SUMMER HOLIDAY NINETY YEARS AGO

AUGUST 4, 1927

LOWESTOFT BEACH

It was a Thursday, and although Thursday was half-day early closing for the shops in Norwich, none of those in the picture worked in retail, so I don’t think they were down for the evening.  As Monday had been August Bank Holiday I think it more likely that they were on their annual week’s holiday at the seaside.

The senior gentleman to the left is in fact only 69 years old, a year older than I am now. He had retired four years earlier, being among the first to take advantage of the change in the law which allowed retirement at 65; before 1921 he would have had to carry on working until 70 (we seem to be returning to this state of affairs). He had worked for Colmans of Norwich as a carter at Carrow Works. He had been born in Staffordshire, and although he had lived in Norfolk since his early twenties he still spoke with a Staffordshire accent.

The sixty-nine year old is my great-grandfather Charles Mason; he is sitting next to his eldest son and, holding a parasol, is the younger man’s wife Hannah. Father and son both went by the name of Charles, although the son had been christened with the first name James. He was also employed at Carrow Works; laundry starch was major household item in those days of stiff collars and crisp white sheets. James Charles Mason worked in the starch mill. He lived just across the river from his place of work, in a terraced house built by the Colmans for their workers. It was but a short walk from his house to get to Norwich Thorpe railway station for the journey to Lowestoft.

Sitting on the prom at the far end are Bessie and Douglas Hughes. Bessie was the youngest daughter of Charles Mason by his first wife. Bessie had moved to Kent before the Great War where she met Douglas. He worked for the railways, and so travel for the family was cheap or even free. It was no trouble to take the boys (shown here sitting on the sand) from Folkestone to Suffolk, and they frequently made the trip to Norwich to visit relatives. Little Johnnie has been digging a sand castle, and still has his spade in his hands. It is just like the wooden spade I used on the Suffolk beach thirty years later. The lady sitting in front is one of Charles’s daughter by his  second wife, called Edith. Edie had got engaged to her son to be husband, Samuel Berry, although they had met on Norwich Market Place on Armistice day.  He had doubtless walked forward to take this photo, as he was a keen photographed who used to develop his own glass plates. Edie may have been still been living with her Dad in Trowse, taking care of him and his disabled youngest daughter Florrie.

Note how they are dressed for their summer holidays; the men were all wearing suits with waistcoats and of course collars and ties. This formal attire was perhaps even more common when at play than when at work; the nature of employment might require wearing a uniform. It didn’t matter whether the men were going to church or doing the garden at home, a suit was an essential form of apparel. It is true that Douglas Hughes is wearing summer twill of a lighter shade, but it is a suit nevertheless; a farm worker might still have been dressed in a smock in the 1920s, and a fisherman in a Guernsey, but otherwise the suit was almost universal garb. When on holiday the hat might be a summer straw boater; Samuel had been wearing one, which he had left beside his fiancee to squint through the viewfinder. The women may have been slightly cooler in light weight summer dresses, but they are all full length; and Auntie Bessie is even wearing a coat! Remember that this was in the warmest month of the year.  It was 1927, and flappers were already dressing in short skirts, but such advanced fashions had not yet reached the working classes. To them the ‘It-girl’ was a scandalous disgrace.

Lowestoft was still the trawler capital of the East Coast, and fish and chips were a cheap and tasty meal for holidaymakers. The size of the population almost doubled in the first decades of the twentieth century, so it was not too difficult to find lodgings, even in August. What else was going on in the wider world? 1927 was not a particularly eventful year, but P. G. Wodehouse did introduce the reading public to the prize pig, the Empress of Blandings. Happy days.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE HISTORY OF EAST ANGLIA

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