The hills of Great Yarmouth are alive with history and heritage
PUBLISHED: 12:22 17 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:22 17 February 2018
Colin Tooke collection
Sadly, our hills will never be alive with the sound of music. Why? Because we suffer from the Hill Street blues, having no hill worthy of the name.
So incomers from hilly places might well wonder why five roads in the flat urban borough are officially called “Hill” (Bath, Cliff, Ferry, Fuller’s and Nettle). Only Cliff and Ferry Hills might cause an elderly cyclist to puff a bit, but in my opinion they are not hills but slopes linking differing levels.
More challenging gradients are the Jellicoe and Barnard bridges over the long-gone M&GN railway track, and Gorleston’s Albemarle and Suffield Roads, but none rates as a hill.
As for Yarmouth’s newly improved Fuller’s Hill, its “Hill” was perhaps justified centuries ago but today it is an anachronism.
A recent column mentioned that in 1964 the old St Andrew’s School and Church on North Quay were among properties bulldozed to permit road improvements in the Fuller’s Hill area to create an easy vehicular link between the town centre and the Acle New Road, and to provide land for commercial development.
Only a handful of Fuller’s Hill buildings survived, all on the north side.
This escalated into the allegation that the scheme contributed to the wilful removal of an important piece of local history. People were angry, claiming the scheme destroyed the spot where Yarmouth’s first houses were reportedly built, breaking an historic link dating back nearly 1000 years.
In the 1970s, journalist Joe Harrison wrote that Fuller was a merchant and/or fisherman. Historians agreed that the first houses were built on what was then the highest point of the sandbank on which Yarmouth was founded. It was named Fuller’s Hill.
Fishermen from other ports and the continent used the sandbank west of today’s Scroby Sands during the autumn herring season, drying their nets and salting their catches there.
At first they built huts there, but 19th century local historian John Druery claimed folk already settled on marshy Southtown riverside land decided to move over to escape “the insalubrious air and unhealthy state of the marshes, and began to build more substantial habitations.”
Druery noted: “Thus the sandbank did growe to be drye and was not overflowne by the sea but waxed in height and also in greatness, and much store of people from the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk did resorte hither.”
They constructed premises for entertaining seafarers, fishermen and merchants seeking either to sell their fish or other commodities or to cater for their requirements.
Another historian, Charles Palmer, explained: “Ultimately permanent dwellings were erected and peopled by residents who principally relied for their support upon the influx of visitors during the fishing season... and thus a community became established which continually flourished.”
There were some early local difficulties, like disputes between residents and visitors, with the former seeking to prevent strangers from owning houses.
At that time, Fuller’s Hill commanded an uninterrupted view of the sea “on the most elevated part of the sand ridge.”
Yarmouth’s first street began at the top of the hill and ran south-west to The Conge. Fuller’s Hill developed into a thriving place, with elegant houses and numerous businesses. One “person of opulence” owning a home there in the 17th century was Sir Thomas Medowe.
Yarmouthians in the last three centuries have never seen Fuller’s Hill at its peak, historian Palmer noting: “The road over Fuller’s Hill has from time to time been much lowered for the convenience of traffic.”
In his 1971feature Joe Harrison noted: “Gone already in the massive clearance north of Fuller’s Hill to prepare for the new road and Bure Bridge are Laughing Image Corner and Rainbow Corner. The first took its name from images of children in niches once on the front of a house there, the second from a nearby public house.
“But it was Fuller’s Hill, just along the North Quay, which had the special historical significance.”