Search

Solved: mystery of Ernest Barr

PUBLISHED: 16:11 27 July 2009 | UPDATED: 14:30 03 July 2010

IT has proved a struggle, but well worthwhile! At last I possess the full details of the busy life of Ernest Valentine Barr, a leading businessman who invested money in various local enterprises but remained an enigma - as far as this column was concerned - more than half a century after his death.

IT has proved a struggle, but well worthwhile! At last I possess the full details of the busy life of Ernest Valentine Barr, a leading businessman who invested money in various local enterprises but remained an enigma - as far as this column was concerned - more than half a century after his death.

His name occasionally entered my jottings, usually as a director of companies operating cinemas and theatres here. In April I tried to provide more information about this influential figure but could not even discover when he died, thus preventing me from looking up his Mercury obituary. Last month I published the praise heaped upon him by our local Physical Culture Club, of which he was president, and recorded his long involvement with electrical engineers Bowers & Barr (still trading).

But there it went blank.

Then Mrs Stephanie Rackham, of Buxton Avenue, Gorleston, contacted me. Mr Barr was her “Uncle Ernie”! And she produced not only the Mercury obituary published on his death in November 1956 at his home on Marine Parade, Gorleston, but also a photograph of Mr Barr with his wife, Annie (Jill-of-all-trades at the Regal Cinema when it opened 75 years ago, headed by her husband as chairman and managing director), and daughter Lillian.

To be precise, he was her great-uncle, for he was uncle to Mrs Rackham's father, the late Eddie Payne, managing director of local builder Garson Blake; Mr Barr was Mr Payne's mother's brother.

“Although I was only ten when he passed away, I remember him as a lovely man,” recalls Mrs Rackham. “Everyone loved him.” Her first bicycle was a present from him.

“A prominent figure in the life of the borough for many years” was the obituarist's description of the 76-year-old. “Known chiefly...for his interests in the cinema industry - on its exhibitors' side he was one of the country's pioneers - Mr Barr was also a member of Yarmouth Town Council from 1923 until last year, a former alderman and for 25 years chairman of the transport committee (running the blue bus fleet).

“A Londoner, Mr Barr developed a keen interest in the cinema buisiness and its prospects when, as a young electrician's apprentice, he helped to install lights for a film show at the Royal Aquarium. Later he helped to operate the projector and gave shows at the Britannia and Wellington Piers and also at the Hippodrome.”

His first major business venture was in 1909 when he formed E V Barr Ltd, taking the managing director's chair, and took over the Gem (now Windmill), one of the nation's first cinemas where he also staged variety shows. His interests extended to the Empire and Hippodrome and Gorleston Coliseum, plus the Palace at Lowestoft. Later he partnered other businessmen in creating Gorleston Super Holiday Camp, being its chairman since its opening in 1936 until his death.

“But for ill-health, he might well have made a career on the stage as a young man,” continued the Mercury tribute. “A professional music-hall entertainer, he won a variety artists' contest in London and appeared in all the leading halls. He often took part in variety shows at the cinemas with which he was associated, and later become known as a humorous entertainer throughout East Anglia.”

He was an inspector in the Special Constabulary. His chief sporting interest was bowls, and he was a former vice-president of Norfolk EBA and a county player; also, he held the presidency of both the Yarmouth and Gorleston EBA clubs. He was a vice-president and keen supporter of Gorleston Football Club, president of Gorleston Piscatorial Old Boys, vice-president of Yarmouth and Gorleston Wheelers, and a life member of the Corporation Transport Social Club. He was a generous benefactor of worthy causes.

Ernest Valentine Barr certainly made his mark hereabouts.

My recent column about star entertainer Danny La Rue's summer shows in Yarmouth, prompted by his death, brought back memories to Nigel Williams, of Waterland Close, Caister, for “in the late 1970s and 1980s I was manager of the Take Five dry cleaning business in Regent Street entrusted with washing and dry cleaning Danny La Rue's dresses and clothes.

“The two young men you mentioned in the opening night audience wondering which dress he would wear for the opening might have been the two young men who were his wardrobe assistants and used to come to collect his dresses and enquire how many sequins had come off in the cleaning process.

“It was quite nerve-wracking sometimes as some of Danny La Rue's dresses were worth in excess of £1000 a time, quite a lot of money in the 1970s and 80s. If any sequins had come off off in the process, the two young men would sometimes bring a workbox with them and stitch them back on in the shop.”

However, Mr Williams never had a problem with any of the star's gowns.

Other artists for whom he had cleaned clothes included Mike and Bernie Winter, Russ Abbot, Cannon and Ball, the Krankies, Freddie Starr and the Barron Nights. He was not always able to serve the stars himself because he was usually behind the machines.

“Thanks for the memories,” says Mr Williams wistfully. Today this 56-year-old married man runs a skip hire busines.

In May I wrote about the wartime memories of ex-Yarmouthian Harvey Gates, now resident in Shropshire. His parents, George and Stella, ran the Mariners Tavern in Howard Street until it closed in 1941.

Harvey tells me that his younger brother, Gerald, who served a carpentry apprenticeship with the Lacons brewery building department, was told that when the Mariners was replaced after the war, the council wanted it set back from the pavement to allow future road widening, but Lacons' building director Bill Ecclestone “would have none of it.

“One corner was built, and not until Mr Ecclestone was satisfied that the corner was in exact position of its predecessor were the builders allowed to proceed with the second, third and fourth corners. When all corners were checked, the infill took place. The first corner laid was at the front corner and Row 61.”

The pub reopened in 1951.

The late A W (Bill) Ecclestone was a Yarmouth town councillor, alderman and Mayor, and his interests included the borough's history and archaeology.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Great Yarmouth Mercury