Former Great Yarmouth armoury honoured with blue plaque
PUBLISHED: 13:08 23 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:08 23 June 2016
Archant Norfolk © 2016
Great Yarmouth’s role as a strategically important Royal Navy base during the Napoleonic Wars has been recognised with a commemorative blue plaque.
History buffs gathered in Southtown Road last Tuesday to unveil the marker at the site of an armoury and barracks.
The imposing red brick buildings date from 1806 and are all that remains of a base serving the Royal Navy fleet moored at Yarmouth Roads and providing a vantage point from where the North Sea and Dutch Coast could be controlled.
Adding to the their significance was the discovery that MI5 founder Sir Vernan Kell - the original ‘K’ rather than ‘M’ - was born there.
Unveiling the 81st marker was Yarmouth mayor Malcolm Bird, who said it was “a privilege” to be able to shed light on some of the town’s forgotten maritime history.
Just the officers’ quarters and armoury remain at the site, once announced by two 18th century cannons - one of which sits on South Quay near the Lydia Eva.
Hailing the historical importance of the Grade II-listed survivals Andrew Fakes, chairman of the Great Yarmouth Local History and Archaelogical Society, said the ceremony was part of an on-going commitment to mark important buildings, events and people in the area.
The armoury was used by the Royal Navy between 1806 and 1815 and held 10,000 items of weaponry. It could equip two ‘Ships of the Line,’ four frigates and six sloops and was capable of repairing damaged warships.
Society member Dr Paul Davies said the site was chosen because it was close to the harbour’s mouth where it was easy to find spare, cheap land and where casualties would be minimal if the magazines went up.
He added that the buildings, designed by feted architect James Wyatt, were a worthy recipient of a plaque which served as a reminder of the town’s importance to the Royal Navy.
After the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 the premises were sold for a grain store and the munitions were removed to the Tower of London and Woolwich Arsenal.
At the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1855 the Army took over the building to use as a barracks, hospital and stables.
It was used by various regiments until 1890.
In 1889 it was put up for auction but received no bids. It was recorded that in 1890 the removal of soldiers had resulted in great financial loss to local traders.
In 1891 J & J Colman acquired the site and nearby warehouses as part of their mustard producing empire and was badly damaged in an air raid in 1941.
The most famous resident of the site, albeit very briefly, was Vernon Charles Waldegrave Kell who as the son of a serving army office was born there in 1873. His mother was a Polish countess and the family travelled widely on the continent where the young Vernon became proficient in several languages.
Early in the 20th century there was fear and some hysteria over the German spy threat to Britain and the MI5 and MI6 secret services were set up in 1910.
Kell was appointed head of MI5 Home Secret Service charged with routing out spies. He remained head of the service until 1940 and finished up with the rank of major general.
Addressing those that had gathered at the site entrance, Mr Davies said: “We are here today to commemorate the great Naval history the town once had and also one of our own who was born here - a Yarmouth boy.”
The premises are now occupied by three different companies.