretary and treasurer of Yarmouth Town Football Club, and sitting on the Eastern Counties League committee. He died in 1975, aged 74.

My October column listed things from earlier in my life that I miss, among them traditional shops with staff serving behind counters.

That produced a letter from Elizabeth Walker (née Buck), of North Road, Ormesby St.Margaret, who writes: “I read your articles each week with interest, especially those that mention your time in the Newtown area. Your article in which you listed many of the things you miss brought back many happy memories.

“I was born on Harley Road (backing on to Garfield Road) in the early 1950s. I remember many of the people mentioned and the local corner shops. I attended the Alderman Swindell infant and North Denes junior schools before having the 2 bus journey to the girls' high school at Lynn Grove, Gorleston. Had I been a boy I would have had a short walk along Salisbury Road!”

For many years until the early 1960s her grandparents, Hector and Annie Taylor, ran a greengrocer/

grocers shop in Caister Road next to Woodcock's the Chemist, at the end of Salisbury Road. “They built up a good reputation for their produce, and, apart from local customers, some would come from across the borough, including Gorleston,” Mrs Walker tells me. “In fact, my grandfather sometimes drove his van down to Covent Garden in London in the early hours of the morning, returning with fresh fruit and vegetables. He took great pride in his window displays of fruit.

“Of course, this was before supermarkets took hold.

“I remember visiting the shop on a Saturday and eyeing up all the sweets in their large screw-top jars. However, I was taught at a very early age that I could only have some if I had the money to pay for them! I think it was a good lesson. I learnt the value of money, only had things when I could afford them, and, hopefully, I was not too spoiled.”

Hector and Annie Taylor moved to Yarmouth from Birmingham in 1946 with their two daughters - Mrs Walker's mother Betty, and her younger sister. “My mother worked at the library when it was situated on Hall Quay, where she met my father, Ernest Buck, who became the youngest local councillor at the time. They have celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary this year,” she says.


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