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Farewell to the old place as new opens

PUBLISHED: 18:04 10 April 2008 | UPDATED: 10:50 03 July 2010

AT the end of this month, a door will be closing in my life, both literally and figuratively. That door is the front entrance to the Press office in Regent Street, Great Yarmouth, and I have been walking through it for more than half a century as I plied my vocation as a newspaperman.

AT the end of this month, a door will be closing in my life, both literally and figuratively. That door is the front entrance to the Press office in Regent Street, Great Yarmouth, and I have been walking through it for more than half a century as I plied my vocation as a newspaperman.

How many times have I opened it in 53 years, I cannot hazard a guess, but I do know for certain that the simple action linked the excitement and often relentless pace of newspapers with the wonderful east Norfolk area we cover.

Going in meant heading up the stairs for a day's unpredictable work, to write reports that could range from the routine and mundane to a humdinger of national proportions. Coming out could mean heading for a courtroom or council chamber to record deliberations therein, or to speed off to cover a major news event.

Of course, exiting also meant going for home when the day's - or night's - work was done and our efforts were in the process of being published in the Yarmouth Mercury, Eastern Daily Press and Eastern Evening News.

The reason for this reflection on the past is prompted by the fact that at the end of April the Mercury and EDP staffs, with their front reception colleagues, will be decamping from their ancestral home at 25 Regent Street to King Street.

There they will occupy the former Learning Store in the terrace long linked by my generation with its centrepiece - Matthes, which had a retail bakery shop at the front, café at the rear on the ground floor, and upstairs a restaurant and banqueting suite extending over neighbouring shops.

The catering facilities were well patronised, and I attended umpteen dinner-dances of local organisations in that banqueting suite, faithfully reporting the speeches, or the lunch meetings of various bodies.

Unmarried young journalists living in digs happily attended these functions because they received a free first-class meal in return for telling the Mercury readers the content of the toasts proposed by mayors, presidents and chairmen.

For the record, the Gorleston-based Matthes bakery, serving its shops throughout East Anglia and delivering to housewives' homes, moved there in the 1950s when the terrace was constructed on a new building line after wartime bombing made the restaurant homeless; it was accommodated temporarily above Burton's men's outfitting store, still trading today at the busy end of the Market Place.

But the whole Matthes enterprise was axed in 1978 four years after new owners acquired it. In 1980, Took's reopened the King Street restaurant and baker's shop, and after it withdrew, various traders occupied the premises (it is now a betting shop), but the old banqueting hall has long been a gymnasium and fitness centre and the Mercury and EDP staffs will be able to nip upstairs for a spot of aerobics or pilates or whatever the latest fad is instead of munching their lunchtime sandwiches.

I first walked through that portal to my future - 25 Regent Street - sharp at 9am in January 1955, having caught a Corporation bus from my family home in Gorleston. Despite my enthusiasm at embarking on a vocation for which I had long yearned, I entered the Press office with extreme trepidation on my first day as a trainee journalist.

On the top floor, I waited nervously in an empty office for my new colleagues to arrive and was surprised (and a little miffed) when they did not show up until ten o'clock. It transpired that it was not their normal starting time but simply that they had been up half the bitter January night on a blizzard-swept beach at Waxham where the Belgian trawler St Pierre Eglise had

run aground, necessitating the rescue of her crew by breeches buoy.

And before coming to the office that next morning, they had been back at Waxham following the progress of the story they had reported for that day's EDP and were up-dating for the evening newspaper. I was promptly despatched to the Town Hall for the daily session of the magistrates' court with a colleague figuratively to hold my hand because it was my first visit to such a gathering.

I cannot claim that I worked at 25 Regent Street for the entire 53 years. After two years in my home town, I was stationed in four other offices in the old Norfolk News Company's county-wide set-up, but I eagerly returned to Yarmouth in 1968, relishing being reacquainted with former colleagues and the borough's vibrancy at a time when the holiday industry was booming, the traditional herring fishery was virtually extinct, and the multi-million pound North Sea exploration for oil and natural gas beneath its bed was gathering pace.

From 1926, the Mercury had been based round the corner on Hall Plain, staying there after it became a stable-mate of the EDP and EEN in 1932, but at the start of the war in 1939 the staff joined their fellows at 25 Regent Street so everyone was under the same roof.

The building continued as the Yarmouth newspaper office until now, apart from a couple of years around the turn of the millennium when we moved to South Quay but returned to the old haunt.

Many of us used to leave our cars on the large “bomb site” area between King Street and Howard Street South when it was free and before it was surfaced and became a paid car park. Townsfolk called it Matthes' car park because you could enter the rear of the premises directly from it.

Even after I retired in 1994, I continued to pass through the door of 25 Regent Street regularly because I carried on penning this weekly column working from my so-called Peggotty's Hut in Gorleston and needed to collect mail and keep in touch. Despite its physical drawbacks, I loved the old place and will miss it more than most.

Like many of my generation, I am reluctant to accept change

but I suppose sooner or later I will become accustomed to popping into the new Mercury building that once had been next door to Matthes and was occupied by Kendall, a national rainwear retailer. Nearby were Paige Gowns, a Co-op and Maypole.

When the Mercury moves in,

its neighbours will be the betting shop and a newsagent's that in the 1970s was a tobacconist's.

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