Dickens plot thickens
PUBLISHED: 20:53 03 September 2015 | UPDATED: 20:53 03 September 2015
IN penning another column recently about the various so-called Peggotty's Huts blossoming in the wake of the Victorian novel by Charles Dickens set in the Great Yarmouth and Blundeston area, I likened my situation to the popular commercial internet website confused.com
That proved prophetic because I confused a totally new correspondent contacting me about that feature with an ex-Yarmouthian, long resident elsewhere in Britain, who occasionally contributes follow-up items. So my apologies to that newcomer, Christopher Hawkins, who had sent me a pre-war family snapshot I published of children in a boat high and dry near Gorleston’s Quay Road, one of the Peggotty’s Hut locations.
“My original connection with Gorleston is the cottage in the picture I sent to you,” writes Christopher. “The family know it as 8 Quay Road and it is the farthest right in the picture. As far as I can tell it was originally owned by my great-grandfather, James Burgess.”
It passed through two family generations before it was sold in about the mid-Sixties.
In the picture, the young woman in the middle of the trio in the boat is Christopher’s mother, Evelyn (“Peggy”) Cray, then aged about ten. She went on to marry his father, Grahame Hawkins.
“As a young boy I remember spending great summer holidays at the cottage - scampering about on the beach and turning a deep brown colour before going back home to Kent. My younger brother, Steven, mostly enjoyed himself too,” Christopher tells me.
He and his wife, June, lived and worked at Maidstone in Kent for many years but in 1995 they moved to Ludham where they still live, paying regular visits to Gorleston for shopping and the occasional wander on the beach.
Another recent column mentioned my old senior school – Yarmouth Grammar – and one of my illustrations, the assembly hall, caught the eye of a fellow Old Grammarian, former Gorlestonian Mike King, a regular contributor from his long-time home in Lowestoft.
“Sheer nostalgia! The memories came flooding back - and not all of them good! “ writes Mike. “To the right of the stage was room 5, inhabited by Mr Walter Hogg, history master and Old Yarmouthian cricketer.
“I can picture head master Alan (“Alf”) Palmer addressing the assembly. I found his manner quite intimidating - black gown and mortar board. The choir stood at the back.”
On the left was the church-type pipe organ, usually played by music and geography master Benjamin Angwin, “another formidable character.”
Recalls Mike: “One day a fifth former called Henry Neave took the seat at the start of assembly and played The Dambusters March. Clearly he was an organ virtuoso as his performance was very impressive.
“A very nervous prefect stood at the lectern to read the lesson - Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, from the Old Testament.”
The headmaster’s study door was in the hall, with red and green lights to indicate whether he was in or out, free or occupied, but the 11-year-old new pupil Mike felt that they indicated Mr Palmer’s mood: “red for angry - keep away, green for less angry - approach with caution!”
He continues: “I left in 1962. On the only occasion I visited the school since – in 2000 - I observed that the old hall had been converted to classrooms and I found it difficult to work out exactly where I was.
“The plaques denoting ‘Victor Ludorum’ (annual winners of games) were still on the wall in the corridor beneath the clock tower as far as I can remember. The war memorial names were moved to the back of the new hall built in 1961.”
Regular readers will be aware that in recent months I have wondered about the location of those boards in the now-coeducational Yarmouth VA High School and whether or not they have been on display this year, the 70th anniversary of the end of the 1939-45 war.
The head master obviously sanctioned the rendering of The Dambusters March on the school organ by fifth-former Henry Neave in Mike King’s time, but Alan Palmer assuredly did not give permission for Peter Fenn to play Charlie Barnet’s classic big-band style Skyliner on the hallowed instrument as his encore to a classical piece at a parents’ musical evening at which I was present postwar.
Sensational! Applauded long and loud by the schoolboys, but causing their headmaster’ acute displeasure...
Peter Fenn later became Anglia Television’s head of music, a position probably involving no cantatas and fugues.
That authority mindset prevailing in my day did change drastically because in his official 2010 history of the school, “old boy” Michael Boon reports that only a decade after the Fenn impromptu performance, a school jazz club was formed, chaired by a master, and pupils formed a skiffle group. Five years later, sixth formers organised a jazz appreciation society.
To cap this about-face, hit clarinettist Acker Bilk opened the new music suite, and in 2002 the co-educational high school (as it then was) staged the American musical Grease.
From his home in Canada, ex-Yarmouthian Danny Daniels thanks me for recently publishing that photograph of the old Grammar School assembly hall as we knew it seven decades ago. On its walls were boards recording the names of pupils who died in wars, scholastic honours, school captains and annual games winners.
Danny says he and his wife Marjorie (née Gillings), also from Yarmouth, were intrigued by my column about Cynthia Edwards, of Caister, who was evacuated to Retford in Nottinghamshire in 1940. “She and Marjorie’s sister Betty were good friends back in Yarmouth High School days, and her brother Russell (“Rusty”) was with me in the Grammar School sixth form,” writes Danny.
“Her recalling the days of evacuation in Retford were significantly different from Betty’s who was billeted with a woman who, on the first night when Betty was away from home and obviously upset, decried, ‘”We don’t have girls who cry in this house!’”
Danny, still a seriously fit octogenarian, has just been inducted into the Athletics Canada Hall of Fame, the ceremony held in conjunction with the current Pan-American Games.