Jubilee pictorial delight recalls long-gone building gems in Yarmouth

THERE is some justification for assuming there can be few, if any, old pictorial publications about Great Yarmouth still lurking forgotten in sideboard drawers, on bookshelves or in tea-chests in attics.

The many people passionately interested in our borough’s past have seen them all, I tell myself sometimes, resigned to never coming across something fresh ... so imagine the delight when something new does turn up.

This latest pleasure is Pictures of Old Yarmouth, a 28-page supplement to the Yarmouth Independent newspaper published in 1897 as a souvenir of the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. It cost threepence (about a penny today), with pages roughly the size of your 2012 tabloid Mercury, and is a splendid mix of pictures of faces and places, information and absorbing advertisements.

I have to thank that old friend of this column, ex-Gorlestonian Mike King, now a Lowestoft resident, for entrusting this gem to me.

The Victorian editor explained that so many publications were available to mark the queen’s 60 years on the throne that: “We decided to celebrate this unique event in another direction, and one we think will be of special interest. At considerable expense and much labour, we have got together a number of very interesting pictures of old Yarmouth, many of which, we believe, most of our readers have never before seen.”

These pictures would: “Always afford them real pleasure to look at and, by comparing them with the Yarmouth as it exists today (1897), they can see wherein the town has been enlarged and improved. Many will perhaps regret, as we do, the removal of some of the old landmarks, but in the march of improvement they had to go to make room for their modern successors.”

How often are those sentiments echoed today in the columns of the Mercury, a newspaper once a fierce rival of the Independent!

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As for the Jetty, that editor wrote: “The first pile of the present jetty was driven on August 20, 1808. It was built on the site of one constructed in the time of Queen Elizabeth, since which time it has been on several occasions lengthened and improved by the corporation. It has always been a favourite resort both for townsfolk and visitors.”

Surely he could never have envisaged the jetty being demolished with haste, as happened last month!

According to the publication: “Not a finer market exists in all England than Yarmouth Market, and a more beautiful collection of flowers, fruits and vegetables in the summer season can be seen in very few places.”

On the market’s seaward side were the “flesh shambles” where all town butchers were required to sell their victuals, not elsewhere, or risk the loss of �1. To encourage them, they were given life occupancy of stalls on payment of a small rent. Country butchers could sell their meat only on market days, “and not then unless they brought beef as well as veal.”

I was unaware that Queen Elizabeth planned a visit to Yarmouth in 1578 while staying in Norwich, and “great preparations” were made here, as one would expect. But “the plague breaking out at Norwich made it necessary for the Queen to hasten away, and her visit to Yarmouth did not take place.”

Across St Nicholas’ Road near the Mitre tavern stood for centuries the Pudding Gate – but nobody knows why it was so named.

In front of the parish church a guildhall was built in which the corporation conducted its business “which consisted occasionally of eating and drinking. But then, not as now, they sometimes had their wives with them. On the vigil or eve of the Feast of the Holy Trinity, the brotherhood assembled, bringing their wives with them and, after prayer, were regaled with spice cake, good beer and ale.

“On Trinity Sunday there was a dinner which consisted for the first course of fromerty (whatever that was), roast beef, veal and green geese, and for the second course, lamb, pigs, capons and custard. Then in the evening there was another equally good feast. We were not surprised to find these entertainments became too expensive to be continued.”

Also in the town centre was the children’s hospital, adjoining which was the home of the schoolmaster, “the parlour of which was used as a justice hall where the mayor sat every Saturday to hear complaints.”

That sounds like a tradition worth reviving in 2012!

Looking north along King Street from St George’s Church stood Penrice House, built by local notability Thomas Penrice after he was bequeathed �300,000 by a titled old friend, but instead of surviving as “a memorial of past greatness,” it was demolished “in the march of so-called improvement” and replaced by a Congregational church, china shop and other retail premises.

The Penrice name lived on with a pub opposite and built where his stables stood in King Street, but the hostelry became part of the 151 nightclub that closed in 2006.

The tower of St Peter’s Church, consecrated in 1833, “was shorn of its beauty” by the loss of one of its four corner turrets in an 1860 gale, so the other three were removed.

At the harbour’s mouth on Yarmouth’s South Denes stood a fort from 1653, used mainly to house prisoners-of-war, some of whom (including Dutch captains) escaped two years later. In 1834 it was demolished, and its iron gate was transferred to the garden of Palmer’s Folly, a riverside house Samuel Palmer built near High Street.

In 1851 local sailors rioted for an advance of wages, breaking into the police court, releasing some prisoners, and threatening to free others. The uprising grew to such proportions that soldiers had to be sent from Norwich to break it up.

The rows were a convenient hiding place for rioters who, once the military had cleared the main streets line the new Regent Street, emerged and resumed their campaign. Eventually the riot was quelled, with 18 men taken prisoner.