Remember when Great Yarmouth’s Golden Mile was the Olden Mile?
PUBLISHED: 13:54 18 June 2018 | UPDATED: 14:01 18 June 2018
A focal point of Great Yarmouth’s holiday industry has long been the Golden Mile. But for a few hours in 1956 it became the “Olden Mile” when the resort welcomed veteran cars ending their two-day rally.
Down the decades there have been numerous crowd-pleasing events here, but that year Yarmouth morphed into Brighton, becoming the finishing point for a veteran car run.
The traditional London-Brighton rally, enjoyed by enthusiasts and spectators along its route each autumn, was elevated into popular culture by the modest 1954 comedy film Genevieve (the name of a car) about the friendly rivalry between two participants. The movie proved a box-office hit.
Here, thousands thronged Yarmouth Market Place and lined the seafront when veteran cars from all over Britain – including a 60-year-old coke-fired Soame steam cart – paraded here at the end of the rally, the event’s first visit to Norfolk since 1949.
Although Mercury photographs showed spectators in rainwear, the weather did not dampen the spectators’ enthusiasm. Along the route from Gorleston people cheered the cars and crews as they made their sedate way to the town centre, accompanied from Lowestoft and Southwold by many modern cars carrying sightseers.
Big crowds swarmed on to the Market Place awaiting the veterans, marshals and police kept busy ensuring a clear route. The first arrival - a 54-year-old Wolseley tonneau owned by Mr J Howes, of Norwich - chugged over The Conge and, on parking, was immediately surrounded by an admiring crowd eager to inspect its gay yellow coachwork, gleaming brass carriage lamps and shiny patent leather mudguards.
The 10hp car had taken about an hour to reach Yarmouth from Southwold, achieving a top speed of 30mph.
According to the Mercury, soon many entrants arrived, the Market Place “looking as though an Edwardian motor show was in progress, with lads bobbing in and out of the crowd to take registration numbers of cars that were on the roads when their grandfathers were young.”
An announcer detailed each arriving car’s history of ownership, mechanical specification and outstanding events in its career.
A radio tower kept in touch with the rally tenders on the route so the announcer could inform the crowd of mishaps or other occurrences. These included the news that an 1899 Benz dog cart was taken into a Southtown Road garage in Yarmouth for a new cylinder head gasket to be fitted.
That was probably the business of Frank Bately, long-time owner of a 1900 Daimler (EX10) which there in the 1956 Yarmouth event and continues participating today in London-Brighton rallies.
“Ohs” and “Aahs” greeted each arrival, onlookers delighted by the variety of styles and colours and the care bestowed on them by their owners.
A Renault reminded older onlookers of taxis from their youth. Power was expressed in every line of a Hispano Suiza in fire-engine red with a gold-coloured radiator and “upholstery like luxurious club armchairs,” according to the Mercury.
“The angular T-model Ford took one back to the days of the Keystone Cops film comedies. The delightful little Unie doctor’s coupe with Hansom-cablike roof, yellow body and Nottingham lace curtains and general slightly baroque appearance conjured up visions of discreet calls late at night in some Pimlico square. The sapphire-blue lamps, incised with crystal stars, excited great admiration.”
A crowd circled a 1902 Napier from Yorkshire with polished wood wheels - but a notice asked visitors to “touch with their eyes and not with their fingers.” A motor tricycle had a bath-chair in front of the driver who steered with a tiller..
A 1904 Rolls-Royce was parked near a 1956 American car with its chromium plating and complex instrument panel. Its GI owner wistfully remarked: “I’d sure like to take that back to the States but I reckon it would cost a packet of dollars!”
The programme ended with a procession along North Drive and Marine Parade to the Masonic Temple for a civic tea.