Cheers! Memories of our lost breweries

THE FLEET’S IN...but going out! The Lacon’s commercial vehicles lined up outside its Great Yarmouth

THE FLEET’S IN...but going out! The Lacon’s commercial vehicles lined up outside its Great Yarmouth brewery in the mid-Fifties.BETWEEN DELIVERIES...Lacon driver George Tills and his mate, George Underwood, with their lorry (a distinctive AEX500) under the name of new owner Whitbread, perhaps in the late 1950s.WORD PERFECT...the amended Aldi sign off North Quay.Pictures: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

THE licensed trade in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston was long dominated by two companies – Lacons, and Steward and Patteson – with most borough residents who liked a pint divided in their loyalties, giving their custom to one or other but seldom to both.

The names of those two brewers, once part of the economic fabric of our borough, are probably meaningless to younger generations who are just sipping their first ales, unaware of the fact that some of the public houses they are frequenting formerly traded under the names of these local giants. As long as their glasses keep being refilled, the past is unlikely to concern or interest them, nor the fact the 300-plus pubs that once were in business here have dwindled down to about a hundred.

In the postwar era, the drinkers in the bars, smoke rooms, lounges and snugs of E Lacon & Co’s many pubs, supplied from its extensive brewery in central Yarmouth, could never have envisaged that within only a couple of decades, the name would have been erased by new owner Whitbread and all local production ended.

Lacon’s? It is just a memory to older Yarmouthians.

The final brew there was in 1968, three years after the take-over. Subsequently a Tesco supermarket (now a bingo hall) and apartments were built on Brewery Plain. On North Quay, the one-time barrel store and distribution depot – served by the quayside railway – is today occupied by an Aldi supermarket built as a replica as decreed by council planners, even down to an inset Lacon falcon emblem.

Which reminds me of a hiccough in 2001 when an eagle-eyed Through the Porthole reader spotted a big-lettered sign at the rear of the new Aldi car park that perplexed him. It stated: “BREWERS STOREY”.

He tried to work out its meaning and the logic behind it...and finally sussed that whoever fixed the large individual letters to the sign probably had not followed their script (or had been supplied an erroneous one) and had transposed the final letter of each word. After Aldi’s attention was drawn to it, the sign was corrected to read “BREWERY STORES” as a reminder of the site’s long-term former use.

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Today’s subject of Lacon’s has come via a devious route, from a look in this column at commercial vehicles like those of baker Matthes, the EX licensing registration applied to Yarmouth and Gorleston vehicles from 1903 until 1974, and the Downton Abbey television drama’s 1927 car EX1945 that originated in our borough. During all the aforementioned came the fact that EX9998 and EX9999 were Lacon lorries.

That led to a call from my old neighbour and friend Joe Tills, of Avondale Road, Gorleston, to report: “My Dad drove EX9999 from new!”

Joe says his father, George Tills, of High Road, Gorleston, was a Lacon’s employee for 33 years, and was behind the wheel of EX9999 while making deliveries from the brewery. Like father, like son, for Joe was also a delivery driver for the company, completing 37 years before retiring.

The Yarmouth brewery supplied pubs across East Anglia (it had a depot in Cambridge) and beyond, including Lincolnshire and even London.

The volume of deliveries from Yarmouth, and the general activity generated by the brewery, can be gauged by the main photograph illustrating today’s feature, for depicted is the Lacon’s fleet of no fewer than a score-plus of vehicles of various shapes and sizes lined up in front of the premises. Among them is George Tills’ EX9999.

The picture belongs to Mrs Margaret Holmes, of Belton, daughter of Henry Kelf, a Lacon’s employee for 40 years. Another long-serving employee was Charlie Kightley who became transport manager, I am told.

It took over half a century for Yarmouth to reach the registration EX9999 which was succeeded in 1956 by AEX1. In the mid-Seventies we lost the exclusive EX which became lumped together with Norwich and Norfolk series. So I was interested to read in the Mercury’s Letters to the Editor column recently that when the late wife of Mr R Chalmers, of Cormorant Way in Bradwell, bought a Hillman Avenger estate from King’s Lawn Avenue garage, she was assured by the salesman that its registration (AEX166N) was “the last number to be issued by Great Yarmouth Borough Council” before it became a Norfolk County Council responsibility.

Another letter to the editor, from Hemsby reader Peter Davis, described his “tough little car” - a Volkswagen Beetle DEX971D (1970), a number mentioned in this column by ex-Gorlestonian Mike King.

So-called vanity plates are big business now, with some specialist agencies charging fortunes for distinctive personalised registrations. Readers wondering why a big-money SEX plate had never appeared were answered through this column long ago when Mr K J Watson, who was in charge of the vehicle taxation office in Yarmouth Town Hall for many years, wrote explaining that SEX “wasn’t ours to issue.”

It had never been allocated to Yarmouth or Norfolk by the Ministry of Transport which deemed it “too controversial”, he said. All the letters of the alphabet were permitted to prefix EX except I and Z (Ireland), Q (foreign) and S.

The sighting of the Downton Abbey car (and its simulated destruction in a fatal accident) resulted in our quest to learn more about its original owner in the Twenties, Violet Beazor, spinster daughter of a prosperous fish curer and merchant. She was born in Queen’s Road, lived for much of her life on Caister Road, and was an enthusiastic motor-cyclist and driver of cars with a bit of vroom, including a Jowett Javelin.

She was well-known to staff at Chapman and Marwood’s Jubilee Garage on Caister Road, and now we can add some information from regular correspondent Robin Hambling, of Lawn Avenue. “Miss Beazor was also a customer of Toby Motors where I worked. Toby`s were the Jowett agent, and I knew most of the Javelin owners.

“It was a very advanced car for that time but cost £1000 in 1951. She used to have a lady companion, as they were called then. Miss Beazor loved her allotment and always had on wellies, with the tops rolled down.”