When a Yarmouth doctor complained because a fish was thrown at him
PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 June 2019
The herring, for long a mainstay of Great Yarmouth’s economy, was elevated into our borough’s coat-of-arms by an appreciative king.
Three herring tails were incorporated in gratitude for our men and ships supporting him in a 14th century war.
Centuries later, when a disgruntled Yarmouthian took umbrage at the borough's mayor and flung a fish at him, it was a rotten mackerel and not a hallowed herring that he hurled.
Chances are that the assailant knew nothing about heraldic history and simply threw the first bad fish that came to hand, and had nothing to do with the herring's significance.
This incident was conveyed to me by regular correspondent and retired registrar Trevor Nicholls, following my column about local family doctors.
How is the mackerel anecdote relevant? Well, the 1898 mayor on the receiving end was... Dr James Ryley!
He practised in Regent Road and, from 1905 until his 1916 death, owned Ferryside, later to become the borough register office.
According to Trevor, Dr Ryley took the extraordinary step of writing to the Yarmouth Independent newspaper taking exception to having a rotten mackerel thrown at him as his chauffeur was driving him in his car through the Market Place.
That published letter only added to the local fund of hilarity, notes Trevor, who was based at Ferryside when it was our register office.
Dr Ryley's widow remained at Ferryside till 1920 when it was bought by Dr William Wyllys junior.
With the NHS beset with problems, like staff being stretched beyond reasonable limits, it becomes increasingly difficult to reflect on the era before it was so over-burdened.
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As for the local family doctors of yesteryear, Trevor writes: "Somebody once told me that Dr Smellie used to recommend his chest patients to walk along Southtown Road to inhale the therapeutic properties of the freshly-cut Baltic pine stacked on Bollard Quay, a treatment unlikely to be found in any book listing medicinal drugs!
"I met people who could remember Dr William Wyllys junior living at Ferryside in considerable style between the wars - morning coat, button-hole and top hat when going on his rounds.
"Dr William Wyllys senior and another medical son, Henry, people remembered as being in practice at Lichfield House on Southtown Road - subsequently the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance offices and latterly Mr T's Eating House."
When the derelict building eventually burnt down, flats were built on the site.
Older borough residents will remember that Victorian house, Ferryside, in use but today it has fallen from grace, looking sad in overgrown neglected grounds.
They will also recall the long-gone nearby Watney, Combe and Reid maltings.
Ferryside replaced a substantial three-storey Georgian mansion, says Trevor. As war approached, the building was requisitioned and became Yarmouth Fire Brigade's HQ, firemen sleeping in the house.
He suggests it was perhaps to permit fire-fighting in the Gorleston area if the Haven Bridge - then our only road crossing the Yare - was disabled by enemy action. Gorleston fire station remains on the site.
My correspondent goes on: "William Wyllys junior never did get his house back". He died in Wimbledon in 1945. Yarmouth Corporation took on the property as a children's home. Conversion to offices occurred in 1960.
Later it became the register office, but that service has moved into the Town Hall.
Back in the 1960s, Trevor did meet a number of people who were able to recall Edward Combe, his wife Laura and their nine children living in Ferryside in the 1880s and 1890s.
"One elderly woman said that when she was a little girl, spring was not considered to have definitely arrived until the bluebells were out in the gardens of Ferryside."
Trevor could never understand why, in 1880, Edward Combe demolished the existing house - the former South Town Academy he had acquired in the previous decade - and replaced it with a new Victorian house on the site.
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