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Split opinion on name has long history

PUBLISHED: 16:07 05 November 2009 | UPDATED: 15:32 03 July 2010

The Southtown maltings of brewer Watneys ravaged by fire in 1981.

The Southtown maltings of brewer Watneys ravaged by fire in 1981.

LIKE father, like son… That old saying certainly reflects my youngest son and me, for we are both pedantic - a trait insufferable in some folk but an essential characteristic for journalists like the two of us, requiring accuracy in even minor detail.

LIKE father, like son… That old saying certainly reflects my youngest son and me, for we are both pedantic - a trait insufferable in some folk but an essential characteristic for journalists like the two of us, requiring accuracy in even minor detail.

And as regular readers may well recall, we had a serious difference of opinion recently when I challenged his use of “South Town Station” in his column, insisting that the long-gone Great Yarmouth railway terminus was “Southtown Station”, a style a local lad like himself ought to have known.

That paternal friendly rebuke rebounded on me when I checked an old photograph of the fascia and found that “Southtown” was split into two words, as did most railway-orientated references although the district and main road were one word.

The consensus was that he was right, although swallowing pride hurt me…

The column about our father-son difference of professional opinion resulted in two letters on the topic from readers. From Lowestoft, Trevor Nicholls writes: “South Town or Southtown? Has Peggotty always been wrong?

“No. He would have been right - or at least, would have been following common practice for about a century.

“Forty years ago, I was appointed deputy to the late Alexander Buchan, registrar of births, deaths and marriages at Yarmouth from 1948-71. I was expected to know the location and spelling of every street and place name in the old county borough (urban Yarmouth and Gorleston), and for miles around.

“There are many hundreds of entries in the registers of births and deaths covering the area in question and made during the 19th century - when, for instance, the Lichfield estate was being developed - which show the form South Town.

“Among them are the births of the nine children of Edward and Caroline Combe, born at Ferry Side, South Town. One, a daughter, was born during the year of her father's mayoralty, 1879. Her father's maltings next door, dating from the Napoleonic War era, were to become part of Watney's.

“Nearly a century earlier, in 1785, Parliament enacted legislation to establish and maintain the Ipswich to South Town and Bungay Turnpike. This road, later to become the A12, ran from Ipswich to the foot of the Haven Bridge, with the spur to Bungay diverging north of Darsham.

“The trust was wound up in 1872 and responsibility for the road reverted to the various local authorities along its route. Its presence at Yarmouth helped develop the western side of the river.

“Around the turn of the 20th century, the practice became generally established of referring to Southtown (as one word), hence the sources you quote and present-day usage. That is, it seems to have been a change effected by common usage.

“British Railways, in continuing the old form, were historically correct but so far as I am aware, were the last to do so, and that by many years.”

Mr Nicholls continues: “A splendid entrance to the town, South Town Station - renovated in 1953-54 - was a fine commodious building. With St Mary's Church, it was one of only two in the parish mentioned by Pevsner.”

Pevsner? Niklaus Pevsner, an architectural historian who wrote many volumes about British buildings he considered worthy of note before he died in the Sixties.

According to my correspondent: “When the station opened in 1859 - and with it, the direct route to Ipswich and London - Southtown Road, the turnpike, was a thoroughfare of stately houses overhung by trees. The architect to the railway company designed a building which fitted its surroundings.

“It was a nice coincidence that in the same column you mentioned the Royal Hotel in Lowestoft (as the venue for a banquet to celebrate the Lowestoft drifter Lord Hood winning the Prunier Trophy for the biggest one-night herring catch of the 1952 autumn fishery).

“It was at the Royal Hotel that the opening of the new lines to both Yarmouth and Lowestoft on June 1, 1859, was marked with a celebratory dinner.

“The hotel, like South Town Station, was demolished in the 1970s.

“Some years ago I gave a talk on the history of Ferryside to members of the Yarmouth Archaelogical Society who, at the time, were preparing a history of South Town, or Southtown.”

Last year Trevor Nicholls retired from working at the registry that for years has been located… in Ferryside, the former home of the Combe malting family mentioned earlier in his letter!

From Magnolia Green in Gorleston, Clifford Lee tells me that consulting the internet website of the Berney Arms would confirm by a railways link that “South Town is certainly not all one word”.

He encloses a photograph from the website of a platform signboard at the station stating unequivocally: “Yarmouth South Town”. Unfortunately copyright prevents me from using the photograph to illustrate this column without consent.

The isolated Berney Arms, inaccessible by road and necessitating a long trek on foot, can be reached by rail, for it has a station on the Yarmouth Vauxhall-Reedham-Norwich, line or by boat. Apart from the public house, its other feature is a windmill.

He sends me a copy of the website's page on “Yarmouth South Town Railway Station” that details its history that ended with its closure in 1970.

As I mentioned in this column recently, the South Town to London direct rail link was severed exactly a half-century ago, although the Yarmouth-Lowestoft service continued till 1970.

Mr Lee, who enjoys visiting internet websites featuring the Yarmouth and Gorleston area, says: “My brother-in-law, Robert Mannell, of Euston Road, Yarmouth, died at 85 recently, and his birth certificate from 1923 gave his birthplace at Southtown - all one word.”

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