Things are not always what they seem; the first appearance deceives many; the intelligence of a few perceives what has been carefully hidden. So wrote Phaedrus a couple of millennia ago.
I don't believe that Phaedrus ever journeyed from a sunny first century Rome to a less-than-sunny twentieth century Norfolk but if he had perhaps he'd have been inspired to write those lines by catching a glimpse of the Lacon Arms in Bradwell. I regularly used to pedal past it on my way to and from schoolmates' houses and didn't really spot its secret until many years later. Quite what that indicates about my intelligence I'm not sure.
Great Yarmouth and Gorleston (Bradwell has now essentially joined up with the latter) had some lovely Art Deco pubs. Lacon's Brewery added a number to their estate, designed by A.W. Ecclestone, such as the Links, the Clipper Schooner and the iconic Iron Duke which all featured in this earlier post.
To go some way towards meeting the housing needs of the late 1940s, 711 Arcon bungalows were assembled producing the UK's largest prefab estate on land on the border between Gorleston and Bradwell, which the local authority had acquired from Oxford's Magdalen College.
The Shrublands estate provided numerous, much-needed, homes to replace those which had been lost to bomb damage and to the slum clearance in Great Yarmouth of the immediate post-war years. They were government-owned but maintained and managed by the local authority with the rent being 12s 6d (62.5p) per week. My parents spent the first few years of their married life together living in one in Pine Green. (However, the first part of their married life wasn't spent together: Burma and England were somewhat distant from each other. In fact they still are.) But the estate was in need of something other than just houses. It needed a pub. Now, if we take a look at the whole of Tony Green's photograph, rather than just a cropped-out section, we can perceive how we were deceived.
Throw up a couple of prefabs, bung on an Art Deco-style frontage and... Voilà! Lacon's had an instant boozer with a public bar on one side and a lounge bar on the other. The new Lacon Arms was not quite the classic 1930s architectural beauty that it might have appeared to have been.
Remove the later additions, entablature and cornices – or whatever the proper terms are – which provided the niches which used to house plaques of the Lacon's falcon, strip away the paint, and we have a utilitarian structure that suited the period of austerity that folks had been living though at the time, even though only a few months later Harold Macmillan spouted, "Indeed, let us be frank about it: most of our people have never had it so good." Somehow I doubt that the future Earl of Stockton would've have been supping his favourite tipple in an asbestos shed.
The prefabs were built with an original life-expectancy of ten years but demolition didn't start until around 1967 and I remember a school friend living in one after that. Rather unusually, the permanent housing which was constructed to replace them retained the same road layout and street names. The Lacon Arms managed to survive for quite a bit longer than its smaller prefabricated neighbours. Renamed The Arches in 1985 it continued serving until 2017. It was demolished and the site developed the following year.
Thanks to Tony Green for the use of his photograph and to Caroline Jones for the black and white images of the pubs.
If you've read this far, then thank you. Like me, you must have some sort of interest in bygone boozers. If you haven't done so already you can subscribe to ensure that you don't miss any future posts. Simply click here to return to the home page (opens in a new tab), follow the 'Subscribe' link and complete the form to receive an email notification of any future post. Or you could simply follow the link at the top of this page.