When Pops Meadow was the most happening place in town
PUBLISHED: 07:12 25 August 2019
It looks nothing more than a square of unkempt land between Gorleston’s riverside and the sloping cliffs below houses, but it has history... and might well have a future.
Recently, Mrs Peggotty and I passed Pops Meadow on one of our regular strolls in the pier and beach area, and noted that it needed some TLC, that tender loving care to include a thorough mow and tidying-up.
In places among the grass and weeds,were irregularly-shaped small areas of possibly concrete that once were crazy golf "holes".
There is also a permanent building on one side - a former cafe and tea room, if I recall correctly.
A large painted notice, now outdated and thus superfluous, announces that this was Gorleston Fun Park and its opening times (10am-9pm), and that it also has a bouncy castle. Alas, not this summer.
A high wire-netting fence encloses the site, but on the day we paused on its Beach Road side, one large panel was missing so anyone could enter for a look around - not that there was much to see, however.
But within minutes a council employee arrived to prevent access temporarily until a fencing specialist arrived to do a permanent job.
But there was a bit of good news about the future of Pops Meadow: according to that fellow, it might be used by a Gorleston bowls club. However, it was hard to envisage how much money, hard work, expertise and mechanised plant would be required to provide the perfect green vital for bowlers.
At least there is that building there, perhaps ear-marked as the club's headquarters.
Post-war, Pops Meadow has been the location of various low-key leisure activities, but between the wars (1919-1938) this area had some regular uses.
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For years that riverside green in summer was the "home" of Henry Clay's concert parties which leased the meadow from the adjacent King William IV public house and presented entertainment there for a nearly a decade from 1925 to 1934.
At first his Pops and their audiences were housed in a marquee, but after six years under canvas it was deemed that performers and audiences deserved better accommodation in that exposed riverside location, and a wooden concert hall was specially constructed.
Those shows provided competition to those along at the Gorleston Pavilion only a short stroll away (and still Gorleston's major provider of live entertainment today, 119 years after it was built).
According to the late Jim Holmes in his 1996 book I Remember Gorleston, written with Dean Parkin: "The whole (Clay) family took part in the performances. Mrs Clay was a good singer, although a little past her best, while Henry Clay Senior had a very impressive voice, modelling himself on the famous Bransby Williams.
"The rest of the party included several dancers, funny-men and the usual seaside acts, and they all lodged in accommodation nearby."
Bransby Williams? He was a noted British actor and comedian whose repertoire included telling monologues. He lived from 1870 until 1961 and was once described as "the Irving of the music halls." Henry Irving was a famed actor.
Entertainment in the open air or in marquees were commonplace back in those decades.
While Gorleston enjoyed Henry Clay's Pops, across the Yare Yarmouth was for years the location of Chappell's/Singers' Ring where, on the Central Beach, concert parties were popular attractions, perhaps from the 1880s until the 1920s.
Before the First World War, to the north of the Britannia Pier for years there was the open-air Minstrels' Ring, roughly opposite Norfolk Square.
All these were eclipsed decades later in 1937 when the open-air Marina amphitheatre was constructed between the Golden Mile and the Central Beach, with seating for 3,000 people.
But it was demolished 40 years ago and replaced by the present Marina Centre - itself doomed and evoking anger among regular users whose particular interests will not be catered for in its planned successor.