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Reunion remembers vicar's heroic efforts

PUBLISHED: 11:19 03 February 2009 | UPDATED: 22:20 05 July 2010

THE heroic efforts of a Lowestoft vicar to rescue parishioners during the devastating floods of 1953 have been vividly recalled by his widow during a special reunion service.

THE heroic efforts of a Lowestoft vicar to rescue parishioners during the devastating floods of 1953 have been vividly recalled by his widow during a special reunion service.

Ninety-year-old Catherine Street enthralled more than 300 people, who packed out Christ Church, with tales about life in the town's famous old Beach Village.

While the village is a now a distant memory, former residents, their children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren gathered on Sunday to roll back the years.

The event coincided with the 56th anniversary of the flood and Mrs Street recalled how her husband Peter, the vicar of Christ Church from 1952 to 1957, led from the front when it came to the rescue operation - taking to a rowing boat and commandeering a lorry to ensure people were pulled to safety.

Mrs Street, who now lives in Dereham, recalled how her husband was enjoying a Saturday night bath when he received a call to say the area was under flood water.

“Peter found the church under water and the road was impassable. He went to the gas works where they have a big lorry and asked the foreman if he could use it,” said Mrs Street.

The rescue party pulled many people to safety from their windows and ensured, where possible, they were taken to relatives. But for some of those with nowhere else to go, the Streets again became their saviours.

“Where they had no relatives, we brought them up to the vicarage and we had 10 people who spent the night. Everybody was so friendly and helpful,” said Mrs Street. “It was so wonderful and, as far as I can remember, we didn't lose anybody in the flood. It was God's good grace.”

Mr Street also took to a rowing boat to help with the rescue efforts and was seen sailing through the church, which was under water.

Lowestoft's thriving fishing industry was responsible for the growth of the Beach Village and by 1900 the population was estimated to stand at 2,500, with 13 pubs and a full range of working buildings.

However, regular flooding and a desire for better accommodation, led to the village's decline during the 20th century and by 1955 the first stages of slum clearance began. By the 1960s, the village had virtually disappeared.

Mrs Street added: “It was always a lovely community with everybody caring for everyone else. It was a real privilege for my husband and I to be among the Beach Village. Everyone rallied round.

“Between now and those days, things have changed dramatically - and not always for the best.”

The congregation at the reunion sung hymns, including Amazing Grace, took part in prayers and listened to readings before going to share more memories in a reception at the church hall.

The Rev Matthew Payne, current vicar of Christ Church said: “We are delighted so many people have come. We hope to make it an annual event.”

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