Great Yarmouth's South Quay described by Daniel Defoe as the finest in all Europe
South Quay, together with North Quay and Hall Quay (previously called Broad Quay) are at the very heart of Great Yarmouth, alongside the River Yare. In the middle ages, the rivers Bure and Yare did not exit the town where they do now, problems with lack of dredging and the rivers silting up caused their routes to be changed several times. The first Haven Bridge at the start of South Quay was erected in 1427 to connect Yarmouth with the Gorleston area known as Southtown.
Great Yarmouth has been a port since medieval times, although the herring fishing boats of yesteryear have long been replaced by offshore survey and supply vessels, ensuring that South Quay is always a hive of activity, even more so in September when the Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival takes over the quayside for a weekend of maritime celebration.
South Quay is the best place to start an exploration of Great Yarmouth's rich heritage, with a wealth of museums to explore, starting with the Lydia Eva, Great Yarmouth's last steam drifter moored from April to October near to the Town Hall at the northern end.
An old thatched ice house can be seen on Ice House Quay opposite, on the other side of the Haven Bridge. Fine examples of Old Merchants houses can be seen further down, now housing the Elizabethan House and the Nelson Museum. The Port Authority building has beautiful ornate carvings on the facade and was built in 1746 by John Andrews, the richest fish merchant of the era.
Leading off South Quay, Row 111 takes you to two further museums, the Great Yarmouth Row Houses and the Old Merchants House, both fascinating examples of the accommodation people used to live in.
In the early 18th century Yarmouth, as a thriving herring port, was vividly and admiringly described several times in Daniel Defoe's travel journals, including a glowing description of South Quay, an excerpt of which makes for fascinating reading:
"Yarmouth is an antient town, much older than Norwich; and at present, tho' not standing on so much ground, yet better built; much more compleat; for number of inhabitants, not much inferior; and for wealth, trade, and advantage of its situation, infinitely superior to Norwich.
"It is plac'd on a peninsula between the River Yare and the sea; the two last lying parallel to one another, and the town in the middle: The river lies on the west-side of the town, and being grown very large and deep, by a conflux of all the rivers on this side the county, forms the haven; and the town facing to the west also, and open to the river, makes the finest key in England, if not in Europe, not inferior even to that of Marseilles itself.
"The ships ride here so close, and as it were, keeping up one another, with their head-fasts on shore, that for half a mile together, they go cross the stream with their bolsprits over the land, their bowes, or heads, touching the very wharf; so that one may walk from ship to ship as on a floating bridge, all along by the shore-side: The key reaching from the drawbridge almost to the south-gate, is so spacious and wide, that in some places 'tis near one hundred yards from the houses to the wharf. In this pleasant and agreeable range of houses are some very magnificent buildings, and among the rest, the custom-house and town-hall, and some merchants houses, which look like little palaces, rather than the dwelling-houses of private men..."