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Thanks for the memories Keith

PUBLISHED: 15:02 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:23 30 June 2010

The steamer Porthcawl on the foreshore between Yarmouth and Caister in 1933.

The steamer Porthcawl on the foreshore between Yarmouth and Caister in 1933.

IT saddened me to read in the Mercury last month of the death of a man with whom I enjoyed many a mardle while we were both working for this splendid weekly newspaper.

IT saddened me to read in the Mercury last month of the death of a man with whom I enjoyed many a mardle while we were both working for this splendid weekly newspaper. Keith Cutler was the much respected long-serving village correspondent for Sea Palling and Hickling, while one of my roles was mentoring him and his much-valued band colleagues who furnish us with news items from the many parishes in our circulation area.

This former Gorlestonian, a widower, died aged 89 in Dorset where he spent the last 18 months of his life to be near his son.

When I retired from full-time work on the Mercury, I lost contact with him, but a year or so ago Keith telephoned me to elaborate on a Through the Porthole topic and then reminisced on a number of interesting items from his long life. One, mentioned recently in my column, was from his pre-war schooldays when he and his chums discovered a tunnel emerging on to Gorleston riverside near Darby's Hard - probably one of the several built by smugglers in centuries past.

His other memories I jotted down, waiting for an opportunity to include them here. Today is a fitting occasion to publish them, as a tribute to his contribution to my figurative nostalgia file.

As a lad his family home was in Beaconsfield Terrace in the High Street, overlooking the river, so he had a grandstand view of the spectacular Porthcawl drama played out in the North Sea in 1933: “I remember it very well. I was able to watch it from our windows,” Keith told me.

That was in September 1933 when the Porthcawl was spectacularly ablaze off Yarmouth for four days. On passage from North Africa to Scotland laden with 4400 tons of esparto grass, she radioed SOS for urgent aid when coal in her tween-deck bunkers caught fire with such intensity that even thousands of gallons of seawater hosed on to the blaze failed to quench the fire.

The Porthcawl's bulkheads were bulging alarmingly and the grass cargo caught fire, so her master steamed 15 miles to beach her between Yarmouth and Caister, escorted in the final stages by the Gorleston and Caister lifeboats. Her crew were evacuated by the lifeboats as blazing grass rained down. There were no casualties.

Firefighting vessels could not close in on her because of the fierce heat. Sightseers crowded vantage points to watch the blaze, an awesome scene when darkness fell. The Porthcawl quickly became a burned-out hulk on the shore.

Another wreck Keith Cutler mentioned to me was the collier White Swan, remains of which can still be seen close to Gorleston's south beach, nine decades after she was driven ashore in atrocious conditions in 1916 while shipping coal from Hartlepool to London. It took 13 gruelling hours for the rocket life-saving brigade to rescue her crew.

“I didn't know any of it was left still showing. I used to see it regularly years ago,” said Keith.

Apparently, her mangled wreckage attracts fish, and an internet angling website claims that the spot “is reachable by a competent caster at most states of the tide.” If you are an expert beach angler, presumably avoiding your line and baited hooks becoming tangled in the twisted ironwork remnants of an old collier is easy-peasy...

Keith also recollected some river accidents: “Before they had dismantled the temporary bridge that was used until the opening in 1930 of the present Haven Bridge, a motorist tried to drive across it but went straight into the river. At Gorleston a man driving his horse and cart down Baker Street went straight across the road at the bottom and into the river, and drowned.

“At the Fishwharf something frightened a horse drawing a cart and it went straight into the river. I was eight or nine years old and from the Gorleston side watched people trying to pull this poor horse out of the water, but the poor old thing had drowned - it must have died almost immediately.”

He also told me: “I remember playing football with other boys in Back Chapel Lane and watching a huge German Zeppelin pass overhead. It was completely silent, and it was so low that you could see the passengers inside it. It was fantastic.”

Possibly that was one of the pleasure flights which later were alleged to have had a more sinister dual purpose - carrying out aerial reconnaissance over Britain in preparations for a possible war between the two nations.

Keith continued: “When I was at Church Road School in Gorleston in the mid-1930s a party of us went to see Norfolk play cricket against the South Africans, and teenager Bill Edrich scored 117 runs.”

The legendary W J “Bill” Edrich progressed from his native Norfolk to become one of the world's leading batsmen after the war, and his partnership with swashbuckling Middlesex colleague Denis Compton demolishing bowling attacks. I believe he rejoined Norfolk as captain after retiring from first-class cricket.

Next, Lobby Lud, a name that will probably bemuse anyone under 70 but in the Thirties and after the war, known across the nation. Keith Cutler remembered his visits to Yarmouth.

Lobby Lud was a mystery man devised by a Fleet Street newspaper to visit popular British holiday resorts in peak season, giving people the chance to win £5 prizes if they correctly challenged him while bearing a copy of that day's paper. “You are Lobby Lud and I claim my £5 prize,” delighted winners would say, brandishing the paper that bore his portrait and description.

It was a circulation booster, generated fun (especially when innocent trippers were wrongly accosted as Lobby Lud), and carried a prize worth more than £200 today. Sometimes an unchallenged Lobby Lud left a calling card - in a cafe or on a deck-chair, for example - to prove that he had been out and about as advertised.

The Daily Gazette launched the game which passed to the News Chronicle and then the Daily Mail when the first two went out of circulation.


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