How laws have changed - and local scenes

SCENE OF THE CRIME...Gorleston High Street as it looked when a trader took a door-bell ringing yout

SCENE OF THE CRIME...Gorleston High Street as it looked when a trader took a door-bell ringing youth to court. - Credit: Archant

In my youth in the post-war years, it was not unknown to indulge in a mixture of cheek and daring to ring doorbells – or hammer on knockers – and scamper away to hide round a convenient corner.

ENTICING: women's underwear displayed in a window of the new Co-Operative House pre-war.

ENTICING: women's underwear displayed in a window of the new Co-Operative House pre-war. - Credit: Archant

Then you peered round it, keeping as discreetly out of view as possible, to enjoy the sight of the householder opening the door and either looking both ways to see if the caller was still in sight so he or she could be summoned back, or slamming it angrily at the realisation that it was only “them so-and-so cheeky kids again!”

That was seven decades ago – but only this year did I realise that this prank could well have landed us in court, with a conviction on our spotless records which might well have jeopardised our future ambitions. I breathed a sigh of relief that I was never caught.

While scouring the pages of 1916 Yarmouth Mercury and rival Yarmouth Independent newspapers during research for a planned column, I chanced upon a report of a court case in which the defendant was a lad accused of such an offence.

According to the Mercury account, 15-year-old Victor Bland, of Arundel Road, was summoned before Yarmouth magistrates for ringing a doorbell!

IMPOSING: Co-Operative House on Yarmouth Market Place when it opened eight decades ago.

IMPOSING: Co-Operative House on Yarmouth Market Place when it opened eight decades ago. - Credit: Archant


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His accuser was Stephen Goose, of High Street, Gorleston, who gave evidence that at 2.15pm he was in his shop when he heard his doorbell ring, and spotted the defendant and another youth going past.

“When he accused the defendant, he denied it and said, ‘You go in and do your work’,” said the report. Mr Goose followed the pair as far as Police Station Lane “when the defendant bolted” but he took his companion to the police station.

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“Witness added that for years he had suffered having his doorbell rung and it had been worse since the streets were darkened (I assume that was a wartime black-out measure).

“He had to leave off his work to answer the bell and found no-one. On one occasion the knob was pulled completely off and the wire broken, and he had to pay for a new knob.”

The Mercury said that Victor Bland admitted ringing the bell but explained that he was only “playing about.”

Magistrates’ chairman Mr J A Rivett declared that there were many complaints of this sort of behaviour and it must be stopped. Bland was “old enough to know better,” he said, and fined him half a crown (2s 6d/12½p today) plus two shillings (10p today) costs.

As for the Yarmouth Independent, it reported that 12-year-old Robert Folkes was accused in court of using obscene language. Evidence came from PC Harvey who said the boy was one of a group outside the Regent. The policeman heard Folkes use “a very bad expression” to another boy. “There were several ladies and gentlemen coming from the Regent,” he told the bench.

The officer took the boy to the police station where he said he had learned the language from older boys.

In court Robert Folkes promised to keep away from the other boys and to be home indoors by 7pm every night.

For many years newspapers have been banned from naming youngsters accused in courts. And those 1916 offenders would not have been in an adult court but a special one for juveniles. Times have changed.

And while times have changed, so have fortunes for the elegant former Co-operative House department store in Yarmouth Market Place, for it is currently being renovated so it can reopen under the new ownership of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill Group.

It was built in 1935 by the Great Yarmouth Co-operative Society which traded there into the 21st century until the premises were bought by Liverpool-based Vergo which moved out five years ago, leaving the property empty, to the dismay of many individuals and businesspeople seeking to regenerate the town’s retail sector.

Yarmouth Co-operative Society, like most of its kind, have long-since merged into regional formats, like East of England. Either at Co-operative House, or at the several branches in the borough, comprehensive services included drapery, boots and shoes, outfitting, furniture, hardware, electrical goods, grocery and provisions, bread and confectionery, coal, milk, butchery, boot repairing, dividend...and death benefits.

The Co-op was well represented throughout the borough, with branches in Middle Market Road, Admiralty Road, Northgate Street, Blackfriars Road, Lichfield Road, Mill Road, Union Road; Gorleston High Street and Lower Cliff Road; and in Caister..

One of the photographs illustrating today’s column shows a display window of Co-operative House in its early years pre-war. Looks a bit risque, eight decades later...

In a 1939 advertisement published in a Yarmouth and Gorleston hospitals magazine, the Co-op declared – in an over-the-top announcement: “Keep out of Hospital! Drink Co-operative pasteurised milk. Complexions unspoiled and health unimpaired: such natural charm is assured to those who drink plenty of milk – but pasteurised it must be, in a modern and clean dairy.

“Co-op milk, pasteurised in the Co-op Dairy, is guaranteed pure and safe. All dangerous germs are killed, the milk is good and safe.

“The finest dairy in Yarmouth. Up-to-date scientific pasteurisation plant is installed in the Co-op Dairy, the finest in Great Yarmouth. You can visit the dairy at any time – ask your branch manager for particulars.”

That was long before we were brow-beaten into drinking skimmed or semi-skimmed milk in preference to whole milk to ward off obesity. And to think, when the Peggotty children were young, we had gold-top delivered daily! And we’re all still here, with no apparent ill-effects!

Before the arrival here of the all-conquering ubiquitous “we sell everything” supermarkets, heralded by Downsway and Elmo, the Co-op and the national chains like the International and Home and Colonial were in competition with the host of family grocers – a breed unknown to younger generations but still fondly remembered by older Yarmouthians and Gorlestonians who queued patiently for their weekly rations during the war and post-war years.

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