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Homes made way for Edwardian shopping arcade

PUBLISHED: 15:18 27 March 2015 | UPDATED: 15:18 27 March 2015

Archant

FOR all we know more than a century later, the residents of the small terrace of cottages featured in the main illustration with today's column might have been glad to have packed their belongings and moved elsewhere, afforded the opportunity to give up their homes by the blandishments of the wealthy businessmen anxious to develop the embryo expanding holiday industry in Great Yarmouth.

RETAIL INNOVATION: a mother and daughter stroll through one of the Marine Arcades in Edwardian Great Yarmouth.
PICTURE: COLIN TOOKE COLLECTIONRETAIL INNOVATION: a mother and daughter stroll through one of the Marine Arcades in Edwardian Great Yarmouth. PICTURE: COLIN TOOKE COLLECTION

My old grandma would probably have described the dwellings as “dinky” - a word defined by my dictionary as “small and neat in an attractive way.”

Their homes were, perhaps, not as cosy, convenient and comfortable as they might appear in that photograph. On the other hand, of course, the occupants might have been distressed at their enforced relocation and all it entailed, resenting being victims of so-called progress.

For everybody living there, upheaval was inevitable. And whether they were tenants, as seems likely, or owners, there was always the dilemma and expense of moving home and settling into a new one.

As soon as they all vacated their humble homes, the picturesque terrace was attacked by labourers wielding sledge hammers to clear the site and make way...for a shopping arcade – a mall, in today’s parlance!

FRONT ON THE FRONT: an entrance to the Marine Arcade.
PICTURE: COLIN TOOKE COLLECTIONFRONT ON THE FRONT: an entrance to the Marine Arcade. PICTURE: COLIN TOOKE COLLECTION

This was probably the first in the borough and a quarter of a century before town centre got in on the act with the creation of the Central Arcade which was refurbished and renamed the Victoria Arcade in 1987 but in 2015 has empty units contributing to its loss of zing.

At first glance, the pictured pre-1902 scene mis-led me. Somehow it had a bucolic look to it, despite the three-storey house in the background, pavement, and the absence of a horse-drawn hay-wain, farm workers plodding home after a day toiling in the fields, or geese foraging.

The anonymous photographer, his heavy and clumsy precious camera probably mounted on a tripod, was far from the countryside as he captured this scene for posterity. Quite the opposite, in fact: he was in urban Yarmouth, a literal stone’s throw from what we now know as the Golden Mile with all its razzmatazz, bright lights, persistent electronic noises from amusement arcades, holiday attractions and cooking smells!

Perhaps the clip-clop of horses’ hooves is the only sound common to then and now, with horse-drawn vehicles common-place then and landaus still a popular novelty now.

The terrace was, in fact, in Ansell Place, named after its builder but no longer on the borough’s street maps. In the distance beyond the three-storey house can be seen properties at the seaward end of Crown Road.

In his 2010 book Shops and Shopping, Yarmouth historian and author Colin Tooke devoted a chapter to our arcades, and wrote: “In 1902 the first retail shops to appear on the Marine Parade opened in a new Marine Arcade, built on the site of Ansell Place, which ran from the Parade through to Apsley Road.

“The arcade had a domed glass roof and there were 20 shops of all different trades, many of them run by leading businesses in the town. All were lit by electricity, a new feature that many town centre shops did not have until several years later.

“Two years later, another arcade was built beside the first, both having decorative terracotta frontages with the dates at the top. In 1911 the Empire Picture Theatre was built on the northern side of the second arcade.

“By the 1920s several other shops had opened along the Marine Parade but the arcades remained popular and by now contained a large variety of shops, the largest being five units occupied by Palmers department store. Another five units were taken by May and Co, jewellers.

“The other shops were selling goods that were typical of seaside souvenir shops, such as Josefina’s Emporium of fancy goods, Ralph Keymer (a fancy draper), and Middleton’s bazaar. Spall’s fancy goods occupied three units, and other businesses included George Tadda and M Hanesch (both oriental bazaars), Mrs Sulway (a Venetian bead shop) and Madame Sato (a palmist).

“A restaurant, a tobacconist and a confectionery shop completed the wide range of shops in the two arcades, many traders having shops in both the north and south arcades.

Colin Tooke continued in his 2010 publication: “By the 1970s the shops had all gone, the south arcade had become the Marine Arcade Restaurant and the north arcade was the Stagecoach Amusements. Today both arcades form the Leisureland Amusements, but above the modern plastic facade can still be seen the original Edwardian terracotta work with the dates 1902 and 1904.”

It is strange, but I cannot remember ever having entered either of the Marine Arcades despite spending most of my life from the mid-1930s in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, and strolling along the prom, as it were, many a time at weekends when I was a teenager in the Fifties. The chance has gone forever, of course.

I skimmed through all the scores of entries in the Yarmouth commercial section of a 1937 Kelly’s Directory seeking later occupiers of Marine Arcade premises. So far as I could ascertain, the only entry was for Palmers, still there and trading in numbers 21-29.

Perhaps the Marine Arcades were open only in the summer season, a possible explanation for the absence of other businesspeople in the directory...

The cardboard-mounted photograph of Ansell Place was passed to me by Malcolm Ferrow, of Marine Parade, Gorleston, a well-known local businessman whose speciality is dealing in antiques; last month he and his wife, Joy, celebrated their diamond wedding anniversary.

He has accumulated some interesting pictures of local scenes down the decades which would delight enthusiasts of the Yarmouth of yesteryear.

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