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Souvenirs and sequins of dancing years

PUBLISHED: 17:53 28 May 2009 | UPDATED: 14:01 03 July 2010

Gorleston Floral Hall and swimming pool

Gorleston Floral Hall and swimming pool

THERE used to be a song with a self-evident title: Among My Souvenirs. It was penned in 1927 and revived half a century ago with a Connie Francis version, and the lyrics reflect that poring over souvenirs from a past love affair will cause teardrops to start falling.

THERE used to be a song with a self-evident title: Among My Souvenirs. It was penned in 1927 and revived half a century ago with a Connie Francis version, and the lyrics reflect that poring over souvenirs from a past love affair will cause teardrops to start falling.

Whether younger generations keep souvenirs, I know not, but assuredly folk from my era usually had a box in a wardrobe or a sideboard drawer carefully preserving mementos of the past: holiday snaps, theatre programmes, tickets, newspaper cuttings, a baby's teething ring, “A present from Scarborough”, dried flower from a bouquet or wreath, trinket from a christening cake...

We look at them every few years and carefully secrete them away again, perhaps with a moist eye.

I was reminded of that old song when I received a letter from an old friend of this column, Robin Hambling, of Lawn Avenue, Great Yarmouth, saying: “I thought you would be interested in these souvenirs found when clearing my mum's house.” Too true!

His late mother, Mary, pictured right, was an ardent old-time dancer, loving not only the dances themselves but the music, the women's sequinned dresses and their partners' formal suits or evening wear.

Five items are programmes for old-time dances; two are for dinner-dances of local organisations - Yarmouth and Gorleston Jubilee Angling Club at Arnolds Restaurant in King Street (above the present Mercury offices) in 1958, the occasion being the prizes presentation, and the Electricity Sports and Social Club at the same place in 1956. The toast list includes names familiar to those of us who were around in the mid-1950s, such as Frank Pownall, Bill Platten, Bert Holmes, C N Bancroft and R M Bracey. At the angling jolly, the music was from Freddie Belcher and his Orchestra (whom I recall from their Gorleston Rollerdrome days), with Johnny Beldon and partners and J H Gomersal also on the bill. At the Electricity knees-up, Gordon Edwards and his Orchestra played for the dancing, and the cabaret was arranged by Derek Marshall.

Menus? One was led by roast beef, the other by roast Norfolk chicken.

It all reminded me of my years as a young journalist, attending umpteen dinner-dances, probably sitting among strangers who were talking shop about their fellow members and activities, and reporting the toasts and speeches, having to scribble my report against the clock to head for a phone to catch the first edition of the Eastern Daily Press, for whom I then worked. At least those free meals helped to save on the housekeeping bills...

The stiff-card old-time dance programmes, all for the Floral Hall at Gorleston (now the Ocean Room), were for a gala ball to mark the 1953 coronation of the Queen and a Christmas ball there that same year, the fourth annual fancy-dress ball in 1954, a Christmas ball in 1955, and a New Year carnival ball in

1958 at which the MCs were

Mr and Mrs Joseph Anderton.

“My mum loved her old-time dancing and went every Thursday to the Floral Hall. I believe Redvers Mann was MC,” Robin says. “She went with four lady friends, all in their sequinned dresses. This was a godsend to her in 1956-57 after my dad died, aged only 50, then my 13-year-old brother Geoffrey drowned in a canoeing accident nine months later. She remarried in 1959, becoming Mrs Mary Green, but neither of her husbands shared her interest in old-time dancing.”

Robin also mentions some of the shops he recalls in the Northgate Street and Newtown end of Yarmouth, such as Whites the baker, who used a coal-fired oven that “was really wonderful.” Bales, another baker, is the nearest to it now, he says.

In wartime I used to have to queue outside Purdys - later Hamilton Hardware - for fruit cake; for some reason it was not on the food ration. Similarly, Norfolk buns at Watson's were the same. Their shop was on the west side of Howard Street North then but is now on the opposite side.

My recollection is that bread and rolls were rationed but not cakes, although anything fancy was near non-existent.

Certainly I well remember that Purdy's shop, one of several the big Yarmouth bakery had in the borough. It was close to the Harley Road home of my maternal grandmother, with whom my mother and I lived off and on early in the war while Father Peggotty was away at sea sweeping mines. She was a customer, and occasionally I was allowed to help serve despite my tender years.

But my main delight was going into the back room, where there was a disused but still functional till, a glorious contraption of ornate metal casing, stubby keys that caused the price numbers to roll into the viewing window rather than pop up like tombstones and a narrow paper roll that emerged from a slot in the side.

It was the real thing but a super toy for a little lad.


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