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Tunstall: Gateway to Oblivion.

Updated: May 25, 2021

One thousand and thirty-six. That's right. One thousand and thirty-six. One thousand and thirty six-cars passed, travelling in the opposite direction, from the moment we got onto the Acle New Road at Acle until we drove onto the bridge over the River Bure on our arrival back in Great Yarmouth. That was the record.

Sitting in the back of Dad's dark green Vauxhall Victor FC, travelling home from somewhere like Norwich, we youngsters used to count the cars leaving Great Yarmouth. The occupants, now heading back towards their homes, no doubt had spent an enjoyable day consuming fluorescent candyfloss, preventing sand from being blown onto their ice cream by the mistral-strength sea breeze and avoiding stepping in the piles of product produced by the power sources of the horse-drawn landaus. On this particular occasion there were one thousand and thirty-six. I remember the number well as it was the first time we'd cracked the thousand mark and thirty-six was our house number.

One thousand and thirty-six cars in the seven and a half miles of Acle New Road. Rather like the New Cut of the previous post it's a bit of a misnomer, but time passes slowly in Norfolk. I heard that last week a motorcyclist was dragged from his machine and kicked to death in Blofield as the locals thought that the Roundheads were comng back. They're still paying Danegeld there too. (Blatantly adapted - OK, stolen - from Mike Harding's 'Egremont: Gateway to Oblivion'.)

The Acle New Road, or Acle Straight, is a seven and a half mile stretch of the A47 and was opened in 1831. It was originally a turnpike road approved by Act of Parliament the previous year and it reduced the distance between Great Yarmouth and Norwich by about three and a half miles. It was designed as two straight sections with a bend mid-way along, at the point where a road could be taken off to Halvergate. This solution was fine in the days when coaches travelled at five miles per hour but ever since vehicles have been travelling an order of magnitude faster the combination of straight stretches, a bend and a road junction has kept the local funeral parlours supplied with trade.

The road even gets a mention in the Darkness's 'Stuck in a Rut'.

'Gimme the keys

You ain't gonna see me for dust

The Barnby Bends ain't gonna get the better of me

Gimme the keys

To any old bucket of rust

The Acle Straights are gonna take me to where I wanna be'

Whether the band was trying to escape from Lowestoft or Great Yarmouth isn't explicit but the lyrics go on to say, '...And the Golden Mile is paved with shite', so I suggest it is the latter. The Hawkins boys used to live with their mother in a bygone boozer in Gorleston back in the 90s. It'll probably appear in these pages some time in the future, but I digress.

At the point where the piles of bent BMWs, mangled Mercedes and twisted Toyotas tend to accumulate used to be a pub, the Stracey Arms. Officially in Tunstall St. Mary, it's actually in the middle of nowhere.

The Stracey Arms in the 1970s.

The current building dates from the 1960s, but it seems that there was an inn on site from at least 1836. White's 1845 gazeteer gives the delightfully named Christmas Francis as a victualler at the Stracey Arms in Tunstall but he was there before then, being listed as an innkeeper in the 1841 census.

Whilst Christmas was an early licensee the original owner of the inn was Sir Henry Stracey; 5th incumbent of the Stracey Baronetcy of Rackheath, sometime MP for the area and later High Sheriff of Norfolk. After passing down the family line the inn came into the possession of Bullard's Brewery in the first part of the twentieth century and then the Watney Mann group when the Norwich brewers were bought up in 1963. Was it rebuilt as a result of this acquisition? I have to say that I don't know, but it happened around that time. What was the original like? Well here's a couple of pics.

The original Stracey Arms in the 1930s...

...and around 1870.

The Stracey Arms was an iconic pub for anybody who regularly drove between Great Yarmouth and Acle. In the summer it was heaving with Broadland holidaymakers. Hundreds would moor their hired cabin cruisers on the bank of the River Bure to visit the neighbouring Grade II* listed windpump and then pop in for some refreshment or even tie up for the night, grabbing their dinner and a pint or three from the convenient hostelry. In the winter months things were a bit different.

Stracey Arms windpump and River Bure. ©2010 Ashley Dace

My only visit was on a wet and windy Saturday evening in November 1973. It must've been around 7.00 p.m. when we pulled into the car park. Four of us were returning from a rugby match in Norwich in an Austin 1100. With all of us being Yarmouth-based there seemed little point in going back to the clubhouse, so we thought we'd call in before going home and then on to our usual haunts such as the Links or the Highlands. It's amazing what can be fitted into one of those cars. Four bags of kit in the boot, a pair of second-row forwards in the front and a winger and scrum-half in the back. Those were the days of platform soles of ridiculous dimensions too. Four pints of Norwich Bitter ordered, four pints consumed and the four of us left. Nobody else entered the establishment whilst we were there that I can recall.

And therein probably lies the story of the pub's demise. A pub in the middle of nowhere with, at best, a twelve-week season. Over time, the number of visitors to the area decreased and the Stracey Arms tried to reinvent itself. In 1999 it became the Three Feathers and then in 2002 it morphed into an American-style diner, the Pontiac Road House. This closed in 2008. Other than for a brief incarnation as a seasonal, buffet-style, chinese restaurant it remained empty for years. No Pontiac Firebird here. No phoenix rose from the ashes.

The (closed) Pontiac Road House. ©2011 Evelyn Simak

©2011 Evelyn Simak

Roll the calendar forward to 10th December 2014 and the pub, along with six acres of land and four hundred metres of mooring, was sold at auction for £160,000. The moment was captured on camera and the pub was featured in an episode of Homes Under The Hammer. (I wasn't watching it, you understand. I simply hadn't turned the set off after a programme about how Andrew Strominger and Cumrun Vafa derived the Beckenstein-Hawking formula for some black hole or other.) The purchasers were intending to convert the property into a Hindu religious centre. And they have.

Vendic Cultural Centre of East Anglia in July 2019. ©2020 Google

That's enough of this reminiscing. First it was Haddiscoe and now this. I really ought to get back to trying to untangle the pride of bygone Lions in Ashbourne.

Thanks to Russell Walker for the 1970s photograph. Photographs from Evelyn Simak and Ashley Dace are licensed for reuse under this licence:- cc-by-sa/2.0.

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