The exciting shopping arcades on yesteryear’s Golden Mile

MAINPARADE PIONEER: the Marine Arcades, built in the early 1900s, housed the first shops on the sea-

MAINPARADE PIONEER: the Marine Arcades, built in the early 1900s, housed the first shops on the sea-front. The twin turrets above the entrance are to the left of centre in this picture, taken about 1914.Picture: PERCY TRETT COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

THERE were possibly two schools of thought about the Marine Arcades when they were built early last century on what is today Great Yarmouth’s Golden Mile.

EARLY OCCUPANT: Pettitt, a fine art dealer, was in business in the arcades.Picture: PETER JONES COLL

EARLY OCCUPANT: Pettitt, a fine art dealer, was in business in the arcades.Picture: PETER JONES COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

One could well have been that the twin arcades, the first retail outlets on the sea front, were an exciting addition to our range of shops; the other might have claimed that they were too long a walk from the town centre and would attract visitors rather than locals.

The first Marine Arcade, 20 units built in 1902 on the site of the demolished Ansell Place cottages, was soon fully occupied and its parallel addition came two years later. And by either luck or expert forward planning, in June 1902 the tramway extension from the Market Place along Marine Parade was opened, so a visit to the new retail attraction did not involve a trek but was accessible by public transport.

My recent feature on the arcades, with a photograph of Ansell Place, prompted retired Yarmouth registrar Trevor Nicholls to write: “I would guess that the ancient cottages were at least 150 years old when the photograph was taken about 1900. If that is correct, this is a rare photograph of some of the first houses to have been built outside the walls as the old medieval town began to expand on to the denes in the mid- to late 18th century.

“The future Regent, Trafalgar, St George’s and St Peter’s Roads at that time would have been unmade tracks leading from the gates in the town wall, across the denes to the shore.

WELL TRODDEN: a floor mosaic survives at one of the entrances.Picture: PAUL GODFREY

WELL TRODDEN: a floor mosaic survives at one of the entrances.Picture: PAUL GODFREY - Credit: Archant

“When the Ansell Place cottages were built, the town was still a west-facing river port. They thus pre-date by a century the construction of the broad esplanade beside the sea, Marine Parade, the focus of the Victorian resort, in about 1850. Had they been a little further to the east, they would have been demolished to make way for it.

“When the cottages were built, they would have had the beach on one side and marrams on the other three; their occupants would probably have been seafarers, fishermen and beachmen.”

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Another regular correspondent, Paul Godfrey, writes: “As a child in the 1950s I can remember going into the arcades while out for a Sunday morning stroll with my Dad.”

Paul’s research found that in 1908 there were 48 varied shops. The arcades were closed by the 1970s, incorporated into other premises; the last two units were occupied before 1952 by local photographic company J Barker & Sons.

LONG BEFORE THE SELFIE:...beach photographer George Meadows with cumbersome tripod-mounted camera.Pi

LONG BEFORE THE SELFIE:...beach photographer George Meadows with cumbersome tripod-mounted camera.Picture: PAUL GODFREY - Credit: Archant

“They were definitely at 1 and 2 in 1975 when I worked at Barker’s ‘factory’ printing colour walking photos for Arcade Snaps and other Barker sites. My late in-laws, George and Joyce Meadows, also worked at the arcade shop for many seasons.

“I believe Barkers were still at the arcade in the 1980s; by then it was known as the Stagecoach Arcade, and Arcade Snaps had become Stagecoach Snaps.

“Before 1975 George and Joyce had worked many seasons for Barkers at Caister Holiday Camp, with George snapping campers and Joyce running the photographic shop. They continued at Marine Arcade with George on Marine Parade taking ‘walking’ photographs that were now colour prints, and helping Joyce at the shop.

“By 1975 the open-air Marina became Cowtown USA. Barkers held the photographic concession there and had another photographer working there, Arcade Snaps, the customers’ collection point for Cowtown photographs.”

John Barker “was one of many seaside photographers to realise the commercial potential of hand-cranked wooden cine cameras made surplus by big changes in the motion picture industry in the late 1920s, for they could be adapted to take a strip of three still photographs in a walking sequence.

“In the 1930s, at first he operated from the forecourt of Pownall’s angling shop in Regent Road, snapping subjects as they walked past the tripod-mounted camera. A strip of three photographs would be available for collection later that day.

“Before the war he traded as Cine Snaps with these ‘walking’ photographs; his photographic works was in Rodney Road. After the war his sons Edgar and Leslie joined him, now trading as J Barker & Sons with new works on St Peter’s Plain and several pitches along Regent Road and Marine Parade, one of which was Arcade Snaps in the Marine Arcade.

“The three-in-a-strip format was retained but, due to a postwar shortage of film, only a single frame was taken and printed three times.

“I believe the wooden cine cameras were last used on Yarmouth’s streets in 1958.”

They were succeeded by special Leica 35mm cameras capable of holding enough film to give 250 exposures per loading. The format also changed to postcard-size prints.

Barkers were not the only photographers in Marine Arcade, Paul discovered. In 1908 Ernest Davis (Hogan and Davis) occupied two adjoining units, in competition with Chic Photo which was not listed in 1912, the year Hogan and Davis (which had also traded on Gorleston’s Lower Promenade) was replaced by photographer Walter Mason who also had a Regent Road studio.

“His son, Herbert, became a London press photographer best remembered for his famous iconic night photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral in the blitz during WW2,” Paul Godfrey reports.

The Marine Arcades frontage was the trade-mark terracotta of the local Cockrill family architects. Paul Godfrey calls the arcades “a hidden Edwardian architectural gem”, adding: “On the Apsley Road end there is still a floor mosaic lettered with ‘The Arcade’ on one of the entrances and, above your head, is another terracotta façade with elaborate glass decoration.”