Death of a Gorleston woman of letters

CECILIA Ebbage, who has died aged 94, was a Gorleston institution and a stalwart campaigner for the many cultural, historic and patriotic causes close to her big heart.

She was a mine of information on Norfolk, and especially on Great Yarmouth and Gorleston – peppering this newspaper’s letters pages down the decades – but was no less proud of her Cockney roots.

Born Cecilia Styles shortly before Christmas 1916, but always to be known to her many friends as Celia, she was raised until the age of 11 just off the Old Kent Road.

Her father was a manager for London Transport, but when his health began to fail the family moved to the restorative air of Gorleston. Celia was enchanted by her new home and came to champion the heritage of the area with stalwart convictions and what seemed like a photographic memory.

In one recent letter, she recalled Hill’s of King Street – famed for its live music until being blitzed in 1941 – writing: “If you had a boyfriend he might take you to tea upstairs in one of the alcoves of the restaurant, if you were lucky.”

Having worked as a secretary for the local gas company, her romantic nature was thrilled by a post with solicitors Lucas and Wyllys on South Quay. She loved the fishing boats and the echo of both Norwich School pictures and the hero’s welcomes for the homecoming Horatio Nelson.

Best of all, an accountant in a neighbouring office – talented bird and landscape artist George Ebbage – became her suitor.

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They were married in 1951.

George and Celia enjoyed a blissful marriage, with many painting and boating trips – being founder members of the East Anglian Cruising Club. But the idyll ended with George’s death in 1967.

In a 44-year widowhood, Celia curated exhibitions of her husband’s pictures and tirelessly tended his memory while basking in a long life of great and broad enthusiasms.

She loved books, art, music and, most of all, ballet. After the death of choreographer Sir Kenneth MacMillan, who had been raised partly in Yarmouth, she helped to set up a trust fund in his honour to assist gifted young Norfolk dancers training for professional careers.

As a local historian, Celia loved old buildings but had a special gift for recalling the networks of families and friends which are the bricks and mortar of living communities.

She knew, for instance, that numerous members of Gorleston’s undertaking Jary family had belonged to the local operatic and dramatic society and been friends of Elsie and Doris Waters.

The two comic entertainers – sisters of Jack “Dixon of Dock Green” Warner – had launched their careers at Gorleston Pavilion before becoming wartime radio favourites as Cockney housewives Gert and Daisy.

Back home in Gorleston, a former Cockney girl noticed everything, admired much and remembered.

Cecilia Ebbage is survived by her brother, Stanley Styles.

By Ian Collins