The argy-bargy which led to Yarmouth leaders blocking river cargoes bound for Norwich
PUBLISHED: 09:34 18 June 2017 | UPDATED: 09:34 18 June 2017
Those Norwich bigwigs were a threatening bossy bunch, forever harping on about their superiority over Yarmouth and demanding this, that and the other. Frankly, it used to stick in our craw, but needed resolution by negotiation, not threats or force.
Often it was a case of six of one, half a-dozen of the other, however, with disputes over various issues, a major Yarmouth gripe being that for centuries the city’s jurisdiction extended as far as the sea!
Eventually, after a lot of argy-bargy, Norwich and Yarmouth came to a grudging agreement...and prominent proof of that enforced compromise is still there for all to see today, centuries later, although, to be strictly accurate, few of us have done so.
Why is that proof not on the tourist trail, visible to Norfolk and Norwich folk and visitors?
Because, despite its size, it is isolated, off the beaten track, miles from anywhere and accessible only by boat or after a long hike across the marshes (and an equally gruelling slog back).
I suppose a helicopter could prove useful, too, but Yarmouth’s North Denes Heliport closed two years ago and its activities were transferred to Norwich Airport.
The demarcation is symbolised by the Hardley Cross, specifying the ancient boundary of jurisdiction between Great Yarmouth and the City of Norwich. Geographically, the cross is sited where the River Chet, having risen at Poringland, joins our dear old Yare.
According to a plaque affixed to the cross after its restoration in 1971: “This cross marks the ancient boundary of the jurisdiction of the City of Norwich, the site is “probably marking the original limit of Breydon Water” and “it was confirmed for Norwich by a Charter of (King) Philip and (Queen) Mary of July 1556.”
Before that, the city of Norwich enjoyed powers extending right down to the sea, an irksome situation for the county’s biggest port.
For a time in the 14th century, Yarmouth riled the city fathers by blocking imported cargoes from being shipped upstream to Norwich, a provocative gambit ending only when the King intervened.
I can find no record of the height of Hardley Cross but the sentinel looks to be about 20ft. The plinth is protected by chest-high metal railings.
After the peaceful compromise, Norwich Corporation was accorded the legal right to “perambulate” the boundary each year, leading to the introduction of an annual ceremony at the cross where a small group of influential men from the city arrived by boat to meet their water-borne Yarmouth counterparts to conduct “the Hardley inquest” into alleged abuses of privileges relating to trading issues on the River Yare.
This ritual must have petered out, or been deliberately abandoned, decades ago.
The only clue I can find came in 1966 when a contributed newspaper feature claimed: “Of recent years, the time taken to complete this ceremony became too great for modern times to comply with, and it was discontinued.”
Nowadays, if there were still inquests, those attending would probably save their valuable time by flying to Hardley Cross by helicopter from Norwich Airport...
Long-serving previous Peggotty Joe Harrison, who died in retirement in 1988, visited Hardley Cross in the spring of 1971, accompanied by staff photographer Les Gould, to cover the efforts of Reedham-based stonemason Derek Pond who was restoring the monument. Although the trio went by boat, they found the site to be its usual unwelcoming boggy self.
Mr Pond’s first task was painstakingly removing unofficial inscriptions gouged into the stonework by visitors over the 81 years since the previous renovation. Re-cutting the original legitimate inscriptions followed. His work was dogged by bad weather, and he wisely took a small tent with him so he could shelter while eating his lunch.
Joe Harrison noted that if another 72 years elapsed before Hardley Cross again received the attention of a stonemason, it would be 2043 - now only 26 years ahead.