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Changes to libraries

PUBLISHED: 10:18 02 June 2008 | UPDATED: 11:10 03 July 2010

MEDIEVAL GEM: The Tolhouse pictured a century ago. The front of the Central Library forecourt today begins where there are pedestrians

MEDIEVAL GEM: The Tolhouse pictured a century ago. The front of the Central Library forecourt today begins where there are pedestrians

IT was reported recently that a £1m renovation of Great Yarmouth Central Library has been delayed for second thoughts on the plan so it is more in keeping with the medieval rows scene.

IT was reported recently that a £1m renovation of Great Yarmouth Central Library has been delayed for second thoughts on the plan so it is more in keeping with the medieval rows scene. That prompted me to think that our Town Hall - now seeking changes in Norfolk County's proposed scheme - could have been more zealous about the library's impact on its surroundings when its own staff conceived the appearance of the current building that cost £122,328 when it opened in 1961.

At that time our borough council was self-contained and independent of the county set-up. The present library and museum galleries adjoining the 14th century Tolhouse were designed and approved by our Town Hall, obviously pleased that it had replaced the building bomb-damaged in 1942 and its “temporary” successor that served for 19 years, by a very modernistic successor that certainly has not harmonised with its environs.

In fact, the Sixties-look library with its right-angled “bridge” on pillars and the Tolhouse - one of our medieval gems - are chalk and cheese, figuratively speaking. Another part of the library is close to a row of council houses.

But that is all water under the bridge, as they say, but does in a roundabout way lead me to that so-called temporary library that served Yarmouth for nearly two decades.

The stand-in Central Library in the middle of Hall Quay occupied the two neighbouring disused grocery shops of Clowes, a major retailer omitted from my recent column about the wealth of grocery and provision stores that once traded in the borough that has now dwindled to nil, or thereabouts, because of the growth of supermarkets.

Clowes advertised prominently in the Mercury every week, offering bargains a-plenty at its shops on Hall Quay, in Gorleston High Street (two) and Bells Road, and at Rollesby and Martham. According to my 1937 Kelly's Directory, the stores specialised in “tea, grocery, provisions,, patent medicines, perfumery, brushes, mats, stationery, baskets and mineral waters”.

That is quite a range of goods, far wider than our family grocer - Charles Howard, on Middleton Road in Gorleston - was able to stock when we were registered with him in wartime. What Clowes offered sounds more like today's “one-stop shopping” at a supermarket!

Another Clowes speciality, recalled from childhood by old Yarmouthian Jim Holmes in his 1995 book, I Remember Yarmouth - was “candied fruit with those tasty pieces of sugar, currants, raisins and the rest.

“Dried fruit had to be cleaned before use in those days. Dates were compressed into great blocks which were cut and sold at twopence (about a penny in today's money) a pound. We really enjoyed them. It all arouses delightful memories.”

Jim Holmes also wrote: “Old Yarmouth residents will never forget Mr Clowes' splendid grocery shop. Remember the smell of candles? Many people still used a candlestick with its snuffer when going to bed.”

We children who lived in Gorleston but attended Yarmouth schools were frequent visitors to the temporary library. Avid readers eagerly searching for knowledge or a good book? No: we went there to buy concession-rate scholars' tickets to use on the Corporation blue buses!

My memory is hazy, but I think there was a ticket sales desk just inside the library, but later the left-hand ex-shop of the pair became a Corporation Transport Office where we obtained these old-style punch-type tickets in stapled packs of a dozen. In a photograph illustrating today's column, taken when the right-hand former temporary library was up for sale, the left-hand premises (also empty) have the Yarmouth coat-of-arms high on the frontage.

I doubt if Clowes kept fresh milk for sale. Milk was invariably delivered to the family doorstep by the mikman, and if you needed an extra pinta, there were small dairy shops around.

Recently I watched a television news item about the return to popularity in Britain of unpasteurised milk, following the trend in the United States. So, what leapt into my thoughts? The Stracey Arms! Let me explain.

The public house of that name has stood between the riverside and the only bend in the Acle New Road, perhaps since the old turnpike was completed in 1831. In recent years it evolved from country pub to the US-style Pontiac Road House, but is now closed again and up for sale.

During a wartime school holiday, I was taken out for the day by the parents of my playmate, Geoffrey Smith, who lived in our road in Gorleston. For me it was an exciting prospect involving not only a car journey but also a day on his family's Broads cruiser.

In those days, only people in special occupations received petrol coupons to run cars, and my pal's father, Alec Smith, qualified; I think he was a shipping agent. Off we drove in Mr and Mrs Smith's Ford along the Acle New Road, new territory for me because I had never previously travelled along it. We stopped at the Stracey Arms, behind which their cruiser was berthed in the River Bure.

Unfortunately the strict fuel rationing meant that there was no spare petrol for a cruise into Norfolk Broadland, but being on the boat and playing with my pal on the bank was a first-time experience because my playground had always been a road or garden.

But the one crystal-clear recollection of that outing six decades and more ago was Mrs Smith deciding to make custard and, being short of milk, giving us lads a jug to take to a cow shed to fetch a pint. To my astonishment as a “townie” who had never been on a farm, the dairyman sat down on a stool beside a cow, held out the jug and squeezed the udders until it was full of warm frothy milk.

We were given a sip of the delicious rich creamy milk before she made the custard that had a flavour of its own. I have never tasted custard like it since.

What a day!

Bottled milk was pasteurised, and this was long before the good-health zealots encouraged the public to drink tasteless skimmed and semi-skimmed to eliminate the alleged harmful intake of cream. It is hard to believe that when our four children were young, the Long's Dairy roundsman left on the doorstep of Peggotty's Hut in Gorleston two pints of full-cream Jersey gold-top plus some “ordinary” milk every day…

That TV news bulletin said the experts insisted that pasteurised milk was safer than the natural untreated product. Dairy farmers marketing unpasteurised milk emphasised that their strict hygiene and regular inspections safeguarded its purity.

I have had no contact with Geoffrey Smith for many years now. I wonder if, in distant Canada, he remembers as clearly as me our day on his family cruiser and that milk from the udder.

By coincidence, I chanced upon an advertisement in a Mercury published a century ago, in 1908, that proclaimed: “Pure warm new milk, twice daily. Regular supply guaranteed. No colouring or boracic acid adulteration of any kind used.”

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