PEGGOTTY, whose weekly Through the Porthole column has appeared in the Great Yarmouth Mercury for many years, devoted his article on 25th February 2005 to Gorleston Super Holiday Camp's Rollerdrome.
It is reprinted on this website by kind permission of the Editor of the Great Yarmouth Mercury.
WHEN the ''Clear the floor, please'' announcement was followed by Freddy Belcher and his orchestra striking up the music for a cut-away waltz, ten-step, Adams or Veleta, for example, the Gorleston roller-skaters would take their partners and gracefully circle the rink, enjoying one of the regular dance interludes during a pleasurable session on eight wheels in motion.
Gorleston Rollerdrome was a Mecca for adults, teenagers and children alike in those austerity years after the war. Certainly for those lads in their teens, the only real worries were school and the imminence of National Service, both forgotten the instant we walked along he badly-lit winding drive and into the dual-purpose building for more skating.
To us at that time, a high-tech concept would have been little more than our parents' new radiogram, or our latest achievement in Meccano, or even the new toe-stops on our Hamaco or Ace skates: neither our minds, nor those of our schoolmasters or employers, could possibly have envisaged that description of the unparalleled delights of Gorleston Rollerdrome would, more than half a century later, be available for instant perusal by people all over the world.
In the post-war Forties and early Fifties, the internet, the world-wide web, was beyond the realms even of science fiction.
But there is now a web site dedicated to dear old Rollerdrome - or to be more accurate, to Gorleston Super Holiday Camp, the building in which it operated in autumn, winter and spring, the skaters vacating it for an outdoor rink in the grounds for summer to allow it to cater for holidaymakers. And the man behind that web site, Gary Seeley. is eager for as many people as possible - visitors, workers and, presumably, skaters - to contribute their memories of a favourite spot.
Mr. Seeley, a 46-year-old Purchasing Manager working in central London, tells me from his home in Worcester Park, Surrey: ''I have wanted to set up a web site for Gorleston Holiday Camp for a long while, but just didn't have the expertise to do so. I am so pleased that I have managed to get it together now and hope it will grow with the help of people's memories.
''My interest in the old place is from all the wonderful holidays I had there as a child with my family. Some years, there was a huge group of us that went. We really did love the place and we were very sad when it closed.''
If you visit the site at www.gorlestonholidaycamp.co.uk you will learn of his excitement as a seven-year-old as his parents packed up their Ford Zephyr for their Gorleston holiday with friends travelling in the car with them. it was an annual holiday thereafter, and ''I only really saw my parents at meal times as I was so occupied with everything going on''.
Even now, he remembers the smell of the cleaning agent the women chalet maids used to make the pre-war accommodation spick and span for new guests. Over the years the chalets were improved, the food (three full meals a day, served by Spanish waiters) was prompt and ''fantastic'', and there was entertainment and live music every evening in the ballroom and bar.
Mr. Seeley revisited the site after the holiday camp was demolished in the mid-1970's to make way for the Elmhurst Court housing estate; only the start of the drive from Lowestoft Road remained then, and now.
When the holidaymakers had gone home, protective barrier rails were installed and Gorleston Super Holiday Camp - opened in 1937 - reverted to its Rollerdrome role. There were three rinks: the ballroom became the main one where the roller dance sessions interspersed general skating, the dining hall became the larger second rink, venue of hockey matches and preferred by those preferring speed to subtlety, and between the two was a small learner area.
Music throughout the evening was supplied by Freddy Belcher either with his six or seven-piece band - a luxury unthinkable today - or solo on organ. Records were used only on less popular nights. There were three sessions (afternoon, teatime and evening) daily on Thursdays (shops' early closing day) and Saturdays, evening opening Tuesdays (club members only), Wednesdays and Fridays. The place was closed on Sundays and Mondays, a long, miserable wait for enthusiasts.
Admission prices are hard to recall, but I have a feeling that the three shillings (15p) I earned as an errand boy in Bells Road on Saturday mornings paid for the three Saturday sessions (perhaps one shilling each for the two main ones, sixpence for the tea period, leaving a tanner for a cup of tea or two in the refreshment bar beside the main rink). Those were probably child prices. If you did not have your own skates, you could hire them from Bob Denton in the skate room.
In my early years at the Rollerdrome there were two professionals to steward the floors, coach us, and devise shows like the pioneer Pantorhymes. The first were Frank Martin, who died some time ago, and Jocelyn Taylor, still living in Great Yarmouth and, certainly till a few years ago, training pupils - possibly her involvement continues in 2005. Also there was Stan Haigh, son of the ''guvnor'' Charles. Later came Eric Mills, and probably others.
Some of the names of fellow Gorleston skaters that come to mind from those far-distant days ago are Malcolm Bell, Shirley Goodrich, Shirley Hayman, Daphne Boast, Pauline Newson, Nat Plane, Basil Millichamp (who devised innovative in-line skates), Bill and Joan Ghigi, Ron Caton and Mollie Fleetwood, George Thompson, Tony Taylor, Shirley Pratt, Arthur Wells, Geoffrey Smith, Vera Meadows, Ray Graystone, Joyce Platten, Stan Daniels, Laurie Brewer, Pam Strutt, Wally Gee, Jane Hardy, Pat Steward, John Bales, Jack Annison, Don Davy... Some are now, sadly, dead.
Roller-skating had a more intimate feel to it than ice, most of the maple-floored rinks being compact compared to the lofty, echoing ice rinks. At least the indoor rinks at Gorleston, Yarmouth's Winter Gardens and Lowestoft Palais had level floors - occasionally the Gorleston club would have a Sunday coach trip to Cromer where the rink was not only very small but also steeply raked because the building had once been the Olympia Cinema!
Roller-skating at the Wellington Pier began well before the 1914-18 war, but in its heyday, Gorleston was the place to go. Unfortunately, and to the distress of many of us skaters, the management was not smitten with the recreation despite its popularity, and despite a deputation, pleas and protests, closed the Rollerdrome, perhaps around 1950, leaving us with the Winter Gardens or Lowestoft alternatives.
I tried both, but neither managed to recapture the atmosphere that made Gorleston the favourite for so many.
Why not add your Rollerdrome/Gorleston Super Holiday Camp memories to the web page? No roller-skaters had contributed when I last browsed
Below is the text of a weekly feature in the Great Yarmouth Mercury in Norfolk on 2nd May 2008. The column has the title Through the Porthole, and the writer signs himself Peggotty. It refers to an article he wrote three years ago, already published on this website. Both are included here by permission of the editor of the Great Yarmouth Mercury.
THERE are some telling phrases that provoke us into spells of wishful thinking, often momentary and rueful. One is: “If only…” Another: “What might have been…” Also: “I wish I’d never done (or said, or written) that."
Very occasionally the thought comes into my mind that probably I would not be sitting here writing the latest Through the Porthole of the thousands already published had I not become obsessed with roller-skating in my teenage years. Confusing? Let me explain.
The recreation dominated my spare time. Even though I was no great shakes as a skater, I relished every moment I was at the long-gone Gorleston Rollerdrome in the company of my friends and fellow aficionados. I rarely missed a session at the amenity that operated in the postwar winter months at the Gorleston Super Holiday Camp (now a residential estate), the two rinks occupying the summer ballroom and dining hall. Whenever possible I was there most evenings and at all three Saturday sessions, scrounging money to augment my errand boy earnings.
But more important, I ignored the fact that I was skimping school homework, despite parental pressure. I lost interest in lessons, and I did not complete my two years in the sixth form. I had this constant urge to be at that rink.
But for the magnetic pull of Gorleston Rollerdrome, I might well have done much better academically, perhaps gone on to college or up to university and acquired qualifications that could have led who-knows-where.
That could have resulted in my career heading into other spheres and not into provincial journalism that had long been my ambition. And would I have felt happy and fulfilled elsewhere? Well, for one thing, I would not have had the pleasure of penning this column for decades.
A reminder of my misspent youth was prompted recently by a letter about the Rollerdrome era from one of my contemporaries who also spent many a delightful evening endlessly circling that floor (always anti-clockwise, except for a short “reverse skating” interlude to ensure there the wooden wheels wore evenly).
While most folk just skated round, the more proficient practised their spins and jumps in the centre. Also, there were regular breaks for roller dancing, sometimes accompanied by an orchestra that also provided background music for the general skating, while on others its conductor, Freddie Belcher, played solo organ.
My correspondent was Mrs Joan Barker, of Alexandra Avenue, Great Yarmouth, whom I remember as Joan Ghigi, one of the team of polished dancers produced under the tutelage of professionals Jocelyn Taylor – a Yarmouth resident still coaching, I believe - and the late Frank Martin, among others.
She wrote the letter and enclosed photographs three years ago in response to my column about roller-skating...but unfortunately, it slipped through my net until now. Sorry, Joan. But where nostalgia is concerned, what do three more years matter?
Reading that 2005 column “reminded me about happy days at the Rollerdrome – the nostalgia was great,” wrote Joan, Gorleston Roller Skating Club's last secretary.
“Dorothy Morris (nee Richmond) and I often reminisce about one of the coach trips we had with the skating club. One weekend during the Festival of Britain in 1981, a party of 32 went to London for 16s (80p) return.
“In the afternoon some of us went to the ice show at Wembley and at night to the funfair in Battersea Park. We slept in the Clapham deep shelters for half-a-crown (12½p) – we had to be in time for the last lift down at 11pm. Dorothy and her friend Norma went to the Hammersmith Palais and at 10.55pm I was looking out for them on Clapham Common. I felt responsible as I had arranged the outing, but anyway, they just made it.
“On the Sunday we went to the festival, then home in the very early hours of Monday morning, all of us worn out after a wonderful weekend.
“Often we would have a Sunday trip to the Forest Gate skating rink in London.”
Mrs Barker, a widow still working in the family business (Barker Photographic), continued: “I started skating in Derby at the age of five and had Dexter skates with steel wheels on small white boots. War came and skating was forgotten, but on coming to Yarmouth at 15 I started at the camp.
“Postwar, boots were virtually unobtainable (mainly second-hand cricket boots which did not give a lot of support to the ankles). I had to use a pair of my mother's black 1937 boots which were ugly with black pointed toes (probably fashionable today) and laced up to my knees.
“My father, Bill Ghigi, replaced the steel wheels which were on them with wooden ones that were the only type allowed on the floor at Gorleston. Later it was possible to buy ice boots which were much better.
“On one of my father's trips to Derby he managed to buy some ice hockey sticks; the roller hockey team had tried to play with ordinary hockey sticks that were too short for a lot of them.”
Roller hockey took place on one rink, allowing other patrons to continue skating without interruption in the ex-ballroom area. In summer, after an outdoor rink was built, roller hockey matches were staged to entertain campers; the skating club used that rink on Monday nights when the holidaymakers attended shows in Yarmouth.
My 2005 column was added to a fledgling internet website founded by Gary Seeley, from Surrey, who had holidayed at the camp with his parents and found the memories lingered long. I have just browsed the site again, and it has burgeoned, with many recollections posted, plus a splendid number of photographs guaranteed to bring back reminiscences from six decades ago, an era when our simple minds could never have envisaged such a phenomenon as the world-wise web.
Visit it at: www.gorlestonholidaycamp.co.uk
Although the holiday camp ran from 1936 till 1974, the Rollerdrome was open for only a few postwar years - still long enough to become a vital factor in my life.
In Mercurys of 2008 I am pleased to read that roller-skating continues in our eastern area, if not on the postwar scale when there were flourishing rinks at Gorleston and Yarmouth Winter Gardens patronised by young people who had limited pleasures other than the cinema and the Saturday night “hop” at the Floral Hall.
Only recently I read of successes for members of the Stalham Artistic, Waveney and North Walsham clubs, the achievements including selection for the Great Britain team in international competitions and winning medals at a major tournament in Kent.
I wish them all well in their skating endeavours…but, being a typical old fogey, remind them not to let their pastime jeopardise their future.
Been there! Got the t-shirt!
We received the following e-mail from Roy Lowe commenting on Peggotty's article:
I was reading an article on your website whilst trying find some info regarding Dexter roller skates, I spent my childhood and early youth in the forties and fifties roller skating at the Granby Halls situated in my hometown of Leicester, you are quite right about the atmosphere being superior to ice skating, something that I tried but it was never for me, there was always something about the maple floor and the noise of the skaters, pity about the dust though, I became a competitive speed skater for eleven years but had to move to Birmingham to pursue the sport as there was too many complaints about the dust as we had to coat the shiny surface with dental plaster of Paris in order to obtain grip, it was a hobby that was to take me to most rinks throughout the country but I never managed to skate at Gorleston which is strange because most of my holidays in the fifties were usually at Great Yarmouth when we used to camp at north Denes, visits to Gorleston were common and I remember the Guinness clock that always drew a crowd and the pleasure flights that I could never afford.
The reason that I was researching Dexter skates is because they were popular with the speed skaters at that time, the other option was Beadle which I think were made in north London by Eric Beadle who I remember being quite a character and could always be found demonstrating his skates at Alexander Palace. the present generation of speed skaters use inline skates, tights and protective gear and it seems to me that are trying to copy the ice skaters so I'm not too sure what that’s all about., I had my first skates when I was nine years old (1949) and they had steel wheels and a key to clip them onto the front of the shoe the rear was held on by an ankle strap, I see that you mentioned Hamaco skates, these seemed to be the standard skates at the time and I seem to remember the laminated ply wheels, and yes I do remember the enormous white toe stop , I found the photos of your skaters interesting they are very reminiscent of the times, happy days anyway and its always nice to remember how things used to be in the pre computer era, sorry that this article is more about skates than Gorleston but hopefully you might find it of interest, I have attached a photo taken in 1967 at Alexander Palace during a training session with yours truly at the front, using Dexter skates of course.
I stopped speed skating in 1971 when the rink surfaces changed along with the skates, I'm talking about varnished wooden floors and plastic wheels called Hudoras, the inline skates were not around then so they were still quad skates as they call them now, no dust, no noise and no atmosphere, as far as I was concerned it killed skating as I knew it, over the eleven or so years that i participated I met many interesting people especially in London as most of the events were held at Ally Pally and it would be nice to think that someone might read the article that remembers how it was all those years ago, many thanks for getting back, good luck with your website
Roy's photo appears below
Gorleston Skaters (L-R) Joan Ghigi, Pam MacDonald, Sheila Platford, Vera Meadows and Edna Jenner with hockey sticks on a wet-looking outdoor rink during an excursion to Harwich and Dovercourt.
Professional Jocelyn Taylor, a roller-skating coach all her life, pictured on the new Gorleston rink.
Sheila Platford, Jocelyn Taylor's predecessor, at the open-air rink. She later emigrated to Australia.
Gorleston Monarchs five-man roller hockey team are on the left of the picture that also includes their opponents (Monarchs L-R) back - Dennis Partis, Stan Scott, Leslie Jerrmy; front - Bill Ghigi (Captain) Ivan Cook (Goalkeeper) The referee was probably Ron Lind.
Above: Roy Lowe in the front at Alexander Palace 1967. See e-mail above.