Nothing more than Sunday best would do for a visit to the seaside!

PUBLISHED: 11:07 08 June 2017 | UPDATED: 11:07 08 June 2017

What was the attraction that brought so many people to Gorleston promenade, supposedly in 1945?

What was the attraction that brought so many people to Gorleston promenade, supposedly in 1945?


Outings have long been a popular part of a seaside resort’s programme, whether they have brought visitors into town to enjoy its facilities and amenities, or taking staying guests by charabanc to see nearby places of interest.

Crowds on Gorleston beach watch the raft race in July 1980.Crowds on Gorleston beach watch the raft race in July 1980.

Great Yarmouth and Gorleston will never again host outings like those of the late 19th century and early 20th when in each of six summers between 1893 and 1913, between 14 and 16 special trains brought employees of the Bass brewery at Burton-on-Trent and their families to Yarmouth for a day out, their numbers varying between 8000 and 10,000.

These massive logistical challenges were planned in great detail both by the organisers and the host resort.

At about that era before the 1914-18 war, an outing left Yarmouth and headed up the coast as far as Winterton and Somerton for a day out, and I doubt if I am wrong in suggesting that it was a teetotal excursion, unlike the Bass brewery mass jaunt to Yarmouth.

Today’s main illustration shows the trippers relaxing in the marrams and dunes on their jaunt. As was the practice then, everyone wore their Sunday best suits regardless of temperature or destination because all were regular churchgoers.

The formal and the informal: a Christian men's outing to Winterton and Somerton, probably before the 1914-18 war.The formal and the informal: a Christian men's outing to Winterton and Somerton, probably before the 1914-18 war.

Those visitors were well prepared, taking with them three information boards and banners, perhaps for the sake of the photograph or to inform the host villagers.

The main one identified them as members of the special weekly men-only service on Sunday afternoons at 3pm in St George’s Church in Yarmouth, led by Mr A T Whitehead. Another displayed the outing location while the third includes a prominent number (395) and the date - hard to discern but possibly June 12 in a year before the Great War had decimated the numbers of young men.

It is almost impossible to achieve a head count so perhaps 395 was the number present. Two women are seated next to the Men’s Service board. Some men behind them look to be seated so perhaps some chairs were either transported with them or provided by village hosts.

In today’s era of instant photographs on mobile phones, snapping an outing as a souvenir or record would have been simple. But capturing the moment in the marrams probably involved a heavy bulky camera on a sturdy wooden tripod with an exposure of a second or two on glass-plate negatives.

Was there a photographer within the church group, or did a professional accompany the day-trippers?

Did they take a giant picnic, or were they catered for in the twin villages? And how did they all travel there? Catching a train from Yarmouth Beach Station would have meant alighting at Hemsby and getting to their venue by other means. By road? A fleet of charabancs would have been required, or a long walk on perhaps a hot day.

In Mercurys published early last century, there was usually a derailed weekly report of the latest St George’s Men’s Service and its associated activities, but a 
thorough hunt revealed nothing about that Winterton and Somerton outing in those pre-First World War years.

The large card-mounted photograph I have leaves questions unanswered. And a century later, it is impossible not to speculate how many of those God-fearing men in that photograph were soon to be called up for military service but perished in some foreign field far from home...

Another photograph, this time on a postcard and requiring more vain turning of many old Mercury pages, also illustrates today’s offering. Apart from annual raft-race Sundays in the early 1980s, I cannot recall seeing Gorleston sea-front as thronged.

The caption claims: “A very crowded Gorleston sea-front in 1945”. But the European war did not end till May 1945 so the beach might have been closed because it was still mined. Was it pre-war, perhaps linked to the opening ceremony of the Floral Hall and outdoor swimming pool in July 1939?

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