Great Yarmouth History


By William Finch-Crisp

After the Romans, who had held. this country in subjection for about 360 years, had taken their final departure (AD 446), nearly half a century elapsed. before Cerdic, the Saxon Prince, is said to have effected a landing on the sand-bank at the entrance of the broad and extensive estuary, which, not only in the time of the Iceni (its aboriginal inhabitants), but for a long period before the Saxon Conquest, dissociated this part of the Eastern coast, and. commemorated his conquest of putting to flight the Britons by naming this, his landing place, Cerdic Shore, which was then dry land. When the Saxons had gained a firm footing, they began to turn their attention to trade and commerce; .and as the waters had receded from the Roman stations at Caister and Burgh, they founded a new town on the west bank of the Yare, which they called. " Jiermud," or "Jernemutha," since corrupted to Yarmouth; but the town was soon extended across the stream to Cerdic Shore, which for some time had been the resort of fishermen from Norway, Holland, and France, and where they had erected booths or tents and other temporary residences during the herring fishery, the place also being found convenient for drying nets and salting fish. The town henceforth continued. gradually to increase; but its local affairs under the government of the Anglo-Saxons has long since sunk into oblivion.

After the dissolution of the Saxon heptarchy, and the consequent union of the kingdom under one Sovereign, Yarmouth began to make rapid strides in the scale of commercial importance, and certain port-reeves or bailiff's were sent by the Barons of the Cinque Ports, whose influence and power soon assuaged the frequent disputes of its fishermen and merchants. Subsequently a "free fair" was established, and a Burgh was founded, for the mutual consideration of comfort and defence. But the disputes between the inhabitants and the 'Barons of the Cinque Ports continued. till King Henry I. took the town under his protection, and placed it under the government of a Provost. In the time of Henry III, the long-subsisting disputes between the 'burgesses and the inhabitants on the west side of the river even then broke out at intervals with such acrimony and violence as to call forth the interference of royalty; but the disagreements between Yarmouth and the Cinque Ports continued until Queen Elizabeth adjusted matters to the satisfaction of both parties, after a quarrel of long duration, much bloodshed, and great loss of property. Different charters since 1209, numbering 25, were granted to the burgesses by succeeding Sovereigns, each conveying additional immunities, and the last in 1703 settled the Municipal government. When the Reform and Muuicipal Corporation Act was passed, the Mayor was again required to be chosen from the whole body of the Corporation, whether Aldermen or Town Councillors. The Mayors elected have principally been chosen from among the Town. Councillors. By the Municipal Corporation Act, 1835, the government of the borough is vested in a Mayor, twelve Aldermen, and thirty-six Councillors. In the time of Edward the Confessor, Yarmouth was an island bounded on the north by the Haven called Grubb's Haven, which ran between Yarmouth and Caister, about a mile and a half north of Yarmouth, at which ships came in and unloaded at a quay by the Congecalled the King's Quay, at thenorth part of the town. On the west it was bounded. by the Yare, from Suffolk, which went out by Gorleston, Corton, and Gunton, south of Yarmouth about six miles. It was bounded on the east by the sea. Grubb's Haven, which was the first Haven, was stopped up by the north-east wind, and. firm land was made between Yarmouth and Caister; ships therefore had to enter by the south channel at Gunton. In 1346, what is known as the first Haven was cut nearer to Yarmouth, by Corton, which continued but twenty-six years, being stopped, up by the north-east winds. A second. Haven, cut at the north of Gorleston in 1393, shared the same fate sixteen years after-wards. A third, cut in 1408, "where ye Pole stands by Loestof'," was kept open sixty years, and. though decaying was preserved. at "great charge" for forty years longer, when it succumbed to the east winds. In 1508, a fourth Haven was cut, and in 1529 a fifth, but the east winds were again fatal to both. In 1549, a Haven was cut by the south gate, but the works were destroyed by Kett and his rebels. The present Haven (the seventh) was cut in 1560, about a mile and a half from the town by Joas Johnson, an engineer from Holland., sent for by "advise of Sir. William Woodhouse." Johnson built a Pier at the south, "with great charge of timber, and 3807 tunn of stone they brought from France, and ye stone of our Lady's Church, on ye west of ye bridge, demolished by Henry ye Eighth." He also made a Pier to the north, but it was not piled up like that to the south till 1660. This haven continued good for a hundred years. Various additions were subsequently made to the "New North Pier." In 1691, an order was made to carry it out 100 yards more, and to fill it up with split piles, the effect of which was it was dry from the New North Pier in 1692 about 240 paces into the sea, and sixty-eight paces into the Haven. In 1694, after a storm at N.E., a great dry bank of sand was made from this Pier across the Haven to the south of the South Pier, so that the ebb could not get out east to sea, but went through the South Pier, having to turn like m S to get to sea,; and. the haven was so bad that no ships could get out. The inhabitants were summoned by beat of drum to go down and cut out the Haven, which they did several days, but it had no effect until "ye great ships came and lay at ye South Pier head," which prevented the ebb from passing through; and. the ebb was then forced. out cast to sea, carrying the bank of sand with it. After this the South Pier was closed up and extended, and the piles at the North Pier were taken up. In 1740 it was shut up by a bank of sand, dry at low water, after storms at E. and N.E. for almost a quarter of a year.

Though Yarmouth never obtained the honor. to which it long aspireid, of being reckoned one of the Cinque Ports, it was evidently an important naval station at an early period, and in the glorious reign of Edward III it had a large number of man-of-war ships, which .in several engagements in the 14th century, did great service. The situation of the town for trade and commerce is most advantageous, lying as it does on the estuary of the rivers Yare, Bure, Waveuey and Wensum, which are navigable to Norwich and. several market towns in the district; and. connected with the metropolis by rail and steamers. In its coasting trade, Yarmouth imports a vast supply of coal for this and the adjoining counties, and exports annually an immense quantity of corn. But the chief business of the port lies in its extensive and unrivalled herring and mackerel fisheries, which have been a constant and uninterrupted source of wealth and employment to the inhabitants from the foundation of the borough to the present time. There were formerly seven monasteries established in Yarmouth, all of which suffered the general fate of such institutions under the suppressing Acts of Henry VIII and Edward VI. Two leper houses, founded. before the year 1374, stood near the north gate; and three Friaries were founded in the reign of Henry III, viz., the Grey Friary, near Broad Row; Black Friary, near South Street or Friar's Lane; and the White Friary, atthe north end, of the town which was burnt down in 1509.

The town was formerly divided into four "leets," but for local purposes is now divided into six wards or divisions, including Gorleston and Southtown. Ecclesiastically, Yarmouth belongs to the Deanery of Flegg, Archdeaconry and Bishopric of Norwich.

This document is part of Crisp's History Of Yarmouth and has been left in its original form. By Ron Taylor

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