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Yarmouth Hippodrome creator remembered by plaque

PUBLISHED: 18:00 01 December 2011

George Gilbert blue plaque at the Corner House Hotel

George Gilbert blue plaque at the Corner House Hotel

Archant

THE pioneer behind the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome has been commemorated with a memorial plaque at his former home.

The life of renowned performer George Gilbert was marked on Monday when a dozen people attended an unveiling ceremony at the Corner House Hotel, Yarmouth.

A second blue plaque was also erected on the front of the hotel for his wife, Jennie O’Brien- a talented equestrienne who operated Yarmouth Hippodrome after his death.

Meanwhile, a third plaque was revealed on the Scenic Railway (the rollercoaster) at Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach on Marine Parade.

The memorials join upwards of 30 blue plaques erected in Yarmouth and Gorleston by the Great Yarmouth and District Local History and Archaeological Society.

David McDermott gave a speech about Mr Gilbert during the ceremony outside the hotel on Nelson Road South - previously known as Napier House.

He said: “The work he did was very important for Great Yarmouth. He brought something new to the town which people had never seen before as well as attracting acts from across the world.”

George Gilbert was born in Norwich in 1857 to a penniless coach builder.

In his early years, he ran away from home to join Hannaford’s London travelling circus, which comprised of a tent, two horses and a fortune telling pony. His first circus trip saw him travel to Yarmouth’s Easter Fair.

A broken arm forced him return to Norwich temporarily where he contracted rheumatic fever.

After a full recovery, he joined the Powell, Footit and Clarks Circus who offered him a three year apprenticeship.

But he held mixed views of the circus as he was abused and forced to do menial work, despite gaining experience as a horseman.

His skills ranged from bare-back horse riding to acrobatics and trapeze work.

He constructed the Yarmouth Hippodrome in 1903, where he paid a large sum of money to secure the services of Charles Blondin who crossed the Niagara Falls on a tight rope in 1859.

He also left his mark on the town through his philanthropic work, donating hundreds of tonnes of coal to the poor and thousands of pairs of boots to children.

In 1908, he became a councillor for St Peters Ward and chairman of publicity for the council. He died on April 9 1915.

Peter Jay, whose family runs the Hippodrome, said: “I am a huge fan of George’s. The water spectacle he created is still going and continues to wow people today.”

Meanwhile, Albert Jones, managing director of the Pleasure Beach, said the fair began in 1909 when Great Yarmouth Council released a strip of land by the beach for a Scenic Railway and two side shows.

The Scenic Railway is 70 feet above the ground with an approximate track length of 1,000 metres and its maximum speed is 45 miles an hour.

In 1942 a second world war bomb landed on the Scenic Railway but failed to explode.

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