Little Waldingfield History Society was delighted to welcome Anthony to the Parish Room last night to talk to us about the story of the history of Great Yarmouth.
As we hoped but more than we had anticipated from a self confessed non-historian, solicitor Anthony, who had spent 20 years working in and living near the town captured the imagination of our 30 plus audience with a passionate and detailed account of the history of this historic town, once described by 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.
He began by describing the location of Great Yarmouth as near to the site of the Roman fort of Gariannonum at the mouth of the River Yare. However, whether this was Burgh Castle or Caister-on-Sea, where the Romans sited two of their Saxon Shore forts, remains uncertain.
With a river leading to the hinterland and a major food supply from superb farmland grain was available to the Romans to feed both their local troops and those in based Europe. Much later the location attracted fishermen from the Cinque Ports, a permanent settlement was made and the town numbered 70 burgesses (freemen or elected / unelected officials) before the Norman Conquest. In 1208 King John gave Great Yarmouth a charter granting the townspeople certain rights, and from then on Great Yarmouth was a self governing community.
Anthony told us of the long and intimate connection between the town and the Royal Navy - in the 14th Century ships were supplied to fight the Battle of Sluys, the first great English triumph at sea, then seamen and more ships for the Battle of Calais. Great Yarmouth was then rewarded for this support by having it's coat of arms amalgamated with the Royal coat of arms - half and half.
The town was an important naval base throughout the Napoleonic Wars and local man Admiral Lord Nelson landed at Great Yarmouth on three occasions prior to his death in 1805. 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 to be presented with the Freedom of the Borough. Following his death at Trafalgar in 1805, an appeal was launched to raise funds for a worthy monument, in 1819, a column was erected in memory of the hero, some 30 years before the column in Trafalgar Square and at 144 feet, only slightly shorter than its more famous counterpart in Trafalgar Square, London.
Anthony told us the town had been subjected to many German attacks during both world wars. The first ‘successful' Zeppelin raid took place on the night of 19-20 January 1915; two targeted Humberside but were diverted by strong winds and dropped their bombs on Great Yarmouth, Sheringham, Kings Lynn and the surrounding villages. Four people were killed and 16 injured. Apparently the town was also the target of one of the last Zeppelin raids of the Great War.
Due to its position as the last significant place the Luftwaffe could drop bombs on when returning home, the town suffered more tonnage of bombs per acre than London, and the historic centre was almost completely destroyed. Anthony stressed the character of Great Yarmouth people many times during his talk and told us of the time when a stretched fire service had to decide which one of two significant buildings to save. As the local brewery Lacons explains on their website, they played a pivotal part in beer supply during the war and St Nicholas Church, despite being established in 1101 and the largest church by floor area in the country, ‘was happily rebuilt and re-consecrated in 1961'.
Everyone had a really entertaining evening learning much from an easy narrator who really knew his material and could put it across so enthusiastically.
At our next talk, Ashley Cooper will present ‘300 years of countryside history along the Suffolk - Essex border'. Former brickyards, potteries & limekilns, local hop-growing, cheese making, straw-plaiting, wildflowers and herbal remedies will all be up for discussion.
We very much look forward to welcoming guests new and old to the Parish Room on Wednesday 10th December for what is sure to be a most interesting, fascinating and educational evening courtesy of a master story teller.
Andy Sheppard 20th November 2014