Picture-perfect guide to century

ALTHOUGH “bite-size” and “sound-bite” - probably coined by advertising copywriters seeking punchy and readily understood terminology - have become accepted in the English lexicon and are in everyday use, one would expect neither to be appropriate to describe the style of a history book.

ALTHOUGH “bite-size” and “sound-bite” - probably coined by advertising copywriters seeking punchy and readily understood terminology - have become accepted in the English lexicon and are in everyday use, one would expect neither to be appropriate to describe the style of a history book.

This type of work can be long-winded and academic, but Caister-based historian and author Colin Tooke has adopted an almost tabloid touch to his latest publication.

After examining various facets of the Great Yarmouth area in his previous books - public houses, wars, town centre, holiday industry and entertainment, for example - he has reverted to the core subject for this newcomer. The self-published Great Yarmouth & Gorleston, the Twentieth Century, 1900-1999 (£8.99) has conveniently arrived in bookshops in time to become Christmas presents.

He explains the rationale behind his format in the introduction.

“In 1885 William Finch-Crisp published the third and last edition of his Chronological History of Yarmouth, a chronology continued by A W (Bill) Ecclestone in 1977, bringing the list of events up to 1936. In 1998, John McBride published A Diary of Great Yarmouth.

“None of these publications were illustrated, but between them they provide a comprehensive list of events that have shaped the town over the years, and will always form invaluable reference sources.

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“This book does not attempt to replace or update any of the above publications, neither does it attempt to list everything that happened in the town in the 20th century; to achieve that would require several volumes.

“I have tried to select events that have shaped the development of the town through the 20th century, a 100-year period that saw great changes in the layout of the town and the construction and destruction of many buildings, roads and houses. Also noticeable are the great changes in the industrial and retail areas of the town.

“The two decades during which most redevelopment took place were the 1950s - when the town was recovering and rebuilding after the ravages of the second world war - and the 1970s, when new road schemes and retail developments swept away large parts of the old town.”

The author succinctly encapsulates a century of our history thus: “In 1901 the population of the town, including Gorleston, was 50,638. During the period covered by this book, most of the medieval rows - and the 19th century slums that went with some of them - were swept away as new areas of housing were developed.

“The fishing industry disappeared, to be replaced by the oil and gas exploration, which in turn was in decline at the end of the century. Factories closed or moved away from the town, reducing the employment opportunities, and the holiday industry - after reaching a peak during the 1950s and 1960s - also declined as people's tastes and expectations changed and foreign holidays came within the reach of more people.

“The local government reorganisation of 1974 saw many changes in the way the affairs of the town were conducted, and an increase in population as surrounding parishes were taken into the new Borough of Great Yarmouth.”

The first issue of Yarmouth Mercury in 1900 mentioned no New Year event except a soiree at Winton's Rooms on the sea front, dismissed in a mere three lines, and he interprets that sparse coverage of the dawn of the new century as indicating that the town “slipped gently” into it without much celebration, in sharp contrast to the 21st being “greeted with renewed enthusiasm as the town began to revive with new schemes such as the outer harbour and a modernised Marine Parade.”

Thereafter, each decade is summarised in a page, and for each year three or four significant or interesting events are recorded in terse snippets, a mixture of the important and trivial. It was good to be reminded of happenings from within my own lifetime, and to learn of newsworthy events of earlier decades, albeit with great brevity.

Not for the first time, the principal pleasure I derived from a Tooke book was the wealth of illustrations. Neither the Crisp nor McBride chronologies included any pictures, but this latest publication is enhanced by no fewer than 136 photographs and 18 printed items like old advertisements.

Because Through the Porthole requires half a-dozen pictures every week, I have become familiar with many because I am regularly searching through scores of archive photographs or borrowing them from a band of collectors to whom I am constantly indebted. To my delight, author Colin Tooke - on whom I often rely for illustrations for this column - has delved deeply to find many that hitherto have not come to my notice.

And not only that, but for the first time in any of his 25 books, he has ventured into colour by incorporating 16 photographs that helped to jog my memory of our borough in the Sixties.

To whet the appetite, let me append one brief note from each of the ten decades:

1905: Horse trams which ran from Southtown to Gorleston were replaced by electric trams. Arnolds Store was built on the corner of King Street and Regent Street.

1914: Fire again destroyed the Britannia Pier Pavilion, and a new one opened three months later. A new police station opened in Middlegate. The Regent Theatre opened.

1925: The first houses on the Barrack Estate were occupied. The new invention, wireless, was demonstrated at the Empire and a Wireless Concert was given at the Britannia Pier Pavilion.

1938: A new bus station was built in Wellington Road for Eastern Counties buses. Matthes' Sunshine Bread factory began production in Gorleston.

1949: The war memorial in St George's Park was unveiled. The first travelling library, a converted double decker bus with 4000 books, went into service.

1956: The town was twinned with Rambouillet in France. A new cold store, the largest in Europe, was built on the South Denes for Birds Eye.

1964: Vauxhall Caravan Park was laid out. A rebuilt Gorleston Pier was completed. The Sailors' Home closed. Tesco opened a store on the Market Place. A US Air Force jet crashed on Darby's Hard.

1971: Gorleston High Street shopping precinct opened. Work started on the Market relief road with the demolition of buildings on Fullers Hill. The St Louis Convent School on North Drive closed.

1983: Smith's Crisps factory closed. A cannon, dug up on Southtown Road outside the Armoury, was placed outside the Fishermen's Hospital. Jewson's timber yards were demolished.

1998: Yarmouth Stores on South Quay celebrated its centenary. Plattens shop in Broad Row closed. A 500lb bomb was dredged from the river near the Haven Bridge.

And there's plenty more where they came from!



BLITZED! The Great Yarmouth town centre store of Marks and Spencer after a 1942 German air raid - the view from Theatre Plain. A year later the retailer reopened in the old Plaza/Central Cinema on the Market Place until it returned to its rebuilt premises in 1952.


NEIGHBOURS: two industries in proximity in the 1950s. When the South Denes were zoned for industry after the war, the first to move in was Hartmann Brothers in 1948, making moulded pulp products. Across the road, holiday caravans are parked adjacent to the shore.

LONG JOURNEY: the opening day of the new tramway depot on Caister Road in 1902. The rebuilt premises are still in use but for many decades buses have been housed and serviced there.

CUPPAS WITH A VIEW...the cafe at the Harbour's Mouth in Yarmouth, overlooking river and sea, was a favourite spot for sightseers, especially at weekends. It was demolished in 1977.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Regent Road at 11am on August Bank Holiday Monday! But because it was 1940 and the war had raged for almost a year, visitors were absent so shopkeepers played football to pass the time.

THE WAY IT WAS - the Victoria Ward for women in the long-gone Yarmouth General Hospital on Deneside in 1933.