No shortage of long gone pubs

A KEYSTONE of our nation's social heritage is swiftly crumbling to dust with the closure of hundreds of public houses across the country. From village inns to city centre hostelries, the shutters are being fitted and “for sale” or “for lease” signs pasted on to them.

A KEYSTONE of our nation's social heritage is swiftly crumbling to dust with the closure of hundreds of public houses across the country. From village inns to city centre hostelries, the shutters are being fitted and “for sale” or “for lease” signs pasted on to them.

The reasons? People losing the pub-going habit, the smoking ban, supermarkets undercutting pub prices, the general unpopularity of 24-hour opening, escalating overheads…all are alleged to have contributed to the fact that their numbers are dwindling rapidly.

So it comes as a surprise to discover one reopening, so three back in business hereabouts is such a shock to the system that it requires a stiff drink.

One is the 74-year-old Middleton Arms on Middleton Road in Gorleston, now with a new lease of life as the Mariners Compass (an old Great Yarmouth Row already commemorated in a Gorleston road); a second is Lily's in George Street, Yarmouth, now a wine bar offering fine dining, probably the tenth name in almost 200 years for an establishment older folk will well remember as the Mitre; and the Crown in the road of that name.

Of course, neither Yarmouth and Gorleston in particular nor east Norfolk in general is immune from the trend. As we make our way around town and country, it is impossible not to notice those that have succumbed. One of the latest casualties is the Star and Garter on Great Yarmouth's Hall Quay after serving customers for the best part of two centuries.

Others are the Elephant and Castle (Nelson Road North), Bricklayers Arms (Nelson Road Central) and the Lord Roberts (Caister Road).

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The pub with no beer featured in a song yonks ago has been overtaken by the pub with locked doors, or the beer with no pub.

One cannot but wonder what is to become of the victims: as the international credit crunch probably means that property speculators will no longer be interested in redeveloping their sites, or converting them to homes, will they just become derelict? Pub closures are nothing new - but the rate is accelerating.

Against all that current turmoil, I have chatted to a man who once ran one of Yarmouth's busiest boozers, a wholly revamped traditional public house that has long since disappeared completely from the scene, another casualty.

The Royal Standard began life in the early 1700s as little more than a beach hut but developed into a conventional pub and last century found itself in a prime spot on Yarmouth's famed Golden Mile, long before Marine Parade acquired that sobriquet, enjoying a figurative front seat as the holiday industry burgeoned around it.

But in 1968 its owner, Anglia Taverns (part of the Watney-Mann group) decided it needed to be extensively revamped to fit in with its environs and hopefully to boost its trade, so it spent �70,000 - according to one source - on a total overhaul.

In May 1969, when the builders and decorators and interior designers had left, the traditional Royal Standard was gone forever, and the swish Crows Nest emerged. I have heard it described as Yarmouth's first theme pub, but I would dispute that claim because the Red House in the Market Place probably merits that title.

For the benefit of younger generations, the Market Distillery - popularly known as the Red House - stood at the Palmers end of the Market Place and boasted a railways theme. The bar and smoke room resembled a station waiting room, and inserting a penny into a slot in the pseudo ticket office caused the main lights to dim…and a wondrous model railway to operate.

On a picture-rail high shelf around the room, trains began an international journey, passing models of various capital cities, with Tower Bridge lifting, guardsmen marching, Dutch windmills turning, a ski lift carrying cars up the Alps…

To a little lad like me, smuggled in by my parents for a lemonade and a bag of Smith's Crisps as landlord and model master Teddy Moore turned a Nelsonian blind eye, it was a thrilling experience, especially as it was wartime and model railways and similar sophisticated toys were no longer available in shops. I pestered my parents for more pennies to get the train running again, and hoped other customers would also want to give it a go.

In hindsight, the model railway would have been more clearly visible had the room not been filled with rising smoke from cigarettes and pipes. At least it made a fog to bring realism to the London part of the rectangular world tour.

But, back from the Red House on the Market Place in the Forties to the new Crows Nest on Marine Parade probably in 1970.

According to my contact, Alastair Berridge, who was the pioneer manager and licensee of the Crows Nest for a decade, the interior d�cor had a galleon theme including a naked female figurehead. The facsimile ship made by a professional boat-builder was called the Red Barrel (the Watney logo), real barrels doubled as tables, and there was a giant mural depicting an old giant mural depicting an old Yarmouth river scene.

“The bar could hold as many as 600 drinkers and was always very busy during the summer season,” says Mr Berridge, aged 75, who lives in Garden Gates off Blackfriars Road. But by contrast, off season it was much quieter and he was able to run it with the help of his late wife.

“I enjoyed my time at the Crows Nest,” Peterborough-born Mr Berridge tells me. As his father and grandfather were both publicans, he was brought up in the licensed trade and was the third generation of the family to enter it. But after he left the Crows Nest, he took a six-month break before going offshore to work as a cook on a rig in the Dutch sector of the North Sea for 15 years.

He adds that the Crows Nest was very popular with Yarmouth police, but apparently that did not deter bank holiday trouble by Hell's Angels who frequented it on their visits to the resort. Presumably their presence in the pub caused the general public to go elsewhere for their nights out, and after only about 15 years, the Crows Nest closed about 1984.

The building was sold and is now an amusement arcade, The Mint.