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The misery of PT - not for these people

PUBLISHED: 15:04 04 June 2009 | UPDATED: 14:05 03 July 2010

No couch potatoes here! Great Yarmouth Physical Culture Club about 1949, with suited Ernest Barr (president) at the back next to blind organist/accompanist Eddie Gates. Phyllis Ecclestone is in front of Mr Barr, and her husband Bill is behind his shouldde

No couch potatoes here! Great Yarmouth Physical Culture Club about 1949, with suited Ernest Barr (president) at the back next to blind organist/accompanist Eddie Gates. Phyllis Ecclestone is in front of Mr Barr, and her husband Bill is behind his shouldde

IN my school and National Service years, it was called PT - physical training - or simply, gym. These days it is PE (physical education). But whatever the title, it remains near the top of my list of intense dislikes.

IN my school and National Service years, it was called PT - physical training - or simply, gym. These days it is PE (physical education). But whatever the title, it remains near the top of my list of intense dislikes.

Oh, the misery of it all, and I cannot believe that anyone can enjoy such activity. So you can be sure that in my youth, I was never even momentarily tempted to consider joining the Great Yarmouth Physical Culture Club as a leisure pursuit. Conversely, the PCC would not have wanted me, other than as a serious challenge to overcome my aversion and transform a physical jerk into one of their kind.

I was reminded recently of my lifelong anti-PE stance when I received a letter about the achievements of that very same Physical Culture Club. It was not sent to open my old wounds but came in response to my column seeking more information about the late Ernest Valentine Barr, a prominent local businessman who had a financial stake in various enterprises, particularly entertainment venues.

From her home in Well Street, Phyllis Ecclestone writes that my article greatly interested her and husband Bill, an 84-year-old retired plumber, for Mr Barr, “of the local electrical company Bowers & Barr”, was president of the Yarmouth PCC in which both were busily involved. Meetings used to be held in the former St Peter's School on Deneside that was later demolished and is now a car park.

The club had three gymnastic sections: junior boys, run by John Noble, Mr Ecclestone, Terry Spandler and others; junior girls, led by Pat Allen; and senior men, run by Ernie Brown, Herbie White, Mr Ecclestone, Stan Ward, Cliff Flaxman and others. Also, there was women's club-swinging and rhythmics (Vera Boulton) and boxing (Freddie King).

Writes Mrs Ecclestone, aged 83: “Funds were raised by displays at fetes, holiday camps, the yearly Sports Festival at the Wellesley ground, jumble sales etc, as the club was completely self-supporting. Vera Ward and I used to run the canteen, making the cakes ourselves, to raise funds.

“Members used to paint and clean the club on Sundays, and when Yarmouth had the floods in 1953 they opened the club to accommodate people from the Blackfriars Road area.

“Mr Barr enabled the club to present a show at the Floral Hall (now the Ocean Room) on Tuesdays and Fridays and it was usually full to capacity with visitors. The entrance charge was sixpence (2½p today). There were displays by all sections, adagio speciality act, strong man act, clowns (Vic Seago, Dickie Hill and Frank Newman) and Chester the Horse.”

Accompaniment came from blind organist Eddie Gates, for many years a firm favourite at the Floral Hall, whether solo or with his orchestra.

Mrs Ecclestone, a founder member of the Great Yarmouth Sports Council, tells me: “We had no idea that Mr Barr was involved in so many businesses but he was a great help to us and so was Mr Folkes, the haulier, who helped us get the equipment to the Floral Hall. For contacts with these people, we had (the late) Bob Hazell to thank.”

After the PCC's headquarters was demolished, it lost its impetus. Some members took up badminton at the York Road Drill Hall, and I believe there is still a PCC team playing today. “They were good old days,” says Mrs Ecclestone. “It was lovely to see the kids enjoying it.”

More information comes from Brian Blake, aged 79, of Seafield Road North, Caister, who joined Bowers & Barr as an apprentice electrician in 1945 and was soon sent to Mr Barr's home on Marine Parade, Gorleston, to do a small job.

“He always asked for an apprentice to be sent, never a qualified electrician,” recalls Mr Blake. “He was a nice elderly gentleman and, when I'd finished, he gave me half-a-crown (12½p). As I was earning 15s (75p) a week, that was nearly a day's pay.”

Mr Blake, who retired in 2007, stayed with the firm all his working life, becoming a director when he and colleagues took it over. Bowers & Barr continues to trade, with a new team at the helm, and is among the borough's oldest established businesses, having been launched in 1890 by electrician Frank Bowers and financier Ernest Barr.

Apart from a very small gap in 1944-5, Mr Barr was a director until his death in 1956. Old company correspondence revealed that he lived in Trafalgar Road, Yarmouth, for years, moved to Hethersett, near Norwich, but returned here to Gorleston Marine Parade in 1945.

In my recent article seeking information about him, I said that if I knew the date of his death, I could find his obituary in the Mercury and glean all I needed to know: Mr Blake found me the date, but Mr Barr's passing went unrecorded in either the deaths announcements or the obituaries.

Very strange...

Regular correspondent Mrs Cecilia Ebbage, of Lovewell Road, Gorleston, adds to the Ernest Barr dossier: “I always felt he was a man of few words but super ideas. He never drove a car, as far as I can remember, and had a charming daughter whose name I think was Elsie. She was always smartly dressed which made me wonder if her mother had been an actress.

“Elsie's husband always seemed to drive his father-in-law everywhere.

“Mr Barr was a fairly tall, broad-shouldered gentleman. He never looked like a city gent and usually wore a tweed jacket and a large tweed cap, seeming to look like a gentleman farmer.”

Because Mr Barr was a friend and business associate of C B Cochran, who progressed from running the new Gem (Windmill) to becoming a nationally renowned showman and impresario, she wonders if his interest in Bowers & Barr was because of the up-and-coming trend in electrical equipment and he may have wanted to be certain of getting the best for his cinemas, including the Gorleston Coliseum in which he had invested money.

When Mr Douglas Attree ran the Coliseum, “there was an interval when tea would be served, but this had to be ordered on your way in. I believe you had to book the most expensive 2s 3d (11p) seats at the rear; the cheaper seats were 1s 9d (8p).”


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