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Britannia Pier c1907
1900-1950 Gallery
1900-1950 Memories
1900-1950 History

Notes from an Edwardian Seaside Holiday

In 1908 and 1909, Harry Caston and his fiancée Lilian Child spent their summer holidays at Great Yarmouth with Harry’s parents, Henry and Maria, his brother Ernest and his fiancée Florence Jones. Their days were spent visiting the popular attractions of the era, in and around Yarmouth and also further afield in Norfolk and Suffolk. They took boat trips on the Norfolk Broads and out to sea and, in the evenings, enjoyed some of the entertainment at various establishments around the popular seaside resort. Along the way they bought postcards of the places they visited and, on the reverse, wrote a series of short notes about where they went and what they did. These postcards, plus the few photographs which were taken by Harry, were discovered many years later by their grand-daughter, Stella Van Der Gucht, who kindly scanned and sent the collection to me. Although brief, the notes provide a fascinating insight into holidaying in the region during the Edwardian era and, although not a boating holiday, several Broadland towns and villages were visited during their stay.

 

Seaside resorts became hugely popular during the Victorian era but the origins of the appeal of some, such as Great Yarmouth, actually date back to the 18th century when they became fashionable destinations for the upper classes. In the mid 18th century Dr Richard Russell promoted the idea that seawater was a sort of miracle “cure-all”, the benefits of which could be enjoyed by bathing in and drinking it. He advocated that half pint doses of seawater should be drunk, mixed with either port or milk if desired, and listed a whole range of ailments and diseases which would be rectified. The aristocracy took this onboard and began to visit seaside towns around the country, looking at them as an alternative to the popular spa towns such as Bath. The seaside towns responded to this by building facilities for the wealthy visitors - in Great Yarmouth a grand bath house was built along the seafront in 1759 and bathing machines, a changing hut on wheels which were led into the sea by horse, began to appear on the beaches soon afterwards. Throughout the remainder of the 18th century and the early years of the 19th century Great Yarmouth remained a fairly exclusive resort, the social aspect of visiting the seaside towns was probably of equal importance to the well-to-do as the supposed health benefits which could be gained. The arrival of the railway in 1844 saw a huge increase in visitors as cheap tickets opened the region up to the masses. During the latter half of the 19th century and early years of the 20th century the popularity of Great Yarmouth continued to grow and many new hotels, guest houses, theatres, restaurants and tourist attractions were opened to cater for the increasing amount of summer visitors. A number of daytrippers and holidaymakers also arrived by one of the many steam ships which operated up and down the east coast and others began their cruising holidays on the rivers from here. For those who began their boating holidays from the various yachting centres around Broadland a visit to Yarmouth during their time afloat was also a must!         

 

Harry Caston was born in 1883, hailed from Forest Gate and became a quantity surveyor. Lily was born in 1885 and worked in a stationers shop in Hornsey. It seems as though they may have visited Great Yarmouth in 1907, and continued to do so after they were married in 1910, travelling by train from London. Through his job as a surveyor, Harry had access to a camera and the photographs included here were taken by him and his brother Ernest. These, and more of the photos taken during their holidays can be found in the 1900-1950 Gallery. The holiday notes on the backs of the postcards were largely written by Lily and are included here in their entirety, along with accompanying background information and extracts from a contemporary tourist guide which will hopefully provide a further insight into holidaying in the region during the Edwardian era. The article has also been illustrated with a selection of contemporary postcards from the Broadland Memories archives which show some of the places the family visited.

Tuesday 11th August 1908  

Dull & cold

Went out before breakfast

Morning - sat on beach

Afternoon - went for a drive to Ormesby Broads

Evening - went to see The Gaiches.

 

There are quite a few references in Lily’s notes about going for a “drive” – although there were certainly motor cars around at this time, including “The Anglian” a three-wheeled vehicle which was manufactured in Beccles about which I can find very little information, I wonder if it is more likely that this actually referred to be driven in a horse and carriage. There was a variety of horse drawn transport operating at Great Yarmouth at this time, from small carriages to large wagons which could seat quite a number of people, all offering day  

1908

Eels Foot Inn Ormesby c1910

The landing stage at the Eels Foot Inn c1910

trips to popular spots during the summer months. Harry did later own a car but apparently employed the services of a chauffeur and never drove himself. I’m sure that it would have been possible to hire a motor car, probably with a chauffeur, in 1908 but I think that the horse-drawn option would have been more readily available.

 

Ormesby Broad, along with Filby and Rollesby, was one of the popular tourist spots which attracted many visitors, with rowing boats available to hire from the landing stage at the Eels Foot Inn. In his guide the Norfolk Broads, published in 1903, William Dutt described the Trinity Broads thus: “The scenery of these broads is pleasantly varied. The shores are well wooded; there are quiet creeks not unlike those of Barton, islets fringed with fen sedge, willow herbs and purple-topped marsh thistles, swampy tracts redolent of water-mints and bright with purple and yellow loosestrife, underwoods garlanded with honeysuckle and white bells of the great convolvulus, gardens where handsome peacock butterflies flutter among Canterbury bells and hollyhocks, and bays beautiful with white water-lilies.” He went on the say: “Perhaps the most enjoyable way of spending a day in the district is to devote an hour or two to the Broads and the rest of the day to exploring the neighbouring hamlets. If the visitor does this, his time will be pleasantly and profitably spent.

 

Deciphering the notes written by Lily was rather difficult at times and her mention of going to see “The Gaiches” may be my misinterpretation of her words as I can find no reference to anything like this. It is likely that they went to one of the theatres in the evening so this may actually refer to a show.

Winter Gardens interior c1904

The interior of the Winter Gardens at Great Yarmouth c1904

Wednesday 12th August 1908

Dull & Cold

Morning - walked to Caister by the sea returned by tram

Afternoon - sat in the Winter gardens

Evening - went to the Hippodrome & saw the beauty show.

? Beauties

 

The East Anglian Tramway Order was approved in 1871 and a system of trams was originally intended to run from Southtown, all the way down the coast to Southwold but was eventually confined to the Yarmouth and Gorleston area. The tramway was divided into two parts, divided by the River Yare with the lifting Haven Bridge being unsuitable for trams to cross. The trams were originally horse-drawn, the first electric trams being introduced on the Yarmouth section in 1902 with Gorleston following suit in 1905. The last section which took the trams

on to Caister-on-Sea became operational in 1907. In the 1920s motor buses began to replace the trams and gradually the lines began to close, the last tram to run in Great Yarmouth was in 1933.

 

The Winter Gardens were erected beside Wellington Pier in 1903, having originally been built in 1878 in Torquay where it was rather unsuccessful, it was bought by the Great Yarmouth Corporation for £1,300 and was transported round the coast on a barge. In dismantling, transporting and then re-erecting the building it was said that not a single pain of glass was broken. Early photographs of the Winter Gardens show that it was filled with exotic plants with chairs lined up around the central floor. Visitors came to sit and relax in the magnificent glass and steel pavilion, a handy refuge should the weather be inclement as it was on the day that Harry and Lily visited! Later, the Winter Gardens were adapted for various uses including a dancehall, a nightclub and, in the 1970s, an Alpine “Biergarten”.

Great Yarmouth Hippodrome c1906

The Hippodrome c1906

I take it that the “? Beauties” part of Lily’s notes questions the aesthetic qualities of the girls on show! George Gilbert was born in Norwich in 1857 and, as a young lad, did the classic “running away to join the circus”. With Hannaford’s Travelling Circus he learnt equestrian and acrobatic skills and became an accomplished showman. It is reported that after incurring an injury he decided to move into circus management, staging various shows at the Agricultural Hall in Norwich during the 1890s. In 1898, he opened his first circus in Yarmouth on the site of the old bath house stables. It proved to be a huge success, and with the money he earned George Gilbert employed the services of the architect Ralph Scott Cockrill to design a new circus building for him on Marine Parade. The Hippodrome opened in 1903 and proved to be hugely popular, the finale of the show enthralling audiences as the ring was flooded and swimmers joined various aquatic animals for the “water spectacle” which had a “dancing fountain” as its centrepiece.

The Hippodrome put on a variety of other entertainment too during the summer months including music hall and variety acts, stage shows and concerts over the years.  Some of the names to appear at the Hippodrome included Lily Langtry, Harry Houdini, Charlie Chaplin and Max Miller. The Hippodrome still operates as a circus to this day, having been owned by Peter Jay since 1979, although its magnificent facade is now obscured from the road by a rather gaudy, modern amusement arcade along the front.

Sadly, the card for the 13th and 14th August 1908 is missing, but a note on the back of the photograph on the left is dated to Saturday 15th August when Harry and Lily visited the Garden of Sleep at Sidestrand near Cromer. The Garden of Sleep was the rather romantic name which was given to the ruins of St. Michael and All Angels church by the writer Clement Scott who first visited Cromer in the early 1880s. Having fallen in love with the area, he wrote an article about it for the Daily Telegraph and also penned several poems about the district. Scott is also credited with coining the phrase “Poppy-land” to describe this area of North Norfolk. St. Michael’s Church was the victim of the coastal erosion which still sweeps away large chunks of the eastern coastline every year. As the cliff edge drew ever closer, the main part of the building was dismantled and rebuilt further inland. The tower (as seen in the photograph) was left, as was the surrounding graveyard. It is said that as the cliff crumbled coffins and bones used to tumble down onto the beach below. The ruined tower adorned many postcards during the Edwardian era, and even after the tower finally succumbed to the waves and disappeared over the cliff c1915/16, the iconic image of the standing ruins was still used on postcards for quite a few years afterwards.

The Garden of Sleep 1908

Lily Caston stands by the ruined tower of St. Michael’s Church in the Garden of Sleep at Sidestrand

Sunday 16th August 1908

Very fine

Sat in deck chairs by the sea. Erney took our photos.

Afternoon - went for a drive to St Olaves. Sat by the river had tea there.

Evening - walked on the parade as far as Gorleston and back.

 

The weather had improved for Harry and Lily so they hit the beach! Photographic images of the beaches at Great Yarmouth and Gorleston during the Victorian and Edwardian era often show them crowded with folks relaxing in deck chairs. The seafront area would have also been teeming with people who were trying to earn a living from the growing number of holidaymakers – fortune tellers, barrel organists, street and beach minstrels, photographers, fish sellers and touting boat owners all vied for the visitors’ pennies. Marine Parade was very elegant during the early years of the 20th century, a mixture of smart hotels, guest houses and apartments, theatres, gardens, shops and restaurants.

Sadly, so much of the wonderful Victorian and Edwardian architecture is now obscured by tacky, modern frontages but when Harry and Lily visited it would have been the place to “be seen” promenading. At the northern end was the Royal Aquarium Theatre (more about that later) and the magnificent Revolving Observation Tower which had opened in 1897 and dominated the skyline. A bit like a London Eye of its day, visitors would step onto a revolving platform which would slowly rise 130ft into the air in a corkscrew fashion around the tower giving views out to sea and across the town to the Broads and surrounding countryside beyond. At the southern end on Beach Parade, beyond Wellington Pier, was the Scenic Railway which opened c1906 and was the forerunner to today’s Pleasure Beach. Although Harry and Lily made no mention of having visited either the observation tower or the Scenic Railway, they certainly made use of many of the other visitor attractions in between.

Marine Parade Great Yarmouth c1910

Marine Parade at Great Yarmouth c1910. In the background on the left is the Revolving Observation Tower.

Monday 17th August 1908

Dull

Went out before breakfast.

Morning - went to see minstrels.

Afternoon - walked about the front and saw the daywork fireworks.

Evening -went to the Aquarium to see the Merry Widow.

 

There would have been various minstrel troupes and other entertainment running throughout the day in Yarmouth at this time. Many theatres advertised three shows a day - morning, afternoon and evening. These may have been beach minstrels or they may have visited the “Singers Ring” which I’ll cover later. I’m not quite sure what the “daywork fireworks” were, but this was presumably a daytime firework display.

The Royal Aquarium opened in 1875 – as the name suggests it was an aquarium where marine life was displayed in large glass tanks. By 1883 it had been converted into a theatre, although it is said that the glass tanks remained in situ, hidden behind heavy curtains in the auditorium. In 1908 it was owned by John Nightingale and throughout the summer a variety of dramas, comedies and musical performances were staged at the theatre. The Aquarium gained the “Royal” patronage of the then Prince of Wales who visited the theatre several times to see his mistress, Lily Langtry, perform. There were also large dining rooms at the Aquarium that could apparently seat up to 1000 people. The theatre was later converted for use as a cinema and continues to be used for this purpose today under the name of The Hollywood. The Merry Widow was an operetta by the composer Franz Lehar which had premiered in Vienna in 1905. Adapted for the UK audiences, it opened in London in 1907, enjoying massive success before being taken on tour around the rest of Britain.

Great Yarmouth Aquarium c1905

The Aquarium and Revolving Tower c1905

Tuesday 18th August 1908

Dull

Morning - went for a sea trip got on at quay and got off at Britannia pier. Lily sea sick.

Afternoon - walked about parade and arcade.

Evening - stop at home and played cards. Lily lost  9 2.

 

The sea trip taken by the couple would have probably been on one of the passenger steamers which ran from South Quay – poor Lily obviously didn’t fair too well!  Another afternoon walk along the parade and arcade – I presume that this would have been the Marine Arcade which were the two, matching arcades which stood to the left of the Empire Theatre. I believe that these were arcades of shops rather than being amusement arcades, designed by the architect A.S. Hewitt with one gable bearing the date of 1902 and the other 1904. Once again, the original architecture is now obscured from the front by the modern Leisureland Amusement Arcade facade but it can still be seen from the rear.

Wednesday 19th August 1908

Fine

Went out before breakfast.

Morning - went to Caister on tram returned the same way. Went over the castle.

Afternoon - drove to St Olaves and had tea by the river.

Evening - went to the concert on the Brit pier. Rotten.

 

Caister Castle was the former home of John Fastolf, a wealthy gentleman soldier who had fought at Agincourt and is often said to have been the inspiration behind Shakespeare’s Falstaff character. Built in the 15th century on the site of the former family home, rather than being a fortification it is thought that the castle was more likely to have been a statement of wealth and prestige. In 1903, William Dutt wrote; “Visitors scrawlings on the walls have done much to disfigure the ruins; but in spite of this Caister Castle is one of the most interesting ruins in Norfolk. Seen as it is against a background of fine trees growing beyond the moat, its tower and walls are strikingly picturesque.

St. Olaves 1909
The drive to St. Olaves is likely to have been via horse-drawn means once again. This is one of three photographs taken by the family when they visited St. Olaves in 1909 - from left to right are: Florrie, Ernie, Lily and Mr & Mrs Caston. The remaining photographs can be found in the 1900-1950 Gallery.

The “Brit” Pier was a reference to the Britannia Pier which would have held a variety of concerts and shows in its grand pavilion. The pier was originally built in 1858 as an all wooden structure, although its length was reduced twice following collisions with sea vessels! In 1901, the pier was rebuilt with steel and wood and the 2500 seat pavilion was constructed, officially opening in 1902 with total build costs of over £60,000. By the time Harry and Lily visited in 1908, a large helter-skelter called “On the Mat” stood on the pier, near to the entrance. In December 1909 tragedy struck as the pier was destroyed by fire, although the helter-skelter remained largely undamaged and was later moved by river up to Potter Heigham where it has stood on the banks of the River Thurne for over 100 years as the quirky “Dutch Tutch” holiday bungalow. A replacement pier and pavilion were built in 1910, but this too was destroyed by fire just four years later. The third pavilion, built in 1933, survived the bombing raids of WW2 but it too was then destroyed by fire in 1954. A fourth and final pavilion was opened in 1958 – this is the building which remains on the pier to this day.

Thursday 20th August 1908

Sat by the sea at Caister on the dunes in the morning.

Afternoon - Showery.

Drove to Burgh Castle walked to the castle and saw the ruins. Had tea out.

Evening - stopped at home with Harry feeling rotten.

 

Another morning spent at Caister, and another showery day! Off to Burgh Castle in the afternoon – the castle ruins which Lily referred to would of course been the ruins of the 3rd century Roman fort which once stood guarding the entrance to the great estuary known as Gariensis by the Romans. On the opposite side of that entrance was a second fort at Caister-on-Sea, these were just two of a string of defensive sea forts which stood along the east coast between the Wash and the Solent to protect the coast against attack from Saxon raiders.

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