That Downton Abbey connection with Great Yarmouth

WITH the exception of the acclaimed Homeland on Channel 4, Sunday night television has lost some of its sparkle for me with the end of Downton Abbey earlier this month, although a Christmas special is promised and a fourth series rumoured.

For many viewers, highlights of the third series have included a birth, a death, a visit from a wealthy American relative, worries over estate finances, the release from jail of a valet wrongly convicted of murder, and a male member of the below-stairs staff accused of what in that era – the early Twenties – was described as an unnatural practice.

As much as Mrs Peggotty and I enjoyed the progress of the plot, only one brief incident caused me figuratively to sit up and take notice, almost unable to get the words out.

That magic moment? When EX1945 drove on to our TV screen in Peggotty’s Hut.

Yes, the Great Yarmouth-registered vintage car, far from its original home in our borough by driving in Downton (filmed in Berkshire), made a short appearance in two successive episodes, and might drive back on to our screens at Christmas.

My regular readers will know that an occasional topic is our coveted EX licence series, bestowed on our self-contained town by Whitehall in 1903 and remaining exclusively ours until the Seventies when Government decided the system would be improved if we were lumped together with those from Norwich and Norfolk (AH, CL, NG, PW and VG).

By then EX9999 had long been on the road, followed by AEX1 and subsequent combinations.

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In the Downton episode in which I spotted EX1945 with unconcealed delight, the family was forming a minor motorcade to drive from their historic pile to view a more modest stately home to which they might have to relocate because of severe money worries. As it moved along the driveway, the leading car approaching the camera was EX1945, driven by Matthew Crawley (played by Dan Stevens) with his screen wife Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery) as passenger.

The traditional-style number plate was in full view, as it was – I believe – in the previous episode in which the couple returned to Downton from their honeymoon.

With help from John Norris, managing director of Moonlight Media which handles press inquiries for the AC Owners Club, and club archivist John Spencer, I contacted Alec Jacobs, a Gloucestershire resident who tells me: “I am the current and rather long-term owner of the AC Six, EX1945, a two or three-seat tourer which I have owned since 1987, enjoying it immensely, refurbishing and improving it over the years.

“Another long-term previous owner was the late Hugh Lupton, of Crewe and then Prestatyn, who was down-sizing his fleet of cars. He wrote me letters, sent photographs and gave me all the historical information he had collected. Among this material, I have a letter from the first owner of the car, a Violet S Beazor, daughter of the then Lord Mayor of Yarmouth.

“She, in a Christmas card and the letter, recounts how she began on motor-cycles in 1920 (a 2�hp Douglas solo), then a Matchless 8hp with side-car and later went to a four-cylinder 12hp AC before the 16hp AC Six EX1945 which she considered the best car she ever had.

“Later she owned an 18hp Morris Isis Sportsman’s Coupe, a 16hp Vauxhall and a Jowett Javelin after the war, followed by a Hillman Minx, a Super Minx, an Automatic Super Minx and now (writing in January 1967) a Hillman Hunter Automatic.

“At this time her address was 82 Caister Road, Great Yarmouth.”

She sounds like an adventurous woman with a lifelong zest for motor-cycles and cars, and their details she conveyed to Hugh Lupton sound authentic, not invented or fantasy. However, question marks remain: for example, Yarmouth has never had a lord mayor, a title reserved for cities, but that was a simple mistake to make when passing on unrelated background information. More importantly, Yarmouth has never had a mayor named Beazor.

Was she, perhaps, the married daughter of a civic head? That seems unlikely. “V S Beazor” moved to the Caister Road address about 1970, a house previously long occupied by a Mrs Myers, and she was listed in a street directory as the occupant whereas the practice was to name the man of the house. So it seems that she remained unattached.

As there is no Beazor with a Yarmouth telephone number in the current phone book, my inquiries ended.

However, in the official 1911 census a Beazor family lived in Queens Road: husband Robert (a fish merchant) and his wife Violet, daughter Violet (then a 14-year-old schoolgirl), and her younger brother and sister Robert and Nellie, plus Miss Annie Mitchell, the family servant. Obviously that Beazor family was not short of a bob or two...

And I reckon schoolgirl Violet almost certainly became the original owner-driver of the Downton AC car which regularly drove around Yarmouth and Gorleston in the years between the wars, although research has discovered no answer to the mayoral father conundrum.

Mr Jacobs, a 75-year-old retired engineer and aircraft accident investigator who travelled worldwide during his career, adds that long before he acquired his 1927 AC, it had fallen into disrepair but happily was retrieved from the scrapheap and slowly and painstakingly restored.

He often drives vehicles from his prized collection on roads in his neighbourhood, thoroughly enjoying the experience and the attention they receive. His “lunar grey AC - a very light green” is no stranger to the camera, for it was in “lots of episodes of the House of Elliot”.

Our other long-surviving automobile, a 1900 Daimler (EX10), is still going strong and was among the 449 entrants in this month’s annual 63-mile London to Brighton rally for pre-1905 vehicles; 322 reached Brighton after a 63-mile trip in lashing rain. I hope EX10 was not a victim of the weather.

Personalised and classic number plates are big business today, with hundreds listed in weekend national newspapers. I doubt that many simple EX registration plates come on the market, but 1JEX was recently advertised for nearly �25,000 with X1JEX a snip at �1695.