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Plaque mystery solved

PUBLISHED: 16:12 23 April 2009 | UPDATED: 13:44 03 July 2010

NAUTICAL THEME: The plaques, above and below

NAUTICAL THEME: The plaques, above and below

THANKS for helping the Mercury solve the mystery of the plaques featuring Great Yarmouth's coat of arms.

Clive Jermany emailed: "As a pupil at Greenacre Secondary Modern in the mid sixties, I remember being shown a plaster cast of the coat of arms along with the rubber mould which was used to make it.

THANKS for helping the Mercury solve the mystery of the plaques featuring Great Yarmouth's coat of arms.

Clive Jermany emailed: “As a pupil at Greenacre Secondary Modern in the mid sixties, I remember being shown a plaster cast of the coat of arms along with the rubber mould which was used to make it. The teacher was a Mr Grice. Hope this helps.”

And local historian Colin Tooke also wrote: “Your anonymous writer was correct, I can confirm the plaques were on coalboxes in the Town Hall. There are two surviving today, in the Mayor's Parlour, but they are brass.

“ The others would have been in the less important rooms. I also suggest the two figures are not fishermen, although they are holding fish. They are coalheavers, the men who unloaded the colliers. The hats are hard felt hats as they carried the coal in baskets on their heads. Hope this answers the question.”

And, reader Harry Flaxman of Tan Lane, Caister wrote: “I have been following the correspondence about the mystery plaque. Part of the problem is that we have lost the ability to “read” messages in the same way as our predecessors. The clue that there is a message is that the supporting figures are far too large in relation to the Borough arms.

“Analysis of the two photos shows that there is a nautical theme. There is an Admiralty crown and twin dolphins support the shield. The figures do not wear sou'westers on their heads so may represent anglers rather than fishermen. And fish are in their hands as well as upon the Borough arms.

“If you stare at the centre of the plaque you will probably find that your focus cannot remain in one spot for very long, and this is the intention of the design. Your gaze will transfer to the figures - that is why they dwarf the centrepiece. But the small hats and nondescript faces do not require much attention so your gaze will move downwards. However, the smocks are plain so you finish up looking at their boots. And their outermost arms, with the fish in their hands, tend to accentuate this. I found that my eye movement was encouraged to stop at their feet.

“As the plaques were made of cast-iron rather than bronze, this indicates an intended external use. The lettering is not medieval and cannot be dated much before the Victorian era. The plaques are consistent with the embellishment for the Wellington Pier; we all know the connection between Wellington and boots. I can remember anglers using the Wellington pier years ago. It is quite possible that people were so pleased with the design that it was used to embellish the Town Hall coal boxes and goodness knows what else.

“The only dating evidence is that the Wellington Pier was privately constructed in 1853/4 and purchased by the Borough in 1900, and possibly rebuilt in 1903 when a pavilion was added. The Town Hall was opened in 1882 but was not converted from gas to electric light until 1895, so it is certain that if coal fires were an original feature they were still in use at that date.

“It is also possible that the dolphins were part of the message, as I believe that “dolphin” is a term related to quays or piers. Perhaps a knowledgeable reader can shed light on this?”

And finally, borough councillor Jim Shrimplin also called to tell us about the two coalboxes in the Mayor's Parlour, and he recalls when he was mayor, much to his chagrin, one went missing - but it had only been taken away for cleaning, and was returned.

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