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Fascinating maritime heritage in Great 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.

Scots Fisher Girls

Silver Darlings

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.

Naval Glory

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.

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.


Heritage attractions

Elizabethan House Museum

Great Yarmouth

No opening confirmed. Explore four centuries of history under one roof. Stroll around the period rooms in this Elizabethan merchants home, from the Victorian kitchen and scullery to the grand Elizabethan rooms upstairs.

Walsingham Abbey Grounds & The Shirehall


Unrestored Georgian prison in the centre of Little Walsingham.

Wroxham Miniature Worlds


Wroxham Miniature Worlds is the largest indoor modelling attraction in the UK. Great fun for all the family.

Bure Valley Railway


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.

Time and Tide - Museum of Great Yarmouth

Great Yarmouth

Reopen 3 August! Pre-booking essential. 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.

Thurne Dyke Drainage Mill

Great Yarmouth

Perfect area for picnics. Mill opens to the public for events. Thurne Mill often attracts media attention for its iconic impact on the Broads landscape and it’s historical importance.

Caister Lifeboat Station


Reopening TBC. Caister Lifeboat Information Centre - tracing over 200 years of history of the country's only independently operated lifeboat.

The Tolhouse Gaol

Great Yarmouth

No opening date confirmed. 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.

Thursford Collection


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

Great Yarmouth

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.

Caister Roman Fort


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.

Scroby Sands Visitor Centre

Great Yarmouth

Reopening TBC.Scroby Sands Visitor Centre, Great Yarmouth, is the place to find out interesting info all about Great Yarmouth's working windfarm of thirty turbines. Perfect for groups & individuals with an interest in renewable energy.

Great Yarmouth Town Hall

Great Yarmouth

Arguably one of the most beautiful buildings in the town, Great Yarmouth Town Hall was built in the 1880s and is a classic example of fine Victorian Gothic architecture.

Caister Castle Car Collection

Great Yarmouth

Caister Castle Car collection near Caister Great Yarmouth, probably the largest private collection of motor vehicles in Great Britain

Greyfriars Cloisters

Great Yarmouth

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.

Thrigby Post Mill

Great Yarmouth

Privately owned and visable only over the hedgerows, this post mill of recent construction, almost complete, is on the site of an earlier mill dating from the 1790s. Only open on some Bank Holidays and by special request.

Merrivale Model Village

Great Yarmouth

Open 4 July! 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.

Lydia Eva - The Last Steam Drifter

Great Yarmouth

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.

Wind Energy Museum-The Morse Collection

Great Yarmouth

Set in 2 acres, we have working demonstrations of wind power spanning 200 years. The Wind Energy Museum is home to a unique collection that cannot be found anywhere else in the UK.

St Benets Abbey

Great Yarmouth

Ruins of a monastery founded in AD1020 by King Canute. A 14th century gatehouse with important carvings, 18th century windmill tower, the foundation of the abbey church and a perimeter wall around the 34 acres of earthworks with fishponds.

The Falcon Brewery

Great Yarmouth

The Falcon Brewery, Great Yarmouth, a working brewery producing over 7500 pints of craft ale every week, with a Lacons gift shop and a visitor centre charting Lacons local brewing heritage. Shop & museum open Wed & Thurs mid-day to 2pm.

Great Yarmouth Row Houses

Great Yarmouth

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.

Horsey Windpump

Great Yarmouth

Fully restored and once again standing proud over the broadland landscape, Horsey Windpump is complete with new cap and turning patent sails. Explore this historic mill and discover it’s fascinating story.

St Mary's Church, Southtown

Great Yarmouth

A daughter church of Great Yarmouth Minster serving the Southtown community of Great Yarmouth. A range of community groups meet in the Church hall.

Making waves - Behind the scenes at the Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival

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