An Admiral was among the borough’s quay residents
PUBLISHED: 11:28 16 September 2016 | UPDATED: 11:28 16 September 2016
An excited Mrs Peggotty rushed into the room, eager to show me what she had come across when browsing on her iPad. For there, on her screen, was a vintage Through the Porthole feature, signed as usual by Peggotty.
It was published in the Mercury’s sister newspaper, the Eastern Evening News, 58 years ago, in January 1958 when it was a nightly feature six times a week from 1936 until the 1980s when it was axed. After a short absence, it reappeared in the Mercury in 1987 when I resumed writing it and have contributed to every issue since.
Mrs Peggotty’s only disappointment was that it was not a column I had penned because by 1958 I had left Yarmouth, transferred to other of the company’s Norfolk offices before returning here in the late Sixties.
That 1958 Peggotty offering was posted on-line on Facebook’s Great Yarmouth and Surroundings – The Good Old Days 1960 Onwards and had been submitted by a John Bottomley. The subject was his late grandfather.
John, who hails from hereabouts, has long been resident in Australia where he is a retired police inspector in Queensland. I tried to contact him but without success.
That column written by the then Peggotty reported a chat he had just had with a man he was positive was Yarmouth’s only living Admiral. And the writer challenged any reader doubting that an Admiral was among the borough’s residents to stroll along South Quay as far as the South Star public house where an official notice above the door announced that the person “licensed to sell…” was none other than “Admiral Arthur Riches.”
Usually the landlord answered to the nickname of Happy, given to him during the 1914-18 War by comrades in arms – fellow soldiers because he was never in the Navy!
Yes, Admiral was actually his first name.
Mr Riches, born in Palmer’s Arcade (Row 54), was named after an uncle, Admiral Chapman; the family had a nautical background. He spent many years in the licensed trade, and had also been the “skipper” of the nearby Clipper Schooner pub.
According to Peggotty, one of Admiral Riches’ favourite anecdotes was when he attended Yarmouth magistrates’ court for the formal transfer of the South Star licence to Sidney Major, prompting one of the justices, Mr W G Knights, to quip: “The South Star has fallen from the rank of Admiral to Major!”
Another pub where he was mine host was the Wheelwright’s Arms on Beccles Road in Gorleston before returning to the South Star. He said it was unusual for a publican to return to one of his former haunts.
As for his unusual Christian name, he said that name over the door was an attraction to visitors – “They come in expecting to see a real admiral serving behind the bar.”
The South Star name has long gone but it was renamed the Quayside Tavern in 2002. Nearby, in Friars Lane, is the Clipper Schooner. The Wheelwrights Arms still trades.
This confusion over names and titles reminded me of a 2013 column about Sir Charles Loftin and his bride, Alice Gross, marrying in November 1927 at St Nicholas’ Parish Church in Yarmouth. Although it was a memorable day for them and their families, they were not expecting the civic pomp and ceremony that greeted them as they emerged from the church as husband and wife.
Somebody who heard the banns being formally read out had alerted the borough big-wigs that a knight or baronet was being married there, and council officers, councillors and aldermen in their formal robes were waiting outside as a guard of honour for the happy couple to walk out arm-in-arm from the church.
The baker’s roundsman bridegroom, aged 22, and his 21-year-old bride were surprised and baffled, as were the members of the civic party.
Presumably everybody enjoyed a laugh once the situation had become clear, although one cannot but help think that our civic leaders might have been a tad embarrassed and reluctant to see the inadvertent joke...
The story was told to me by the couple’s daughter, Mrs Ann Ford, of Oulton Broad, who explained: “When my father was born in London, my grandfather had a bet with another man in the local pub that you could name a child Sir. My grandfather won this bet and probably enjoyed the pint as well, and my father was named Sir Charles Loftin.
“Many years later, my father had moved to Gorleston and had met my mother, and they set the date for the wedding at St Nicholas’ Church. To save money, my father walked from his home in Back Chapel Lane to the Gorleston ferry, and from the ferry to St Nicholas’ Church where they were married.
“After the wedding the happy couple came out of the church to find the mayor and all the town hall officials formed up as a guard-of-honour.
“My parents went on to have seven children and had a very happy marriage despite a lot of the hardship of having such a large family during the depression years. Also, my father suffered a great deal of teasing throughout his life because of being named Sir Charles Loftin.”
By what name did Sir Charles Loftin’s friends and family call him? “People called him Charles because he was very embarrassed at his father wanting him to be called Sir Charles,” said Mrs Ford. The “Sir” was an embarrassment to the family too.
During my stint in in my newspaper’s Sheringham office in the early Sixties Major Dunn owned a town centre emporium crammed with antiques, second-hand goods, bric-a-brac and bits and pieces. It was always busy with people seeking bargains.
In summer he often stood outside, and Sheringham’s upper-class visitors in particular loved to pass the time of day – for example, “Morning, Major. Lovely day for a parade!” - a greeting and military reference which he politely acknowledged, straight-faced.
Most visitors were unaware that Major Dunn was not a retired army officer: Major was his first name.