Life was a beach back in 1895!

IT is often claimed that the British people are the most regulated in the western world, overwhelmed by a deluge of laws, rules and diktats seeking to control so many aspects of our lives.

Many of these are passed by Parliament, others are foisted on us from the European Union.

Often they appear trivial and unnecessary, making us think the legislators believe we are incapable of continuing to live our lives and make our own decisions without our hands being held...or our arms tied. Lurking in the background is the hateful compensation culture.

It didn’t used to be like this in the good old days, we moan ... and then I was shown a set of regulations, detailed to the n-th degree, that were introduced in Gorleston well over a century ago and would be read with admiration by one of 2012’s “rules are rules” zealots.

So, what were these instructions about? Crime and punishment? Law and order? Health and safety? Anti-terrorism? Child protection?

No, none of those. Gorleston beach in summer!

In 1895 the town clerk of Great Yarmouth, Mr T M Baker, signed an exhaustive set of rules for the beach, and the small poster-size schedule was passed to me by Trevor Nicholls, of Lowestoft, retired registrar of births, deaths and marriages for the Yarmouth area.

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His friend Graham Gosling spotted it in an antique shop in Market Row in Yarmouth and bought it to give to him, knowing his keen interest in our borough’s history. Trevor passed it to me, aware that I shared his enthusiasm for novel items from yesteryear.

How the beach-men, public, shore users and traders managed to understand and comply with those strict regulations 117 years ago eludes me. The “standing places for bathing machines” were between the first and third groynes for Mr Denton’ women’s machines and tents, and between the third and fourth groynes for Mr Cooper’s women’s machines and tents. The area between the fourth and seventh groynes was reserved for private tents ”from which no bathing is to be allowed”: “application to be made to Police Inspector Dann before any tent is given a position.”

The shore between the seventh and ninth groynes was allocated to Mr Capps for men’s machines and tents. “From this point to the south end of the groynes to be occupied by men’s tents.”

A charge of five shillings would be made for each bathing machine on Gorleston beach. Two shillings would be charged for siting a tent of under 50ft superficial area, four shillings for those of 50-100ft. Nothing over 100ft area was permitted.

Every dozen chairs placed on the beach would attract a fee of one shilling weekly, and each sitting of 18 inches wide on a form or seat would be reckoned as one chair.

“Stalls are not permitted on any other part of the beach,” declared the rules, presumably meaning the stretch ending at the southernmost groynes.

Insp Dann was directed to collect all beach rents, which had to be paid in advance. All applications for leave to place chairs on the sands were to be made to him, and the siting of all chairs and seats there was to be done under his direction.

These 1895 regulations, studiously drafted so there was no margin for error, manoeuvre, complaint or misinterpretation, ended: “Touting on the beach or parade by bathing machine proprietors and others is strictly prohibited. Sand throwing on the beach is strictly prohibited.

“Bathing otherwise than from a bathing machine or tent is not permitted on the Gorleston Beach, between the Gorleston Pier and a point 760 yards to the southward of the south-west corner of the line of houses known as Break-water Terrace.”

I think Break-water Terrace was the half-dozen properties in Pier Gardens between Beach and Pavilion Roads, today a row of houses with a cafe at either end. More than four decades after those beach rules were imposed, there was an unexpected visitor to the seashore at Gorleston: the hapless little steamer Penton, driven aground in foul weather. Her crew of three were rescued by breeches buoy.

My recent jottings about the Penton ploughing on to Gorleston beach three-quarters of a century ago said despite efforts to free her, she remained stuck fast, was declared eventually to be a total wreck, and was broken up for scrap where she lay. But, to my surprise, I was to learn that despite all that, the 78-ton Penton did not end her days on our shore.

Port enthusiast Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, tells me: “After going ashore in January 1937 there were considerable efforts to get her off and by March, they had dug a trench around the entire ship. However, she remained fast and stayed there during the entire summer of 1937.

“Whilst on the beach all summer, an Albert Spencer was employed to be her watchman. She became quite a tourist attraction to locals and people from farther afield.

“Further efforts were made and she was finally floated off on October 22 and taken into harbour to be dry-docked and surveyed.

“She was then towed out of harbour to the north of England (I think), and if I remember correctly, she ran into further problems and may have possibly sunk. I found a note from the late Stephen Daniels (a local maritime historian) that the Penton ultimately ran aground off the Yorkshire coast and became a total loss.

“She had been built in 1887, was Newcastle registered, and had previously been named the Sodium.”

Our council must have been relieved to see the back of her, otherwise it had the problem of having her rusting hulk cut up and removed, the cost of which probably would have fallen on the Penton’s insurers although it could have resulted in the ratepayers footing the bill.

After all, her half-submerged rusting jagged remains would have posed a threat to all beach users, particularly children. Ah, there we are, back to “health and safety” issues again!