When Yarmouth’s timbers shivered - and offered an airborne tonic
PUBLISHED: 07:00 30 June 2019
Well, shiver my timbers! That mock piratical oath could well emphasise that for decades the port of Great Yarmouth has had no timbers to shiver...
Timber importing was such a mainstay of our economy that - as mentioned here recently - a local GP a century ago recommended patients with chest ailments to walk along Southtown Road, inhaling the therapeutic properties of freshly-cut Baltic pine stacked on Bollard Quay!
Until well after the war, imported timber occupied much of the riverside from Haven Bridge to Bollard Quay.
Indeed, river views along the Bollard Quay were often blocked by high-stacked timber - unless you were a passenger on the top deck of a passing bus.
Today you could not find enough imported wood to make a toothpick, major merchants like Jewson and Palgrave Brown having long gone.
To the disappointment of sight-seeing port enthusiasts, the Yare has little to offer nowadays, with shipping sparse.
Older generations miss the variety of port users - those timber importers, the autumn herring drifter fleet, salted fish exporters, coasters, tankers, roll-on/off ferries, lightships and Trinity House vessels, rig support ships, Thames barges, tugs, river boats, pleasure trippers... even a floating pub, albeit briefly!
The North Sea offshore industry boosted the port's activities, with the occasional extra treat of a massive offshore structure perched on a barge being towed gingerly through the piers and round Brush Bend.
In 2019 river activity is negligible. There appear to be vessels and structures hiding in the Outer Harbour but they are annoyingly impossible to scrutinise and enjoy.
Our timber trade of yesteryear has been missed by correspondent Jennifer Elliott who writes from Bradwell: "Before I married I lived in Lowestoft and my Dad, sister and I used to commute in his old Wolseley 444 to Erie Resistor every day along Southtown Road and there were all those stacks of lovely wood lined up.
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"We did this for 15 years. It brings back so many memories!"
My recent references to properties including Gorleston's Ferryside - the dilapidated house once the up-market home of master maltsters and doctors before becoming Yarmouth's register office - prompted Jennifer's description of it as "that lovely building now gone to wrack and ruin."
During her home-carer years from 1990 to 2009, social services were based at Ferryside where meetings were held and office work done - "it was a lovely time in my working life and I can relate to everything you mentioned about the building. So lovely the memories of years gone by and the different uses it had.
"Now, as you say, it has fallen from grace, looking sad in overgrown neglected grounds. Why?
"I am 70 and have lived in Bradwell since 1978 and it has changed, and not for the better!
"I also remember Mr. T's restaurant (on Southtown Road) - the owners used to live six doors away from us in Green Lane, and have long-since gone. So has lovely (timber merchant) Palgrave Brown."
Yes, we have to accept the inevitability of change. But because memories fade, in hindsight it is not always simple to pinpoint locations or businesses that were so familiar for decades.
Veteran Yarmouthians sometimes find it difficult to recall once-familiar places and buildings now redeveloped beyond recognition.
It happened to me with a photograph perhaps from the 1960s showing the junction of Bridge and Southtown Roads outside Jewson's builders merchant's premises.
I must have passed it thousands of times in bus or car or on a cycle... but could not recall Jewson trading on the site occupied since 2002 by retailers Matalan and Farmfoods.
Not far away, however, one veteran building continues to occupy a prime place on the quayside behind those retail premises, facing across the Yare to Hall Quay: the preserved 19th century thatched ice-house, probably seldom given a passing glance nowadays.
Little sails past it, and the Haven Bridge beside it lifts only occasionally.
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