The towering sacrifices made to keep safe townspeople
- Credit: Paul Patterson
For casual visitors and many residents, the appearance of an old flint wall dotted about in segments is part of the town’s furniture and not given a second thought.
Similarly built Towers too are “old” – but just how old and why they are important to Great Yarmouth’s history and heritage seems lost in the mists of time.
These patches of “old” were built more than 700 years ago and if reconstructed as they were meant to be, the town would be one of the most uniquely interesting medieval settlements in the world.
There will be descendants who walk past the very wall still standing that their forefathers help build, writes author Paul B Patterson in his fascinating book, The Great Wall of Yarmouth. He has been in awe of the town wall and the towers which exist today for most of his life; and he brings his artistic and graphic expertise together to show us how today’s town would look had this medieval marvel not been pillaged or “modernised” over the centuries.
Permission to enclose the town with walls and a ditch was granted by Henry III in 1261 but work did not start until 24 years later.
Completion of this huge task took over 111 years, the labour hit by a series of setbacks not least the town sending 2,000 men to fight for the King in Calais, France, and the plague which killed 70pc of the town’s population.
Was it a labour of love? It was in fact a defensive move and was always under change or repair. There was always the chance of invasion from across the North Sea – and of course there were pirates!
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It stretched over one and a quarter miles long and enclosed the town in a half circle from the beach leaving the riverside accessible. It enabled Yarmouth to also ensure taxes could be collected, a right only a King could grant – and in itself that proved how important the harbour and town was to England.
As a Scheduled Ancient Monument, large sections of these walls and 11 towers still survive today, many hidden behind buildings which came much later – some parts providing the foundation for hotels, and which can still be seen today. It is the country’s second most complete medieval town wall.
Paul Patterson’s book has been a labour of love for himself, and was seven years in researching. It was well worth the diligence.
The book not only takes the reader back in time in explanations of where the wall ran; but also details its numerous towers and gates which gave access to people to come and go, and of course be challenged by guards as to the purpose of visits to Yarmouth.
And photographs of present roads and streets with the gates and towers superimposed on where they would have stood today shows just what we have lost.
Anyone wonder how we get the name Market Gates? Market Gate stood at the front of the Market Place where the fish market was held but in 1844 the wall gateway was altered for a new market.
The clue is in the “gate” in the name of an area ie Middlegate; a connection with those medieval men who sought to keep themselves and their families safe.
This is not only a book for the scholar and historian, but for all people who live or visit the town; and more importantly for the educators to relate with pride to the custodians of the future, that Yarmouth had its own Great Wall and why we must preserve, guard and remember those precious parts which exist today.
The 190-page book, with its many superb illustrations and maps costs £18.95 and is available from WH Smith and Cobholm Miniatures in Broad Row, Great Yarmouth; as well as Jarrolds and City Book Shop in Norwich.
And this is only Volume 1 - Mr Patterson is currently working on a follow-on, Volume 2.