Please Sir: father’s strange name for son - to win a bet!

MEMORABLE DAY...and not a knight: newly-weds Sir Charles and Alice Loftin and immediate family membe

MEMORABLE DAY...and not a knight: newly-weds Sir Charles and Alice Loftin and immediate family members. - Credit: Archant

IT might well have been the decade’s only wedding of a “Sir” not to have been recorded in so-called quality national daily newspapers like The Times and up-market society magazines led by The Tatler.

BACHELOR BOY: Sir Charles Loftin before he wed.

BACHELOR BOY: Sir Charles Loftin before he wed. - Credit: Archant

There were no jostling crowds, no gentry-spotters, no pomp and ceremony, all conspicuous by their absence when a “Sir” married in Great Yarmouth in November 1927. But the borough council knew its place, as it were, touching its figurative forelock, observing the protocols and niceties, putting on its finery and heading for the church to pay its well-meant collective respects.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: the Loftins about 1948. Back - Sidney Charles, Janet, and John; front - Ann, Joyc

ALL IN THE FAMILY: the Loftins about 1948. Back - Sidney Charles, Janet, and John; front - Ann, Joyce, Christopher, mother Alice, and Edward, plus the dog, Judy. Father Sir Charles was at work, unwilling to take time off. - Credit: Archant

But when the happy couple emerged from the parish church of St Nicholas that Saturday, they and the town hall entourage were surprised and puzzled. The newly-weds wondered what all the fuss was about, and the eager civic party – probably attired in the colourful robes of mayor, aldermen and councillors - quickly realised that the bride and groom were not famous and were neither gentry nor aristocracy...but ordinary salt-of-the-earth working folk.

This was the marriage of the parents of Ann Ford, and she was reminded of their great day when she read in a recent Mercury about irreplaceable parish registers dating back to the 16th century – which somehow survived the church being reduced to a shell by a German incendiary bomb air-raid in 1942 – now being made available to the public at the Norfolk Record Office.

The rebuilt church was elevated to Minster status in 2011.

Mrs Ford, now of Oulton Broad, tells me: “When my father was born in Wood Green, London, my grandfather had a bet with another man in the local pub that you could name a child Sir. My grandfather won this bet and probably enjoyed the pint as well, and my father was named Sir Charles Loftin.

“Many years later, my father had moved to Gorleston and had met my mother, and they set the date for the wedding at St Nicholas’ Church. To save money, my father walked from his home in Back Chapel Lane to the Gorleston ferry, and from the ferry to St Nicholas’ Church where they were married.

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“After the wedding the happy couple came out of the church to find the mayor and all the town hall officials formed up as a guard-of-honour. Apparently someone heard the banns being read out and assumed that someone well-to-do was getting married instead of a hard-working man called Sir Charles.

“My parents went on to have seven children and had a very happy marriage despite a lot of the hardship of having such a large family during the depression years. Also, my father suffered a great deal of teasing throughout his life because of being named Sir Charles Loftin.”

Mrs Ford, now 76, sent me a copy of her parents’ marriage certificate in which the registrar, Leslie Ellwood, had written in pen-and-ink that 22-year-old bachelor Sir Charles Loftin, a baker’s roundsman, had wed Alice Janet Gross, aged 21.

According to the marriage lines, the bridegroom’s father was a labourer, his bride’s dad a lightshipman with Trinity House.

Leading that civic party to honour Sir Charles and his bride was, I assume, George Platten, who had been elected mayor of the borough at a town hall annual ceremony only two or three days earlier. I hope his worship and his colleagues saw the funny side of the situation and did not feel embarrassed.

Neither the Yarmouth Mercury nor its Yarmouth Independent rival reported the story although the Mercury did carry the brief paid-for announcement of the couple’s wedding. Perhaps the town hall successfully hushed it up, or the journalists on the two publications were not doing their job in learning about it and pursuing it.

By what name did Sir Charles Loftin’s friends and family call him? “People called him Charles because he was very embarrassed at his father wanting him to be called Sir Charles,” says Mrs Ford. The “Sir” was an embarrassment to the family too.

Her brother, Edward Loftin, retired head of mathematics at Yarmouth Grammar School and deputy head when it became Yarmouth High School, says putting their father’s name on formal letters and documents usually meant questions being asked and explanations required: in his case, when applying for a university place, the “Sir” and his address, which included “Magdalen” (an Oxford University college) caused the usual queries.

Eddie Loftin, of Cotman Drive, Bradwell, says there is no photograph of the town hall representatives waiting at the church door for the newly-weds to emerge, explaining: “They had only the one wedding photograph because it was all they could afford, so they didn’t have one taken of the guard-of-honour. Money was tight, and they would accept no charity, and they paid for only the one photograph to be taken.” That was of the newly-married couple and the immediate wedding party.

Sir Charles Loftin died 22 years ago, and five of his family of seven survive him. According to Mr Loftin, their parents endowed their children with “a tremendous work ethic”.

Those survivors are Ann Ford and Eddie Loftin, plus Joyce (now living in Retford), Christopher (New Zealand, where he is wire rope consultant for the entire South Pacific), and Janet (a Lowestoft resident, whose middle name is Carnival because she won a baby competition at a Yarmouth carnival).

Two deceased brothers were Sidney Charles, who worked for local timber merchant Jewson and was nearly christened Sir Charles too, and carpenter John, of Caister.

Altogether there are nine grandchildren.

To clarify the situation, a Sir is either a knight or a baronet, the former given his title by the monarch whereas the latter inherits his title.

This remarkable Sir Charles Loftin story reminded me of my stint in Sheringham in the early sixties when Major Dunn owned a town centre emporium crammed with antiques, second-hand goods, bric-a-brac and bits and pieces. In summer he often stood outside, and Sheringham’s upper-class visitors in particular loved to pass the time of day – for example, “Morning, Major. Lovely day for a parade!” - a greeting and military reference which he politely acknowledged, straight-faced.

Most were unaware that Major Dunn was not a retired army officer: Major was his first name.