Millers, movers and shakers

WHEN nostalgia is involved, as it is with this column, my journalistic instinct for urgency and immediacy is lulled into a gentle awareness that time is immaterial and it matters not if feedback filters through at leisurely pace.

WHEN nostalgia is involved, as it is with this column, my journalistic instinct for urgency and immediacy is lulled into a gentle awareness that time is immaterial and it matters not if feedback filters through at leisurely pace.

My regular correspondent Mike King, an ex-Gorlestonian living in Lowestoft, has caught the “manana” bug, for a recent communication from him harks back to two summer items, but no matter.

Reflecting on occurrences in the Great Yarmouth area half a century ago, in 1957, I included a snippet about the beach ball of 11-year-old Sandra Miller and her brother, Terry, 13, of Elmgrove Road, Gorleston, being blown out to sea. The children assumed it was lost forever - but after being blown for 100 miles it washed up in Holland, found by holidaymaker Robby Beute, whose father wrote to Sandra as her name was on a tag attached to the ball, and a friendship ensued.

Says Mike King: “Not only did the two families correspond with one another, but they visited each other several times. I met the Beute family in 1964 so the friendship lasted at least seven years.”

As for the Millers, they came from Norwich and after the war Ken Miller worked for Barclays Bank. Upon promotion he was transferred to the Hall Quay branch in Yarmouth and the family moved to Elmgrove Road in Gorleston.

“Soon after the beach ball incident they purchased the Felix Hotel in Avondale Road that Mrs Helen (“Paddy”) Miller ran for a number of years. I still recall the telephone number from the days prior to STD (Subscriber Trunk Dialling) when Gorleston had its own exchange - pick up the phone and ask for 1176.

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“Ken retired at 60 in 1964 but continued to work as cashier at the small Bells Road branch of Barclays on the Springfield Road corner until he was 65. Some older traders in that area - if there are any left - might just remember him. That branch is now a solicitors' office.”

He continues: “The Felix Hotel takes us back to an era when Gorleston was more popular with visitors and it enjoyed a regular clientele. It closed in winter but in 1963-64 had one year-round resident, Dick Chemondley(?), from Surrey, an ex-RAF type with a handlebar moustache, whom I came to know well.

“He was site manager for the renewal of Gorleston Pier. I kick myself now for not accepting his offer of a tour of the pier works but I did get a ride in his green Jaguar 3.4!”

The growing popularity of holidays abroad meant a fall in bookings at the Felix so the accommodation was let to students, possibly police cadets. After Mr Miller died in 1981 at 77, Paddy stayed until remarrying, and the Felix was sold as flats, as it still is today. The former Mrs Miller died in 1990, aged 85 - “the end of an era”, says Mr King, who nearly wrote to me about another of my topics, the old Roman Catholic Church in central Gorleston near the library crossroads.

He used to see it every school day from the top of a No 3 corporation bus from 1951 to 1955 on his way to the Edward Worlledge School, “unaccompanied, of course, from the age of six!”

Another regular correspondent, Clive Manson - who has moved from Yarmouth to the Norfolk village of Cawston - writes: “On my desk for the last six weeks there has been this photograph with no information on the back other than the man's name - and lo and behold, this week's Porthole gives me the story.”

The column appeared in October, also looking at events 50 years ago. One item was that Ormesby centenarian Richard Elkington, of East Road, still walked two miles every week to collect his pension from the post office.

That is him in Clive's photograph, perhaps on his weekly pension mission, in front of an east Norfolk signpost - one of the illustrations accompanying today's feature.

Caister reader Mrs Pat Munday, of Weston Rise, Caister, perused my article on pens and wrote: “Once again you have stirred the memory as I used to be the ink monitor in Potter Heigham Primary school all those years ago.”

In November I confessed that I had never heard of Dr Thomas Girdlestone - described as an English physician and writer - who was top of the list of Yarmouth's three most notable residents of yesteryear on an internet website. But a man eminently knowledgeable of him is Paul Davies, of North Denes Road, who retired from the Park Surgery after 35 years as a GP and in 2003 published his History of Medicine in Great Yarmouth Hospitals and Doctors.

All 500 copies were quickly snapped up.

After serving abroad in a medical role with the army, Norfolk-born Girdlestone was invited to succeed Dr Aiken, of King Street, who was leaving Yarmouth for London; Aikin's house was subsequently converted into two residences.

Girdlestone resided in Row 17 (George Street-North Quay) from 1792-1822; in 1890 this row became part of the expanding Lacons Brewery site. He practised for 37 years in Yarmouth where “his unwearied assiduity and talents gained him the highest reputation”.

The book says: “He was tall, upright and slender. He dressed scrupulously in black, with white silk stockings, a white cravat, half-gaiters, an ample shirt frill, and a powdered wig with a pigtail. He was seen daily perambulating around the town with a gold-headed walking cane.

“In 1803 he was one of the promoters of the public library in Yarmouth. In 1805 he published an address to the Yarmouth inhabitants strongly urging vaccination against smallpox and rebutting all arguments against it.”

His prolific and varied writings were reported to have “evinced on many occasions a laudable zeal for the cause of literature”. In one essay he detailed a case of a naval officer patient who “indulged in several months of intemperance due to the hospitality he had found in Yarmouth” and recommended him to limit his wine intake to one pint a day while undergoing treatment...

A Greek scholar, Girdlestone published his own translation of some odes, comparing one to that by a man named Urquhart who lived at Hobland Hall.

By his marriage to the widow of the Rev John Close he had one son, Charles, an ardent ornithologist who accumulated a large collection of birds he had shot hereabouts but died in 1831, a 33-year-old bachelor. Thomas Girdlestone's daughter, Emma, married John Baker, a solicitor living at Browston Hall who, in 1832, became Mayor of Yarmouth. Girdlestone's five other children all died young.

Girdlestone died in 1822, aged 64. After his death a cast was made of his head and his 2,000 volumes of books were auctioned at his home, reports the Davies book.