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Plenty of fight in war of words

PUBLISHED: 18:59 13 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:46 30 June 2010

An old-style double steam engine passes Clowes the grocers and the Star and Garter pub opposite Haven Bridge

An old-style double steam engine passes Clowes the grocers and the Star and Garter pub opposite Haven Bridge

IT would be wrong to call it “a can of worms” but my wrangle with my son over whether Southtown is one word or two has certainly spawned a lively debate that spilled over from the original dispute concerning the correct form for railway station, neighbourhood and main road into the boundaries with Cobholm.

IT would be wrong to call it “a can of worms” but my wrangle with my son over whether Southtown is one word or two has certainly spawned a lively debate that spilled over from the original dispute concerning the correct form for railway station, neighbourhood and main road into the boundaries with Cobholm.

I thought the discussion had exhausted itself, but more fuel keeps being heaped on to the figurative fire.

First, a friend consulted her copies of a 1930s guidebook to Great Yarmouth and Gorleston and William Finch-Crisp's Chronoligical Retrospect of the History of Yarmouth until 1885 and was delighted to tell me that both shared my view that Southtown was one word, not two as my son and the railway authorities insisted.

Then Jack Grice, of The Pastures off Burgh Road in Gorleston, brought me a framed lithograph of the borough done in the 19th century by naval officer Robert K Dawson showing the proposed new enlarged boundaries. South Town Hamlet is clearly shown…but that might well have been a mistake by the cartographer because he has made other spelling errors, like Braydon Water, Caistor, and the River Yar.

Interesting features of his 15in by 7in map at two inches to the mile are added areas of Gorleston to include Parr Heath and Camp Common, and Stone Field, a road from Lowestoft Road to the cliffs more or less where Springfield Road is today, plus the North Sea being called by its old name (the German Ocean).

The lithograph was produced by W Day, of Gate Street. I wonder where that was…

Then, in the borough council's detailed 1943 redevelopment scheme for implementation after the war ended (the subject of a recent column), planning officer K K Parker examined civic development through the centuries and reported that all charters granted between 1209 and 1668 referred solely to those parts of Yarmouth on the seaward side of the river, and those privileges “were a constant source of envy to the inhabitants of Southtown (or Little Yarmouth) and Gorleston, resulting in constant quarrelling and litigation between the two communities.

“The differences were finally settled with the aid of Sir Robert Paston, and in 1668 a charter was granted by Charles II incorporating Little Yarmouth (alias Southtown) with Great Yarmouth.”

The wartime planning project said although the 400-year feud between Great Yarmouth and Little Yarmouth was settled in 1668, it was not until an 1835 Bill that Gorleston was incorporated into the borough. “A similar spirit of animosity towards the people of Great Yarmouth, as was exhibited by the people of Southtown,was shown by the peoples of Gorleston, and history recounts innumerable examples of litigation between the two communities which generally resulted in victory for Great Yarmouth.”

Gorlestonians vented their displeasure by repeating two old couplets, one saying that Gorleston had preceded Yarmouth and would still be there when it had gone, and that Gorleston would one day be great when Yarmouth had been reburied under the sea again.

As for Cobholm, it was originally an island owned by the corporation until 1657 and comprised largely salt pans and refineries. “The development of Southtown seems to have coincided with the purchase of the estate by the Anson family towards the close of the 18th century, the first recorded development being nine houses in the precincts of St Mary's Church.

“The Armoury, later converted into a barracks, was erected in 1806 for £15,000.”

I was born in Yarmouth, moved to Gorleston when I was one, have lived there for most of the next seven decades, travelled along Southtown Road daily to school and work, and used South Town Station for holidays or occasionally to journey between Gorleston and Yarmouth.

No wonder I am a crazy mixed-up kid!

Mention of South Town Station reminds me that when I recently wrote here about the old Yarmouth Tramway - the goods railway along North and South Quay roads and linking Beach and Vauxhall Stations with the Fishwharf and serving business yards through spurs - I omitted to mention another line that held up traffic: that crossing Southtown Road to deliver to Jewson's timber premises and other riverside companies.

Despite passing that spot almost daily, I cannot remember ever having to wait for a goods train to crawl across Southtown Road although it was always busy with traffic, being the main link with Gorleston.

That feature also resulted in letters to the Mercury identifying the lad who carried the red warning flag in front of trains, and the occupants of the small dwelling only a few feet away from the White Swan public house on North Quay but just far enough for the trains to trundle between the two buildings.

The narrow gap, popularly called “the hole in the wall”, allowed trains access to a rail yard. The dwelling was a victim of road widening and improvement schemes, but the pub continues to trade on the riverside, close to the mooring for Broads holiday craft.

When I reviewed a new book, Branch Lines East of Norwich (the Wherry Lines) last month, I said it included a chapter on the Yarmouth Tramway I intended covering today. Nine pages with 14 illustrations and photographs, many hitherto unpublished, are devoted to this unusual bit of railway history which closed in 1970 after more 120 years and is now but a memory for older generations.

Resurfacing and quayside regeneration has probably left no trace, although I suppose that an enthusiast scrutinising the long-gone route might, if lucky, spot an occasional tiny piece of track embedded but not quite concealed.

It was a delightful surprise to see that the authors, Richard Adderson and Graham Kenworthy, had managed to unearth so many pictures of the goods tramway in action, particularly as the line was little used and the photographers must have been very patient, waiting for a shunting engine to crawl along at speeds limited to 2mph, 4mph and 6mph, depending on location, preceded by a man with a red flag.

The new publication costs £15.95 and is available from the publisher, Middleton Press, although prospective buyers should phone 01730 813169 to check availability.

I remember before the war, while my drifterman father was at sea, having to accompany my mother on shopping trips, including an occasional visit to Boultons store on North Quay where I would perch on an upstair department's windowsill hoping a train might inch along below me…but despite the long waits while clothes were being tried on, I was seldom lucky.


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