Gorleston’s rapid growth during the second half of the 19th century was largely due to Hewitt’s Short Blue Trawling Fleet moving its base there. Nearness to the North Sea fishing grounds, rail links to the Midlands and space available along the riverside were all favourable for the move. The fleet operated by having a number of smacks at sea for six to eight weeks at a time, trawling for cod, haddock etc., packing their catches into wooden boxes, (trunks), with ice, before rowing them to fast cutters, which transported them to London or Great Yarmouth. Each smack was crewed by a skipper and about eight hands; some as young as 12 years of age. Working conditions were hard and often dangerous, particularly when transferring trunks. The cutters were originally fast sailing vessels, but, by 1864, were steam powered.
In 1879, Harvey Harvey-George (generally known as Harry) was appointed manager of the fleet in Gorleston. He married a Hewitt daughter, Jessie, and set up home at Surbiton Lodge; a substantial property with gardens stretching to Church Road and a lawn across the High Street. By the mid-1880s, as a borough councillor, he was known as the Mayor of Gorleston, as he promoted many improvements for his ward. He served on the committee to frame by-laws for the regulation and to secure order on Gorleston Beach and in 1887, he was a member of the Free Library Committee, this amenity being originally set up at the rear of the police station. Soon after this, the council wished to cut a new road called Trafalgar Road East from Church Road to the High Street, which meant that Surbiton Lodge would lose some of its garden and two bow-windows. After considerable bargaining, an agreement was reached, but soon after that, plans to build the Tower on Surbiton Lodge’s lawn and a cottage hospital on the north side of the new road were proposed. Both buildings were erected in 1889 and Harvey-George became, first Chairman, and later, Secretary of the Hospital Board; taking the latter position to raise funds.
The Tower, itself, soon nicknamed Cod End Castle, was not built of rock dredged up by the fleet’s trawl nets, as local rumour said, but of Kentish Ragstone, which probably came to Gorleston as ballast in cutters, when they came to re-stock with supplies after carrying their fish to London. Its fine tower look-out allowed Harvey-George to monitor his boats, as they approached the harbour and thus, be ready to oversee their arrival. At this time, he was busy promoting Gorleston’s need for a recreation ground, which was established to the west of the church, and he served as chairman on its committee.
Harvey-George was the Manager of the Short Blue Fleet from 1879 to 1898 and during that time it expanded to 200 smacks, employing 1,500 fishermen, and its shore works extended from Darby’s Hard to Baker Street, where a further 500 were employed. He cared for the welfare of his employees and supported a slate club being set up, which provided some finance in times of sickness. He also supported the work of Ebenezer Mather, who established the Mission to Deep Sea Fishermen. As well as being Fleet Manager and a councillor, Harvey-George, as a Port and Haven Commissioner, succeeded in getting the Harbour Mouth widened and the Spending Beach installed to ease access for vessels, particularly at the turn of the tide. He was also a keen yachtsman and had an interest in photography. By 1898, his health was failing and he retired, although he remained in Gorleston until 1901, when he moved back to Essex, where he died in 1910. After he left the Tower, it was occupied by various people until, in the 1930s, it became the Hall Mackenzie Dancing School. This closed in the 1980s. The building stood empty for a time until it was converted into six flats.
Part of a stained glass window in the Tower.