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Documents reveal more of Yarmouth's past

PUBLISHED: 19:18 03 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:37 30 June 2010

The bomb ravaged Middlegate Street area of Yarmouth

The bomb ravaged Middlegate Street area of Yarmouth

IN the midst of the last war, when there appeared to be no end in sight and menfolk were dying on the battlefields as their families back home waited in dread for the next wail of the air-raid warning sirens, the citizens of blitzed Great Yarmouth and Gorleston might well have been surprised had they learned that in the town hall, a blueprint for the borough's peacetime future was being compiled.

IN the midst of the last war, when there appeared to be no end in sight and menfolk were dying on the battlefields as their families back home waited in dread for the next wail of the air-raid warning sirens, the citizens of blitzed Great Yarmouth and Gorleston might well have been surprised had they learned that in the town hall, a blueprint for the borough's peacetime future was being compiled.

Last February, the Mercury reported on “newly-discovered documents” from 1943 revealing sweeping post-war redevelopment plans, including a new six-platform railway station on North Quay opposite the Conge to replace the existing three termini. It sounded like a follow-up to the town hall report, also dated 1943, that I mentioned above.

In the 1990s I was shown that document, written by town planning officer K K Parker, who reported that business-men were unhappy about transport facilities generally, claiming they were inferior to those of other resorts and ports of similar size. In his view: “Not only do the facil-ities of the railways leave much to be desired, but the station buildings and approaches are no credit to the town. The impression of a visitor to the town who comes by rail must be very poor. It speaks well for the other attractions of the town that it has achieved such popularity as it has despite this initial handicap.” Similar comments about the state of the station and approaches have appeared in the Mercury of the present day.

The railway operator said a scheme was being prepared to meet many of the objections, and a Yarmouth

delegation that met the rail representatives was satisfied that the scheme, if implem-ented, “would assist very considerably the expansion of prosperity in the town”.

The report stated that the borough's geographic situation “makes it unlikely that it will every develop into a large centre of population” and claimed that Yarmouth's “existing communications leave much to be desired and are undoubtedly one of the causes of its comparative standstill in development during the whole of this century.”

The planning officer looked at air travel because “there is no doubt that the development of aircraft design and aero engines during the war will lead to enormous strides in the development of air transport, not only for passengers but also for light goods. Yarmouth, because of its position in relation to the continent, can easily become a junction for airways from Europe to the Midlands and North if only sufficient foresight is shown.

“I consider that for Yarmouth, if it is to be considered a progressive town, nothing short of a fully-equipped airfield should suffice.” He though it might lose money at first but “it will become essen-tial to Yarmouth's prosperity and a financial asset”. The favoured site was between Yarmouth and Lowestoft, causing least annoyance to residential areas.

The importance of river communications had declined greatly and was unlikely to recover by then, but development of sea transport seemed much brighter despite the limiting factors of the port and lack of warehousing and cranes, the report noted.

Yarmouth's position in relation to the Broads was such that it should be the main centre for the holiday industry, but it was essential that a modern yacht station be provided with all the facilities of a holiday camp. The best site was said to be land between Caister Road and the Bure, next to Chapman and Marwood's garage.

Mr Parker recommended drastic improvements to roads, not only those within the borough but those linking it to the rest of the country. Potential traffic problems could be solved by a second river crossing, either a transporter bridge or tunnel from Baker Street, Gorleston, to the South Denes (I was reminded of the prolonged wrangles within and outside our town hall for decades before Breydon Bridge was built in 1986). Also, a flyover bridge should be built from the Acle New Road over the River Bure and North Quay to Fullers Hill, “forming a wonderful entrance to the town”, said the report.

Development of the Magdalen College estate would necessitate a feeder road to serve the traffic created by this new area, and Mr Parker suggested a ring road from the Lowestoft Road-Bridge Road junction sweeping behind Gorleston before joining Southtown Road.

Urgent steps should be taken to control advertising displays to improve amenities; facades of buildings in the Market Place, Regent Road and Marine Parade, for example, were plastered with invitations to buy, ruining the amenities of the whole street. The report said: “The present boundaries of the town are insufficient to contain the present populat-ion properly distributed, but any increase will overspill and… the proper direction for this is into Suffolk at the rear of Gorleston. The operation of a planning scheme during the next generation will result in many Yarmouth people going to live in Gorleston, perhaps enabling a better spirit to prevail and for all to pull together as members of the community of 'Great' Yarmouth.”

The town's industrial structure was unbalanced as its mainstays, fishing and holidays, provided work for only a few months. New industries should have natural affinities, with such facilities being offered as boatbuilding and repairs linked to the Broads trade, a canning industry linked to fishing and farming, furniture industry (timber trade) and animal feedstuffs and manure.

“An unpleasant feature of the industrial structure is the presence in the heart of town of several 'special industrial buildings' carrying on noxious trades that are a constant source of nuisance to all. Their presence… is obviously a blackspot on the town's amenities and should not be tolerated,” said the report.

Yarmouth was gravely over-shopped, like many seaside towns, making it impossible for all to make a decent living.

Gorleston High Street's design was “totally unsuit-able”, with even the modern buildings far too near the road. “Its alignment is poor, its safety value extremely low and its amenity value is nil”(criticisms still echoed nearly 70 years later!).

A striking feature was the lack of large hotels, a drawback in attempts to attract conferences to extend the season. Mr Parker thought the era of the small boarding house would end, visitors preferring holiday camps. Also, he noted: “One of the first things which strikes the stranger to Yarmouth is the almost complete absence of trees!”


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