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Here's Hoping!

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

It was November 2014. I was sitting in the Pier Hotel in Gorleston looking at a pint of bitter. It would be my last pint in the Pier. As things stand it was my last pint in Gorleston.

I was sitting at the table with my spouse, my siblings and their spouses, their offspring and their spouses and their offspring.

The Offspring (No, not the above offspring!), sang

'When the pastor's music plays

And that casket rolls away...'

and that's what we'd just experienced. The Pier had been one of my boltholes for an occasional hour or so of respite when visiting Dad over the previous couple of years and now that would not be required any more.

Built in 1897 for Great Yarmouth's Lacon's brewery, the Pier Hotel found its fifteen minutes of fame in Danny Boyle's film 'Yesterday'. A Lacon's falcon even makes an appearance at around 1:55.

If that was the Pier Hotel's fifteen minutes of fame mine, probably, was being at the same student parties, probably, as the Oscar-winning director. Probably. I can't say that for certain but we did have mutual friends and mutual friends of friends. Probably. If I'm not totally certain of that, I am certain that I have a photo of him from those days taken by another contemporary of ours, professional car and motorcycle photographer Garry Stuart. He probably went to some of the same parties too. Probably.

Danny Boyle on stage at Theatr Gwynedd, Bangor. c1975 ©Garry Stuart

That's enough of the name-dropping and digressing. Let's get back to the story. Now, where was I?

I had my last pint in the Pier in 2014. The last pint served in the Pier was poured on the 20th March 2020, just like in thousands of other boozers across the UK. I think it'll reopen sometime, unlike some others. Here's hoping anyway. So, if I think it'll reopen why is it featuring in a blog about bygone boozers? Let me explain.

Lockdown has provided the time for me to dig deep into the recesses of an old hard drive and I came across some images that I got from a distant relative years ago. Possibly fifteen, maybe even twenty, years ago. My nth cousin m times removed had some pictures of the Pier Hotel's predecessor, the Anchor and Hope and of some of the Bensley family that ran it for a while

This pub name, along with its more common reversed form, is not as might be thought derived from a maritime source. Whilst there are many Hope and Anchors, Anchor and Hopes and even simply Anchors to be found in coastal towns, the likes of Coventry, Birmingham and Wirksworth can hardly be considered on the country's littoral fringe. It's origin actually stems from a biblical reference. From Paul's letters to the Hebrews. Hebrew's Chapter 6, verse 19: Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast...

Our Anchor and Hope stood, sure and steadfast, at the head of Gorleston pier, on the spot where the Pier Hotel stands now. The earliest reference to it that I've dug out so far is in Pigot's 1839 directory when Edward King is the innkeeper, but the Norfolk Pubs website refers to documents which place him there as early as 1819.

The former Anchor and Hope on the left in 1897, the year of its demolition.

The former Anchor & Hope with its lookout tower.
The Pier Hotel (right) which now sits on the site.

The painting above shows the old Anchor and Hope, with the ladder on the right-hand side leading up to the lookout and beachmen's quarters. Before the days of an organised lifeboat service beachmen kept a lookout for vessels in distress before heading out to rescue the crew and make a profit from any successful salvage attempt. Attached to the seaward side of the pub was a mortuary where any unfortunate victims were stored until they could be disposed of in an appropriate manner. The delightful task of key keeper fell to the innkeeper. Or at least it did to Georgiana. It is with Georgiana, or at least with her son, where my relationship with my nth cousin m times removed starts, but let's just step back a bit.

Edward King, who'd been the innkeeper since at least 1819, died in 1841 and after a few short tenures the pub comes into the possession of George Burgess around 1857. When he dies in 1865 his widow Elizabeth takes it on until she joins him in the cemetery in1879. Step up John Bensley and his wife, Georgiana (or Georgianna or Georgina). Georgiana was Elizabeth's sister so the place was being kept in the family.

John Bensley.
Georgiana Bensley.
Georgiana, hand on hip, outside the Anchor & Hope. Post-1888.

Both the Burgess and Bensley familes were greatly involved with the lifeboat service once it was established, replacing the role of the beachmen. John and Georgiana's eldest son, also John, was the coxswain of the Gorleston lifeboat for a number of years. There's no doubt that there'd be a load of Burgesses and Bensleys in this shot of the lifeboat crew, taken around 1890 inside the pub.

The Anchor & Hope was eventually flattened and Lacon's built the Pier Hotel on the site. Whether it still has the smugglers' secret tunnels linked to the river I'm not telling. It's a secret.

The picture of the Pier Hotel by Stacey Harris is licensed for re-use under this Creative Commons license: CC BY-SA 2.0.

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