Bridging the decades of time

THERE was a time when talking about “Bridge That Gap” would prompt a listener to complete the popular advertising jingle by adding, tunefully “With a Cadbury’s Snack,” referring to the chocolate biscuit that was a sixpenny favourite in the Seventies.

In this column recently, “bridge that gap” has referred to railways: the wrangle about a bridge to carry the new Yarmouth Beach to Lowestoft line across Caister Road at the Beaconsfield Road junction, the Breydon viaduct, and the passenger footbridge linking platforms at Gorleston Station...

That Gorleston footbridge is resurrected today to correct an error. When I published a 1962 photograph of workmen with an acetylene torch busy on the girder-work structure, my caption claimed they were dismantling it but, according to regular correspondent Mike King, an ex-Gorlestonian long resident in Lowestoft, the gang was not taking the bridge apart but erecting it. For it was not the original one familiar for many decades but, in fact, its replacement!

I recalled lads lining the parapet sniffing the smoke from the steam engines as they passed beneath, but Mike King says: “The one we used to stand on was further back nearer Lowestoft Rd and adjacent to the booking office.

“The footbridge was being assembled, not dismantled! It came from Stalham and was made redundant when the M&GN line closed in 1959. As the original footbridge at Gorleston needed attention, it was decided to replace it with the one from Stalham. After the track was singled in the late 1960s, it too was dismantled.”

Mike adds to his previous information about the Breydon Swing Bridge which carried the Yarmouth to Lowestoft line, reporting that it had two Crossley gas engines but very rarely was it necessary to use both simultaneously. The gas supply came through a pipe beneath Mill Road in Cobholm “and the many leaks meant the road had to be dug up frequently!”

He adds: “Just after the war one of the engines (which by then were museum pieces) was removed and replaced by a three-phase electric motor powered via a large cable which was lowered to the river bed and kept in place by lumps of metal. One of the last persons to work the bridge, the late Bob Pitts, told me he used the gas engine only once as the electric motor was more powerful than the elderly gas engine it replaced.”

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According to Mike: “The M&GN built the line from Caister Road to Gorleston North Junction (near Boundary Road.) The Great Eastern Railway built the rest of the line to Lowestoft. The two companies took it in turns to manage the line (the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint), changing every three or four years.

“When the embankment in the Cobholm area began to slip, the problem was cured by ‘faggotting’ - putting down layers of faggots and tipping soil on top.”

Another old friend of this column, Robin Hambling, of Lawn Avenue, Yarmouth, was passing The Lawns – a sheltered housing estate on Caister Road – when his memory shot back to its predecessor on the river-edge site: the borough council refuse destructor, with its tall chimney.

The destructor “was destroyed by German bombs early in the war, I think, when I was briefly evacuated; only the chimney was remaining when we returned. Together with some friends I went to the end of Tar Works Road to watch it being blown up,” writes Robin.

“We stood near the riverside and, when they blasted it, the top fell only feet from where we were standing. Can`t imagine that being allowed to happen today with all the health and safety rules.

“I can also remember the dust carts (that’s what we called them) going up the spiral approach and tipping the waste into the furnace. I don`t remember there being too much smoke, but people did not worry so much then.”

This two-aircraft raid was on July 4 1942 at 1.49am but only one bomb fell, a high-explosive which scored a direct hit on the refuse destructor. Chief Constable Charles Box noted in his official borough war record: “It made the tall chimney shaft unsafe, necessitating its demolition (a month later). I believe the removal of this chimney was a great source of relief to many residents at Newtown as it was very widely believed that the enemy pilots used this as a landmark.”

The loss of the destructor meant that an alternative means of rubbish disposal had to be found swiftly, and another Bure-edge site was found farther along Caister Road - where the Bure Park pitch-and-putt amenity is today - and used as an open dump.

In a bizarre twist of fate, the blast from the bomb that destructed the destructor also badly damaged two corporation double-decker buses which, instead of being in their depot directly across Caister Road, were parked in the refuse facility’s yard as part of a dispersal scheme to avoid many vehicles being put out of action if the depot was bombed again. The depot had been badly damaged in May 1941 when every vehicle inside needed at least bodywork repair.

To restore dispersed buses 10 and 43 so they could return to service, their chassis were repaired and special wartime bodies were fitted on them, but it was a lengthy process because of shortages of materials and manpower and the vehicles were not back on Yarmouth’s road until 1944.

Finally, from an air raid to an air tragedy – the 1962 crash when an Auster crashed into the garden of a bungalow in Elmhurst Close, Gorleston, killing the pilot and his three passengers who were on a pleasure flight from the Caister Road airfield.

Reader Trevor Holmes says my two columns mentioning that disaster a half-century ago “brought back memories of the ladies involved. I believe the lady whose bungalow it was (Miss Ethel Kidd) worked in the British Home Stores as the cook in the cafeteria which was managed by a Miss Skeet who lived on Russell Road. I used to deliver the meat to the cafeteria at that time.”