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Great Yarmouth

Today Great Yarmouth is known as a popular seaside resort - famous for its promenade and its Pleasure Beach. However, historically, Yarmouth was a strategically important port controlling the entrances to the rivers Bure, Yare and Waveney. (The Bure enters the town from the north while the Yare and Waveney converge from the south through Breydon Water.) In the 19th Century Yarmouth was also an important herring port - where tons of the 'silver darling' were landed.

River Yare at Yarmouth

River Yare at Yarmouth

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)

In 1724, Defoe visited Yarmouth as part of his Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain and was very impressed by what he saw. He was quick to appreciate the town's geographical location and how it controlled Norwich's access to the North Sea.

Daniel Defoe

Daniel Defoe

'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; and 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.'

Great Yarmouth also provides the starting point for Robinson Crusoe's journey in Defoe's famous adventure story. The eponymous hero is anchored in Yarmouth Roads awaiting a favourable wind. The Yarmouth Roads is a stretch of (usually) safe water which lies just off the coast - slightly inshore of Scroby Sands. After leaving Yarmouth Roads, Crusoe's ship is then wrecked in a storm off Winterton but he makes it to the shore in a lifeboat and then walks back to Yarmouth. Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719 is often regarded as the first English novel.
'The sixth day of our being at sea we came into Yarmouth Roads; the wind having been contrary, and the weather calm, we had made but little way since the storm. Here we were obliged to come to an anchor, and here we lay, the wind continuing contrary, viz., at southwest, for seven or eight days, during which time a great many ships from Newcastle came into the same Roads...'

See also King's Lynn.

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens visited Great Yarmouth in 1849 - staying at the Royal Hotel on Waterloo Road.

Charles Dickens Portrait

Charles Dickens

He only stayed for two days but the place must have made a big impression on him for he was soon to use it as the main setting for his semi-autobiographical novel David Copperfield. An upturned boat on the beach, used as a house, almost certainly provided the inspiration for Peggotty's house.

Inside Peggotty's House

Here is the passage from the novel where David Copperfield first sees the house:

'Yon's our house, Mas'r Davy!'
I looked in all directions, as far as I could stare over the wilderness, and away at the sea, and away at the river, but no house could <i>I</i> make out. There was a black barge, or some kind of superannuated boat, not far off, high and dry on the ground, with an iron funnel sticking out of it for a chimney and smoking very cosily; but nothing else in the way of habitation that was visible to me.

As a visitor to Yarmouth, Dickens must also have been conscious of the pervading smell of fish - a feature which he describes in the following section of the book:
'When we got into the street (which was strange enough to me), and smelt the fish, and pitch, and oakum, and tar, and saw the sailors walking about, and the carts jangling up and down over the stones, I felt I had done so busy a place an injustice; and said as much to Peggotty, who heard my expressions of delight with great complacency, and told me it was well known (I suppose to those who had the good fortune to be born Bloaters) that Yarmouth was, upon the whole, the finest place in the universe.'

David Copperfield was born at Blundeston(e) which lies just over the border in Suffolk.
Thomas Nashe (1567-1601)

In 1599, the Lowestoft born poet and dramatist Thomas Nashe had to leave London following the publication of The Isle of Dogs. Nashe had collaborated with Ben Jonson on the writing of this satirical comedy.

Thomas Nashe

Nashe escaped to Great Yarmouth where he wrote another satire - this time - one about the red herring or kipper. It was entitled Nashes Lenten Stuffe and here is an extract:

'A Fisherman of Yarmouth, hauing drawne so many herrings hee wist not what to do withall, hung the residue that he could not sel nor sped, in the sooty roofe of his shad a drying: or say thus, his shad was a cabbinet in decimo sexto, builded on foure crutches, and hee had no roome in it, but in that garret or Excelsis, to lodge them, where if they were drie, let them bee drie, for in the sea they had drunke too much, and now hee would force them doo penance for it.'

Anna Sewell (1820-1878)

Anna Sewell - the authoress of Black Beauty - was born in Great Yarmouth at this house on Church Plain in 1820. However, she didn't write the book until she was 57 years old and living in Old Catton near Norwich. She only wrote one book during her lifetime, but it has remained a children's classic ever since. The house is now used as a restaurant.

Anna Sewell died shortly after Black Beauty was published and she was buried in the graveyard of the Quaker Chapel at Lamas.

Birthplace of Anna Sewell

Anna Sewell Portrait

Anna Sewell

David Service (1776-1828)

David Service was born in Scotland but moved to Yarmouth where he worked as a shoemaker in Row 27. One of his early poems (The Caledonian Herd Boy) caught the eye of the eminent physician Dr Thomas Girdlestone who introduced him to influential friends - which kick-started his career. Service then wrote a poem about the death of Princess Charlotte - who had died in childbirth - and also an ode to local mathematician Adam Glendenning - which further enhanced his reputation. However, he was unable to handle the fame and the money and soon became destitute - owing large amounts of money. He was finally put in the stocks in Yarmouth market place.

In 1822, though, he reappeared publishing A Tour in Pursuit of Ideas - which was an odyssey round the taverns and inns of Yarmouth. The poem was an instant success and Service was once again 'in the money'. Unfortunately, he soon squandered the new income and this time was consigned to the workhouse. He died aged 52 and is buried in St. Nicholas' churchyard.

Also buried in the churchyard are many of the victims of the 1845 Yarmouth suspension bridge disaster. The bridge collapse, which cost the lives of 77 people, is depicted on some of the headstones.

George Borrow (1803-1881)

The travel writer and novelist lived at 169 King Street from 1853-55 (where he completed Romany Rye) and then at 37-9 Camperdown Place from 1856-9 - now an hotel. Borrow, who was an energetic person, loved to bath in the sea while living in the town. Borrow's main influence was undoubtedly Daniel Defoe - who also has connections with Yarmouth - see above.

See also Dereham and Norwich

Arthur Ransome (1884-1967)

In Coot Club Mrs Barrable and the children sail through Yarmouth on their way to Beccles. The grand finale of the book also takes place on Breydon Water near Yarmouth when the Teasel and the Titmouse run aground in the fog and the Margoletta and her crew of Hullabaloos close in on them. Fortunately, though, the Hullabaloos hit a post and the Margoletta is wrecked before they can get their hands on Tom Dudgeon. (Tom originally set their cruiser adrift to protect a coot's nest near Horning.)

Breydon Water was also the stamping ground of the Norfolk naturalist Arthur H Patterson who inspired Ted Ellis - another Norfolk naturalist.


More photographs of Great Yarmouth





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