Updated: Jun 25, 2022
Many, many years ago, much against my better judgement, I was persuaded by some work colleagues to take on the part of Charles Winter in a production of Noël Coward's Family Album. "You'll be OK. Charles is a bit of a drunkard. You'll be a natural for the role. You'll be fine." Nothing like a bit of typecasting.
Family Album is a one act – or in reality a one scene – play set in the 1860s, which is around the time that Gorleston's Lifeboat Tavern first made its appearance on the stage. No random selection from a pile of pre-war postcards; no interesting internet image sowed the seed for this post. This pub was run by members of my family for almost sixty years and is the first boozer that I remember being in. It's almost certainly the first pub I actually was in. I do have some hazy memories of the place: the pub sign depicting the rowing lifeboat, the green and cream of Lacon's corporate colour scheme, the dark wood of the floor, bar, furniture – all impregnated with that stale beer scent that seemed so common back then but only occasionally assaults my nostrils in the 21st century. And I'm sure there was an upright piano just inside the back door. The Lifeboat may well be the original source of my interest in these places, for I remember a fascination with them dating back to well before I had any desire to consume their wares. In view of the above, this post is likely to develop into a bit of a family album of its own.
The Lifeboat Tavern was situated on Pier Road, or Pier Walk as it later became, in Gorleston – not a million miles away from the River Yare and the town's lifeboat station. It seems as if it first opened in the late 1860s, three doors closer to the river than another existing, although now also closed, Lacon's house – the Suffolk Fishery. Gorleston was in Suffolk in those days. Its first landlord looks likely to have been Richard Leggett. He, but not the pub, is named in the 1869 Post Office directory...
...but the name is recorded in the census which took place two years later.
My family's involvement with the pub starts on the 14th October 1904 when great grandfather William Burrage takes over from Joseph Butcher at the Lifeboat Tavern. Joseph had only been in residence for about six months, probably having moved there when the original Three Tuns on the High Street shut its doors with the opening of its new namesake. (It's closed now too, so watch this space.) I imagine that William had come to the decision that life as a master mariner was becoming a bit too much at the tender age of sixty-one and that perhaps it was time to stop sailing the seven seas and to rediscover his land legs. Kelly's 1908 directory provides evidence for this change of career.
The 1911 census shows that he is being assisted in running the business by his wife – my great grandmother Sarah, and their daughter Ethel – or Gran as I used to call her! Two of Ethel's younger siblings are also living there at the time, Elvie and Albert.
When William died the following year it must've been a hard time for Sarah, for within a week of burying her husband she was burying her father too, but she took over the licence and continued to run the Lifeboat until her own demise.
By the time that happened in June 1930 Albert had moved to Cambridge, Ethel had married, moved away, and was living in London and only Elvie was living with her in the Lifeboat. There's really little doubt that although Sarah was the licensee it was Elvie who had actually been running the place for many years. The brewery's records would suggest that the pub now passed out of the family as one John Shippey Taylor, a fisherman, becomes the new licensee. However, with this there comes a little twist and a little mystery. Sarah died in the June, whereupon John Taylor took over the licence but within a couple of months he'd married Elvie. I remember Dad telling me that Sarah didn't like this Mr. Taylor, didn't approve of Elvie's relationship with him and whilst she couldn't legally forbid their marriage, effectively did so. Quite what her reasons were Dad didn't know or, if he did, he didn't tell me.
So John Taylor, known to all as Jack, took over the Lifeboat after his soon-to-be late mother-in-law's death but he didn't stay afloat in it for long. Elvie and Jack's marriage wasn't a long and happy one. It possibly may have been happy but it certainly wasn't long, for in less than a year Jack died, just like William and Sarah before him, at home in the pub. Elvie stayed on in the Lifeboat and in another odd little twist she asked her sister Ethel if she'd let one of her sons stay with her for a short while. That little boy who was uprooted from his home in east London and deposited in Gorleston to give the recently bereaved Elvie a bit of company, 'for a short while', was my father.
He never went back to live in Plaistow. Gorleston, and the Lifeboat, became his new home and new school friends would come and play in the pub's back yard.
After leaving school, along with friend Bob, he started working in Jewson's Great Yarmouth branch when they were still a local, East Anglian, firm and not just a part of the Saint-Gobain empire. Career progression was halted when Alois Schicklgruber's son decided to pop into Poland with the odd phalanx of Panzers in early September 1939. The next half-dozen years saw both Dad and the Lifeboat survive the ravages of war, but it was close. The Luftwaffe was a familiar visitor to Great Yarmouth, particularly in 1940 and 1941. On August 24th 1940, just after eight in the morning, a string of twenty bombs fell, landing about forty yards apart in an area which included Pier Walk. I remember, a quarter of century on, Dad showing me the cracked paving slabs near the pub where one failed to explode. The British Legion Club just along the road wasn't so lucky though...
The Waterside Tavern, just around the corner from the Lifeboat on Riverside Road, also survived that attack but didn't fare as well in a later one, being destroyed on 19th August 1941.
Whilst Dad was travelling the world, playing his part in destroying despots, Elvie kept the Lifeboat going. Even when he returned to Gorleston with my mother in tow after hostilities had ended, setting up home in one of the new prefabs near the now gone Lacon Arms, the pub still featured in his life. Their first-born, my brother, was born in the Lifeboat.
Being close to the river in a port town the Luftwaffe wasn't the only risk that the Lifeboat had to face. On the 31st January 1953, along with a lot of low-lying properties in Great Yarmouth, and indeed all around the North Sea coast, the Lifeboat was flooded. Whilst I've no pictures of a watery Lifeboat, it fared similarly to the Belle Vue on the right of this image. The now closed White Lion high up on the left understandably did a lot better.
Whilst the damage to property was extensive it pales into insignificance when compared with the hundred deaths which occurred in Norfolk, with ten of those being in Great Yarmouth. Dad helped Elvie to mop out the pub and get things straight and the place had dried out and had its decorations up ready for the Queen's coronation later that year.
At the time of the coronation the pub was still a beerhouse and it would be another four years before it obtained a full licence. This happened on 8th February 1957 when Lacon's effectively transferred the licence from the General Wyndham, located across the river in Great Yarmouth and which closed on that date, to the Lifeboat.
With its proximity to the river it's no surprise that much of its clientele was connected with maritime activities. Fishermen and pilots, chandlers and lifeboatmen, they could all be found inside when their working days or periods of duty were over. Clicking here will take you to a picture of them outside the pub.
Elvie gave up the pub and retired in 1962. I may have been young but I remember that day well. It was the only time I stayed for school lunch whilst at infant school as Mum and Dad helped her move to a small end-of-terrace house a couple of roads away. I remember it mainly because the mash was lumpy and the hard-boiled egg had a massive black halo around the yolk. It was also happened to be Elvie's seventy-fourth birthday.
Seventy-four might be quite an age to retire but Elvie went on to outlive both the Louise Stephens, which was replaced in 1967 by a new Waveney class vessel called Khami, and the
Lifeboat Tavern which closed in October 1970 with its landlord, Eric Hancy, moving to the Suffolk Tavern a few hundred yards up the road. Elvie died in 1971. Fifty years ago to this very day as it happens. Just like the occasion of her retirement, I remember the day very well. It was half-term and I had spent the week touring Scotland with my parents and sister in a hired Bedford CF camper van. We were heading back south and had spent the night at my aunt and uncle's place not far from the now dead Parrakeet in Hurlford, when Dad returned from the phone box along the road with the news. Those were the days when not everybody had phones in their houses let alone ones that their eyes were permanently glued to.
After closure the Lifeboat was converted for residential use. I've heard from more than one source that Justin and Dan Hawkins of the band The Darkness lived there with their mother in the '90s but I've no other evidence to support this.
Mr. Google showed that it used to be a pub when he passed in 2008 but could only produce a crooked house.
He made a better fist of it in 2019 when all evidence of its previous life had been removed. Still looking like a bygone boozer though it was on the market at the time.
If you're sad that you missed out on the earlier opportunity to buy into my past and really fancy it, it's on the market again (or possibly that should be 'still'?). At the moment you can have a snout around inside by clicking here if you wish.
The Lifeboat Tavern has gone but some things remain. I've a quart pewter pot, a Lacon's bottle opener and a fifty-five piece domino set – that's a double-nine set to you and me – that all came from the pub. I've always wondered what happened to Jack's ship's barometer though. And whilst the pub's gone it certainly suffered a better fate than the previous Lifeboat that I wrote about. It was a close thing though. If the bomb that hit the British Legion on that August day in 1940 had landed forty yards to the south-east...
The photograph of the RNLI Samarbeta is copyright and reused under this licence.
The Norfolk Pubs website was the source of some of the information not contained within family memory.
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