Growing up in Cromer North Norfolk 1950’s – 60’s

Cromer Pier and crab boat landing the catch

Growing up as a Cromer Crab

“These Are The Days Of Our Lives”

“You can’t turn back the clock, you can’t turn back the tide
Ain’t that a shame?”

Queen – 1991 album Innuendo

OED – Nostalgia: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past

I wonder what Roger Taylor was thinking about when he penned the lyrics for Queen’s hit song These Are The Days Of Our Lives. The words proved sadly prophetic for the great Freddie Mercury who died that same year.

So, nostalgia, is it a bad thing or simply harmless reflection? Surely many older individuals who had particularly happy periods in life feel nostalgic now and again. Such reminiscing wasn’t always regarded as healthy, with some doctors regarding dwelling too much on the past as being tantamount to a mental illness. Before such illnesses were better understood many in the medical world thought that nostalgia could lead to a sufferer physically wasting away and being rendered incapable of coping with everyday life. Apparently, soldiers and emigrants were considered to be at the highest risk of nostalgia-induced illness. At the moment I don’t believe that my nostalgia is pushing me to the brink of some mental collapse – still you never know! Anyway, I am prepared to risk it and relate my story about what it was like growing up in Cromer in the 1950’s and 60’s.

What prompted me to write this piece?

I was recently talking to a friend about my childhood spent in Cromer during the fifties and early sixties, a particularly happy time for me. We started to reminisce, and the memories came flooding back – school days, play, adventures and teenage romance.

1956 – Arriving in Cromer

The Hobart family moved to Cromer when I was eight years old. My father had managed Rusts’ grocery shop at Swaffham and the move to Cromer, Rusts’ headquarters, was a promotion for him. The firm was well established with shops in several Norfolk towns. Each branch of the business had its own premises with a specialist manager. In Cromer, there were Rusts’ shops selling wines and spirits, clothing, drapery and haberdashery, shoes and sweets, as well as groceries.

We moved into Warwick House, an apartment above the shop; it was too grand to be called a flat. I remember an ornate mahogany staircase with a full-length mirror fitted into the wall on the first landing. The rooms were huge; bay windows with a central door allowed access to balconies. The bell-pulls, to summon servants from the kitchen, were still in situ in the rooms.

Although ignorant of it then, I was living in a building constructed during Cromer’s golden age of Victorian and Edwardian elegance, the Belle Époque. Wealthy members of the aristocracy favoured Cromer, and grand hotels were built to cater for them. Sadly, the resort never recovered its fashionable status after the Great War. The ritzy hotels were still there, but the clientele had changed. The rich were now taking their holidays abroad, and with the advent of the package holiday industry, they were soon followed by the less well off. That said, the town was still extremely hectic during the summer months of the fifties and sixties – as it is today – and my father worked extremely long hours.

Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I would go down to help in the shop after closing time, assisting by fetching and carrying to re-stock the shelves. Father often spent Sundays redesigning his window displays, in which he took great pride. A particular effort was made at Christmas time: the well-lit windows were full of tempting seasonal fare.

Food packaging as we know it today did not exist. Butter was delivered in large blocks and was worked with wooden butter ‘pats’ on a slab of marble. That was a skilled job because accurately judging the weight was tricky. Cheese arrived in heavy, barrel-shaped pieces, wrapped in a thick bandage type material that had to be opened with a knife. That covering was then ripped from the cheese before the block could be cut into smaller, more manageable pieces. These large cheeses were difficult to carry; a grown man’s arms wouldn’t reach all the way around. Loose tea was delivered in wooden chests that had markings stamped on the outside identifying the contents and the exotic places of origin. I also remember the delights contained within numerous biscuit tins kept under the mahogany counters. There were shelled nuts of all kinds and desiccated coconut – something I developed a taste for.

School

My education was continued at Cromer Primary School (now residential units), where an open coal fire was used to heat the classroom. I can remember bringing in crates of milk to stand in front of the fire to thaw out. The milk was full cream, and we were supervised as we forced it down.

I don’t think I made much of an impression on the teaching staff, or indeed, them on me, as I can remember very little about my time there. The high point, as far as I was concerned, was when a male classmate brought a dead mole to school, which he kept in an ‘Oxo’ tin in his desk. He allowed me a peek at the unfortunate creature. The smell of the decaying mole gradually worsened, and the teacher’s nose eventually led her to the area in which he sat. She, understandably, became very agitated upon opening the tin. The offender was ordered to remove the corpse from her classroom – immediately!

Cromer Beach Station

When I arrived in Cromer, only one railway station remained – Cromer Beach. The High Station, once used by the Royal train on a regular basis, was closed by then and falling into disrepair. Cromer Beach station had two platforms, and a turntable that was close to Central Road. You could watch from there as a steam engine was turned around on the table by the muscle power of only two men.

A slope from the station entrance led to the main street into the town. The grass bank against the slope had large whitewashed stones arranged on it to spell out Cromer Beach. I  remember the train passengers walking down that slope; during the summer season, many were family groups arriving for their annual holiday.

Freedom

In retrospect, our greatest asset in those days was freedom. Changing times have suppressed this for children, and worried parents are now reticent to let them play unsupervised. That makes the great adventures that we embarked upon impossible now.

Cromer Lighthouse in the snow We spent much of our free time on the Lighthouse Hills to the east of the town. The hills and woods provided a play area: there were the   cliffs and trees to climb, a flat area for ball games, expansive areas of bracken in which to hide and build dens, and woodland to explore. In early summer, the heady scent of bluebells and gorse flowers would fill the air. There were blackberries to pick in autumn and during the winter snows, blood-curdling sledge runs down the steep sides of the natural amphitheatre that was Happy Valley. When we became teenagers the Lighthouse Hills became significant for another reason; many a romance blossomed there, and it was a favourite place for assignations.

We also spent time at the bottom of the Gangway where the crab boats were parked, and the catch unloaded when they returned from sea. The famous Cromer crabs were packed into wicker crans (round baskets) to go to the merchants. Sometimes a kindly fisherman would give you a crab to take home for tea.

Saturday!

Saturday was an important day of the week for us, and we made for two venues, the Regal Cinema and the Rollerdrome. For a small sum, you could hire some roller skates from Mr Troller, the proprietor of the Rollerdrome (the site is now a supermarket car park). Relay races generated great excitement and a lot of noise from the supporters of the teams. An event that was officially frowned upon involved skaters holding each other around the waist, forming a human chain. As the speed of this line of skaters increased the turns became more exciting and hazardous for those on the end of the chain. Their hold was broken by the whip effect, and they would be catapulted at high-speed across the rink.

The Regal provided the afternoon entertainment. That consisted of a cartoon, a serial, and a feature film. The feature was usually a cowboy adventure, which would be greeted by the audience with cheers for the good guys and booing for the bad. The strongest level of verbal abuse was reserved for any male character that approached a female member of the cast with romantic intentions. It is astonishing how vocal several dozen children could become when something went wrong with the projection equipment – an event not at all unusual in those days.

Our evening meal was sometimes fish and chips from the little shop in Corner Street (now the much larger Mary Jane’s). The proprietor, Mrs Quercia, would scoop them onto a piece of greaseproof paper and wrap them in newspaper; her hands becoming blackened by the ink as she served. That did not taint the flavour of the chips, and it had no adverse effect on our health.

To any reader who knew Cromer in those days and can remember being woken up by the lifeboat maroons exploding over the church; the inferno when the covered tennis courts at the Newhaven Court Hotel burnt down in 1961, Cilla Black appearing at the Rollerdrome, the waiters’ race, singing hymns with the C.S.S.M on the beach and standing in the rain waiting for the lifeboat to return from a rescue, I send greetings. I hope your memories of that time are also happy ones.

Finally, a few names: Mario Keeler, Richard Grey, Melvin Barker, Alan Amis, John Love, Richard Bratton, David Simons, Susan Thompson, Carol Green, Timmy Hunt, Jimmy Guyton, Lorna Fish, Ted Mann, Roger Bumfrey and the lovely Yvonne Roberts. Mr David Butt, a very good English teacher, and my maths teacher Mr Harold Hemms who was far too good for Cromer Secondary Modern. He tried his best to get my head around algebra and trigonometry but sadly failed. He did, however, succeed in sparking my interest in photography – something that has never left me.

Well that’s out of my system, and my trip down memory lane doesn’t seem to have had any adverse effects.

I will leave the last words to Queen:

“These are the days of our lives
They’ve flown in the swiftness of time
These days are all gone now but some things remain
When I look and I find, no change”

 

 

 

David Hobart

I grew up in Norfolk and have lived and worked in the county all my life.

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. David Hobart

    Hi David
    Thank you for your message. I can remember Boots being in the original location. There was a library in the back of the shop. I was in the church choir for a short time and we used to meet for practice at Mr Cutting’s house on Cliff Avenue.
    Best wishes
    David.

  2. David Crombie

    Hi David, just discovered your page and recognise many of the names mentioned by your various contacts,
    my family moved to Cromer in 1955 , my father was manager of Boots the Chemist, which is now
    Lloyds the Chemist. In 1960 we moved to St Mary’s road. Steve Davies lived up the road from me
    and John Roberts in Vicarage road, there was quite a gang of us living around there and many of us
    in the Church choir, we got up to all sorts of things !!!, far to much to tell now.
    I was at Cromer secondary modern and do remember the likes of honked Hemms, who I must
    agree was pretty scary, not condusive to a relaxed maths lesson. Mr Ruddick started at the school
    in 1966 and lived on Burnt Hills estate, I do believe he passed away a few years ago.
    Well I could write a book about growing up in Cromer, and probably will, it is was just a great
    time and place to be growing up in.
    I would particularly little like to hear from any other of the heathens that were in the Church choir
    under Kiffy Cutting from 1964 into the seventies.

  3. David Hobart

    Hi Steve
    Hope you are keeping well. Thank you for your contribution – very welcome. I think I can remember your dad. There is a possibility that he taught my sister to drive. I recognise some of the names you mention but Richard Lupton is one I have never heard before. You are a bit younger than me because I was working when April was abducted. Lovely to remember those times although tinged with sadness.
    Best wishes
    David.

  4. Stephen Davies (now Steve Scott-Davies)

    Hello again David

    Have just checked to see that 7 months have passed since my last post! So nice to read these posts again. Wonderful to read the posts from Debra Perkins/Cooper and Eve Robin/Jarrett. I remember Debra Perkins in Vicarage Road, and it was Debra who told me (at that awful time) that our school friend April had gone missing. I remember sitting next to April in the library at school. I recall our school friend John Roberts in Vicarage Road, a few doors away from Debra. I’m sure the name of John’s house was ‘Repose’, which is a strange thing to remain in my head! I remember sitting next to Eve Robin, in Mr Blois-Brookes’ class at Cromer Primary. I remember getting ‘slippered’ by Mr Blois-Brookes. Eve’s family had a big house opposite the bus station I think ? I have tried many times over the years to trace one our class mates, Richard Lupton (who lived in Roughton) but without success (I have a photograph of Richard and I sat together in a class, painting. Mr Peter Bower, one of our teachers, is still alive and living in Wroxham. Peter is the school archivist for Cromer Secondary Modern, and sent me a school photograph some years ago. I was also in the Cromer Church Choir and have a very decently sized choir photo from 1967. Lots of us from school were members. I can also remember the choir singing a few hymns, for some reason, on the beach at the bottom of the gangway in 1967. My grandad Henry William Davies was the Lifeboat Motor Mechanic on the Pier (although possibly he was close to retirement). My Dad, Michael Davies, was a driving instructor and owned Cromer Driving School (I can remember the telephone number was Cromer 2409). I lost my dad in recent years, he died in France. I had loads of ‘Davies’ cousins who lived at Suffield Park. So sad that I left Cromer in 1969/1970 and lost touch 🙁

  5. David Hobart

    Thank you for your input Peter. I hope you enjoy your visit next year.
    Best Wishes
    David.

  6. Peter Willis

    I came across this blog while searching for my former maths teacher Mr Hems, it contents have cheered me up, its akin to a time travel visit, thoroughly enjoyable.

    just adding to the interesting sound of lifeboat maroons there was also the all clear air raid siren in Canada Road used to summon the firemen, just across from the old fire station was a barbers shop, I think a hair cut was 2 Shillings but I may be wrong.

    Emlyn Davies was my Head master at Cromer junior school, Mrs Tetley used to belt out songs on the piano, and I was frequently slippered by form teacher Mr Blois-Brooke.

    With regard to fish and Chip shops 2d was obtained from the amusement arcade and spent on chips in the shop on the junction of Corner and Garden street or Quercias in Church Street. Further fish and chip shops later sprung up next to the Melbourne Hotel in New St and another in Prince of Wales Road next door to the old Co-op.

    On a Cromer low 2 of my classmates at the Junior School, Anthony Nuttell and another drowned on East Beech they were resident at Colne Cottage, the Croft, a service was held at the Methodist Church not far from the whitewashed stones announcing Cromer Beech. All Staff and teachers walked in orderly groups along Louden Road and West St to attend the service.

    On a Cromer high note on a hot summers day on the west beech I remember Valerie Wiseman who lived 4 doors along in Cabbell Road using the temporary pleasure boat jetty to dive in the sea and save a small child from drowning. I beleive this temporary jetty was only existed for 1 summer season.

    Have booked up a short stay in the hotel de paris for 2021 hopefully lockdown will have finished and I can relive my past, can’t wait.

    .

  7. David Hobart

    Hi Phil
    Thank you for your comments.
    The name Ruddick is not familiar to me. The art teacher during my time was Mrs Noone.
    They were wonderful days and I look back on them with great affection.
    Best wishes
    David

  8. Phil McCarthy

    Hello David,

    Great post, although a little before my time in Cromer (I was there 1972-80) I do recognise many of the names, indeed Mr Butt was still at the school during my time. I wonder if you mighty have come across an Art teacher, Mr Ruddick. I’m trying to trace him but without much luck. I used to live next to the football ground on Overstrand Road, then Cliff Drive. I was in the Choir in the town church. The twins Amis were great friends of mine, in the ATC Squadron.

    My Saturdays were spent much as yours, up and down the cliffs and ranging over Happy Valley.

    Best wishes
    Phil McCarthy

  9. David Hobart

    Hello Steve
    Thank you so much for your comments. Yes, it was a wonderful place to grow up and like you I have so many happy memories.
    Best wishes and keep well.
    David.

  10. Steve Scott-Davies

    OMG David, what an incredibly happy, and beautifully nostalgic piece to read for me this morning (9th August 2020). I am a Cromer Crab, and enormously proud of it too. I can reflect so much of what you have written. I worked at Rusts (mainly as a Saturday boy) and still have a letter of reference (in mint condition) from Mr H J Eastbury dated 24 June 1970. Wow, the names of my school friends mentioned in an earlier post was so nice to see (Diane Leonidas, Susan Bailey, Eve Robin, Leslie Garwood). Then the mention of Mr Troller at the Rink, Mr Butt (our English teacher), Mr ‘Honker’ Hemms (who scared me to death). I remember Beverly Smeda too. My mother is still alive and is, still to this day, in regular contact with Derek and Sheila Smeda. I have tons of memories I’d very much like to share. I now live in Somerset, but would love a reason to drive to Cromer and enjoy a ‘nostalgia party’ . Best wishes to you all. Stephen Davies (now Steve Scott-Davies… aged 64

  11. David Hobart

    Hello Martin
    Thank you for your input.

  12. MARTIN HALFORD

    Enjoyable read, just reminiscing myself, as I spent a short time, in Cromer 1964/65ish and attended the primary school there.
    We lived in the Old mill house at Roughton for a short while and had nothing but happy memories of being there.My father played cricket for Norfolk and it has been a place etched in my memory. Happy days!!

  13. David Hobart

    Thank you for your comments Debbie. I am glad it brought back memories of some pleasant times for you.
    Best wishes
    David

  14. Debra Cooper

    Thank you for you article, it took me back to some of the best days of my life , I Debra Perkins lived in Vicarage road with my mum and dad Molly and Geoff and my sister Carol and brother Tony we used to spend many happy hours at the roller drome and also a the links ,I recognise many of the names you said
    I hope many people respond because we need those good memories especially at a time like this .
    Thank you again
    Debbie .

  15. David Hobart

    Thank you Roy. I now live within a stone’s throw of the hotel site that is now a block of flats. I can remember getting out of bed and going with the rest of the family to watch when the outdoor tennis courts building also burnt down. The fire was so intense that burning embers were blowing across the town, over the top of the church tower and out to sea. Glad you enjoyed your times at Cromer. It is still a great place to live. Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year.

  16. Roy Boyd Stevenson

    I was living at the Newhaven Court Hotel when it caught fire in 1963. I was 10 years old. I remember I just had my birthday 5 days before and I lost everything. Prior to that I have some wonderful memories of my time there with my brothers and parents. Yes I am a Boyd-Stevenson. I now reside in the USA.

  17. gerry mitson

    Eve Robin Jarrett, hi we lived in shelly house in the early 50,s and ran it as a b&b, love these memorys, as for newhaven court, i’m sure we used to go dancing there on a monday night.

  18. Elizabeth Page

    The other wonderful thing about Cromer in those years was the Links. Buses from North Walsham (where I lived) and Saturday night sorted!!

  19. Eve Robin Jarrett

    My family (The Robin Family) lived in Cromer for many yrs. Many of my 8 siblings were born there as was I in 1955. I have vivid memories of growing up there and remember well the landscape you have painted with its many characters, Quercia’s, Rusts. The Trollers. David Butt Harold Hemms et al. Over the past 50 yrs since I lived there I have often thought of my school friends Diane Leonidas, Leslie Garwood, Susan Bailey, Christine Willer, Beverly Smeda fond memories of time spent. If any of you are reading this I want you to know how much I valued your friendship in those young yrs. Hope you are all well and Happy!

  20. David Hobart

    Thank you. Glad you enjoyed the piece.
    Best wishes
    David

  21. Deborah Braun

    Wow Si h wonderful memories for us THe Robin family from Shelly house on cadogan rd Cromer
    Thank you for this pieces, really enjoyed it.
    Deborah Robin

  22. David Hobart

    Hi David
    Thank you for your comments. Pleased that you enjoyed growing up in Cromer as much as I did.

  23. David. Brett

    Born in garden street 1950 attended cromer schools played in a group at rollerdrome on Sunday nights.worked locally in shop in town.moved too suffield park in 1955 where my parents lived out the rest of their lives.I married and moved out of the town in 1973.my sister still lives in the town.lots of fond memories of times gone by.

  24. David Hobart

    Hi Mike
    I can’t remember a fish and chip shop in the high street. There was one in Church Street for a year or two (60’s I think) that was run by Jenner Quercia who was the son of the Quercia’s that had the fish and chip shop in Garden Street/Corner Street that later became Mary Jane’s.

  25. Mike Parr

    Can anyone remember the fish and chip shop in the high street. I seem to think it was called something like Risbrough. They were related to the Cox family who were lifeboatmen in Cromer.

  26. David Hobart

    Hello Janet
    Great to hear from you. I am glad you enjoyed the article. They were happy days for me and what a great place to grow up.

    Best wishes to you and yours
    David

  27. Janet Pamenter née Heath

    That is exactly what I remember great days Susan Thompson was my neighbour if she had a brother Michael and sister Linda. I left in 1961 for Australia.

  28. David Hobart

    Hi Noel
    Great to hear from you. We must get together soon. I will watch the voyage with interest.
    Best wishes
    David

  29. Noel Codling

    Great stuff David. Must get over to see you soon. Can’t understand where the time goes. Hope you and yours are all keeping well. Mary and Ray are sailing round the UK at the moment.If you’re interested you can follow their progress at http://www.sailblogs.com Go to Talora chasing tides. Best regards. Noel Codling

  30. Nigel Emblem

    “THE ONLY THING TO LOOK FORWARD TO IS THE PAST”…THE LIKELY LADS!

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