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Great Yarmouth Mercury memory

PUBLISHED: 09:48 11 November 2011

A NEWSPAPER headline is designed to catch the eye and thus persuade people to read the article beneath it. It is a skilled craft, and I salute the Mercury sub-editor 75 years ago who read his reporter colleague’s lengthy account of a major local improvement, scratched his head, checked how many capital letters would fit into the available space, and penned the following bold claim guaranteed to draw attention:

“YARMOUTH HAS CONQUERED DARKNESS!”

The reason for his exuberance was that a £6000 public lighting scheme had just been completed, only 18 months since it was approved. So enthused were the editor and his sub-editor that space was allowed for no fewer than six separate decks of heading above that report, an extravagance that would out-do even today’s national red-top tabloids.

“Second to none in East Anglia; £6000 re-lighting scheme finished; 16 miles of brilliance; Boon to motorists and visitors; Lighter, lighter and ever lighter” said the other five headlines. Illuminating stuff, I have no doubt.

That was in 1936. Ironically, within three years the new vaunted street lights were victims of the wartime black-out.

While the town was brightly lit in 1936, there was gloom on our quaysides that autumn, for the herring fishery was paralysed by a strike by the Scots fisher lassies over wages. The Mercury described it as “the most serious strike the great East Anglian herring fishery has ever known.”

The entire curing trade was hit, with 3000 girls in Yarmouth and 1000 at Lowestoft withdrawing their labour, two and a-half days of paralysis that cost the fishery tens of thousands of pounds. One thousand drifters lay idle in port at the very time when rich hauls of herring had been predicted.

But the Scots girls were no push-over: they were as steadfast in their industrial action as they were seemingly immune to the harsh open-air in which they plied their gutting trade. And they won their chief claim by getting the curers to pay them an extra twopence (less than a penny today) on top of the tenpence previously paid for each barrel filled by a crew of three.

They also demanded that the 1931 cut in their standing wage from 17s 6d to 15s (75p) should be restored, but this was deferred for discussion before the next season.

The strikers went to great lengths to prevent blacklegs from working, and at least one gutting yard was besieged.

Also in 1936, timber merchant Jewson and Sons was congratulated on a century “of dealing as straight as your deal”, according to a snappy telegram received on its 100th birthday. Another well-wisher declared that it had “a romantic history second to none in the business annals of Eastern England.”

Soon after its foundation, it set up an operation in Yarmouth to import timber. The centenary was celebrated here with a lunch for 600 guests in the Floral Hall on the Britannia Pier.

The top American singing group, the Mills Brothers, came from the London Palladium to star in the opening Sunday concert of the summer season at the Royal Aquarium.

Caister was described as “ripe for development” but was considered only as an overgrown fishing village and dormitory for Yarmouth, a Norfolk County Council inquiry heard as Caister sought to be an urban district.

At the borough council the need was stressed for a central bus station; well, we have had the Market Gates one for several years but its woeful inadequacies are often aired in the Mercury. The traffic commissioners approved an Eastern Counties bus depot on Wellington Road - and criticised the town hall for opposing it.

The Chamber of Commerce asked the borough council to acquire a site for an aerodrome, Mr Backhouse Archer pointing out that as Southend and Scarborough (“two of Yarmouth’s greatest competitors”) had airfields, we were behind the times. Breydon was suggested for a seaplane port. Chairman Percy Elton called for improved rail services.

There was a difference of opinion over a new hospital. Yarmouth favoured a united hospital to serve the whole urban borough, but Gorleston wanted its own and went ahead, buying the Grange and its grounds on Lowestoft Road for conversion into its new one that was quickly opened and remained in use until the Eighties.

The annual meeting of Yarmouth General Hospital called Gorleston’s unilateral stance “very regrettable” for it had scotched the hope for a united hospital.

Opinion voiced by various London hospital committees that Yarmouth’s climate was unpropitious for convalescents except during summer aroused considerable indignation at the annual meeting of the Eastern Counties Children’s Convalescent Home in Euston Road

Members at the AGM stressed that the Norfolk coast’s climate was essentially a tonic one, and mayor Mrs A M Perrett, presiding, thought the east coast was unjustly treated and compared the spring conditions in Yarmouth favourably with those at popular south coast resorts.

She reminded the meeting that the home had existed for 52 years, and she was astonished at “the wonderful treatment” children received there. During the past year 321 had been admitted, 255 of them from London and 64 from Norwich.

The Mercury devoted no fewer than two and a-half broadsheet columns to a Lowestoft court case when the 57-year-old Rector of Bradwell, the Rev Thomas Jones, was accused of driving under influence of alcohol. The summons followed an accident at Bradwell when his car zigzagged across the road and overturned after a motorist had seen it being driven erratically as he left Gorleston heading towards Beccles.

But the clergyman’s defence solicitor successfully argued that he had an epileptic fit and was not under the influence. The rector promised the court that he would never drive again, and was acquitted.

Six hundred anglers competed in the all-England freshwater championships fished on the River Thurne at Potter Heigham. New records were set for total weight, winning club’s weight and individual champion’s bag: the only record not to fall was the entry, the 53 clubs being just one fewer than the 1934 record.

CAPTIONS

MAIN

HERRING HEYDAY: Great Yarmouth fishwharf perhaps a century ago. In 1936 the autumn animation was stilled temporarily when the Scots fisher lassies went on strike.

Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE COLLECTION

OTHERS

BUSY FINGERS...AND JAWS! Scots fisher lassies chat at work in Yarmouth before the war.

Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVE

TROUBLED TIME: crowds of people involved in the herring industry outside the Refreshment Rooms on the Fishwharf where important talks were taking place over strike issues in 1936.

Picture: MERCURY ARCHIVE

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