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Hazardous times at sea

PUBLISHED: 18:14 18 March 2010 | UPDATED: 17:06 30 June 2010

View of Palmers family department store in Great Yarmouth Market Place probably after part of its premises were demolished a century ago so it could rebuild the frontage in keeping with the rest of its property

View of Palmers family department store in Great Yarmouth Market Place probably after part of its premises were demolished a century ago so it could rebuild the frontage in keeping with the rest of its property

THOSE in the maritime insurance business exactly a century ago might well have wished they had embarked on a different career - especially if they were underwriters.

THOSE in the maritime insurance business exactly a century ago might well have wished they had embarked on a different career - especially if they were underwriters. For in 1910, the Yarmouth Mercury was inundated with reports of vessels in trouble in the North Sea, some of which resulted in loss of life.

Notorious sandbanks off the Norfolk coast, the subject of a recent column, were responsible for some of the mishaps.

It was a busy - and hazardous - year for Norfolk lifeboatmen and tug crews, and the volunteers who ran places like the Shipwrecked Sailors' Home in Great Yarmouth were also stretched to cope with the seamen of various nationalities to whom they gave succour, warm surroundings,dry clothing, hot nourishing food and comfortable beds until they were in a position to leave and renew their livelihoods.

In the January, the borough suffered one of its heaviest snowfalls for years. One severe squall of snow made visibility so bad offshore that the oil tanker Restitution and the steamer Helena Lodden collided near the Cross Sand off Yarmouth. The lightship on station on the bank used its wireless telegraph to summon lifeboats from Caister and Gorleston.

Inexplicably, in broad daylight, the steamers Armourer, of London, and Enar ran into one another close to the Outer Dowsing lightship. The Enar, bound for her home port of Gothenberg with a cargo of coal from King's Lynn, was badly holed on her port side; water gushed in through the gash and within 20 minutes, she had sunk.

Her crew were saved and ferried to Yarmouth where they were cared for at the Sailors' Home.

The Haisbro Sands claimed another victim when the Norwegian steamer Haakon ran aground - but she was one that managed to get away. Yarmouth tugs and lifeboats from Winterton, Sea Palling and Cromer went to her aid. And in an odd twist, a gang of 50 men were recruited at Yarmouth and ferried out to the Haakon to jettison her cargo of coal to lighten her enough for refloating.

That autumn 100 years ago, there were three shipping calamities within a fortnight. First, the Scottish steam drifter Mistletoe was swamped by a heavy sea while trying to reach the safety of Yarmouth harbour, and sank near the north pier; her engineer lost his life.

Next, the Norwegian barque Ceres struck Scroby Sands and then drifted helplessly until she grounded on the North Beach at Yarmouth.

Finally came the wrecking of the Era, an iron coal hulk, after hitting the north pier as she was being towed into the port. The lifeboat Leicester had one of her shortest rescue voyages on record as she safely took the Era's crew off the hulk that belonged to the Smiths Dock Company.

Other port-linked news included the launch of the first cargo steamer ever built at Yarmouth - the Friargate at the Southtown shipyard of Crabtree. Also, North Quay timber merchant Mr F Wenn bought from Holland a splendid 70ft motor barge capable of 8mph, the first of its kind to be seen in the port.

A serious fire broke out near the Fishwharf at the premises of cooper Jenkins, destroying the property and many barrels, and severely damaging neighbouring buildings, including that of a salt merchant. It took firemen nine hours to bring the blaze under control, using both the motor and steam fire engines.

While shipping accidents were too common, road collisions were rare in those days, so considerable excitement was aroused when a crash near the Barking Fishery public house on High Road in Gorleston. It prompted the Mercury to describe the incident as “dramatic”. The vehicles were a new car belonging to Mr A E Baker and tram car number 19.

The rare phenomenon of a daylight comet attracted crowds to gather on Hall Quay to witness the spectacle in the western sky.

“New” also featured in the 1910 Mercurys. For example, the new pavilion on the Britannia Pier was opened, only eight months after its predecessor was gutted by a huge blaze causing damage estimated at £16,000. The new boys' grammar school on Salisbury Road was opened, costing £7625, the pupils moving from Trafalgar Road premises that were taken over by the girls' high school

Arnolds department store was extended along Regent Street, and its furniture shop in Market Row closed. Rivals Palmers pulled down part of its Market Place premises, rebuilding it in the style of the rest. Footwear retailer Freeman, Hardy and Willis moved into King Street, as did tools and cutlery specialist Smith and Daniels and piano, organ, gramophone and record stockist Wolsey and Wolsey. Arthur Hollis bought the old Bull Hotel on the Market Gates corner, converting it to sell agricultural machinery.

A closure was the Rose public house in Yarmouth town centre, its King Street site later acquired by jeweller H Samuel.

An added sea-front attraction was the sea caves under the scenic railway at the Pleasure Beach. Gorleston post office moved next to the Duke's Head public house.

New Liberal Clubs opened in Howard Street North and Northgate Street, Norfolk's second labour exchange opened on South Quay, a children's wing was added to the general hospital on Deneside as a memorial to King Edward VII who had recently died, the St Andrew's clergy house on North Quay was converted into a church holiday home, a new Methodist Church was dedicated in Nile Road, Gorleston, and a rebuilt Congregational Church in High Street was opened, costing £1400.

The era of guttering gas street lamps was turned off for ever when the last 500 in Yarmouth and 174 in Gorleston were converted to electricity.

Twenty-five years after negotiations began between the borough council and the owner of the Two Bears Hotel, a big part of the old building was demolished to widen the approach to Cobholm; the rebuilt hotel is still there today although it has been closed for a few years.

A dress code was introduced for male swimmers - regulation Oxford-style bathing suits were made compulsory by the council. Hiring a bathing machine for the summer cost 50p in today's decimal currency.

Nelson's Monument was insured for £10,000.

In Gorleston, Sussex Road and Poplar Avenue were built.

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