A final toast to the White Lion Hotel's Punch Bowl
PUBLISHED: 10:33 08 August 2014 | UPDATED: 10:33 08 August 2014
LET us raise our glasses and drink a final toast today to those Gorleston businessmen who, in the 1930s, frequented the White Lion Hotel and formed a friendly group meeting in the Punch Bowl there.
Twice recently they were featured here, first as caricatures as we pondered on their identities and the as-then unidentified meeting place, followed by the information that the excellent cartoonist was railwayman, artist and wood-carver John Holmes.
More about these sociable pals has reached me from readers, including Nigel Dowe, now resident in Kent. My column brought back “wonderful memories” of a Seventies incident linked to one of those depicted, Fred Bellamy, “purveyor of fine meats from his establishment in Bells Road”.
Nigel’s late father, Charlie, lived on Cliff Hill as a child and chummed up at school with Roger Bellamy, the butcher’s son. In 1928 Charlie joined the Army, serving for seven years in countries “he had seen only on the old oil-cloth map in his school classroom in Gorleston”. He excelled in sport, winning numerous medals.
Back in civvy street as an Army reservist in 1935, he tried vainly to adjust to life in the family’s crowded Gorleston cottage so he re-enlisted for 110 days, leaving to live in Ipswich where he met Nigel’s future mother, then moving to Clacton to help run a pub.
But in 1939 when war broke out, Charlie rejoined his old regiment after marrying, thanks to “a 72-hour pass, a hastily procured licence and a willing parson”. With the British Expeditionary Force, Charlie served on the Maginot line and at Dunkirk but survived the war.
By the 1970s Charlie, his wife and their sons Nigel and his younger brother were living in Kent where, one night, he went to a meeting in Folkestone to join the Dunkirk Veterans Association.
Nigel says his father was duly enrolled and, eager to pay his membership fee, was directed towards a chap standing at the bar. When Charlie went over and introduced himself, the treasurer told him: “My name’s Roger Bellamy.”
To which Charlie immediately responded: “Purveyor of fine meats from your establishment on Bells Road?”
Roger had retired to Kent and many a night was spent reminiscing about Gorleston, including one in a Belgian hotel during a pilgrimage to Dunkirk.
Charlie Dowe died in 1975, aged 65.
As for Nigel, he was born in Great Yarmouth Hospital, lived in Fritton where he attended a one-room school before moving to Somerleyton School when he was eight. A year later the family moved to Yorkshire.
From his home in Kent, Nigel uses social media to keep in touch with Norfolk and old friends from Fritton. “Also, I do a report on BBC Radio Norfolk’s Treasure Quest every Sunday. I try to get the mind active even if the body isn’t.”
More information has come from Janet Young, in Surrey, who learned about my White Lion cartoon feature by e-mail from Paul Godfrey, an old friend of this column who recently published a book entitled Snapped at Gorleston-on-Sea about beach photographers of yesteryear.
She writes: “I was very interested in the recent article as my family were licensees for much of the first half of the 20th century. My maiden name was Redgrave.
“Firstly, my great-great-grandparents, John and Kate Keeble, were landlords from 1904 to 1911. It was then run by their daughter, my great-great-aunt Annie Fowler, and although she is listed as licensee I believe she ran it jointly with her sister, my widowed great-grandmother, Kate Redgrave.
“My grandfather, Reg Redgrave, was killed in 1917 at Passchendaele and his War Graves Commission citation mentions him as the ‘son of Kate Redgrave, of the White Lion, Gorleston’, before mentioning my grandmother, his wife.
“My great-uncle Oliver Redgrave ran the pub from 1942 until possibly 1950 although I understand it was damaged in the war. He was a local artist and taught my father something about painting, until it was realised that Dad was colour blind!
“I have been researching my family with some outstanding help from Gorleston-on-Sea Heritage (GOSH) and, thanks to them, was privileged to be shown round the White Lion (which has been converted into eight residential apartments) by a representative of the consortium which now owns it.
“Indeed there are spectacular views from the upstairs front rooms, and I envy anyone who buys into such a view!”
Oliver Redgrave was one of the 33 caricatures in the cartoon illustrating my column.
Janet Young, who had received two cartoons from Joan Lobban, of GOSH, said there might be speculation that he drew them because “he had a bit of a reputation as an artist...although I have no evidence whatsoever that he might have done them!”
Besides, “your correspondents would seem to disprove this,” adds Mrs Young who believes “the animal at Ollie’s feet in the cartoon is a white lion”.
Recalling that I mentioned a Redgrave family living on Marine Parade, Gorleston, she continues: “I have a picture of the Uplands Private Hotel on Marine Parade with ‘apply tariff - O Redgrave’ so I guess after the war he and his wife and daughter lived at and ran this hotel. I believe they left the White Lion after it was damaged in the war.”
Converting the former White Lion Hotel into up-market apartments was not the first major overhaul there, for in 1897 the property was substantially rebuilt because it was “tumbling down and in a very bad state”, according to one contemporary record.
The bigger White Lion included two bars, smoke room (remember those?), club room, sitting room and kitchens on the ground floor, with eight bedrooms and two sitting rooms above them.
Builders also had to move in during the last war when the White Lion suffered bomb damage.
That could have happened during only the fourth German air-raid of the six-year conflict; on August 24 1940 at breakfast-time 20 high-explosive bombs landed on the Cliff Hill, Beach Road and Bells Marsh Road district.
One person was killed, and five were injured.