Town Wall

Chapter IX

The Town Wall

The fortifications of our towns on the east coast have usually been the work, and they have remained the property, of the inhabitants. On the petition of the burgesses a licence was granted. to them by Henry III. to enclose their town with a wall and fosse. The works were not however commenced until 1276 at the north end of the town; and a considerable period elapsed before the same were finished. Toenable them to carry on so expensive an undertaking, the inhabitants were empowered by royal grant to collect during limited periods certain duties under the name of murage, upon all commodities imported and. exported. These grants were renewed from time to time, as occasion required, up to the year 1390; and the funds of the muragers, annually elected., were augmented. by legacies and voluntary contributions. The wall when, completed encircled the old. town, except on the west side which was bounded by the river. It admeasured. 2,238 yards, was twenty-three feet high, and was defended. at intervals by sixteen towers. There were two principal gates, north and south, with several srnaller intermediate gates along the east wall, "to let in her friends and keep out her enemies," quoth Manship. These fortifications were faced with smoothed Norfolk flints, interspersed. with occasional courses of hard. thin bricks; Caen stone being used for the loop-holes and ornamental work. Internally the wall was sustained by a series of arches, within each of which was a splayed loop-hole for the use of the cross-bowmen. These arches supported a walk for those who defended the walls, and. enabled them to shoot from the upper and. smaller loop-holes, and to pass from tower to tower.

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Yarmouth Walls with Arches

The annexed engraving shews the interior of the wall in its original state, with the double row of loop-holes. The embattlement of Caen stone surmounted. only a portion of the wall. After ihe introduction of cannon, and when the Duke of Norfolk was sent down by Henry VIII. to put the town into a better state of defence, the lower arches were all filled up with earth, the walls being "rampired." and rendered impervious up to the above-mentioned walk; evidence of which remains to this day.

Letus now take a survey of these fortifications, commencing at the south end of the town. The first defence was a boom thrown across the river, supported. by a jetty on each side. This boom was kept closed during the night, and. the passage strictly guarded. The wall commenced from the river at this point; and behind it was a high mound of earth, called. the South Mount, which commanded a view of the riverand South Denes down to the haven's mouth. In later times a look-out was erected on this mount, which was not finally removed until 1867. The mount has now been so much cut away that but little of it remains. Fifty-eight yards from the river, and to the east of the mount, stood the South Gate, called also the Great Gate.

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Yarmouth South Gates

The portal, twelve feet wide, was long and narrow, and was defended by a portcullis. Above was an apartment having an embattled roof. It was flanked on each side towards the south by a round projecting and embattled tower, the walls of which were 3 feet 9 inches thick. The total breadth was 66 feet. This gate was wholly pulled down in 1812, except the base of the West Tower which was converted into a stable, and above it a cottage was erected. In this fragment there remained a loop-hole for raking the entrance with the crossbow, and the groove in which the portcullis worked might also be seen. These slight remains were wholly removed in 1867 when the road was widened. This gateway, which was extremely picturesque, especially from the outer or south side, was built of flints and bricks strongly cemented, and a considerable portion of the exterior was formed into parallelograms, the squares being filled alternately with smoothed flints and plaster, giving the whole a chequered, appearance. It was through this gate that William III. entered the town in 1692. Forty-two yards from the South Gate, in a direct line eastward, was a tower 18 feet in breadth; the upper part of which has been taken down, and a sloping-tiled roof placed upon it. Ninety yards further, in the same direction, is the Friars' Tower, which is 16 feet in breadth. It is still standing, but roofless, and completely gutted.

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Friars Tower

This tower has a flat face towards the town; on which side the remains of an external staircase can still be traced leading to a door opening into the guard chamber on the first floor. From this tower the wall runs due north for 109 yards; [Within the wall at this spot, about 70 yards south of Friars' Tower, some workmen employed in 1850 in levelling the earth with which the walls had been strengthened or "rampired" on the west side, came upon ten skeletons lying about 15 feet from the wall and about 2 feet below the original level of the soil; and beneath them was fine sand. They were found lying in a space of about 6 yards in two tiers, each body being surrounded by the mouldering remains of wooden coffins secured by large iron nails much oxidised; the space between the coffins being filled with rubbish, in which were many fragments of tiles and two Nuremberg counters] it then makes an oblique angle, and runs north-east for 70 yards when it reaches the South-east Tower, which is a large one, admeasuring 21 feet in breadth.

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South-east Tower

It still remains standing entire; and is inhabited. From the North-east Tower the wall is continued almost due north for 70 yards, at which distance there was a small gate, 6 feet wide, called Garden Gate, having a tower. It was afterwards called Moyse's Gate, Colby's Gate, and Steveneon's Gate, and was pulled down in 1776. The wall is then continued for 178 yards further, where there was another gate, also 6 feet wide, called. Ropemakers' Gate. It was also called Symond.s' Gate and White-Lion Gate, and was demolished in 1785 when Mr. William Norfor had leave to pull it down. At the distance of 66 yards is another tower, 30 feet in breadth, called Harris' Tower, the base of which only remains, the upper part having been demolished. And rooms belonging to a modern house erected upon the base. Further north, at the distance of 61 yards, was another gate, which, according to Ames the antiquary, writing in 1745, was called Ames' Gate, in honor of his grandfather, Capt. Ames, mentioned vol. ii., p. 118, who after retiring from the public service set up a brewery in Yarmouth. John Ames, his son, the father of the antiquary, was, says the latter, "a master of several ships." He dwelt in Yarmouth, and made some "small notes relating to that town." It was also called Harris' Gate, having a tower called Harris' Tower, the upper part of which was taken down in 1642 and, a platform made for the planting of ordnance; [Thomas Harris was bailiff in 1581; John Harris in 1590; and Ezechias Harris in 1620. The latter served again in 1631,whon having assisted in committing the Minister of the Parish to Gaol, he was himself ordered to be sent there by the Privy Council, but upon submission "the messenger was stayed." (See vol. i., p. 36.) In 1740 John Harris lost his ship on the bar on the 10th of January, and. Two of the crew were frozen to death. So severe was the frost that all inland navigation was stopped, and coals had to be sent to Norwich in carts and waggons. Ives says he saw ' three score and seven" loading at one time. Frosts are never so severe at Yarmouth as further inland; but occasionally the rivers are frozen, and in 1880 the Yare could be crossed on the ice as low as the crane. In 1789 the pumps were all frozen. "We buy water by the pail," says a private letter of' the time. In April, 1799, so great was the scarcity of coal on account of the frost that the price rose to four guineas a chaldron].also Little Mount Gate and Appleby's Gate (1677), and, when demolished in 1804 was called Norfor's Gate. Further on, at the distance of 121 yards, is what was called the New Mount, which was commenced. in 1569 and was constructed by the labour of the inhabitants, Manship himself, then "a grammar scholar," assisting; being, as he says, "more willing to help in carrying a maund of earth in my hand than a satchel of books on my shoulder." It was in length 222 feet, and in breadth without the wall 32 feet. An additional mount was formed in 15'77,and. when the arrival of the Spanish Armada was expected in 1588, Sir Thomas Leighton, an offcer much trusted by the queen, was sent down to attend to the defences; and by his advice the mount was enlarged. and surrounded by a wall measuring 500 feet and 20 feet high. [The Lords of the Queen's Council addressed letters to the Deputy-Lieutenants for Norfolk and Suffolk, requiring them to procure assistance towards defraying the very heavy expenses to which the inhabitants of Yarmouth were subjected, " seeing," say their lordships, "that being neighbours, the people of Norfolk, Suffolk, and the "City of Norwich, are interested in the fortunes of the town, and that the charge "of a common benefit should be borne by all." Norwich immediately subscribed. £100; and upon the representation of Sir Edward Clere, Sir William Heydon, and. Sir John Peyton, three deputy-lieutenants, the city agrced. to find 300 soldiers for the defence of Yarmouth, each man being provided with a coat and arms, and paid vjs. viijd.. The Yarmouth people at the same time fitted out a ship-of-war called the Grace of God, which, under the command of Capt, Musgrave, was sent to join the royal fleet; and it was arranged that any prize-money obtained should be divided into thirds, one for the ship, one for the town, and one for the adventurers]. In 1590 an inner wall was erected higher than the town wall; and upon the mount and on this wall "great pieces of ordnance" were placed "to scour the roads at the time of the enemy's approaching." A sharp look out was kept, and when some vessels were discovered off the coast near Yarmouth, sounding the depth of water, the suspicious circumstance was reported. by Sir Edward. Clere to the Privy Council, at the same time strong measures were taken to secure a supply of provisions.[William Smythe, collector, and Henry Manship, comptroller of customs, at this time reported. to the Privy Council that they had "stayed two ships laden with corn for Rotterdam;" and Capt. Musgrave of Yarmouth offered to supply victuals for a vessel-of-war at his own cost.- State Papers]. In more peaceful times and until the passing of the Municipal Corporation Act in 1885, the corporation were accustomed to use this mount for the stowage of anchors; for, up to that period, they exercised, the same jurisdiction in regard to derelict goods as is now vested. in the Board of Trade.

On the south side of the mount there was a gate which was walled up some time prior to 1643; and 41 yards to the north was another gate, 21 feet wide, having a tower on the north side. It was called. New Gate, because it was newly made through the town wall in the reign of Elizabeth. It was also named Mount Gate from the adjoining mount; and after the erection of St. George's Chapel it was called Chapel Gate or St. George's Gate. The lower part of the tower maystillbe seen; all the rest of the gate was removed. in 1776, and in 1789 the opening was further enlarged by the space of six feat. The wall is then continued for 82 yards, where there is another tower, 27 feet in breadth, the upper part of which is used as a dwelling, and is covered with a conical tiled roof, surmounted by a vane bearing the date 1680. Eighty-three yards further north was another gate, anciently called Oxney's Gate, and in 1643 Steele's Gate. It was also called Mitchelson's Gate.After the erection of the Theatre on the adjoining plainit was called Theatre Gate or Playhouse Gate, although the gate itself had then disappeared. Its tower, of the breadth altogether 21 feet, was pulled. down in 1776. From this tower to the next, which is called the Guard Tower, there is a distance of 76 yards.The latter tower admeasures 24 feet in breadth, and upon it is built a private residence. Behind it, and extending to Market Gate, was the Main Guard., which was constructed in 1626, and encompassed by a wall higher than the town wall. The former has entirely disappeared and the ground greatly levelled. Sixty-eight yards further is Market Gate, which had a "foursquare tower," adrneasuring altogether 54 feet. In 1797 Richard Miller, Lessee of the Guard Yard,had permission to take down the top of the Market Gate; and. in 1830 it was demolished.. Some of the original stone work might be seen on the south side until 1874, when it wasentirely removed. At a distance of 78 yards northward is another tower, 24 feet wide, called Hospital Tower, because it, with the adjoining wall, bounded the grounds of St. Mary's Hospital. Within the wall between the Market Gate and the last-mentioned. tower is a Burial Ground obtained by the dissenters; and within its area lie interned many of the most eminent among the local nonconformists of the last generation. The town wall which forms the east boundary of this cemetery is in a very perfect state of preservation. From Hospital Tower to Pudding Gate the distance is 78 yards. The latter had a tower and admeasured 24 feet. It was the last which remained.; not being pulled down until 1837. At that time its oaken and. iron-bound folding doors remained sound and perfect having in them a small grated wicket through which the warden could inspect all who sought admittance. In the arch above the gate might be seen the groove for the portcullis, and inside the gate a turret stair led to the ramparts.

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The engraving here given is from a drawing by Mrs. Bowyer Vaux, taken immediately before the demolition of this gateway.

In 1607 the corporation allowed Thomas Lacey to have the rooms over this gate, he first making them habitable. The wall then takes a north-east direction for 198 vards at which distance there was another tower called. St. Nicholas' Tower, having a gate, and being in breadth together 30 feet. This gate was bricked up at an early period; and in 1642 Nicholas Wyn had liberty to take down the upper part of the tower, retaining the materials for his pains, and the lower part was filled with earth. Outside the wall, between Hospital Tower and Pudding Gate, those who died of the plague in 1579 were buried.[Their bones have been frequentlv disturbed by the sinkiug of wells and diggingfounations.] Between St. Nicholas' Tower and King Henry's Tower the wall crosses the churchyard, dividing the old burial ground from the new. The wall is demolished but its foundation can be distinctly traced. In 1648 Walter Bullard had granted to him as " a place of store " for the defence of the town, the "Little Vestry" in the churchyard.; which was the place appointed for the "cannoneers."

King Henry's Tower stands at the north-west corner of the churchyard, and was in breadth, "with the compass of the east side," 60 feet.

It was named in honor of Henry III., who, as we have seen, first; permitted the burgesses to fortify their town.[Attached to the Parish Church was King Henry's Chapel; and in the Churchwardens' accounts payments are recorded in respect of it. "1507, to Friar William for keeping K. Henry's Chapel, xiij. iiij. Tanner's M.S.] This tower was octagonal, the corners decorated with dressings of Caen stone; and so lofty that in the 16th century it was a good sea-mark. The lower chamber had a vaulted roof, and the springing stones of the groining ribs still remain, but the arches which supported tho floor are gone; and the tower is now unroofed, and the interior open to the sky. The lower part, forming as it were a huge well, is filled with human bones, collected for centuries from the adjoining churchyard. Here at least there is no distinction of persons, and we are reminded. of the saying of Diogenes who, when searching a charnel-house, declared he could find no difference between the skull of King Philip and that of "any other man." [The ancient Chantry or Mortuary Chapel has been already mentioned (P. vi., p. 55). It ias described in the " Particulars for Grants," 2 Ed. 6, remaining in the Augmentation Office.] From King Henry's Tower the wall takes a course due west, bounding the churchyard on the north for 136 yards. It there makes an acute angle, and again takes a northerly direction for 86 yards to a corner tower which is 24 feet in breadth. The wall then again runs due West for 42 yards, at which distance was the North Gate, built principally of flints, which externally were smoothed and squared, the quoins and. dressings being of stone. In the upper part some bricks were used; and the whole firmly set in cement. Over the portal, which was 12 feet wide, was a room surmounted by an embattled parapet, the north front of which was ornamented with a canopied arcade of some architectural pretention, having aniche in the centre. The gateway was defended by stout doors and a double portcullis. On each side was a loopholed rectangular tower, and the whole admeasuring 66 feet in breadth.

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This is a very old engraving of North Gate published by Hixon, 440, Strand.

There is a tradition that this gate was erected at the expense of those who enriched themselves during the time of the great plague in 1348 by following the loathsome employment of burying the dead.. In 1804 a passage was cut through the base of the West Tower for the convenience of foot passengers; and in 1807, when a rage for demolition had set in, the whole structure was taken down, but its exact position may be seen by the remains of the town wall on each side. From the North Gate the wall is continued straight to the river, being a distance of 196 yards. About midway was another tower, the base of which may still be seen in Ramp Row; and within 11 yards of the "North Water" is the last tower, called the North-West Tower. It is still standing with a high-conical roof, surmounted by a vane, and having a most picturesque appearance especially when viewed from the river; it has long been a favorite subject with painters and. engravers. There was no gateway, but a passage has been cut through the adjoining wall to allow the passage of carts.

In ancient times gardens were made within the lofty walls,and being by them well protected on the east became very agreeable for the inhabitants and extremely productive, until "grim-visaged. war" doomed them all to destruction. When hostilities were proclaimed both against Prance and Scotland by Henry VIII., the Duke of Norfolk came down to Yarmouth to look to the defences. He " disgardened " these pleasant places, and then caused the wall from the Market Gate to Black Friars to be "rampired" by heaping up earth against it to the extent of forty feet, until the earth reached to within a few feet of the top, thus rendering it almost indestructible. These works were commenced. in 1544, and were not finished until 1587, "which was in the year before the Spanish intended. invasion ;" and by arching over the roadway behind each gate a pleasant and continuous walk was made along the rampired wall, principally by the exertions of Mr. Greenwood, whereby several persons could proceed. abreast and enjoy a extensive sea view. Although in process of time the gates were "unrampired. "and the earth heaped against the walls greatly lowered, yet it may be seen to this day that the level of the ground within the walls is very considerably above that without the walls. The wall throughout its entire length was "compassed with a mighty main ditch passable with boats and keels," as Manship informs us; traces of the moat might have been seen until within the last few years. For the safe-keeping of the town all the gates were watched day and night by the inhabitants, who were compelled to serve in turn upon what was called "watch and ward ;" and in pursuance of the 3 Ed. I. c. 23 (1275), the gates were closed, from sun setting to sun rising. Upon extraordinary occasions additional assistance was obtained. Thus in 1386, an invasion being apprehended, Sir Henry Percy and. Sir Vaux Percy were sent down to man the walls with 300 men-at-arms and 600 archers; and. in 1457 the French having fitted out two fleets with, it was said, a design upon Yarmouth (Hol., vol. ii., fo. 645), proclamation was made at Norwich for all men to arm themselves according to their degree, and 200 men were sent to Yarmouth to assist in defending the town, and an aid was levied on the city for their maintenance. In. 1542, on the requirement of the Duke of Norfolk, forty men, "well trymmed in every behalf," were sent from Norwich to assist in the defence of the town. They came by water, and were placed. under the command of Sir John Clere. In 1585 the town was required. by the Privy Council to provide ships to transport 400 soldiers to the 1ow countries. Each alderman subscribed £5, and each common councilman £2 10s., and the rest of the money was raised. by assessrnent. In 1591 two ships were required to carry out 150 soldiers to Normandy. In 1625 the fortifications were inspected, and the walls, gates, and towers put into a state of defence. In the towers flat roofs of lead were made, whereon were placed "sachers," "culverins," and "murdering pieces," as the ordnance then in use were termed. Mention is also made of" slyngs" and, "hagbushes." John Shaw, a gunner from London, was hired in 1526 for three years, at £16 a year, to instruct the inhabitants; and when in 1626 there was a fear of an invasion from Dunkirk, 100 "musketeers " were employed nightly in guarding the walls. When, in 1642, the town declared for the Parliament, the defences were again strengthened, especially towards the north; and a "court of guard," or guard house, was established. in each tower, and. the peaceable inmates expelled. A large sum of money, raised by a rate on the inhabitants, was at, that time expended, on the fortifications. To see that the works were properly done, four members of the corporation personally attended by turns daily to inspect them. During the civil war the gate-houses and towers were used as prisons for captured royalists; and were often very much crowded. This was especially the case when, in 1642, the bailiffs seized a ship laden with gunpowder, arms, and ammunition for the service of the king (which had been compelled by stress of weather to put into port in a leaky state), and. made prisoners of her crew and 150 soldiers. The vigorous proceedings of the bailiffs were commended by the Parliament, who requested, them to "search for and disarm all persons in "Yarmouth, Southtown, and Gorleston, suspected of having passed "over from beyond sea to assist the king in this unnatural war." Again in 1646 so many prisoners were sent to Yarmouth by the "Sea Captains," and also by the "Standing Committee" at Norwich, that the gate-houses and towers were filled with them; and application was made to Parliament for the means of their maintenance. [In the following year Miles Corbet addressed a letter to Speaker Lenthall, with an account of the prisoners sent up from Yarmouth. Tunner M.S.S. 1xii. 213.]
In 1650 the town received, from the Treasurers of Casualties at Norwich Quarter Sessions £100 toward disbursements for sea prisoners in the towers. When the Scottish Clans rose in 1715 the "fortifications" were examined and repaired; five barrels of gunpowder were bought, and a better system of watching was organized. It was with joy that the corporation afterwards expended 18s. " for ringing the bells for the good news that the rebells in Scotland were dispersed, and the pretender fled out of that country."

A traveller, writing from Yarmouth in 1796, says, -" On July 10, aviolent firing was all at once heard from the Russian ships in the Roads, which raised an alarm truly diverting when the cause was known. It was the coronation day of the Empress. The bustle it occasioned was extraordinary. In five minutes the old walls and platforms were filled with people; and we all thought of nothing less than a French engagement."

Southey, writing in 1798, when he visited Yarmouth, says,-" The old walls and gates are yet standing." Since that time all the gates, as we have seen, have been removed; but the remains of the wall and, towers can still be traced from one end of the town to the other.

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