What happened to Joe, the ferryman across the Yare?

Great Yarmouths Upper Ferry is rowed across the Yare, passing the pleasure steamer Southtown, probab

Great Yarmouths Upper Ferry is rowed across the Yare, passing the pleasure steamer Southtown, probably early last century. The South Quay properties the Southtown sails past include two long-gone public houses, the Bell and Crown and the Upper Ferry. Picture: PETER JONES COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

Today’s offering is one of the regular feed-back features from previous columns, plus some bits and bobs waiting to be aired. Clearing the decks is an apt nautical term because there is a salty taste with some items.

A tranquil view of Yarmouth sands and seafront in 1907, decades before the arrival of commercialism

A tranquil view of Yarmouth sands and seafront in 1907, decades before the arrival of commercialism created the so-called Golden Mile when post-war novelties included the Arnold Palmer putting green. Picture: MERCURY LIBRARY - Credit: Archant

An anonymous reader said he enjoyed my contribution about the blazing steamer Oscar off Great Yarmouth in 1927, much of its timber cargo washed up on our beaches, but asked for more information about William Fleming, the Gorleston lifeboat coxswain who rescued her crew despite being injured on the mission.

The perils and storms Fleming experienced in his long lifeboat career did not shorten his existence because he was 89 when he died in 1954. Local cameraman Clifford Temple, who described him as “a Gorleston personality”, said: “He was cabin boy in a fishing boat at the age of 12 and a lifeboatman at 19.

“When he retired in 1934, he had 48 years of service with the RNLI and had helped to save 1188 lives. He was awarded the Institution’s gold medal in 1922, bronze medal in 1925 and silver medal in 1927.

“He received a silver watch from the Queen of Holland for his fearless seamanship in going to the rescue of the Dutch steamer Georgia and was also awarded the OBE and the George Cross.”

For regular correspondent Danny Daniels, local-born but long resident in Canada, mention of port personality Fleming prompted him to wonder what happened to another - Joe, the ferryman who rowed the Upper Ferry across the Yare between Southtown and South Quay.

Writes Danny: “I used to take that little boat regularly, going to the library that was temporarily in the old Tollhouse building for my weekly ration: one fiction book and four non-fiction, an interesting way of controlling what young minds could read!

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“I’d walk from Lichfield Road down Anson Road, take the passage between the garage and a substantial brick-walled building to the Jewson’s quay, and there wait for Joe and the ferry, ha’penny in hand for the fare.

“When people had bikes with them, they were loaded first into the bow (that cost a penny) and then we’d set off across the river at an angle to the tide, whether coming in or going out. If it was a particularly strong tide, or a windy day, often one of the male passengers would lend a hand, pushing on the oars while Joe pulled.

“My Dad used to take that ferry on his way to the Technical College on the South Quay where he was the cleaner until he lost that job when it burnt down with many other quayside buildings in the blitz.”

The Upper Ferry was withdrawn in 1954.

We have also looked at people whose first names were those of service ranks or titles, like publican Admiral Riches, baker’s roundsman Sir Charles Loftin and dealer Major Dunn. Danny adds another: “My Dad was named Major William Daniels, which caused a bit of hilarity in his Stoker Petty Officers messes on his various naval assignments.”

In a recent letter to the Mercury, a reader wondered if it was her great grandfather outside the Clipper Schooner pub in my old photograph. His widow continued running it after his death, she said.

That reminded Danny that an aunt of his wife, Marjorie, had a similar but more unfortunate situation in Reedham about that same time (1908/10): “Her uncle, surname Gooderham, ran the pub for many years but, as his health declined, his wife Ellen (Nellie, nee Dye), was totally responsible for its running.

“But when he died, Nellie was unceremoniously evicted, despite her successful record. Because she could no longer support herself and her four boys, the two youngest had to go and live with her mother, Marjorie’s granny, at Lime Kiln Walk in Yarmouth.

“Incidentally, one of those two, Harry, who lived to be 97, came to visit with us when he was 92!”

Trevor Nicholls, long retired as Yarmouth’s registrar, acknowledges that in 1927 publican Admiral (“Happy”) Riches might well have been the only Admiral resident here but his research has revealed that in the 19th century there were two here: in these cases, admiral was rank and not name.

Vice Admiral Spencer Smyth, a Battle of Trafalgar veteran, retired here and was our Inspector Commander of Coastguards and for many years pier master, living in Watergate Terrace on Southtown Road, that still-elegant row of three-storey residences opposite Anson Road.

Moreover, a Smyth contemporary, Rear Admiral Sir Eaton Travers (1782-1858), resided in a large house on South Quay, between Rows 111 and 112.

According to Palmer’s Perlustration, a meticulous Yarmouth history published in 1872, Travers enlisted when he was very young and unbeknown to his parents, being commissioned and participating in more than 100 armed conflicts, being in command at the destruction of eight batteries and at the capture of 18 armed vessels.

Last month’s death of American golfer Arnold Palmer at 87, a professional of international renown, reminded me that for decades he had a very minor financial involvement in the Yarmouth holiday scene. In 1971 an Arnold Palmer putting course was created on a former bowls green on the Golden Mile near the Jetty. Other British resorts had them too.

Years ago I wondered here if the multi-millionaire sportsman and business tycoon had ever heard of Great Yarmouth let alone knew that he had this stake here – a franchise, or name-use, I presumed. If he did visit Yarmouth, piloting his private executive jet on a tour of inspection of extremities of his far-flung business empire, he must have done it very secretly.

Vaguely I recall that about five years ago the attraction closed, or reverted to another novelty.

Finally today when writing in February about traditional red phone boxes, I said the disused one on the main road at Fritton looked forlorn and neglected. This summer it has had a make-over and is now a bright and handsome asset to the village.