Memories of the team of workers who helped rebuild after the Second World War
PUBLISHED: 21:01 06 October 2016 | UPDATED: 21:01 06 October 2016
Home Thoughts from Abroad, the 1845 nostalgic poem by Robert Browning beginning with “Oh, to be in England, now that April’s there” probably still brings a tear to the eye of expatriates across the globe when they think about their native country.
However, when he penned it Browning was not in some distant country, fated never to return to his beloved homeland: he was visiting Italy! But its sentiments will surely resonate with those Brits long-resident abroad - “Aussie Arthur” Bensley, for example, happily living in Australia for decades but regularly chronicling on his website and in messages to me his memories of his early years in Gorleston, and the local faces and places he remembers.
Arthur, born in Pier Road, and wife Carol have travelled to the far side of the world to Queensland, but it was a far shorter journey that he recalled in a recent e-mail: a 1947 summer return coach trip from Gorleston to Cambridge 70 miles away, the works outing for carpenter’s apprentice Arthur and all his fellow employees of Gorleston builder T V Palmer, based on Pier Plain.
Another trainee carpenter there was Philip Burgess, youngest son of Belle Vue pub landlord Wilfred Burgess, a relative of Arthur and member of the Gorleston rocket lifesaving brigade, mentioned here recently. “Philip, now 85, phones Carol and myself every other Sunday from his home in Cornwall,” reports Arthur.
The accompanying photograph was taken on the forecourt of Johnson’s shirt factory on Pier Plain. Among the back row employees are (L-R): Kenny Pitchers, Lenny Watson, Ernie Giles, Bob Bean, George Sheldrake, Dick Kennett. Alf Leggett. Frank Strowger. Ralph Howes, Jack Tun Watson, Tommy Howard. Reggie Ward, anonymous bricklayer, Billy Garnham. Ronnie Pitt. anonymous, Onslow (bricklayer), brothers Lenny and Charlie Dunnett, Stanley Burtenshaw.
Front: Eric Wells, Ronny Burgess, Miles Spruce, Thomas Vincent Palmer, Frank Ritchie, Ernie Eastick, Benny Hogarth, Arthur Bensley, Philip Burgess, Tommy Jones, anonymous.
Arthur thinks Stanley Burtenshaw was a superintendent in the St John Ambulance Brigade; his son, Norman, achieved fame as a football referee, his many fixtures peaking with being in charge of the 1971 FA Cup final at Wembley when Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-1.
Arthur’s father, Cecil, played football for Gorleston and other local clubs, and was the Greens’ captain for a while between the wars, leading them to league and cup successes.
Of those passengers on the outing to Cambridge, only Arthur and Philip have definitely survived; possibly Eric Wells is still alive although Arthur has not heard from him for four years.
In those early post-war years T V Palmer’s work force was busily involved in the repairing the many properties damaged in air raids, including most of the Gorleston High Street buildings from White’s the Florist down towards the library.
There were family links to the licensed trade. Arthur’s maternal grandfather, James Denton, ran the Earl Grey pub in Gorleston High Street until it closed in 1934, its licence being transferred to the Middleton Arms on the corner of Suffield Road and iddleton Road.
In 1925 Denton was fined ten shillings (50p today) for selling alcohol out of hours – with the threat of seven days’ imprisonment if he failed to pay up.
“I can remember visiting the Earl Grey as a child,” says Arthur. “My grandparents had a big tortoise in the garden behind the pub which I used to feed.
“When Carol and I last visited the property in 2003, it was the undertakers (Arthur Jary & Sons). I gave the owner a photograph of my father taken about 1910, when he was aged 14 and learning his trade as a monumental mason working in Great Yarmouth for this firm!”
The Ship Inn on the corner of Pier Walk and Pier Plain was another James Denton pub in the Thirties, his wife Gladys succeeding him after his death, giving up in 1937. Arthur’s grandmother spent her final years living on Pier Plain opposite the high wall around the The Grove, home of family doctor Guy Buncombe.
The Ship Inn was originally named the Royal George, then briefly the Greenland Fishery to acknowledge the number of local men heading for distant waters to join the search for whales. After many years as the Ship, in the 1980s it was renamed as Peggotty’s but recently became the Number 1 Bar and Restaurant.
I suppose I can claim a modest connection: Peggotty’s goes without saying, but my late Uncle Percy ran The Ship postwar.
Arthur and Carol were among the founder members of the Shrublands Youth and Adult Centre in the summer of 1949. “We go back a long way!” he emphasises. By coincidence, a fortnight ago a blue heritage commemorative plaque was placed on the former 1807 farmhouse that grew into the enormously popular community centre.
To augment an item in this column recently, Arthur Bensley recalls Whimsical Walker, a internationally famous clown who lived next to the Belle Vue pub on Gorleston riverside and ran a shooting gallery named Peggotty’s Hut. His brother was Syd Walker, a radio comedian with a rag and bone man act.
Arthur and his long-standing pal, Philip Burgess, knew Whimsical Walker well as a neighbour and regular customer in the Belle Vue. “He gave Philip his boomerang, presented to him by the Aboriginal people on his visit to Australia,” says Arthur.
“Philip gave it to me and I had it when we moved to Weymouth in May 1940. I guess it would be worth a deal of money now. I was only nine years old and used it in a field behind our house, but the wind caught it and it hit the wall of a stone barn and broke in halves.”