Discover the country's second most complete Medieval town wall
Great Yarmouth town has one of the best preserved and most complete Medieval town walls in England, dating from 28 September 1261 when King Henry III granted Yarmouth the right to enclose the town with a wall and a ditch to protect them from pirates and ensure taxes could be collected. As a Scheduled Ancient Monument, large sections of these walls and eleven towers still survive today.
In the 13th century, town walls were important, not only as protection against enemy raids but because they showed that a town was wealthy and powerful.
Building a wall was a mammoth undertaking. It took the people of Yarmouth twenty-five years just to raise the money that was needed. Work started on the wall in 1276 and a great amount of labour was required. Every resident had to work on the wall for a number of days each year, although wealthy people could pay others to do the work for them. Most inhabitants knew that they would not live to see it finished - it took 111 years to complete the wall.
The walls and towers were built of local flints and pebbles found lying on beaches and in the immediate neighbourhood due to a shortage of building stone in the area. Great Yarmouth is built on a sandbank and so it was difficult to find suitable materials with which to build a wall. All the towers except for one (King Henry's tower) were round. This was so that they could save stone which would have been needed for the corners.
The South East Tower was particularly fine for repelling pirates as it protruded out and gave the inhabitants a better vanatage point for defending themselves.
The walls ran for just over a mile and completely enclosed three sides of the town. The River Yare protected the west side.
In the mid 1300s, the walls almost became the town's death sentence. People lived in crammed rows of houses, alleyways known to this day as 'The Rows', inside the perimeter. Poor living conditions meant diseases such as 'the Black deal' thrived and spread like wildfire through Yarmouth's close-knit community, wiping out two-thirds of its population.
The town walls were last prepared for action at the time of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and were described by the 17th Century poet Thomas Nash as "a flinty ring of 15 towers which sent out thunder whenever a Spaniard dared to come near".
Much of the Grade II listed wall still stands today, sometimes haphazardly interspersed with modern day buildings and intrinsically part of Great Yarmouth life wherever it stands. Some of the most impressive parts of the wall can be seen near Great Yarmouth Potteries and Smoke House, opposite the Time and Tide Museum and along Blackfriars Road.
Find out more about the Medieval Town Wall on a guided heritage walk. Running from May to October, you can join the walk at the Fisherman's Hospital at the northern end of the Market Place.