Great Yarmouth

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Great Yarmouth
Norfolk, Suffolk
Aerial View of Great Yarmouth.jpg
Great Yarmouth
Grid reference: TG5207
Location: 52°36’22"N, 1°43’44"E
Population: 47,000
Post town: Great Yarmouth
Postcode: NR30, NR31
Dialling code: 01493
Local Government
Council: Great Yarmouth
Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth, often known to locals as Yarmouth, is seaside resort town on the east coast of Norfolk, facing the North Sea. Great Yarmouth stands at the mouth of the River Yare, 20 miles east of Norwich and 100 miles north-west of the Dutch coast. The town has a popular beach and two piers.

The town has been a seaside resort since 1760, and is the gateway from the Norfolk Broads to the sea. For hundreds of years it was a major fishing port, dependent mainly on the herring fishery, but its fishing industry suffered a steep decline, and has now all but disappeared.[1] The discovery of oil in the North Sea in the 1960s led to a flourishing oil rig supply industry, and today it services offshore natural gas rigs. More recently, the development of renewable energy sources, especially offshore wind power, has created further opportunities for support services. A wind farm of 30 generators is within sight of the town on the Scroby Sands.

The town and its place

Great Yarmouth Town Hall, Hall Quay

The town itself is on a thin spit sandwiched between the North Sea and River Yare. It is home to the historic rows and the main tourist sector on the seafront. The area is linked to Gorleston and Bradwell across the river in Suffolk by Haven Bridge and to the A47, A149 and A12 by the Breydon Bridge.

The Office for National Statistics identifies a Great Yarmouth Urban Area, which has a population of 66,788, including the sub-areas of Caister-on-Sea (8,756) and Great Yarmouth (58,032).


Great Yarmouth lies near the site of the Roman fort camp of Gariannonum at the mouth of the River Yare. It was an AngloSaxon town and rendered in the Domesday Book as Gernemutha and Gernemwa (the latter probably a mistranscription).

The town's situation made it an attracted fishing port and the town numbered 70 burgesses before the Norman Conquest. Henry I placed it under the rule of a reeve. The charter of King John (1208) gave his burgesses of Yarmouth general liberties according to the customs of Oxford, a gild merchant and weekly hustings. These rights were increased by several later charters asserting the rights of the borough against Little Yarmouth and Gorleston. A thirteenth-century charter was granted by Henry III (1207–1272) to the town of Great Yarmouth. The town was thereby bound to send to the sheriffs of Norwich every year one hundred herrings, baked in twenty four pasties, which the sheriffs are to deliver to the lord of the manor of East Carlton who is then to convey them to the King.[2]

In 1552, Queen Elizabeth granted a charter of admiralty jurisdiction, confirmed and extended by James I. In 1668, Charles II incorporated Little Yarmouth into the borough by a charter which with one brief exception remained in force until 1703, when Queen Anne replaced the two bailiffs with a mayor. In the early 18th Century Yarmouth, as a thriving herring port was vividly and admiringly described several times in Daniel Defoe's travel journals, in part as follows:[3]

Yarmouth is an antient town, much older than Norwich; and at present, tho' not standing on so much ground, yet better built; much more compleat; for number of inhabitants, not much inferior; and for wealth, trade, and advantage of its situation, infinitely superior to Norwich.

It is plac'd on a peninsula between the River Yare and the sea; the two last lying parallel to one another, and the town in the middle: The river lies on the west-side of the town, and being grown very large and deep, by a conflux of all the rivers on this side the county, forms the haven; and the town facing to the west also, and open to the river, makes the finest key in England, if not in Europe, not inferior even to that of Marseilles itself.

The ships ride here so close, and as it were, keeping up one another, with their head-fasts on shore, that for half a mile together, they go cross the stream with their bolsprits over the land, their bowes, or heads, touching the very wharf; so that one may walk from ship to ship as on a floating bridge, all along by the shore-side: The key reaching from the drawbridge almost to the south-gate, is so spacious and wide, that in some places 'tis near one hundred yards from the houses to the wharf. In this pleasant and agreeable range of houses are some very magnificent buildings, and among the rest, the custom-house and town-hall, and some merchants houses, which look like little palaces, rather than the dwelling-houses of private men.

The greatest defect of this beautiful town, seems to be, that tho' it is very rich and encreasing in wealth and trade, and consequently in people, there is not room to enlarge the town by building; which would be certainly done much more than it is, but that the river on the land-side prescribes them, except at the north end without the gate....

A grammar school was founded in 1551, when the great hall of the old hospital, founded in the reign of Edward I by Thomas Fastolfe, was appropriated to its use. It was closed from 1757 to 1860, was re-established by the charity trustees, and settled in new buildings in 1872.

From 1808 to 1814 the Admiralty in London could communicate with its ships in the port of Great Yarmouth by a shutter telegraph chain.

The town was the site of a bridge disaster and drowning tragedy on 2 May 1845 when a suspension bridge crowded with children collapsed under the weight killing 79. They had gathered to watch a clown in a barrel being pulled by geese down the river. As he passed under the bridge the weight shifted, causing the chains on the south side to snap, tipping over the bridge deck.[4]

Great Yarmouth had an electric tramway system from 1902 to 1933.

During First World War Great Yarmouth suffered the first aerial bombardment in the United Kingdom, by Zeppelin L3 on 19 January 1915. That same year on 15 August, Ernest Martin Jehan became the first and only man to sink a steel submarine with a sail rigged Q-ship, this off the coast of Great Yarmouth. It was also bombarded by the German Navy on 24 April 1916.

Britannia Pier in 1930

The town suffered Luftwaffe bombing during Second World War as Great Yarmouth was the last place to drop bombs before German bombers returned home but much is left of the old town, including the original 2,000 yards of protective mediæval wall, of which two-thirds has survived. Of the 18 towers, 11 are left. On the South Quay, there is a 17th-century Merchant's House, as well as Tudor, Georgian and Victorian buildings. Behind South Quay, there is a maze of alleys and lanes known as "The Rows". Originally there were 145. Despite war damage, several have remained.

The northern section of the two-mile A47 Great Yarmouth Western Bypass opened in March 1986, and the southern section in May 1985. It is now the A12.

The town was badly affected by the North Sea flood of 1953. On 9 November 2007 the town braced itself for more flooding as a result of a tidal surge and high tides but disaster was avoided and only a small area was under water.[5]

More recently flooding has been a problem, the town flooding four times in 2006. In September 2006 the town suffered its worst flooding in years. Torrential rain caused drains to block as well as an Anglian Water pumping station to break down and this resulted in flash flooding around the town in which 90 properties were flooded up to 5 feet.[6]


Historic buildings

The Toll House

The Tollhouse, with dungeons, dates from the late 13th century and is said to be the oldest civic building in Britain. It backs on to the central library.

The Market place is one of the largest in England, and has been operating since the 13th century. It is also home to the town's shopping sector and the famous Yarmouth chip stalls. The smaller area south of the market is used as a performance area for community events and for access to the town's shopping centre, Market Gates.

Modern Great Yarmouth

Britannia Pier

Great Yarmouth's seafront, known as "The Golden Mile" attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to its sandy beaches, Pleasure Beach, indoor attractions and amusement arcades. Great Yarmouth's Marine Parade has 12 Amusement Arcades located within two square miles.

Great Yarmouth railway station, which serves the town, is the terminus of the Wherry Lines from Norwich. (Before the Beeching Axe the town had a number of railway stations and a direct link to London down the east coast.)

Yarmouth has two piers; the Britannia Pier and the Wellington Pier. The theatre building on the latter of the two was demolished in 2005 and is currently being rebuilt as a family entertainment centre. Britannia Pier is home to the Britannia Theatre which during the summer months features well known acts: it is one of a few end of the pier theatres left in Britain.

The Grade II listed Winter Gardens building sits next to the Wellington Pier. The cast iron framed glass structure was shipped by barge from Torquay in 1903 and it is said this was done without the loss of a single pane of glass. Over the years, it has been used as ballroom, roller skating rink and beer garden. In the 1990s it was converted into a nightclub by comedian Jim Davidson. Today, The Winter Gardens are used as a family leisure venue, although its future is under threat owing to the cost of repairing the ageing framework. During the winter of 2005 there were worries that building might collapse, and during high winds it was often closed.

Norfolk Naval Pillar

The Britannia Monument, built in 1817

In the South Denes area is the Grade I listed Norfolk Naval Pillar, known locally as Nelson's Monument or Nelson's Column, a tribute to Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson completed in 1819, 24 years before the completion of Nelson's Column in London. The monument was designed by William Wilkins and shows Britannia standing atop a globe holding an olive branch in her right hand and a trident in her left. There is a popular belief in the town that Britannia was supposed to face out to sea but faces inland by a builder's mistake, but she faces Nelson's birthplace at Burnham Thorpe. The monument was originally planned to mark Nelson's victory at the Battle of the Nile, but fund-raising was not completed until after his death and it was instead dedicated to England's greatest naval hero.

The pillar is currently surrounded by an industrial estate but plans are in place for the improvement of the area. The Norfolk Nelson Museum on South Quay houses the Ben Burgess collection of Nelson Memorabilia and is the only dedicated Nelson museum in Britain other than one in Monmouth. Its several galleries look at Nelson's life and personality as well as what life was like for the men who sailed under him.

Time and tide

Small boat at the Time and Tide museum
Central Beach close to the Jetty

Charles Dickens used Yarmouth as a key location in his novel David Copperfield. Dickens stayed at the Royal Hotel on the Marine parade while writing David Copperfield. Anna Sewell (1820–1878), the author of Black Beauty, was born in a 17th-century house in Church Plain. The house is currently being used as a restaurant after being renovated in 2007.

The Time and Tide Museum on Blackfriars Road which is managed by Norfolk Museums Service was nominated in the UK Museums Awards in 2005. It was built as part of the regeneration of the south of the town in 2003. Its location in an old herring smokery harks back to the town's status as a major fishing port. Sections of the historic town wall are located outside the museum.

The Maritime Heritage East partnership, based at the award winning Time and Tide Museum aims to raise the profile of maritime heritage and museum collections.


The Great Yarmouth area is home to a number of rare and unusual species. The area between the piers is home to one of the largest roosts of Mediterranean Gulls in the UK. Breydon Water, just behind the town, is a major wader and waterfowl site, with winter roosts of over 100,000 birds. This, and the surrounding Halvergate Marshes are specially protected, and the majority of the area is now owned by conservation organisations, principally the RSPB.

The North Denes area of the beach is an SSSI due to its dune plants, and is home to numbers of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. It also hosts one of the largest Little Tern colonies in the UK each summer, as well as a small colony of Greyling butterflies. Other butterflies found here include Small Copper and Common Blue.

The nearby cemetery is renowned as a temporary roost for spring and autumn migrants, and sometimes sees spectacular 'falls'. Redstart and Pied Flycatcher are often seen here during migration. It has also been the site for the first records of a number of rare insects, blown in from the continent.

Grey Seal and Common Seal are frequently seen off-shore, as are sea-birds such as Gannet, Little Auk, Common Scoter, Razorbill and Guillemot.

Port and River

The River Yare emerging from Breydon Water to flow to the sea, forms the boundary with Suffolk and cuts Great Yarmouth from otherwise adjacent towns, and so the town's two bridges have become major transport links. Originally Haven Bridge had been the only link over the river but in the late 1980s Breydon Bridge was built to take the A12 over Breydon Water replacing the old railway bridge; the Breydon Viaduct.[7] both bridges can open to allow river traffic underneath which can result in traffic tailbacks. The phrase "the bridge was up" has become a town term to explain lateness for appointments.

A ferry between the southerly tip of Great Yarmouth and Gorleston once provided a route between the factories on South Denes and the residential areas of Gorleston without the long detour over the bridge, but it was closed in the early 1990s.[8]

Since 2006, the restored pleasure steamer the Southern Belle has provided regular river excursions from the town's Haven Bridge. Built in 1925 for the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe. Today, she is owned by the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Steam Packet Company Limited.[9]

Construction work on the Outer Harbour began in June 2007 and was completed by 2009, it is a deep-water harbour on the North Sea. Originally there were plans for a roll-on/roll-off ferry link with IJmuiden in the Netherlands, which has failed to materialise, similarly despite the installation of two large cranes in 2009 plans for a container terminal have also been scrapped.[10]

Lifeboat station

There has been a lifeboat in Great Yarmouth since at least 1802. The early boats were privately operated until 1857 when the RNLI took over.[11] The lifeboat station is on Riverside Road from where are operated the Trent class lifeboat Samarbeta and the B class (inshore) lifeboat Seahorse IV.[12]


  1. "Town's last fishing boat fights tide and time". The Daily Telegraph. 14 January 2008. 
  2. Nuttall, P Austin (1840). A classical and archæological dictionary of the manners, customs, laws, institutions, arts, etc. of the celebrated nations of antiquity, and of the middle ages. London. p. 555. 
  3. Daniel Defoe, A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies (1724), Letter 1, Pt 3. Defoe's several descriptions may be accessed on the Vision of Britain website
  4. "The Fall of Yarmouth Road". AngliaCampus. Retrieved 11 October 2009. 
  5. Turner, Andrew (9 November 2007). "England | Norfolk | Residents ride out storm surge". BBC News. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  6. "England | Norfolk | Homes under water in flash floods". BBC News. 25 September 2006. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  7. Building the Breydon Bridge, June 1985 Our Great Yarmouth, Retrieved 20 November 2010
  8. Great Yarmouth Ferry Crossings Our Great Yarmouth; Retrieved 20 November 2010
  9. The Southern Belle. Retrieved 29 October 2009.
  10. Stephen Pullinger (10 November 2010). "Great Yarmouth outer harbour’s £7m cranes to go". Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved 20 November 2010. 
  11. RNLI history of Great Yarmouth & Gorleston lifeboat station
  12. "Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Fleet". RNLI. Retrieved 29 January 2010. 

Outside links

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about Great Yarmouth)