Required: a worker with a head for heights and living dangerously!

High seas? Well, high roof – the repaired lugger-style weather vane being replaced on the top of Gre

High seas? Well, high roof – the repaired lugger-style weather vane being replaced on the top of Great Yarmouth Town Hall 115ft above the ground, possibly in 1955. Mercury Library - Credit: Archant

It takes very little to jog the memory and prompt a bout of nostalgia. In this latest case, the catalyst was a letter to the editor published in a recent Mercury.

A Town Hall vane, possibly in the mid-Fifties. Mercury Library

A Town Hall vane, possibly in the mid-Fifties. Mercury Library - Credit: Archant

The writer was Mrs D I Brooks, of Norwich Road, Ludham, responding to two photographs in our How We Used to Work supplement. She reported that the photographs, taken probably in the early 1950s, showed her late husband’s business, R O Brooks Brass and Aluminium Foundry, sited opposite the village church, and she named the employees in the picture.

That reminded me that in 1970 I compiled a feature about the business, concentrating on one specialist aspect: its weather vanes!

Perhaps the public has become too sophisticated for a weather vane on a chimney or a tall linen pole. Nowadays you can glance at your mobile phone to ascertain the wind direction, and probably only Norfolk Broads yachtsmen are interested in that indicator.

As for wind speed, how swiftly the breeze is rotating the vane was the give-away but no doubt there is a more sophisticated method in 2016. But for decades they were a feature of many a garden or chimney, particularly in coastal communities interested in wind speed and direction because of the seafarers living and working among them.

Another Town Hall lugger-look weather vane in the 1970s. Behind the vane is Billy Davy who was Mayor

Another Town Hall lugger-look weather vane in the 1970s. Behind the vane is Billy Davy who was Mayor in 1973. Mercury Library - Credit: Archant

When I visited the Brooks’ Ludham premises, I was unsure of its precise location on the Norwich Road, but then spotted a sort of forest of weather vanes – cat and mouse, cricketer, cockerels, horse rider jumping a gate, donkey, pheasant, owl, horse and plough, horse and buggy, woodcock…

I knew I had reached my destination.

Most Read

Making vanes used to be a winter occupation for the foundrymen when the business was quieter. Often they made vanes ordered by summer visitors to give to families and friends for Christmas presents. And they had been exported to South Africa, Switzerland and France (where the directional “W” for West was changed to “O” for Ouest), Canada and the United States, and Denmark (a model sent to Copenhagen was a sow with piglets).

The business reckoned that it took about a week to fashion a weather vane; the cost varied from £12 to £20.

A dolphin vane was created from a design from distinguished artist Edward Seago.

In 1970, when penning the feature, I listed some weather vanes visible in the Yarmouth area, not necessarily produced by the Brooks foundry; I am sure not all of them have survived the passing of nearly half a century.

Top of the list – indeed, top of the pole - was the 30lb fishing lugger on Yarmouth Town Hall. Decades ago, nobody waiting at the Town Hall bus stop failed to glance upwards at the clock (to see how long it might be before the next bus arrived) and a few degrees higher to note what the weather vane was indicating, 115ft above ground level.

Cyclists too craned their necks to ascertain whether their pedal along Southtown Road might be a hard slog or a near freewheel helped by a stiff following breeze.

On the odd occasion when the Town Hall was without its vane, we had to rely on a mixture of common sense, a wetted finger held aloft or the sight of smoke puffing from the funnel of a ship in the river. Remember the time when ships berthed routinely on South and Jewson’s Quays?

Back in 1956, when I was a trainee journalist, I told readers that after a nine-month absence, the lugger-look weather vane was about to reappear a-top the Town Hall.

The previous year, the three-masted model of the fishing vessel had accidentally become a two-master, presumably after severe winds, and its stance was lop-sided. So a repair job was required, but the estimated cost was £40 plus an extra £15 for re-gilding– hardly back-pocket money these days for some citizens but in the mid-Fifties it was roughly the equivalent of £1300 in 2016!

That was an unexpected shock for the borough’s ratepayers, as they were called then, but the council went out to tender and the successful one came from our own School of Arts and Crafts near St George’s Park in the town centre.

In a basement metalwork and silversmith instructor Mr S J Kerswill set about fashioning an exact 4ft 6in long replica from a copper-dominant alloy with zinc, her mizzen set and the other two furled.

Once his task was complete, in stepped colleague Mr G C Buck from the painting and decorating department to clean the copper-coloured model so the gilding process could begin. Gold leaf costing more than £5 (£100+ today) was painstakingly applied.

What happened to the old dismasted lugger? It was not consigned to the dustbin or sold for scrap, but was renovated and looked set for a new lease of life unbuffeted by gales and lashed with rain by resting in the calm of 4 South Quay, Yarmouth – the Elizabethan House Museum.

By now, of course, it might well have “sailed” into new waters, perhaps appropriately our Time and Tide Museum.

I am puzzled because I have in front of me an undated photograph with neither caption sheet nor information pencilled on the back showing the late Billy Davy – Mayor of Yarmouth in 1973 - in a workshop holding steady the main pole/mast of what is surely a Town Hall spick-and-span weather vane lugger while a younger man appears to be applying the finishing touches to a make-over, repair – or an entirely new build.

Oh yes. I nearly forgot. In the Seventies other weather vanes hereabouts included another lugger - on the Fishermen’s Hospital in central Yarmouth; St George slaying the Dragon on the former St George’s Church in the town; a Chinese-style dragon on a pagoda-design residence on Middleton Road in Gorleston; a broomstick-riding witch on Victoria Road, Gorleston; a maltster’s fork on the Watney Mann maltings in Southtown; and a man relaxing in an armchair watching television on the main Norwich road at Blofield...