Londoner has holidayed in Great Yarmouth since 1949
PUBLISHED: 21:47 28 August 2014 | UPDATED: 21:47 28 August 2014
A TESTIMONIAL to the affection and esteem in which Great Yarmouth and Gorleston are held has arrived from a London reader who was first drawn to us 65 years ago...and still cherishes fond memories which sustain him and his wife although they accept it is unlikely they will ever return.
The writer of the heart-warming letter is John Hodnett. He and his wife, Patricia, live in south-east London and both are octogenerians.
They keep abreast of events and developments hereabouts by reading...the Great Yarmouth Mercury, of course.
He tells me: “I first came to Great Yarmouth for a holiday in 1949, and came again every year until 1959 when I came to live for two years at Gorleston. Owing to the wife wishing to return to London in 1961, I have taken the Yarmouth Mercury by subscription every week since.
“We have continued to holiday in Yarmouth every year until two years ago when I had a car accident and was unable to drive any more.
“I have seen articles in the Mercury over the last couple of months, one regarding fishing from the Britannia Pier. I have fished evening times from it. There used to be fishermen’s huts on the lower deck. Also, there was an article regarding water bumping cars (a dodgem-type feature at the Pleasure Beach).
“If the DVD video of Yarmouth in Days Gone By is viewed, both questions are answered with a ‘yes’.
“Both my wife and I are in our late eighties, so I don’t think we will make the trip again, but we have happy memories and made some lovely friends.”
I phoned 86-year-old John, a retired funeral director, who says that before they were married, they first came to Yarmouth by Timpsons coach, lodging for bed-and-breakfast in Lichfield Road (“in separate rooms then, of course”).
On arrival the landlady welcomed them with a cup of tea. “Everyone was so friendly. Yarmouth was such a marvellous place, beautiful,” he says. “Our landlady told us that if we wanted to buy presents or anything to take home, Spalls would be just the place to go.”
Fancy goods dealer Edward Spall had two shops in the town, one in King Street, the other in Regent Road, but they had closed by 1984.
When they took their first stroll into the holiday areas, the couple were immediately smitten: “We saw the Britannia Pier, we walked along the front where the path was a lovely terra-cotta colour, we saw the old open-air Marina and swimming pool and we thought, ‘What a marvellous place!’”
Their lifetime love affair with Yarmouth holidays had begun.
After marrying in 1960, they thought how nice it would be to live to Yarmouth.
Under a scheme run by the Labour Exchange for people wanting to work in other parts of the country, he enrolled, expressing a wish to move to the Yarmouth area to continue in the undertaking business in which he had been employed from leaving school, progressing from “the lad in the shop” to coffin maker, then French polisher...
To their delight, the Labour Exchange informed John that the Yarmouth family undertaking firm of Brundish & Son needed an employee, and Harry Brundish offered the Londoner a job.
First the couple lodged in Cobholm, then took a flat in Clarence Road, Gorleston. Patricia became a Birds Eye employee.
Their return to London at her request in 1961 did not mean a change of profession for John, for he continued in the undertaking business and became a funeral director.
Nor did being back in the capital mean that they had abandoned Yarmouth, for they carried on being regular visitors.
They rented a council beach hut near the Marina for some stays, leaving a ten shilling (50p) deposit to ensure its availability the next summer, or hired deckchairs from a Mr Abel who was always accompanied by his dog, Sally, and had a site roughly opposite the Windmill Theatre, John remembers.
In 1983 the Hodnetts acquired a caravan on the Wild Duck Holiday Park in Belton, but their Norfolk vacations came to an abrupt end two years ago when John suffered a blackout while driving to the shops, crashing into a wall and writing off his car.
As a regular Great Yarmouth Mercury reader he keeps in touch with events hereabouts.
For example, the 2012 demolition of the historic Nelson-linked Jetty by the borough council because of soaring maintenance costs made him shake his head in sad disbelief. This prompted him to tell me that he could not remember ever seeing a picture of the former glazed Jetty frontage in the Mercury.
Presumably he meant the glass-roofed shelters erected in 1927 for £500 but removed in 1959 to permit the provision of a replacement, plus shops and entrance.
The clock given by the then mayor, Frederick Lawn, on the 1927 building was removed in 1959 and placed on a North Drive shelter.
John must have missed it in his Mercury, for in 2006 he wrote to tell me that he would like to see in this column a mention of “the large glass shelter that used to be at the Jetty – we used to wait there with our luggage for the coach to take us home.”
My files could not help but Charles Read, of Laurel Drive, Bradwell, an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and a founder member in 1948 of Yarmouth Photographic Society, rooted among his negatives and produced a picture published here in 2007 and illustrating today’s feature.
Conditions were not at their best when Charles captured the image, for it was on Sunday, February 1 1953 – the morning after the disastrous East Coast surge. “The shelter seemed more or less undamaged but heavy seas were still pounding the Jetty which had lost most of its decking,” reported Charles.