Relevant History of Great Yarmouth
The history of the wider
area we now know as Great Yarmouth goes back to prehistoric times, with knapped
flints and carved bones being amongst the evidence found in the area fishermen
still occasionally bring up a variety of dinosaur bones from the floor of the
north sea (many on show in local museums). In Roman times there was a
great estuary on this stretch of coast. It had both a northern and southern
entrance around the sandbank on which Yarmouth now stands, and was guarded to
the north by the fort at Caister and another to the south at Burgh.
Yarmouth? The name, in use from medieval times, is not to distinguish it from
Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, but to distinguish the main town from Little
Yarmouth, the areas we now know as Gorleston and Southtown, on the other side of
Gif showing how the
sandbank was formed
In the medieval mind, Yarmouth was associated with herring, a
high-protein food important to the diet of the lower classes, which featured
less meat than is eaten today. The thirteenth century seal of the borough bore
depictions of a ship sailing herring-inhabited waters and, on the other side,
St. Nicholas, a patron saint of
The fishery provided the reason for Yarmouth's foundation and
the principal source of its medieval economy.
Great Yarmouth is situated near where several rivers, among them
the Yare, flow into what was once a very broad estuary (much larger than the
present-day Breydon Water) opening out into the sea. In Roman times there was
a port and market town a little further north, at Caister, and a small fort at
Burgh Castle; these were later abandoned. Subsequent settlement focused on the
site of Great Yarmouth itself. Tradition has the first settlement there
established by the Saxon leader, Cerdic, ca. 495, but this is unsubstantiated
More likely is
that about 900 when the sandbank had emerged from the sea is was used as a temporary
home for fishermen during the fishing season only
More certain is that silting in the mouth of the "Great Estuary" over
time formed a huge sandbank that came to be several miles long, leaving the Yare access into
the sea through two channels at either end of the sandbank; one channel
separated Yarmouth and Caister, the other ran southwards for some miles and
separated Great and Little Yarmouth/Gorleston before entering the sea. This
sandbank eventually became firm enough to support dwellings, perhaps preceded
by more temporary facilities for the drying, salting and smoking of herring,
as well as the sale of herring. Fishermen from the Cinque Ports
long-standing right to beach their boats and to dry their nets there. A fair
may have been in operation there by the time of Edward the Confessor, during
the forty days from Michaelmas to Martinmas when the fishery was at its peak;
in later times this important fair attracted not only the Cinque Ports
but also fishermen from the continent. The Cinque Ports
had authority over the
fair, through officers they appointed, which was subsequently resisted and
then contested by Yarmouth. Another indication that Cinque Ports
were likely among the founders of the town is that rents from some Yarmouth
properties were due to the Ports it wasn't until 1662 when the Cinque Ports
stopped sending there representatives to the town to share in governing during
the autumn herring fishing season something they had been doing every year since
Yarmouth was a borough
in the royal domain before and at the time of the Doomsday survey, but an earlier shared jurisdiction is reflected in that Yarmouth
had to pay every "third penny" of all public revenues (e.g. tolls and rents)
to the earl. The number of burgesses
living there – 70 in 1066 according to Doomsday – suggests that its fishery
was already important by this date, although Yarmouth was certainly a small
town compared to Norwich or Ipswich, with a few hundred residents in all. As a
"frontier town" it had no important role in regional administration; the king
never licensed a mint there. Doomsday noted one church there, dedicated to St.
Throughout the late medieval period the town suffered from progressive
silting of parts of the channel used as a haven for ships. Early settlement
appears to have focused on the most elevated part of the sandbank, near the
northern channel. In 1101 the Bishop
of Norwich built a chapel in that neighbourhood (superseding a more modest
building on the beach intended to celebrate divine service during the fishing
season) and, in the 1120s founded St. Nicholas'
church by the northern channel;
The church which stands at the
northern end of the Market Place was started in 1119 and is dedicated to St
Nicholas the patron saint of mariners. In time this church grew in size and by
the 19th century is was thought to be the largest parish church in England.
Medieval Great Yarmouth's prominence is confirmed by the number of religious
houses it supported. A Benedictine Priory was attached to St Nicolas's church
in the 12th century. Part of this priory survives in the grounds of the nearby
Hospital School. The Dominican Black friars, Franciscan Greyfriars, Carmelites
or Whitefriars and Augustine's all had monasteries in the town.
A Benedictine cell of the Norwich
cathedral-priory was established in association with St. Nicholas'. Here too
was the site of the borough marketplace,
perhaps originally stretching east-west across the width of the town from the
river channel to the beach facing the sea, although over the course of the
Middle Ages the original shape of the market was obscured as parts were built
upon – including the hypothetical western section, but also a large chunk on
the eastern side was consumed by the foundation of St. Mary's
Silting of the northern channel, to the point where it was unusable,
subsequently encouraged population to expand southwards along the line of the
southern-running channel and to relocate the haven in this channel. The bank
of this channel became lined with quays, in
contrast to the opposite side of the town – the great beachy area, or "Denes"
(dunes?) facing the sea, on which would have been visible fishing-boats, nets
stretched out to dry, and windmills. Although the section around St. Nicholas
had been abandoned by most residents when wall construction was begun, the
church itself remained important to the town; a major expansion was undertaken
shortly before the mid-fourteenth century. Consequently, the line of the town
wall was extended just far enough north to encompass the church. The southern
channel too, however, experienced problems and at various times in the Late
Middle Ages the townsmen had to cut new harbours.
In the twelfth century we have mentions of
a reeve as the governing authority of Yarmouth, but this was an officer
appointed by the king. In 1208, the king leased to the town (in return for a fee
farm of £55) its first powers of self-administration; the royal charter
the status of a "free borough";
the right to choose the executive officer of
administration of justice (in certain matters
of common law and local custom) through a weekly husting court;
gild, although such an institution has no prominence in Yarmouth's medieval
records – its role and privileges (such as the right to make the first offer
for newly-arrived herring catches) perhaps quickly being absorbed into local
citizenship/government; in the sixteenth century, the Trinity Gild had
ceremonial functions that suggest it to have been a possible successor to, or
remnant of, a merchant gild;
exemption for the burgesses from paying tolls
on goods they brought into other English towns (London excepted);
and various other powers or exemptions typical
of that period.
When, in the 1220s, holders of the borough
executive office begin to be identified, we see there to be 4 bailiffs, elected
annually, rather than the earlier single reeve. This multiplication is probably
associated with the fact that the town was divided into four "leets"
(wards) for administrative purposes. Unlike in Norwich, where the leets
reflected early settlements that coalesced into one city, there seems no special
rationale in the Yarmouth divisions; the original boundaries are unknown and the
names indicate a straightforward division of the town into northern and southern
halves, each of which was in turn subdivided.
The first buildings were probably constructed of wood salvaged from
the remains of ship wrecks and only a few remain. Yarmouth seems to have had Fullers Hill at
its center (Highest Point), as le Howe (Hill) is found in documents in 1291
Clay floors found here suggest also that the
rengia (range) the early
name for the later Yarmouth Rows, were started before the twelfth
century, and that St Benets Church was at its center where St Nicholas Church
was later built.
The Tollhouse (now a Museum) which dates to the
mid 13th century was probably built as a private dwelling. As early
as 1306 it was being used for municipal purposes. It has functioned
as a Borough Court, Admiralty Court as well as Assize Court and
Quarter Sessions. There has been a gaol on the site for centuries.
Perhaps the most notorious inmates were the sixteen woman held in
the Tollhouse gaol in 1645, until their executions for witchcraft.
One of its most important functions in medieval times was as the
meeting place of the bailiffs of Yarmouth and the Cinque Ports who
administered the annual Herring Fair.
In 1198 five rengiates were the subject of a lawsuit and early in
the next century some of the rengiates began to sub-divide
laterally. Middlegate was used throughout Yarmouth for the streets
and later in 1290 were known as (Great) Middlegate and (Little)
Yarmouth's closeness to
Europe and Norfolk's importance in medieval times made it a busy
trading port. With flint being a less than satisfactory material for
building, great quantities of stone were shipped through Yarmouth
from Caen, for such buildings as Norwich Cathedral. But Yarmouth was
already best known as a fishing port, and particularly for the
catching of herring. Through Tudor and Stuart times, the merchants
built their offices and homes in grand style. In the English civil
war, Yarmouth was a parliamentary town, and Miles Corbett, town
Recorder and Member of Parliament, who lived in the market place,
was the last person to sign King Charles' I death warrant as part of
Oliver Cromwell's rebellion
but after Cromwell's Commonwealth was
quashed by Charles II, his life was in danger and he had to flee from Britain.
Eventually, he was tracked down in
Holland and brought to the Tower of London where he endured a tormented end.
Surely this was not something he
anticipated when he added his name to the death warrant, which he is said to
have signed at the Elizabethan House, on the quay.
In a less
provocative role, as Recorder, he was responsible for collecting the
dues from the herring fleet which was used to pay for armed vessels
to protect the fishing fleet against North Sea pirates.
As well as wealthy, Great
Yarmouth was also a prominent place to live.
In 1261 Henry II granted permission to build walls to enclose
Yarmouth on three sides, the fourth being protected by the river.
Also thought to be partly to protect the grave yard from grave
robbers. Started in 1281, it would take a century to complete. With
ten gates and eighteen towers and turrets, the flint wall was a
massive undertaking and would control the development of the town
until the 19th century. Every person in the town had to help with
its construction - unless of course you were rich enough to pay
somebody else to do your share of the job.
The first defence was a boom
thrown across the river, supported. by a jetty on each side. This
boom was kept closed during the night, and. the passage strictly
guarded. The wall commenced from the river at this point; and behind
it was a high mound of earth, called. the South Mount, which
commanded a view of the river and South Denes down to the haven's
Royal licence to enclose the town with
wall and ditch, and to collect special tolls under the title of
murage, was first acquired in 1261 (in the context of the de Montfort
rebellion). The following year saw complaints from non-local merchants that
murage was being collected from them, but they saw no evidence that any
wall-building was going on; the king consequently seized the money collected. In
1279 he audited the town's murage accounts, after receiving complaints of
corruption. It seems that construction work had still not begun; in fact, no
work is known to have been undertaken before 1285. Nonetheless, the king
recognized the importance of Yarmouth as a coastal defence and authorized murage
on several occasions during the fourteenth century. However, particularly in
those periods of greatest threat of invasion, which spurred renewed efforts on
the defences, income could not keep pace with expenditure, despite occasional
bequests from townsmen towards the work. In the face of a renewed French
offensive, all townsmen were, in 1369, ordered by the king to contribute to the
costs of strengthening the defences. By 1385/86, construction was still
incomplete, and some of the walls that had been built were by now falling into
disrepair; again the threat of invasion prompted the king to order everyone
owning property in the town to contribute to costs. In 1457 the king allowed
Yarmouth to apply to the work £20 of the
farm due him.
These grants were renewed from time to time,
as occasion required, up to the year 1390; and the funds of the muragers,
annually elected., were augmented. by legacies and voluntary contributions. The
wall when, completed encircled the old. town, except on the west side which was
bounded by the river. It measured. 2,238 yards in length, was twenty-three feet
high, and was defended. at intervals by sixteen towers. There were two principal
gates, north and south, with several smaller intermediate gates along the east
wall, "to let in her friends and keep out her enemies," quoth Manship. These
fortifications were faced with smoothed Norfolk flints, interspersed. with
occasional courses of hard. thin bricks; Caen stone being used for the
loop-holes and ornamental work. Internally the wall was sustained by a series of
arches, within each of which was a splayed loop-hole for the use of the
cross-bowmen. These arches supported a walk for those who defended the walls,
and. enabled them to shoot from the upper and. smaller loop-holes, and to pass
from tower to tower
Maintenance and periodic relocation of the
haven must have been a similarly daunting task, but one even more crucial to
Yarmouth since the commerce on which the borough economy (including local
government revenues) depended was in turn dependent on a safe harbour. Silting
had necessitated a new harbour entrance to be cut in 1346. By 1378, silting had
resulted in the water no longer being deep enough to admit ships into the
harbour. Despite a partial refocus of its attentions on the harbour at Kirkley
Road, in the 1390s Yarmouth built a new haven, financed partly through a special
levy of a shilling per last of herring. But by 1409 this too was in trouble and
the king gave permission for £100 to be taken each year for 5 years from
import/export customs, to finance yet another new haven. This one lasted for the
remainder of the medieval period, although costly to maintain (again prompting
the king to release the town, for several years, from part of its fee farm).
In later times a look-out was erected on this mount, which
was not finally removed until 1867. The mount has now been so much
cut away that but little of it remains. Fifty-eight yards from the
river, and to the east of the mount, stood the South
Gate, called also the Great
Much of this battlement still
Southey, writing in 1798, when he visited Yarmouth, says,-"
The old walls and gates are yet standing."
Since that time all the gates, as we have seen, have been
removed; but the remains of the wall and, towers can still be traced
from one end of the town to the other.
In 1285 the Greyfriars were granted a licence to
extend their site over an adjoining rengiate, rows were then
mentioned in 1286 as passages when there were at least 150 running from east
(The sea) to west (The rivers).
People lived and worked down these
dark, smelly and dingy lanes, where residents slung their rubbish out into the
sloping pathways so it would be washed away to sea.
These rows were built so close
together that people could open their windows and touch hands with their
But people opening their doors out
into the rows caused problems so a law was passed to make people reverse the
hinges on their doors to open inwards instead.
If you didn't obey then you were
fined and your door was nailed shut so you couldn't get out!
No other town in Britain has a street plan
Trades within medieval towns is commonplace and at Yarmouth
Herring curing seems to have been concentrated within one quarter of
the town in the 13th century.
The market place was a hive of business and sold hides, fish,
meat and poultry as mentioned in 1280 and 1290, St Mary's Hospital
(Hospital School) was founded in 1270. The prosperity of the town
flourished until the Black Death in 1349 when two thirds of the
population of Yarmouth perished. It took centuries to re-establish
Later, in 1331, Little Middlegate was called
Blyndemdelgate which began as an open plain near the church and came
to an abrupt end mid-way through the town. Great Middlegate
commenced at South Forland ( the medieval name for Hall Quay) and
continued to Friars Lane at the southern end of the town, this later
was called Gaol Street. Northgate at this time should not be
confused with the later Northgate named after the walls were built,
the original Northgate was later called the Conge. or St
Yarmouth began emerging
as the major port on the east coast. By the time of King Edward
III's fleet sailing to the sea battle of Sluys in 1340 and seven
years later the capture of Calais, Yarmouth ships and men made up a
large part of the fleet. Even London did not supply as many vessels.
The commander at the battle of Sluys was John Perebrowne (Perbroune)
of Yarmouth. Yarmouth's coat of arms dates from this time, when
Edward permitted the town to merge his royal lions with the town's
The now Adams Cottage probably the oldest
remaining dwelling house was built
about 50 years before the town walls circa 1230 just north of the
church visible on the engraving between the church spire and the gate
This is a very old engraving of North Gate published
by Hixon, 440, Strand.
There is still evidence of a tunnel
believed to lead to the church in the one of the
cellars which were built with hand made bricks fired on straw The priest
hole within the house is still there but now restricted in size do to later
building work The house was enclosed within the town walls and stands just
south and east of the north gate.
There is a tradition that this
gate was erected at the expense of those who enriched themselves during the time
of the great plague in 1348 by following the loathsome employment of burying the
dead.. In 1804 a passage was cut through the base of the West Tower for the
convenience of foot passengers; and in 1807, when a rage for demolition had set
in, the whole structure was taken down, but its exact position may be seen by
the remains of the town wall on each side. From the North Gate the wall is
continued straight to the river, being a distance of 196 yards. About midway was
another tower, the base of which may still be seen in Ramp Row; and
within 11 yards of the "North Water" is the last tower, called the
North-West Tower. It is still standing with a high-conical roof, surmounted by a
vane, and having a most picturesque appearance especially when viewed from the
river; it has long been a favorite subject with painters and. engravers. There
was no gateway, but a passage has been cut through the adjoining wall to allow
the passage of carts.
Faden's Map of Great Yarmouth 1797
Well that's where the house is
and how it came to be here. Now we will try and add meat to the bones and tell
what happened next.
Cottage, Eden Place, Northgate Street.
Grade II listed building, concrete interlocking roof tiles, dangerous chimney.
Grant application for replacement clay pantiles and associated repairs. Fascia
repairs, guttering replaced with cast iron. Chimney taken down and rebuilt. ...