Updated: Jun 22, 2021
Whilst randomly trawling YouTube the other evening, the video which appears further down the page cropped up in the right-hand 'appearing next' column. It set me off reminiscing and this post is the result.
On Friday lunchtimes in late 1977 and early 1978, if not out and about visiting farms around East Anglia, it is highly likely that I would've been found in here. The Two Bears Hotel stood at 15 Southtown Road, Great Yarmouth - on the corner with Mill Road. At that time it was buzzing. Always packed at lunchtimes with workers from the numerous firms linked to the gas and oil industry that were found in the town in those days, refreshing themselves in readiness for the afternoon's travails.
The building in which they were downing their pints of Norwich Bitter and chewing their way through their sirloins wasn't originally called the Two Bears. Built in around 1860, The Bear Hotel, just the singular bear, had George Smith as its first licensee. It was up for sale in 1862 with George as a yearly tenant and all early census and directory entries have it as The Bear. The picture below was taken when George Smith was the licensee, which dates it to 1863 or earlier. Although it shows a pair of bears above the front door it's simply called The Bear, selling Bass Pale Ale and offering good stabling.
In my diggings it is in the 1888 edition of Kelly's Directory where the bear's companion appears for the first time. It was also in 1888 that William Dicker took over the hotel. Perhaps it was he that introduced the additional ursine individual into the name. But no. A later look at the 1885 Ordnance Survey town plan shows that the establishment is clearly labelled as 'The Two Bears Hotel'. All I can say is that between the drafting of the 1879 edition of Kelly and the 1885 mapping an additional bruin appeared.
The photograph below was taken around 1907 when Mary Ann Woods was licensee. By then its structure had been altered slightly with the introduction of a corner entrance. Three years later its structure was to be altered once more, to allow for the widening of Mill Road which at that time known as Love Lane.
The 1910 restructuring included a reshaping of the front elevation. It featured a plaque to inform future generations of when this occurred as can be seen in this shot from 2013. The two bears are still there, just concealed by the rowan and the pub sign.
In 1924, Peter Shore was born in the hotel. Half a century later he was Secretary of State for the Environment in Harold Wilson's government. That's probably the place's only claim to fame and it closed in 2005, after which it remained empty for many years whilst folks argued and disagreed about its fate. A wedding venue? A supported hostel for the homeless? Finally, in 2014, the two bears were removed and the Two Bears was flattened.
In its place rose a retail outlet for a family-run, local, electrical goods company. They've kept the address and so are to be found at The Two Bears, 7 Mill Road.
But what became of the two bears themselves? Well, that brings me to the YouTube video mentioned at the start of all this waffle.
The two bears were restored and, in 2015, installed on the roof of the new building above its main entrance. A competition was held amongst local primary schoolchildren to name them. The outcome? Anna - after Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty who was born in the town, and Nelson - after, err, Nelson.
And here are Anna and Nelson atop their new home. The Two Bears may be gone, but the two bears live on. Perhaps it's not a totally unbearable outcome.
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