Milk theft put Plevna on map

HERE is a question for born-and-bred Yarmouthians: where is Plevna Terrace? Many will readily identify its location, but I am confident that a surprising number will shake their heads in puzzlement although Plevna Terrace has existed for more than a century – and, although tucked away, is visible from two of the borough’s busiest roads.

As its name implies, it is a row of terraced homes – in fact, 14 small houses – with a short single-width access near a Southtown Road bus stop, between Thurlow Nunn’s car storage and display area and a green (on the site of the long-gone railway terminus) at the junction of Pasteur Road with a path to the Lidl supermarket.

From both Southtown and Pasteur Roads you can see the bedroom windows above a fence.

Before South Town Station was demolished in 1977 to make way for the dual-carriageway bypass, the rail spur across the main Yarmouth-Gorleston road to the quayside timber yards opposite ran alongside Plevna Terrace.

Those readers hitherto unaware of the whereabouts of Plevna Terrace – and perhaps irked by the smugness of those of us who know where it is – might well respond: “So that’s Plevna Terrace! Never knew that was its name.”

I must confess that as likely as not, I would have been one of those “don’t-knows” despite passing along Southtown Road past its junction countless times by bus, car or bicycle in more than seven decades without noticing it.

So, how did I know of its existence?

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I can pinpoint the day, and happened to mention it in this column recently when writing about the former magistrates court in the Town Hall being converted into the new council chamber. The first court case I ever reported, back in 1955 as a trainee journalist, was the theft of a bottle of a resident of Plevna Terrace.

At that time I had to ask one of the policemen in court the whereabouts of Plevna Terrace...and how to spell it. Honestly, I cannot remember hearing Plevna Terrace mentioned in the intervening half-century and more so, but for that court case, I might well not have known its location even today.

By coincidence, regular correspondent Trevor Nicholls – a Lowestoft resident who has retired as Yarmouth’s official registrar – has written to me following my recent feature about my holiday in Bulgaria: “In an old town like Yarmouth, there are historical associations everywhere, many long-forgotten.

“They are references to people, places and events gone beyond recall. We pass them daily without a moment’s thought. Your article about your Bulgarian holiday reminded me of this.

“Countless times I have walked, cycled and ridden from Southtown Road into Bridge Road through the Pasteur Road/Mill Road junction (or past South Town Station in the Yarmouth I still inhabit) and have wondered about Plevna Terrace. Why does a probably mid to late Victorian terrace of houses have the same name as a small town in Bulgaria (modern name, Plevnen)?

“I thought this might be a military association for which there is a long tradition when it comes to naming buildings and roads. For instance, Alma Road and Malakoff Close/Terrace are references to the Crimean War (1854-56). In Bradwell roads are names after El Alamein and the Falklands.

“But applied to Plevna Terrace, this supposition does not appear to fit because this country was not, to my knowledge, involved in a military engagement in Bulgaria during the 19th century. However, a little research does indeed lead to the Russo-Turkish war of 1877 which, I guess, accords with the age of the houses in Southtown.

“The battles of Plevna saw the besieged Ottoman Turks fight off the combined Russian and Romanian forces for five months, and historian A J P Taylor noted in one of his books that ‘Plevna is one of the few engagements which changed the course of history.

“It held up the advance of the Russian army in Bulgaria. The siege was widely followed by the public in Europe and farther afield and, in Britain, there was admiration - perhaps entirely in line with our national character – for people fighting against overwhelming odds which would eventually prevail.

“The small town of Plevna, Montana, in the United States was named after the siege by Bulgarian immigrants building the transcontinental railway.

“So, all that lies behind a terrace of cottages in Southtown...or, perhaps, was it the case that a local builder of the late Victorian period just happened to have a pleasant holiday in the Balkans?”

Trevor is also perplexed by how another Yarmouth road – Abyssinia – derived its name. “Abyssinia is another place with which, I think, this country did not have a direct engagement in the 19th century,” he says.

There was, however, a British involvement in that country – now called Ethiopa - about the time the Yarmouth street was built. In 1867 the emperor imprisoned two British missionaries, and the British consul and his staff who interceded were also put in chains.”

The Indian army under Sir Robert Napier mounted a vast task force to free them, comprising 13,000 British troops, 26,000 camp followers and 40,000 animals including 44 elephants conveyed in 280 steam and sailing ships. “It took them three months to cover 400 miles in difficult terrain,” reports Mr Nicholls.

On Good Friday 1868 British troops entered Magdala and set fire to the city, pillaging and looting. The hostages were freed, and the emperor committed suicide. Two British and 700 Abyssinian troops were killed and 18 British soldiers and 1400 Abyssinians were wounded.

He regards this as: “Another amazing story behind the name of a Yarmouth street!”

Sometimes builders and developers name roads after themselves and their families (for example West, Russell and Stanley Avenues in Gorleston followed that practice in the mid-1930s), bestowing limited posterity on them. But I doubt that I will be receiving an explanatory communication about this column from a Mr Abyssinia or his descendants...