Obscure name from the past is right up my alley

MAINNO SIGN REMAINS...of Troy Alley between Yarmouth Rows 45 and 37 off North Quay after a wartime a

MAINNO SIGN REMAINS...of Troy Alley between Yarmouth Rows 45 and 37 off North Quay after a wartime air raid devastated the neighbourhood. When St Francis Way was created postwar, its right-hand pavement runs along the line of Row 45 beside the St John's Head public house. - Credit: Archant

IF I stood in Great Yarmouth Market Place today asking random local shoppers the whereabouts of Troy Alley, I would be thunderstruck if anyone had heard of it – unless one happened to be of advanced years and, by an outside chance, was aware of a long-gone place no more than a few minutes’ walk away.

BOREDOM BREAKER: “Puffing Billy” shunting engines like this on Yarmouth's North and South Quay line

BOREDOM BREAKER: “Puffing Billy” shunting engines like this on Yarmouth's North and South Quay line were eagerly awaited by young Peggotty while his mother shopped in Boultons' store.Pictures: SUBMITTED - Credit: Archant

Indeed, had someone posed the same question in the same spot in centuries past, positive responses might have been minimal too, for it was never anyone’s address because nobody lived in Troy Alley. Simply, it was a short opening.

Recently I wrote here about Runham Vauxhall’s Eight Feet Road which had never come to my attention despite my long lifetime in the borough; it disappeared from maps in 1969 when it was officially stopped up so an industrial site between Acle New Road and Archers Road could be enlarged.

I cannot recall where I spotted the name Troy Alley, but doing so prompted me to research it, ascertaining that it was a narrow passage off Row 45 which led from North Quay to George Street.

Although nobody’s front door opened into Troy Alley, at one time it was surrounded by a mix of cheek-by-jowl homes for the lower classes and gentlemen’s residences owned by prosperous merchants and professional men.

I can find no clue as to how it came to be named Troy Alley, a dead end opening on to North Quay between Rows 45 and 37; a similar alley was located between Rows 37 and neighbouring 34, but had no name. As for Row 37, it was called Glasshouse Row because the glass works of the celebrated William Absolon were located there long ago.

Both Row 45 and Troy Alley were victims of wartime bombing and the subsequent redevelopment of the George Street and North Quay neighbourhood, hitherto one of the borough’s most densely populated and overcrowded districts.

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In April 1941, soon after midnight, a German bomb scored a direct hit on a public communal Anderson corrugated iron air-raid shelter, killing seven people, among them three children.

A total of four high-explosive bombs fell in that raid, and the death toll totalled 13, with 12 people injured. Many casualties were trapped in the debris and the rescue operation lasted 12 hours.

According to Great Yarmouth at War, published in 1989 by Colin Tooke and David Scarles, more than 50 homes were so badly damaged in that raid that they had to be demolished.

The emergency services toiled throughout the next day not only to provide emergency shelter for the homeless but also to do temporary repairs to another 200 dwellings.

The authors added: “The apparent objective of this raid was either the Haven Bridge or the wood yards, for the bombs fell in a direct line towards them, the raider having released his load seconds too soon.”

That post war rebuilding thereabouts included the creation of St Francis Way linking George Street and North Quay. The southern footpath follows the line of the long-gone Row 45.

Through the ages this Row was the location of the private Woolsey’s School and a manufacturer of clay tobacco pipes. The centuries-old St John’s Head public house, which stands between Rows 45 and 47, lent its name to Row 45, as did Mrs Woolsey’s private school.

Sometimes the pub was called the Mortuary Tavern, not because of a sombre and cheerless atmosphere within but due to the fact that the borough morgue stood opposite until 1960! In fact, the mortuary was built on the site of the school.

Dr Mark Rumble’s The Revised History of Great Yarmouth, updating Charles Palmer’s Perlustrations, notes that local historian Harry Johnson in 1927 described Row 45 as “a very wide row,” adding: “On the north side is Troy Alley.” He urged people to admire “the fine flint-fronted ancient house now occupied by Messrs Boulton’s on the North Quay, to the north of this row”.

Boulton’s, one of the borough’s oldest retail businesses, sold furniture and furnishings until it closed in 1986.

I am positive it also sold women’s wear because, during the war, my mother shopped there for her clothing and, as an only child with a father away mine-sweeping at sea, I had to accompany her.

For me, a young lad bored stiff, the only saving grace of standing for ages at the window of the first-floor department was the slender possibility of a shunting engine trundling along North Quay between Vauxhall Station and the wharves, preceded by a walking railwayman with a red flag.

Opposite Boulton’s was Jackson & Carr’s wholesale grocery premises but, in an era of food rationing, there was little activity there to relieve my boredom.

In 1886 the residents of Row 45 earned their living in various ways, including cab driver, beatster (damaged fishing net repairer), carter, two chimney sweeps, cow keeper, photographer, bricklayer and coal heaver.

Row 45 was one of the 145 narrow passages running from east to west, built in the 15th century and entirely enclosed by the town walls. The properties were a mix of upmarket residences, business and professional people’s homes, and cramped small terraced cottages occupied by the working class and poor.

They varied in width, the widest being Broad Row, but some were so narrow that in the late 18th century a local by-law was passed making it an offence for any door to open outwards into a Row!

Running parallel to Row 45 and its St Francis Way successor is The Conge (originally Row 28), and recently a correspondent asked how it came by that strange name. Colin Tooke suggested that the name, probably unique in the country, dated back to the 13th century and could be derived from the nearby bend in the River Bure.

But from reader Pamela Fowler, of St Margaret’s Way, Hopton, comes another suggestion. Mrs Fowler writes: “Congé is a French word meaning ‘holiday’. Appropriate for Yarmouth – The Conge leading directly to the sea-front.”