Sometimes a man of talent is so attracted to a locality that he invests energy in one place that would otherwise have propelled him to wider fame. John William Cockrill (1849-1924) left his mark, quite literally, on the neighbouring resorts of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston. Indeed, Kathryn Ferry’s study of his work is entitled ‘The maker of modern Yarmouth…’.
Borough Surveyor for forty years from 1882, he gained the nickname ‘Concrete’ Cockrill, and seems to have enjoyed being identified with this practical and versatile material: “The reason for so much concrete work in Yarmouth was, of course, its extraordinary durability and cheapness since sand and shingle were provided free of all cost on the beach in such abundant quantities that thousands of tons have been sent to other towns.”
He laid out promenades at Yarmouth Marine Parade and in Gorleston, and designed the Gorleston Pavilion (1900), together with Yarmouth’s Wellington Gardens, which included an extensive shelter, seating up to seven hundred, and a domed bandstand built of Doulton columns and tiles.
He was responsible for the innovative Wellington Pier Pavilion (1903), using Art Nouveau motifs in a way that prefigured the stripped modernism of inter-war architecture. It was built around a steel frame, clad in a patented fireproof material called Uralite, a brand-name which Punch thought hilarious.
He also arranged to purchase the Winter Garden from the borough of Torquay, where it had made little profit since its construction in 1878-81, and to re-erect it – without breaking a single pane of glass – in 1904 beside the entrance to the Wellington Pier.
His son, Ralph Scott Cockrill, designed the Yarmouth Hippodrome (1903) and Fastolff House, Regent Street (1908).
When J W Cockrill retired, the Yarmouth Mercury commented,–
If he had set his sails towards other spheres he could have commanded a much more remunerative position but he elected to stay in the place of his birth, because he loved the old town, which he helped to bring up-to-date, and abreast with many seaside resorts.
Cockrill’s unbuilt schemes to turn the wooden jetty into Yarmouth’s third pier show flair and ambition to make even more of the resort: private enterprise might have made more of his talent, but he chose to remain a public servant in his home town. Cockrill may not have gained fame or fortune, but he deserves credit in Yarmouth for being the genius of the place.
Kathryn Ferry’s study of J W Cockrill forms a chapter in her collection Powerhouses of provincial architecture, 1837-1914 (Victorian Society 2009), obtainable from http://www.victoriansociety.org.uk.
For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lectures on seaside architecture, Away from it all: the heritage of holiday resorts, Beside the Seaside: the architecture of British coastal resorts, Blackpool’s Seaside Heritage and Yorkshire’s Seaside Heritage, please click here.
The 44-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Norfolk’s Seaside Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.