Fascinating maritime heritage in Greater Yarmouth
Great Yarmouth has been one of the most popular seaside holiday destinations in Britain for well over a century, and its unique maritime heritage goes back some 900 years. Before the arrival of seaside tourists on the beaches, Great Yarmouth owed its prosperity to the sea.
The town of Great Yarmouth began as a herring fishing settlement in the 10th century. The herring fishing industry developed rapidly after the Norman Conquest in 1066 and soon became the mainstay of industry in Great Yarmouth while the fish became a favourite food for both rich and poor people and earned the name, 'silver darling'. A free Herring Fair was held every year, attracting merchants from all parts of Europe.
Special boats called Drifters were used to catch the herring which swim and feed close to the surface so, to catch them, nets were hung vertically in the water, like a string of huge tennis nets. At night time, the fish would blunder into the nets and be caught by their gills.
The size of the fishing fleets grew over the centuries and so did the catches. In the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, fish girls from around the country, but in particular from Scotland, would descend upon the town from October onwards to gut and process the catch which had to be done immediately once the boat had landed. The average catch in the early years of the 20th century was about 530 million fish! It is said that at times there were so many fishing boats in the harbour, it was possible to cross from one side of the river to the other by walking from deck to deck.
Great Yarmouth's last Steam Drifter, the Lydia Eva, was built in King's Lynn boat yard and had all mod-cons: electric light and wireless. However, the herring industry declined rapidly in the 1930s and the Lydia Eva landed her last catch in 1938. Now fully refurbished, the boat can be visited on South Quay between April and October.
Given it's geographical location, the East Anglia coast has always been vulnerable to attack in times of conflict and Great Yarmouth has played an important role in defending this part of the country since medieval times.
In the 14th century, the town supplied ships to fight the Battle of Sluys, the first great English triumph at sea, and provided a large number of both ships and seamen for the Battle of Calais. Great Yarmouth was rewarded for this support by having it's coat of arms halved with the Royal coat of arms. The town was an important naval base throughout the Napoleonic Wars, and Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson who was born at Burnham Thorpe in north-west Norfolk in 1758, landed at Great Yarmouth on three occasions prior to his death in 1805.
When he landed at Great Yarmouth after the Battle of the Nile in 1798, he was given a hero's welcome and carried to the Wrestler's Inn on Church Plain. There he was presented with the Freedom of the Borough, and legend has it that when the town clerk was administering the oath he noticed that Nelson's left hand was placed on the Bible and exclaimed, "Your right hand, my Lord!", "That," replied Nelson curtly, "is at Tenerife". Another story goes that the landlady of the Wrestler's Inn asked Nelson if she could rename the pub, 'The Nelson Arms' in his honour. Nelson replied, "That would be ridiculous, seeing as I have but one".
Following Nelson's death at Trafalgar in 1805, an appeal was launched to raise funds for a worthy monument. In 1819, a column was erected in the South Denes area of the town in memory of this great admiral - 30 years before the column in Trafalgar Square. At 144 feet, Nelson's Monument, or the Norfolk Naval Pillar as it is also referred to is only slightly shorter than its counterpart in London.
Many military buildings have been built in Great Yarmouth over the years. One of the most striking is the Royal Naval Hospital, which was originally built for sailors wounded in the Napoleonic Wars. It then became a barracks, but was converted back to a hospital forty years later and was used to accommodate sailors who were mentally ill, hence the navy slang to describe those sailors who are showing signs of mental wear and tear as, "going to Yarmouth". Now a private residence, parts of the Royal Naval Hospital are usually open during Heritage Open days in September for people wishing to visit.
Visit the Nelson Museum to learn about the life and times of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. The museum, which is housed in a 17th century building on South Quay, on a quayside which still looks remarkably like the one that Nelson would have known, commemorates his illustrious career and Norfolk connections.
Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival
The town's rich maritime heritage is celebrated every year with the Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival, a spectacular weekend featuring tall ships and other visiting vessels, live shanty music, lifeboat demonstrations and other maritime related activities.
Explore four centuries of history under one roof. Stroll around the period rooms in this Tudor merchants house with a free audio tour and try on Tudor costumes.
Caister Castle Car collection near Caister Great Yarmouth, probably the largest private collection of motor vehicles in Great Britain
One of Great Yarmouth's best loved family attractions, is set in over an acre of award winning landscaped gardens with streams, waterfalls, lake with Koi Carp, garden railway & picnic area. New for 2016 - the Merrivale Eye!
Time & Tide in Great Yarmouth is set in one of the UK's best preserved Victorian Herring curing works, and tells the story of the area from its ice age origins to the present day. Experience the heady atmosphere of a 1950's fish wharf.
Norfolk’s longest narrow gauge steam railway runs between the old market town of Aylsham and the bustling Broads town of Wroxham and is within easy reach of Norwich and the coast.
Wroxham Miniature Worlds is the largest indoor modelling attraction in the uk.
Caister Beer & Cider Festival takes place in the lifeboat shed over 3 days with beer, cider, live music and dancing. Entrance is £5, which includes your first pint. Live band play every session and there's hog roast on Sunday.
The David Howkins Museum of Memories, Great Yarmouth houses fascinating exhibits including toys and collectibles, the true history of the Elephant Man (Joseph Merrick) and needlework tapestries depicting Great Yarmouth's historic buildings.
Thursford Collection is open during the summer as a working museum of mechanical organs, Wurlitzer shows, silent movies, old fashioned fairground carousels, static displays of fairground & road engines & all kinds of related memorabilia.
Stracey Arms Drainage Mill near Great Yarmouth is a drainage mill with access by 2 ladders to the cap showing the brakewheel and gears. Within the mill is an exhibition of the history of drainage mills and a souvenir shop & tea room nearby.
Visit one of the UK's oldest gaols, dating back to the 12th century. See the original cells and discover the fate of the thieves, smugglers, witches, pirates and murderers who were confined here.
Scroby Sands Visitor Centre, Great Yarmouth, is the place to find out interesting information all about Great Yarmouth's working windfarm of thirty turbines. Perfect for groups and individuals with an interest in renewable energy.
Caister Fort: Partial excavated remains of a Roman 'Saxon Shore' fort, including wall and ditch sections and building foundations. Built around AD 200 for a unit of the Roman army and navy and occupied until the end of the 4th century.
The only historical collection of wind engines in Britain, demonstrating the history of Norfolk drainage, with an example of a working scoop wheel. Examples are also held of pumps from America & Australia. Fascinating collection.
Great Yarmouth Row Houses: Experience the sights and sounds of yesterday's Great Yarmouth. Visit these unique and vividly presented houses, one set in 1870 and the other in 1942, just before the incendiary bombing.
St Andrew's church has many architectural features dating back to the Medieval period. With stained glass windows from the Victorian era and church organ dated 1904. The Bacon Brass dating back to 1292 can be seen in the Lady Chapel.
Lydia Eva YH89 built in 1930, last steam drifter returned to her home port of Great Yarmouth in spring 2009 after an extensive restoration facilitated by a heritage lottery grant & other grants as a floating museum of the fishing industry.
The tiny, timber boarded trestle St Olaves drainage mill near Great Yarmouth with a scoopwheel is visible from road and river and can be approached by footpath from the bridge.
St Olaves priory houses a wonderfully complete 14th century brick-vaulted refectory undercroft - later a cottage occupied until 1902 - of a small Augustinian priory.
Completed in 1811 and used firstly as a Royal Navy hospital and subsequently as a barracks, then by the NHS, the building's four magnificent terraces enclose a rare example of a Georgian square and many other original features.
Visit one of Norfolk's best and largest extant marsh mills, built to grind a constituent of cement and in use until 1951, for subsequently pumping water to drain surrounding marshland.
Greyfriars Cloisters, Great Yarmouth - substantial remains of a church of Franciscan grey friars dating back to 1271. Access to Greyfriars’ Cloisters is by pre-arrangement only.