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Pension day that proved too much

PUBLISHED: 17:23 25 June 2009 | UPDATED: 14:15 03 July 2010

THE Peggotty state pension has always been paid directly into my bank account monthly, and I have never endured the extra-long queues at post office counters once a week as the elderly patiently waited to collect their rightful due.

THE Peggotty state pension has always been paid directly into my bank account monthly, and I have never endured the extra-long queues at post office counters once a week as the elderly patiently waited to collect their rightful due.

It is all routine and humdrum, for me at least, so it is hard to envisage the excitement, chatter and eagerness with which our borough's senior citizens greeted the year 1909. For the first day of that year a century ago was officially Pension Day when the government inaugurated a weekly payment to the nation's old folk.

Hereabouts it was announced that more than one million people in Norfolk could draw between 1s and 5s a week (5p and 25p in today's decimal currency). There were reports that many old folk died from excitement after receiving their first payment!

Norton's shop next to the Post Office in Regent Street, Great Yarmouth, was taken over for the payment of pensions. The first man to be paid out here was Robert Walters, receiving 4s (20p) a week to supplement his Royal Navy pension of £5 14s (£5.70) a quarter.

Alterations to the workhouse costing £7000 were abandoned because of the introduction of the Old Age Pensions Act.

A Parliamentary Bill by the borough council to spend £16,000 to improve the harbour by deepening the channel and building wharves on the west side (Gorleston/Southtown) of the river was defeated because of opposition by the Port and Haven Commissioners, Norwich City Council and the Burgh Castle drainage board.

The Yarmouth Mercury had a field day in 1909 when two incidents were dramatic enough to persuade Fleet Street journalists to join the throng of reporters covering them.

One was the murder of Police Constable Charles Algar who went to a domestic dispute in St Andrew's Road, Gorleston, where Thomas Allen, a 53-year-old rat-catcher, was assaulting his wife. When the constable approached him, Allen offered to explain the situation, then picked up a gun and fired at the unarmed policeman, fatally wounding him.

Bravely, three neighbours confronted Allen who fired again, injuring the trio. A police cordon circled the house, and Inspector Moore slowly approached Allen until he was close enough to pounce on him and force the gun hand on to a wall, whereupon other officers overpowered him.

Although Allen was sentenced to death for the murder of 40-year-old PC Algar, he was reprieved and sent to Broadmoor for life. The constable was survived by a widow and five children.

Trinity House, the national organisation entrusted with safe passage at sea, was itself the victim of a bizarre disaster off Caister in 1909. Six of its men perished, bringing the overall death toll to ten because all four crew of the ketch Good Hope died when she sank after colliding with the steamer Dundee in a blizzard in the Yarmouth Roads where vessels sheltered in bad weather.

As the sunken barge posed a hazard to shipping, Trinity House sent its steamer Argus to blow up the wreckage to reduce its size and potential danger. It was too rough for diver James Crane to plant explosives in the wreck, so they were lowered from to it to be fired electrically, a risky operation.

Chief mate Walter Bound, diver Crane and five Argus crewmen positioned her small boat above the barge and lowered 20lb of explosives, but blowing the charge brought no apparent result, so a 30lb charge was tried, again without success. Another 30lb pack went down, the small boat taking shelter alongside the Cockle lightship for safety.

This time the outcome caused a huge explosion. The small boat and its occupants disappeared from view, the Argus was lifted from the sea momentarily and the lightship suffered equipment damage.

When the water settled, a search for survivors began among the floating debris from the Good Hope and the Argus's small boat, recovering two of the seven - William Forder, who was beyond help, and Walter Bound, uninjured but severely shocked. Overall, 23 children were rendered fatherless by the tragedy.

Because 80lb of explosives could not have caused that massive detonation, an investigation took place, discovering that by a terrible coincidence, the Good Hope was laden with a cargo of no less than 16 tons of dynamite!

Impresario and showman C B Cochran applied to erect a switchback railway in skeleton form, known as the Columbia Figure and Coaster, at the far end of Nelson Gardens, offering £500 plus rates. A ride 900ft long and 120ft wide known as The Road was built by 160 men for the C A Thomson Scenic Railway Company. But the Thompson Gravity Switchback was closed and transferred to Huddersfield.

The council ordered that if there was a heavy frost, part of the Wellington Gardens must be flooded to form an ice-skating rink. Indoors in the Winter Gardens, a new maple floor was ordered for roller-skating.

When violent thunderstorms struck, drivers jumped to take their horses' heads to control them, Priory School children panicked when the spire of St Nicholas's Parish Church was struck by lightning. The vicar cycled to the fire station where the engine was already steamed up and ready for action.

The foundation stone was laid at the new boys Grammar School on Salisbury Road. Their old building in Trafalgar Road became the new girls High School.

North Quay was paved with 150,000 jarrah wood blocks. Fourteen dead trees on South Quay were replaced, and the council spent £1 10s (£1.50) on planting trees on Springfield Road, Gorleston.

The Britannia Pier Pavilion was gutted by fire, the damage estimated at £16,000.

Gorleston man John Moules became strangled in a gas engine he was oiling but was still alive when it was turned off. He died in hospital, and a muffled peal of 710 Bob Minors was rung at his funeral.

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