No Longer in Suspense.

Lockdown restrictions are easing again. I was hoping that I'd soon be out and about, possibly even in new parts of the country, but the shingles symptoms have put paid to that for now, so here's another bygone boozer from my past.


A couple of weeks ago, probably nearer three or four by the time this gets posted, was the 176th anniversary of Great Yarmouth's Suspension Bridge Disaster in which 79 people drowned, 59 of them children. On the 2nd of May 1845 several hundred people had gathered on the bridge, which spanned the River Bure, to watch a clown in a washing tub being pulled by four geese advertising the arrival of the circus to town. The bridge collapsed.



A drawing of the original suspension bridge with its toll booth to the right.

There are more details about it here and local musician Matthew Ceiley has composed this song about the disaster.



A new bowstring bridge was opened in 1847 to replace the lost one and the subject of this post was to be found at its western end. Quite when it opened I can't be sure. The earliest reference to a pub at that location that I've come across is in the 1871 census which gives fish merchant William Smith and his wife Charlotte at a beer house on Acle Road in Runham. Things aren't helped by this area being sometimes called Runham, sometimes Vauxhall, sometimes Runham Vauxhall and sometimes it's just a bit of Great Yarmouth.



Extract from the 1871 census.

William and an earlier wife had been living at the same spot ten years before but there's no reference to a beer house in the census or in any trade directories that I've looked at up until the above 1871 head count.


Different wife and no beer for William in 1861.

Our friendly fish merchant is in Runham for three successive censuses – each time with a different wife. Quite what he's doing with them I don't know.


1881 and William the publican is on wife number three – Mary Ann.

But it's William rather than wife number three who is put in the ground in June 1885 and Mary Ann continues running the place until her own death in 1908. At this point her daughter Eleanor takes on the license for a short while before she marries later that year whereupon her newly acquired husband, James, becomes the licensee. It's under his watch that I find the pub named for the first time. In the 1911 census James and Eleanor are inhabiting the Suspension Bridge Tavern. It was either named to mark the lost bridge or by someone wasn't too hot on bridge designs.


In 1950, George Plunkett took this photograph of the bowstring bridge with the Suspension Bridge Tavern just peeking in on the extreme left and the former White Swan on the right – between the North-West Tower and the old toll booth.

Whilst I remember the Suspension Bridge Tavern I don't remember this bridge which is hardly a surprise for it was dismantled before I was born, being replaced with a wider Callender-Hamilton steel truss structure a few yards downstream.


Pub, bridges and shop. Must be 1953 as both bridges are present.

Although this steel truss bridge was removed with the opening of the new Bure crossing in 1972...

Publess, bridgeless and shopless in October 2018 © Google 2021

...it was the familiar sight, with the Suspension Bridge Tavern on the left, which greeted me as a child when returning to Great Yarmouth from most trips out of the town. Setting a wheel onto the bridge signalled the end of the Great Car Count, one example of which was described in this post on the former Stracey Arms (which has recently been updated with a couple of old images).


The Suspension Bridge Tavern (and the Bure Bridge) viewed from the west...


...and from the east.

As can deduced from the above photographs, the Suspension Bridge Tavern was a Lacon's house for much of its life. In 1965 the Yarmouth brewer was bought by Whitbread and the picture below, with the Tankard font on the bar, would've been taken in the early 1970s as I don't believe Whitbread started brewing Tankard until early in 1970.


Early 1970's, with a Whitbread Tankard font on the bar and a lovely legacy item on the wall – a Lacon's falcon clock.

The Beer Orders of the 1980s saw Whitbread divest themselves of pubs and at some point the Suspension Bridge became an Admiral Taverns tavern. In later years it was a popular live music venue. Click here to see some shots by Lizzie Reynolds of local band The Divide performing there in 2016.



Recently the place has been open, then shut, then open again, then shut and then...

At least we are no longer being kept in suspense about its future as planning permission has been granted for its demolition to make way for seven new apartments and having been on the market it is so no longer. It looks like the Suspension Bridge Tavern is about to come down – just like the bridge did.


Thanks Jonathan Plunkett for his father's photograph of the bowstring bridge, to Russell Walker for the picture of the two bridges and to Maggie Hoyle, whose parents ran the pub through the 1960s into the early '70s, for her photos which include the interior shot.


Geoff Pick's image is copyright and reused under this license.


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