Weathering the weather storm

CAN I assume that most of the Christmas cards decorating your sideboard, mantelpiece and windowsills feature snow, bringing a wintry look to a pastoral scene, a horse-drawn carriage pulling into a coaching inn, carollers in chorus, or a red-breasted robin perching?These traditional yuletide scenes sell by the million although both sender and recipient are well aware that it seldom snows at Christmas - hence punters laying bets on the possibility.

CAN I assume that most of the Christmas cards decorating your sideboard, mantelpiece and windowsills feature snow, bringing a wintry look to a pastoral scene, a horse-drawn carriage pulling into a coaching inn, carollers in chorus, or a red-breasted robin perching?

These traditional yuletide scenes sell by the million although both sender and recipient are well aware that it seldom snows at Christmas - hence punters laying bets on the possibility. Just to get readers into the festive spirit, two of the photographs illustrating today's column do show snow and ice - local, but without the Christmas card embellishments of holly, robins, rubicund Dickensian characters of the Mr Pickwick variety, country churches or carrot-nosed snowmen.

They are my Christmas cards to you - du different, in the Norfolk tradition. The scenes show extreme winter weather whereas east Norfolk thankfully tends to enjoy a more moderate climate.

Few hereabouts seriously want snow; summer sunshine is more our bag. The tabulated snow depths at ski resorts in morning papers leave us cold. We are more inclined to note the hot spots abroad in winter, in summer paying heed to the temperatures and sunshine hours in our rival UK seaside resorts.

Indeed, holiday towns appreciate the publication of their daily weather figures, considering it a bonus if they top the charts as the hottest spot in the country or having the most sunshine. Sadly, the Great Yarmouth area's weather has gone unrecorded for more than a quarter of a century and, therefore, unpublicised either locally or nationally.

A century ago, in 1907, our council investigated the establishment of a weather station. The borough surveyor thought the best location was the beach gardens near the Jetty for all instruments except the rain gauge that would be better in St George's Park. Station and fencing would cost £60, instruments £100, and annual maintenance £50 excluding the cost of the daily telegram to the national organisations recording the figures. The medical officer submitted a long detailed shopping list of weather instruments.

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But the Scrooge-like health committee ignored both men and opted for a £9 sunshine recorder and a £1.50 set of charts, and asked the Sailors' Home on Marine Parade if the sun instrument could be sited on its roof. Also, the committee wanted to buy a £7.50 rain gauge evaporometer for the park.

Even tighter fisted, the council ignored everything but passed the notion to another committee for further thoughts. That committee prevaricated, not putting any money in the annual estimates but voting to discuss the whole project with the chairmen of all the other committees.

Allegedly official meteorological data recording began in Yarmouth as early as the 1860s, but the town definitely acquired a weather station, up on that seafront roof, and added a device for measuring wind speeds and direction. At some stage - perhaps when the building closed in 1964 and reopened as a maritime museum three years later - the basic weather station was relocated into a small compound on Gorleston riverside near the lighthouse.

Coastguards on their way to and from their headquarters on Gorleston pier head took the readings twice daily and conveyed them to the national meteorological office at Bracknell in Berkshire, a sensible arrangement because they were on perpetual watch whereas other people might have had difficulty in never missing a reading.

But in the 1970s Coastguard research revealed that modern high-speed sophisticated communication and surveillance techniques had rendered actual manned lookouts redundant - most incidents occurred too far offshore for visual sightings. As a result, the pier-end lookout was abandoned, the operation moved to Havenbridge House on the riverside in Yarmouth. That meant coastguards did not pass the weather station any more.

The obvious solution was to reposition the weather equipment on the roof of the eight-storey Havenbridge House, but this was ruled out by the Meteorological Office, perhaps worried that the figures would be distorted by the height. Also, the “met” office voiced disquiet about the long-serving Gorleston station, belatedly claiming that the readings might not reflect true conditions because bushes sheltered one side of the little compound and thus kept it slightly warmer than a few paces away.

The borough council, anxious to maintain continuity of providing statistics to the official national organisation, sought to recruit a volunteer to take the readings, finding one in Bradwell willing to help for a small retainer. But when the weather station was moved to his village, part of the borough, officialdom objected because it was not in Gorleston.

Yarmouth racecourse? No. The existing Air Ministry weather station at Hemsby, also manned round the clock and within the borough boundary? Again, no. End of story. Today it would be very expensive to try to resume the practice, and I think it unlikely that it will happen, so if ever Yarmouth is the hottest or sunniest resort in Britain, nobody will know.

At Christmas probably the only people thinking of a summery event like a carnival are those die-hards in towns and villages already well into their preliminary arrangements for next year's event and ensuring that a long-established tradition does not die.

In August I wrote about the disappointing absence of a Yarmouth and Gorleston carnival while several east Norfolk communities many times smaller than our urban borough manage to organise them. Not long after, two significant and relevant items were published in newspapers.

First, a national paper reported that new rules introduced by - yes, that's right - the European Union effectively bans lorry drivers from taking out floats on their days off, threatening carnival parades all over Britain.

These new rules say that any driving of a vehicle over 7.5 tonnes must be logged and cannot be part of rest time, and a driver must have 45 hours continuous rest once a week; that period would normally be at weekends. Inching along in a parade for a couple of hours still counts as driver time.

That confirmed what a lorry driver friend was telling me about the red tape limiting the use of these vehicles for charity-type events like carnivals. That was only a day or two after Mrs Peggotty and I enjoyed the sight of about 90 spruced up and gleaming articulated vehicle cabs making their annual drive around Yarmouth as truckers gave handicapped children a memorable annual day out.

I wonder if that will be a casualty of the new legislation, particularly as 90 drivers were giving up some of their time off to bring happiness to the youngsters.

The other item was in the Mercury itself, in the Letters to the Editor column. The writer was Ted Lees, an ex-hotelier and lifetime champion of Yarmouth, and although it was then September 2007, he was promoting the idea of reviving our carnival in July 2009.

The programme would include a parade along Yarmouth seafront, and perhaps an event at the Beaconsfield recreation ground. Already some influential professional organisations had pledged support.

One can but wish Ted well in his endeavours, particularly as he might well have to surmount a mountain of European health and safety bureaucracy…



SEND FOR SANTA'S SLEIGH! This Eastern Counties Great Yarmouth-Lowestoft bus is stuck in a snowdrift as helpers try to dig it out, possibly near Hopton in the 1950s.



ANYONE FOR A DIP? Children's Corner on Gorleston beach in front of the Floral Hall, and the sands and cliff slopes in the background, present a deep-frozen scene about a half-century ago.


TOO NEAR THE SUN? The Meteorological Office refused to accept data if a weather station had been placed on the roof of Havenbridge House from where this picture was taken 20 years ago.


SUMMER SIZZLER: the children's shallow end of long gone and lamented Gorleston swimming pool on a hot day in the 1950s when official daily weather records were being kept by the resort.


WEATHER FRONT - meteorological readings were taken on the roof of this Yarmouth sea-front building in the 19th century when it was the Shipwrecked Sailors' Home. In 1978, many decades after the weather station was moved, it was converted into the Maritime Museum for East Anglia.