Was cart firm named for a touch of class?

MAN POWER...but not horse-power on this launch of the Yarmouth lifeboat John Burch (1892-1912) from

MAN POWER...but not horse-power on this launch of the Yarmouth lifeboat John Burch (1892-1912) from its Marine Parade boathouse. Volunteers pull her across the road, but local businessman Arthur Castle was proud when some of his working horses hauled her to the sea to launch. - Credit: Archant

IN the 19th century, few folk hereabouts spoke French. Although the language might have been taught in our grammar and high schools, it certainly was not on the curriculum of council ones where the three-Rs predominated. Seldom did ordinary folk visit France.

So I can only surmise that to translate an English family name into French to bestow it on a new business in the Victorian era was designed to give it a touch of class and one-upmanship, perhaps aiming for a middle-class clientele rather than man-in-the-street customers.

Yet, however impressive the name, it did not disguise the fact that the fledgling enterprise did not deal in fine wines, high fashion or Impressionist art but was a down-to-earth furniture remover and storer, cartage and haulage contractor, coal and coke merchant and supplier of items like pea sticks and rustic poles, with as many as 50 horses to pull its carts and wagons.

Or, of course, it might well have been an in-joke among the prosperous and well-educated Castle family when it launched Chateau and Co on Southtown Road in Great Yarmouth in 1883.

I have been reminded of the firm by Douglas Smith, of Edinburgh Avenue, Gorleston, who worked for Chateau as a lad, shovelling coal and coke into sacks and generally helping his father William, a long-serving employee as was Douglas’s grandfather – also named William – who lived with his wife in the stable cottage. Billy senior died in 1930; Billy junior, of Winifred Road, Cobholm, in 1979.

Douglas was prompted to contact me because of the long-running saga of Yarmouth’s EX vehicle index letters series exclusive to the borough from 1904 until the mid-1970s, and has a 1949 photograph of his smartly-dressed father leaning nonchalantly against a barrel-laden Chateau lorry laden - EX5574.

Douglas writes: “Chateau had a contract with Steward & Patteson’s brewery to collect beer in barrels and crates from their Norwich Brewery to their North Quay depot in Yarmouth (where today Havenbridge House stands). Father liked this contract as he was entitled to daily pints of beer! Then he returned the empties to Norwich.

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“He took me, my sister and our Dutch friend Piet to see the workings of the brewery – but we were not allowed any beer!”

Chateau was founded by Arthur Castle, who lived close by with his two spinster daughters – Iris and Muriel, renowned for their passionate support of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – at the Southtown Road-Gordon Road junction, later the site of the Anson Arms (now a shop). Chateau, close by, also had depositories in King Street and Alma Road.

His son, Malcolm, a lieutenant-colonel in the 1914-18 war who wrote a definitive history of the Norfolk Regiment, lived in Burgh Castle with his wife Gladys and participated in the family business as an auctioneer with Castle and Co based between the Haven Bridge and Mill Road.

David Buddery, of Addison Road, Gorleston, who died recently, once told me that Malcolm had a son, Nicholas: “I knew him well but he was tragically drowned when trying to swim across the river near the Haven Bridge.”

As for Arthur Castle, Mr Buddery said: “He was proud to allow his horses to be used to launch the Yarmouth lifeboat John Burch, which was a pulling and sailing vessel, hauling it from the lifeboat house on Marine Parade across the beach to the sea.”

Arthur’s campaigning daughters, Iris (whose School of Elocution and Drama was at the family home) and Muriel, were joint secretaries of the RSPCA’s Yarmouth branch and were well-known in the borough either for organising fund-raising events like the annual gymkhanas or writing letters to the Mercury defending their stance as animal welfare activists.

Even national newspapers took up the story when they resigned from the RSPCA after 50 years because its national council was considering opposing fox-hunting. According to David Buddery, the sisters declared: “Surely they knew that every English country gentleman rides to hounds!”

He added that “they were often annoying – but never dull.”

The sisters’ zeal for animal well-being continued for, with Yarmouth’s multi-faceted Percy Trett (another who recently died), they founded the Norfolk and Suffolk Animal Trust.

Percy once recalled that at the gymkhanas, Iris cranked a barrel-organ to raise donations while Muriel kept a lookout for the police who would have frowned on this unlicensed activity!

“They were the last of the old Edwardian ladies,” he said.

For seven decades until her death in 1987, Iris Castle compiled a daily diary, penning no fewer than two million words.

As for Chateau & Co, I believe it became part of timber merchant Palgrave & Brown which had quayside storage premises more or less opposite the Chateau site but closed in 1985 after a take-over.

A long-time friend of this column, Peter Allard, of Mallard Way, Bradwell, recently related that in 1940 his father Ray was working for Arthur Castle at the Bridge Road premises. Some staff had already left for war duty and Ray Allard was doing most of the work.

“He was on ten shillings (50p) a week then, but asked for a pay rise which he got. His pay rose to 12 shillings (60p) a week, but Dad was still unhappy as by now he was doing the work of about three people,” said Peter.

“He applied for a cashier’s job at Matthes, the baker, and fortunately got the job which then paid 30 shillings (£1.50) a week. He told Mr Castle that he was leaving and Arthur turned around and said, ‘I’ll double your money’ but Dad declined. ‘I’ll treble it then,’ said Mr Castle, but Dad still said no. Then came back the words, ‘You can have as much as you like!’

“Dad still said no and began a near-40 year career with Matthes. However, Dad still helped Arthur out in his spare time until he himself was called up.”

Ray Allard, now 90, lives in Green Lane, Bradwell.