The trouble with seafront touts - in 1911

COMPARED with some other British seaside resorts I have visited down the decades, Great Yarmouth is found wanting in one essential requirement: it’s seafront and town centre are not cheek-by-jowl but are a ten-minute stroll apart.

Although that has advantages, the downside outweighs them.

Hence the importance of Regent Road, the principal link between the two hot-spots for the visitor.

A few years ago it was tastefully improved by pedestrianisation, but I do have sympathy with a trader there who claims that people following the wavy path down its centre often fail to window-browse or enter the shops and other holiday-orientated premises a few paces away.

Any drawbacks Regent Road might have in 2011 are insignificant when viewed against those of exactly a century ago when our town council was forced to introduce draconian anti-nuisance bye-laws to protect residents, visitors and legitimate businesses from cut-throat touting and other unwelcome and uncontrolled practices there and in similar places.

In an editorial headed “Suppressing pandemonium,” the Mercury said the nuisance had been well-nigh unbearable, and Regent Road residents were demented by “the incessant noise which has characterised the road during the summer, while visitors have complained bitterly of having to run the gauntlet of the shouting and yelling mob of touts.”

Some of the new rules dealt with music near houses, churches, places of entertainment and hospitals, an offence being committed by anyone “playing upon any noisy or musical instrument, or singing in any street or public place within 100 yards of any house, shop, office, place of worship, public entertainment or public assembly, hospital, infirmary, convalescent home or other place used for the reception or treatment of the sick, to the annoyance of persons in any of those, after being requested to desist.

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“Blowing a horn or any other noisy instrument by a passenger on a public vehicle, or combining with any other person or persons to make any loud singing or outcry while passing through any street or public place to the annoyance or interruption of any residents, is an an offence.”

Others aimed at suppressing touting and importuning to the annoyance or obstruction of passengers; “the crying of newspapers on Sundays and crying or calling out or the use of any bell, horn, whistle or noisy instrument, or the creation of any noise whatsoever, for the purpose of selling newspapers”; continuous shouting and bawling in any street or public place; and shouting, bawling, playing a musical instrument or making any disturbance in a public place between 9pm and 6am.

Steam organs, shooting galleries, swing boats and roundabouts were also covered, other than at lawfully-held fairs.

Vehicles used for advertising purposes were forbidden to cause inconvenience or obstruction, and flags must not be suspended over streets to cause annoyance to people or alarm horses.

And there were more, very detailed and prohibitive...

That 1911 council also thought about either abolishing the traditional Easter fair or moving it from the Market Place, but thought better of it.

The last unpleasant Regent Road episode I can recall was a few years ago when holidaymakers and residents complained to the Mercury about so-called mock auctions where the public was lured in by the prospect of acquiring quality branded goods very cheaply, were virtually locked in during proceedings, and paid well over the odds for inferior items.

Also back in 1911, the word “golf” was on the lips of many folk when Yarmouth council controversially bought Caister’s village links for �10,000 – a considerable sum.

I believe the Yarmouth and Caister clubs and their links were hitherto separate, but this council decision resulted their amalgamation.

The Mercury agreed that it seemed a big price to pay but it was confident that if the ratepayers were made aware of all the facts, “it will be found that the corporation decision was a wise one” and would prove “a considerable benefit to the town”.

“Such a course as the golf club will now be able to lay out as a result of the amalgamation, we have been assured on the authority of gentlemen eminent in the golfing world, will be one of the best in England.

“The value of such an asset to the borough like Yarmouth is incalculable,” declared the Mercury.

Counter-arguments that the council would derive no direct benefit were hollow because the same test could be applied to council-owned gardens, recreation grounds, the Wellington Pier and other improvements: in fact, those made an annual loss yet they were valuable assets from which the community reaped a very considerable benefit.

“Take away those things from which the corporation derives no benefit and the town would be well-nigh ruined. Y

armouth’s present-day prosperity has been largely built up by the corporation undertaking costly schemes from which not one penny has been received in direct benefit but which even the opponents of the golf scheme would not dare to deny have been of incalculable benefit to us as a town” the editor argued.

“Such a course as the club will possess in the future is certain to make Yarmouth a far more popular golfing centre than it has ever been.

“They may rely upon the members doing all they possibly can to make known in the golfing world the fact that at Yarmouth there is a course second to none in England.

“This alone will be a fine advertisement for the town, and there is reason to hope that in the future the local links may be selected on which to play some of the championships.

“Therefore there is every reason for believing the additional benefit which will be conferred upon the town as a result of possessing such a course simply justifies the council in the decision it has come to.”

The Mercury also stressed: “There can be very little doubt that the day must come when Caister will be absorbed by Yarmouth and it is not unreasonable to anticipate that Caister will develop into a favourite residential suburb.

“The corporation, when this time comes, will be in possession of land suitable for building which will then be very valuable and amply repay them any money sunk in the purchase of the land.”

The council’s purchase logic was as accurate as a hole-in-one.

If only its 21st century counterpart had been as sensible over its outer harbour long-term secrecy agreement...