The changing landscape, yet some Yarmouth areas unchanged

THEY talk airily about “building for the future” but that can sometimes be an empty promise, especially if uttered by a politician referring to policies or initiatives. It was perhaps the same a century ago, but at least some of the forward-looking projects in the Great Yarmouth area have withstood the test of time and are still here in 2012.

For example, in 1912 the Cantley sugar beet factory was built for �170,000. In the intervening 100 years it has regularly been modernised and continues to give work to many people, mainly during the so-called campaign, and provides income for farmers growing the crop.

The project was initiated by the Anglo-Netherlands Sugar Beet Corporation, and the Dutch supplied much of the equipment. Some of it – including boilers, washing machinery and fittings - was delivered to Yarmouth from the Dutch port of Dordrecht by the steamship Zeemeow.

According to a local history book: “As the railway was not yet through to Cantley, local labourers went by the steamer Pride of the Yare.”

That is puzzling, because the Norwich to Yarmouth line via Reedham opened in the 1840s although at one time Cantley was only a “request” halt. The factory is adjacent to the village station.

Among other buildings to have survived a century are the School of Arts and Crafts (recently remodelled into residential apartments), despite protests by St George’s Road residents against the destruction of trees on the original site; the Fastolff House offices in Regent Street; and offices and showrooms of the local gas company in King Street that now houses Valerie Howkins’ new museum.

But while they were going up in 1912, one building was coming down – one with a name that has become part of the borough’s heritage. For a demolition crew removed the house that had two statues in its frontage that resulted in the property and its immediate neighbourhood becoming known as Laughing Image Corner, near the old Row 1 and North Quay where the Royal Mail sorting office and telephone exchange stand today.

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And another new-build was the �9,000 East Anglian School for the blind and deaf off Church Road in Gorleston, formally opened in 1912 by the Earl of Leicester but closed in 1985, demolished five years later and the land used for housing, another school and a doctors’ surgery. Nearly �4,000 was spent on a new boys’ school in Cobholm.

When aviator B C Hucks flew his Firefly over Gorleston, it was alleged to be the first recorded aircraft to have flown in Norfolk. The public had the chance to inspect at close quarters seaplanes drawn up on the central beach near the old Singers’ Ring and flying from there.

The holiday trade was harmed at the end of August 1912 by deep floods caused by torrential rain, isolating the resort for many days; the intensity of the deluge stripped tiles off roofs and brought down trees and cables. Eighty bridges were out of use across Norfolk, and eighty inches of rain fell at Brundall. So the arrival by train earlier that month of 26,000 bank holiday weekend visitors from the Midlands helped to offset the later shortfall.

The nation was hit by a coal strike. Yarmouth and Gorleston had enough stockpiled for the electricity and gas works, but weavers Grouts had only enough for three weeks. Many trains had to be cancelled. Best kitchen coal retailed at �1 a ton.

The death of three children in two separate incidents saddened Yarmouthians. Two of the victims were toddlers who fell on an open fire, and the third was a girl who was killed by a needle stuck in her knee. At the inquest on the girl a hospital surgeon said it was too expensive to have the knee x-rayed because it cost 7s 6d (37p today).

Beazor’s china and furniture store on the corner of Regent Street and Hall Quay was acquired by the Post Office.

Also in 1912 Arthur “Barney” Dye was presented by King George V with the Albert Medal for gallantry when fire broke out on the steam drifter Marie.

A new lifeboat, the Hugh Taylor, was launched for trials. She replaced the John Burch which had been on service at the Yarmouth No. 2 station for 20 years. The John Burch was sold for �18.

The deck of Nelson’s Jetty was covered in jarrah – timber imported from Australia - at a cost of �75. I wonder if this hard-wearing wood had survived as decking when the Jetty was demolished in January...

The Rev John Green, incumbent at St John’s Church, protested at the sale of “obscene” postcards.

The borough council sought a �5,000 loan to build a police and fire station. A new boys’ school in Cobholm cost �3,890.

On Breydon Water a motorboat called the Neta was busily racing, with her owner – Commander Addison Williamson – at the wheel. The commander, who designed her two-cycle oscillating oil engine, lived at the distinctive Koolunga, built for him on High Road in Gorleston, and gave his name to Addison Road nearby.

An association was formed to protect the drift-net fishing industry by fighting the growing practice of trawling for herring.

The borough surveyor suggested that a mortuary for Gorleston should be sited near the tramway sheds…to which a councillor riposted that a better spot would be at the Pavilion!

The workhouse was choc-a-bloc full with 578 inmates who consumed 1000lb of tea every quarter.

A local dentist named Bradley (styling himself “painless”) advertised sets of false teeth for a guinea (�1.05p today).

I am indebted to two sources for these 1912 items: John McBride’s Diary of Great Yarmouth and the 1886-1936 continuation of Crisp’s Chronological History.