The day a crumpled-suited Prince opened Haven Bridge
PUBLISHED: 16:39 12 March 2015 | UPDATED: 16:39 12 March 2015
OUR Haven Bridge is currently receiving a make-over, not only the bits we can see - like the repainted protective railings along either side - but also vital parts underneath. It looks smart, in remarkably good shape despite the passage of nearly 85 years.
It has been a good and faithful servant, a credit to its designers and constructors. The occasional glitch was inevitable (“Sorry I’m late - the bridge was stuck.”) but we have all benefited from its reliability, especially in the decades when it was our only river crossing until the Breydon Bridge provided some relief from 1986.
Recently the Mercury has mentioned the bridge’s official opening in 1930 by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII until his abdication) and souvenirs including photographs and the ribbon he snipped formally to declare it in use, and I have been perusing my official programme and commemorative booklet and also the four large pages this newspaper devoted to a very detailed coverage of his several engagements during that visit.
As it was Trafalgar Day, and he was Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets, his five and a-quarter hours with us also included boarding a herring drifter (Mr John Carter’s East Holme, YH22), touring the Fishwharf and premises busy with the huge autumn fishery, plus visits to the 1914-18 war memorial in St George’s Park and a surprise call at the General Hospital.
One of the few surviving witnesses is Iris Martin, of Rogers Close, Hopton, then a seven-year-old accompanied by her mother, excited and proud because her policeman father, Frank Bean, was twice involved in the ceremonies, once top-hatted and bearing part of the civic regalia, and another time in his constable’s uniform, saluting while holding open a limousine door for the Prince to enter.
Iris remains proud of the photographs of him taken during the Royal visit.
Frank was a regimental sergeant major in the Great War during which he was awarded the Military Medal, worked for grocer Clowes at its Hall Quay shop but could see no long-term future there so joined the borough police force, rising to the rank of inspector. A fitness fanatic, he was a founder of the Great Yarmouth Physical Culture Club, says Mrs Martin, a 91-year-old widow who worked all her life for the General Post Office (GPO) here and became a supervisor.
Although too young to have noticed such things, Iris tells me: “It was said at the time that the Prince of Wales came by train and looked as though he had slept in his suit which was creased and crumpled.” The Yarmouth Mercury reported: “He came in homely style. His Royal Highness did not wear a uniform but just a friendly suit of grey, with soft collar and bowler hat.”
There was no military panoply, explained the newspaper, because times had changed and “Royalty does its beneficent work without the aid of pageantry.”
Instead of travelling by rail directly from London via Ipswich to Yarmouth South Town as might have been expected, the Prince spent the night in a special sleeping car attached to the scheduled 5.05am stopping train to Norwich where he ate breakfast on the train before it steamed out for Yarmouth Vauxhall.
According to the Mercury, while the Prince was in conversation at Vauxhall Station with the VIP welcoming party, “some of his attendants brought his flying kit and other gear, and also his three little Cairn terriers, and placed them in a Rolls Royce, obviously destined for the field at Gorleston whence the Prince would fly home later in the day.”
Retired Yarmouth registrar Trevor Nicholls, who has taken a great interest in that day’s events, recalls that local folk with whom he chatted in the Sixties and were spectators in 1930 were unanimous that the Prince “was not in the sweetest of tempers” that day.
“While HRH’s engagements here had been dutifully carried out, the cause of his alleged testiness might have lain in - or at least, been exacerbated by – his rather cumbersome travel arrangements following on from what the Yarmouth Mercury described as ‘his engagements in London the previous evening,’” writes Trevor
At the end of the royal visit, people seem to have thought that he would leave from South Town Station, and it was reported that a large crowd had surged across the new bridge to see his departure, he continues.
“However, the Prince’s car swept round the bend from Bridge Road into Southtown Road and headed towards Gorleston. In a field belonging to a Mr Stuart Cook, adjoining Church Road and the railway cutting, stood HRH’s ‘little red aeroplane’.
“It had been seen circling the town as the bridge opening ceremony had been about to begin. I would place the field roughly where the Alderman Leach School (now the Sixth Form College) would be built a few years later.
“I suppose that makes Prince Edward the only person in history to have had afternoon tea in Yarmouth Town Hall and to have still been back at York House, St James’s, in time for high tea!
“If his aeroplane could come to Yarmouth to take him back to London, why could it not have brought him here in the first place? This would have been in keeping with HRH’s love of all things modern and his film-star image.
“In the alternative, why did he not travel by the first through train of the day, with a considerably later departure time, direct to to Yarmouth South Town? Why was not the LNER’s royal train placed at his disposal?
“One thing is certain: there was absolutely no possibility of Prince Edward being mistaken at Yarmouth Vauxhall for the station-master, as happened in 1880 to his great-uncle, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria, when a woman who had been wandering around in an apparent state of confusion and, no doubt, seeing his Admiral’s uniform, went up to him and enquired whether the Norwich train had left!”