Do all roads lead to confusion?
- Credit: Archant
A meander through the borough’s streets today, figuratively speaking, will enable us to elaborate upon, or even resolve, some issues arising through recent columns. I am indebted to retired Great Yarmouth registrar Trevor Nicholls for his elaboration upon the topics.
“Your reference to forgotten Yarmouth street names reminded me of some I used to come across in the old registers of births, deaths and marriages,” he writes. “Apart from being legal records of people’s life events, they also reflect the social and economic history of the borough and are, too, a topographical account of its expansion.”
I had written that “Chapel Square” conveyed nothing to me or my predecessor; it turned out to be a surviving 1828 terrace of cottages on Blackfriars Road near the St Peter’s Road junction. Trevor says this terrace was built when the town was expanding beyond its medieval walls, across denes to the sea in one direction. over the river to Southtown in the other.
“At least the houses you mention had a name. In some official register entries of the mid-1800s addresses are given as ‘On the denes’,” he reports.
At that time, areas around the tracks which would become Regent, St Peter’s, St George’s and Trafalgar Roads running from the old gates in the town wall were gradually being built up to become the Regent and Nelson wards of today, Trevor explains.
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“It is a reminder that until the 19th century, Yarmouth was a west-facing river port. Across this wide expanse of dunes, in 1549 Robert Kett’s men attempted to take the town by force from the east, having been unsuccessful in doing so by the use of cannon upon Ferry Hill, Southtown. They were beaten off by guns on the walls at Market Gates.”
Another name in the old registers is Church Trees, and Trevor reckons that must have been what is, today, Church Plain.
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He continues: “The delightfully-named Laughing Image Corner lives on in a modern name-plate attached to the postal sorting office on North Quay, but wouldn’t it be nice if the figures of the merry man and woman were restored. It is that sort of idiosyncracy which adds to the charm of an ancient town. Why was Charlotte Street renamed Howard Street, and when?”
For the record, local historian Colin Tooke reports in his 2000 book, Great Yarmouth – The Rows and the Old Town, that the northern end of what is now Howard Street, then called Wrestlers Street, was renamed Charlotte Street in the late 18th century in honour of the popular daughter of King George IV, but in 1882 the southern end was renamed after the Howards, a Norfolk family. Eventually the whole length became Howard Street (North and South).
People researching their family trees sometimes decide to visit premises named in official documents, Trevor Nicholls tells me. “On occasion, they will be thwarted because buildings, even entire neighbourhoods, have vanished long-since – the Rows, for instance. On other occasions, they are flummoxed by the renumbering or renaming of buildings and streets.
“Where is 150A Caister Road? People who asked me that question down the years would sometimes say they had walked a long way looking for number 150A. I wondered how far they had gone, for they could not have known that the object of their search had been staring them in the face at the start of their walk!
“They had been stymied by a direction issued with the best of intentions by the Registrar-General at about the start of the 20th century to all registrars in England and Wales in a rare example of sensitivity for which officialdom in those days was not known.
“Henceforth premises, the names of which might - by the standards of the day – be taken to convey reproach were to be described in the registers by an alternative address. One such category was prisons, another was the scores of establishments the length and breadth of the country connected with the Poor Law, the most feared and despised institution in the land among the working class which, at that time, meant most people.
“In particular, the word ‘Union’ was to be avoided. Today, in street names, ‘Union’ will often denote a former Poor Law association. Thus, at Yarmouth, the workhouse infirmary became – for civil registration purposes – the innocuous ‘150A Caister Road’. It is still there today, some of the original buildings of 1838 surviving as parts of Northgate Hospital.
“Family-tree devotees looking for 150A had, of course, been doubly thwarted because the section of Caister Road in front of the hospital was renamed Northgate Street many years ago. Caister Road now begins close to what I still call the blue bus depot.
“I suspect this change might have date from when Lawn Avenue was built – nothing to do with a grassy locality but the surname of the mayor (Frederick Lawn) at the time of construction (1931).
“That Registrar-General’s direction about 1900 is still in force – thus Blundeston Prison (built in 1963, now scheduled for closure) becomes Lakeside Rise, which might lead future family-tree historians coming across references to it to suppose that their forebears lived in picturesque premises!”
St Peter’s Church, the acting parish church from 1942 to 1961 because of the near-destruction of St Nicholas’s in an air raid, has also caused family-history problems. A generation of Yarmouth people married at St Peter’s when it was the acting parish church, and in Trevor’s office, keeping that fact in mind helped a correspondent inquiring about the location of “the parish church.”
The writer had obtained a copy of her parents’ marriage certificate and, during a planned visit, wanted to see the church here they wed. “The wedding was in 1945 when the bridegroom had been stationed here on active service,” Trevor recalls. “I suspect that had I not been in the office that day, the enquirer would have gone to look at the wrong church!”
A similar situation involved the Royal Naval Hospital. Some people researching naval history mentioned that they were going to Queen’s Road to see the hospital where, they believed, Lord Nelson had visited his wounded sailors after the Battle of the Nile in 1799.
But the first stone was not laid until 1809, and those people needed to go to look at Booker’s warehouse (near Sainsbury’s off St Nicholas Road, the former Grouts factory site) to which the Archaeological Society recently attached “one of its commendable blue plaques”, Trevor notes.