Do you remember these Yarmouth crisps?
PUBLISHED: 15:09 11 May 2016 | UPDATED: 14:53 13 May 2016
Crunch time is here, regardless of whether you prefer conventional potato crisps to which you add the salt yourself, or ready-salted, or in any of the 30-plus flavours available nowadays but unheard of in my youth.
Salt and vinegar? Smoky bacon? Sour cream and onion? Aardvark and yak? Ugh!
One hitherto unrecognised quality of the humble crisp is uniting two Yarmouthians, unknown to one another but sharing a pleasure for our local nostalgia. Today, that benefit is acknowledged here.
Clayton Nichols, born in 1957 in a Hazel Way prefab on the Shrublands Estate in Gorleston, lived hereabouts till 1987. While clearing the attic of his Norfolk home recently, he found a So Nice potato crisps bag (price 3d in “old” money, head office 61 Apsley Road, Great Yarmouth).
“The crisps are long gone but the bag is as good as new,” he tells me. “Having Googled the company on-line, I came across your article about it. As a child I remember well similar bags of crisps, with the little twist of salt in blue waxed paper inside, that you mentioned in your article.”
Presumably those were made by national brand leader Smith’s, whose factories included one in Cobholm, opened in 1929, before production moved into purpose-built premises on Caister Road, closing in 1983.
My 2005 column Clayton found on-line noted that the So Nice bag was almost identical to that of Smith’s. The manufacturer’s location was given as Norwich but its head office was on Apsley Road, an address at various times listed as a boarding house, private hotel and private residence...
I reported that reader Emrys Parry, of Northgate Street, contacted me to report that his interest in ephemera resulted in the gift of a drawer-ful of unused So Nice bags by local dealer Michael Wheatley who found 2000-3000 of them when he and his brother, Rodney, were clearing a former shop in Mill Road, Cobholm.
Clayton – once a member of Auntie Gay’s Children’s Club in the Yarmouth Mercury - was educated at the old St Andrew’s Infant School, Priory Junior and Hospital Secondary before switching to the College of Further Education on Lichfield Road.
The teenage Clayton worked at both the Bird’s Eye Foods and Erie Resistor factories, as had his mother and brother a decade earlier. His grandfather was one of the first lorry drivers at Lacon’s brewery after the First World War; Clayton remembers a photograph of an open cab lorry, one of two bought to replace the horse-drawn drays.
His father was also a Lacon’s employee, a clerk before enlisting for the 1939-45 War, and Clayton’s brother worked there in the 1960s until the brewery closed in 1968 following its sale to Whitbread. “I well remember the smell of yeast and beer and clatter of the brewery, and the stacks of colour-coded wooden barrels,” says my correspondent.
His parents moved to George Street in the Sixties into a new maisonette, now demolished. Clayton and his chums used to play on the building site for the new police station (opened in 1962) on Howard Street North.
Clayton says his father’s side of the family has a long history in Yarmouth. Grandfather Frederick, born in the late 1800s, was a twin and the youngest of a large family. As babies, both twins contracted scarlet fever; his twin sister did not survive. Both parents died relatively young and, as his siblings were in no position to raise him, he joined the Army direct from school.
“I believe he served in India either before or after the 1914-18 War, surviving four years on the Western Front,” he continues. “He had a framed commendation on his hallway wall mentioning his regiment and status as a machine-gunner, and had campaign medals...and a 1914 Christmas card sent by Queen Mary!”
He married Clayton’s grandmother, Rhoda, while in the Army and they lived on Churchill Road from the late 1920s. During the 1939-45 war, Freddie was a sergeant in the Home Guard, based at the Hospital School.
Says Clayton: “I recall a group picture of him with his platoon in the playground with the school in the background. I no longer have the photograph but a couple of years ago, I was browsing the books in Jarrold’s in Norwich when I spotted one on the history of the Home Guard in Norfolk - and inside was that same photograph!
“He, my father and I all went to the Hospital School in turn and I have fond memories of my time there and the teaching staff, all of whom were real characters to say the least!
“My father joined the Royal Marines in 1943, aged 17. His older brother had already joined up, serving in the Royal Navy to the end of the war and survived being torpedoed twice.
“My father never spoke of his wartime experiences, although as a child I recall that he once mentioned being home on leave at the same time as his brother. They were walking along Beaconsfield Road when they were machine-gunned by a passing German bomber and had to run for cover.
“As a child, I and my friends would often play on the derelict M&GN railway station (Beach) site and I still remember the double-decker buses just scraping by under the old railway bridge which crossed Northgate Street from Beaconsfield Road, and remember the goods wagons being pulled along the old railway track which ran between Northgate Street and Lawn Avenue up to Vauxhall Station over the old rail bridge and, indeed, still recall the wagons being pulled along the tramway along North Quay up to the old scrap yard by the river.
“My wife’s uncle (still alive) was an engine driver up to his retirement in the 1980s and started his career as a fireman at Vauxhall Station. I don’t have any memories of steam trains but remember South Town Station from where my father set off when he joined up.”
Clayton moved from Yarmouth three decades ago, then lived in Norwich and intends staying in Norfolk when he moves home soon.
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