AFTER A GALE
This is another of Frank Welch’s pictures of Costessey life in the early 20th century. The caption reads ‘”After a gale” Costessey Feb 22nd 1908′. Where in Costessey was this exactly? It was in Longwater Lane, with the footbridge over the river Tud in the background. At the time the river was forded by heavy traffic, with a bridge only for pedestrians, so as not to get their feet wet. The history of the bridge is complicated; first it was a rustic bridge called the Carriers’ Bridge or the Stick Bridge, for it was made of branches. This was built in the late nineteenth century. A concrete and iron bridge replaced the Stick Bridge in 1907, and this would be the structure seen here. Eventually in 1913 a bridge was erected to carry wheeled traffic over the river. However it would only take light vehicles – a traction engine for example would still have to use the ford, which remained in place, although narrower. A more substantial bridge was built over the river in 1969 and the ford finally disappeared, although the earlier bridge is still there. Without the caption telling us this picture was of Costessey we would be all at sea, with no idea of where, what or when the picture was about; so we are very fortunate to have the information from Frank Welch. It would be lovely to know something of the two men in the picture, but I doubt we ever will.
I can however tell you of a famous East Anglian who was born during the gale of 22 February 1908 – the actor John Mills. I don’t think many people know that high winds accompanied his birth! He was born not so many miles away, at County School, North Elmham. John Mills may be an unfamiliar name to some, but in the war years and after he was a star, appearing in over 100 films. He enlisted in the Army in 1939 but was discharged in 1942 with a stomach ulcer. One wartime film in which he appeared should be known if only from the reputation of its author – In Which we Serve, by Noel Coward.
COUNTY SCHOOL had become Watts Naval School in 1903, operated under the control of Dr Barnardo’s. It was intended to train orphan boys for a life in the Mercantile Marine or the Royal Navy; for those destined for the Royal Marines’ Band there was a strong Music Department and musical teaching staff. John Mills’s father was a teacher at the school at the time. He then moved to the school at Belton near Yarmouth, which was closed and replaced by the Waveney Primary School in 1969. As a boy he attended Norwich High School for Boys which was in St Giles. (The school moved to Langley Hall near Loddon after the Second World War, and it still flourishes.) He later went to the Sir John Leman Grammar School in Beccles. John Mills began acting while a pupil at Beccles.
People of my age will perhaps better remember his daughter, Hayley Mills. She was the child star of a number of Disney films in the early 60s most memorably The Parent Trap in which she played the dual role of twins Susan and Sharon. I think she was largely responsible for Hayley becoming a popular girl’s name.
John Mills died as recently as 2005, at the grand old age of 97; and to think his life began with his mother’s labour, brought on in a stormy night in 1908!
The photos of County School Station were taken about 20 years ago and show my children as toddlers. They are both now graduates of Sheffield University and Peter is working for the European Universities Federation in Brussels. Polly is doing a master’s degree in energy engineering.
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