Nightingale, John William

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Samuel Nightingale bought Shadingfield Lodge from its original owner and builder, James Cuddon, for his residence in 1873, the year after the Prince of Wales had stayed there for the first time. In the 1880s Samuel was a magistrate and a councillor for the St. Nicholas ward. By 1887, he was the head brewer and a partner at Lacon’s brewery. He continued to offer his house as accommodation for the Prince of Wales on his subsequent visits to the town.


Samuel’s son, John William, left Great Yarmouth when a young man to work in London, where he gained considerable experience in the catering trade with the firm of Bertram and Roberts. He worked at the Crystal Palace, Alexandra Palace and the Westminster Aquarium. For four years he was the licensee of the Olive Branch public house in Edgware Road.


John returned to Great Yarmouth in 1882 and, the following year with a partner Mr. Pullen, he took on the lease of the refreshment department of the recently refurbished Royal Aquarium, on the Marine Parade. Two years later, they became lessees of the whole building and were also lessees of the Marine Palace in Margate and the Aquarium in Scarborough. On 16th August 1884, Nightingale began to serve six-penny fish dinners at the Aquarium, following an idea he copied from the huge International Fisheries Exhibition, held in London from May to October 1883. Baroness Couttes, owner of the local Columbia fishing fleet, had introduced this new idea at the exhibition to promote fish sales.


In July 1887, the partnership with Pullen was dissolved and Nightingale now became fully responsible for the Royal Aquarium. Ten years later, in April 1897, he became the proprietor instead of the lessee and later that month he was given a dinner by notable persons in the town in recognition of the great part he was then playing in the growth of attractions and the general well-being of the town. He was described as being an indispensable part of Yarmouth life, both on the civic and pleasure side. He held a seat on the Council for the Regent Ward from 1899.


By the turn of the century, Nightingale had become involved in almost every major entertainment business and large hotels in the town. His energy and foresight made him one of the most important and influential figures in the development of Great Yarmouth as a seaside resort in the years around the turn of the twentieth century. As an impresario and director of theatres, he was associated with some of the most famous artists of the day and as an entrepreneur he ran successful businesses as a refreshment contractor and hotel proprietor. His ability to organise large dinners led to him being invited each November to the Mansion House, London, for the Lord Mayor’s ball. Nightingale had few equals and his fame was known all over the country.


It was entirely due to the efforts of John Nightingale that the huge Bass outings, described as the largest outings in the world, came to Great Yarmouth five times between 1893 and 1909. On each occasion up to 15 trains brought up to 10,000 people on a day’s excursion to the seaside. Nightingale arranged a wide ranging programme of events to cover the day and provided the catering facilities for breakfast, lunch and tea.


After a prolonged illness John William Nightingale died at his home, 67 Marine Parade, on 26th June 1911, aged 61 years. He left a widow, a son and a daughter. The funeral took place on 1st July and he was buried in the Gorleston Cemetery. The local paper described him as a man who has left an indelible mark upon the modern history of Great Yarmouth and if ever the term Prince of Business was deserved by any man it was by Mr. J. W. Nightingale, whose achievements have been on great and spacious lines.


His son, Walter Hogarth Nightingale, who in 1915 was Vice Commodore, Hon. Secretary and Treasurer of the Great Yarmouth Yacht Club, succeeded him as owner of the Royal Aquarium, Theatre Royal and the Queen’s Hotel. Walter eventually sold the entertainment venues, but continued to run the Queen’s Hotel until his death on 13 August 1936, aged 61 years. The Queen’s remained in the Nightingale family until the 1950s.


John William Nightingale was associated with the following businesses in the town.


The Royal Aquarium had opened in 1876, but in its early years was not a financial success. It closed as an aquarium in 1882 and, after much rebuilding, reopened as a theatre and catering establishment with Nightingale as lessee. The main hall could accommodate 1,000 diners and the minor hall, 400. Some of the original fish tanks were retained in the corridors. It became the Royal Aquarium after the Prince of Wales’ many visits.


Shadingfield Lodge was built as a summer villa by James Cuddon in 1865 this had become the Nightingale family home in 1873. The Nightingales continued to provide accommodation for the Prince of Wales, who had first stayed there in 1872 and on subsequent occasions when he was in the town in his role as Honorary Colonel of the 2nd Norfolk Prince of Wales Own Artillery Militia. The Prince, an enthusiastic theatregoer, attended many performances at the Theatre Royal and Aquarium, arranged by John Nightingale.


The Theatre Royal was built in 1778 for £1,000. The money was raised by eleven £100 subscriptions, for which the backers were rewarded with silver tickets, allowing them free access to the theatre at any time. The theatre closed in 1889 and was bought by Nightingale for £1,200. He bought back the original silver tickets, renovated the building and brought it back to a first-class theatre, re-opening it in1892. Four shops were added on the Regent Road frontage of the building.


The Assembly Rooms were built in 1862 as the Assembly and Reading Rooms. The building was bought in 1879 by the Norfolk Artillery Militia as their officers’ mess. Nightingale was appointed the caterer for all the functions and regimental dinners, many of which were attended by the Prince of Wales. When the Prince of Wales Norfolk Artillery was dissolved under the Army reorganisation of 1908, the building was bought by Nightingale. The regimental silver was sold and Nightingale was given the custody of the 102 Coats of Arms of the officers who had served in the Regiment which decorated the Mess Room. The Assembly Rooms then became a Masonic Lodge, of which Nightingale was a member.


The Victoria Hotel was built by the Victoria Building Company in 1841, as part of a prestigious development designed to bring ‘upper class’ people to the town. The hotel was modernised in 1895 by the addition of hot water apparatus and later bought by John Nightingale. In the 1950s it became the Carlton Hotel.


The Royal Hotel was opened in 1840, the first seaside hotel in the town. It was partly rebuilt in 1877 and was later bought by Nightingale.


The Queen’s Hotel was built in 1884 by the brewers Steward & Patteson to replace an older hotel, having the same name, on the corner of Apsley Road and Regent Road. Nightingale bought the hotel in 1897 and, as owner of the Victoria, Royal and Queens, he now became the leading hotelier in the town.


The original Britannia Pier was built in 1858 but, after suffering damage by two ships colliding with the wooden structure, was demolished in 1900. The New Britannia Pier Company, a company formed by Nightingale and which he was Managing Director of, rebuilt the pier, opening it in 1901. An elaborate pavilion was built at the end of the new pier, opening in 1902. This pavilion was destroyed by fire in 1909 and Nightingale resigned. It was said that the destruction of the pavilion hastened the death of John Nightingale two years later.


The Warwick Revolving Tower was built near the Britannia Pier in 1897. It was sold in May 1902 to a newly created company, the Great Yarmouth Revolving Tower Company for £2,032; the Managing Director of this company was John Nightingale, who was a major shareholder. The tower, one of only five built in this country, was demolished in 1941.