Great stuff: What puts the Great into Yar­mouth?

Golden sand, sil­ver dar­lings, can­dyfloss and rock, fes­ti­val fun, white-knuckle thrills and a heady cock­tail of sun, sea and his­tory are just some of the great things about Yar­mouth, writes Rowan Man­tell

EDP Norfolk - - INSIDE -

FISH, AND OTHER TREA­SURES FROM THE SEA

Be­fore the golden mile came the sil­ver dar­lings. That was the name given to the vast shoals of her­ring caught here. And as the hol­i­day­mak­ers flocked here, so did the her­ring. When the sum­mer vis­i­tors left, the au­tumn shoals ar­rived and in the 19th cen­tury Yar­mouth be­came the largest her­ring port in the world – with more than two mil­lion fish once said to have been landed on a sin­gle tide. They were ex­ported across Bri­tain – and as far as Rus­sia, Africa and In­dia. The her­ring has gone, but there are more riches from the sea. North Sea oil and gas brought jobs from the 1960s and now huge off­shore wind farms har­ness en­ergy for the coun­try and work for towns­peo­ple.

BUT IF IT’S A SU­PERLA­TIVE YOU ARE SEARCH­ING FOR, GREAT YAR­MOUTH IS THE PLACE TO COME

It boasts the largest parish church in Eng­land (St Ni­cholas Min­ster), one of the largest mar­ket places in Eng­land and the sec­ond most com­plete town walls in the coun­try. Docwras Rock Fac­tory pro­claims it­self the world’s largest rock shop, Palmers is one of the old­est depart­ment stores, ev­ery ride of the his­toric wooden roller coaster is unique, thanks to the brake-man who rides each train, and the Hip­po­drome is Bri­tain’s only com­plete circus build­ing. When it was opened, more than a cen­tury ago, the lav­ish Hip­po­drome was called: “Un­doubt­edly the finest palace of en­ter­tain­ment in Great Bri­tain.” It is still a won­der of the en­ter­tain­ment world, hosts world-class shows – and has an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­tra trick of its own in­volv­ing a very wa­tery trans­for­ma­tion.

THERE ARE AT LEAST FIVE FES­TI­VALS IN YAR­MOUTH IN SEPTEM­BER ALONE

As well as the fes­ti­vals of bowls and rac­ing, there is the Mar­itime Fes­ti­val on Septem­ber 8 and 9 in­clud­ing the chance to board lots of boats, see mu­seum ships, tall ships, a mo­tor tor­pedo boat, a minesweeper and more. En­joy en­ter­tain­ment rang­ing from sea shanties to the chance to meet a cos­tumed Ad­mi­ral Lord Nel­son.

The Out There Fes­ti­val of in­ter­na­tional street arts and circus takes over the town from Septem­ber 14-16. Ac­ro­bats, dancers, mu­sic, circus, com­edy and more take over St Ge­orge’s Park and the Mar­ket Place for the mostly free fes­ti­val of street en­ter­tain­ment.

The Yar­mon­ics fes­ti­val of sonic arts prom­ises live elec­tronic mu­sic, im­pro­vi­sa­tion and per­for­mance on Septem­ber 21 and 22 at St Ge­orge’s Theatre.

NA­TIONAL SPORT­ING VENUE More than 1,000 peo­ple take part in the big­gest out­door open bowl­ing com­pe­ti­tion in the coun­try on Yar­mouth seafront ev­ery Septem­ber. The Great Yar­mouth Fes­ti­val of Bowls, at the beau­ti­ful Bri­tan­nia Bowl­ing Greens, brings the best bowls play­ers in the coun­try to the town. It’s from Sun­day Au­gust 26 to Fri­day Septem­ber 21 this year – with plenty of free seafront seat­ing for spec­ta­tors. Just to the north of the town is Great Yar­mouth Race­course. Yar­mouth has held horse races for at least 300 years. In the early years th­ese in­cluded the ‘sport’ of try­ing to catch a pig with a soapy tail. It’s all much more tra­di­tional now. The race­course will be host­ing the Eastern Fes­ti­val of Rac­ing from Tues­day Septem­ber 18, when around 15,000 peo­ple are ex­pected for the three-day fes­ti­val. PAST GLO­RIES AND STO­RIES, AND HOW YAR­MOUTH WASN’T AL­WAYS QUITE SO GREAT

The Time and Tide Mu­seum takes over a Vic­to­rian her­ring cur­ing works to tell the story of Yar­mouth, in­clud­ing ship­wrecks, fish­wives and saucy post­cards. You can still smell the fish in the tim­bers. An­other Yar­mouth mu­seum, the El­iz­a­bethan House, is said to have been where the ex­e­cu­tion of Charles I was plot­ted.

Yar­mouth-born sis­ters Re­becca Nurse and Sarah Cloyce were hanged as witches in Salem. They had left the town as chil­dren in 1637 and set­tled in the New World. More than 50 years later, as al­le­ga­tions of witch­craft and sor­cery swept the com­mu­nity, both were ac­cused and con­victed of black magic and hanged. Twenty peo­ple were ex­e­cuted be­fore the hys­te­ria calmed, jurors apol­o­gised and sur­viv­ing rel­a­tives were awarded com­pen­sa­tion.

In 1845 spec­ta­tors crowded on to a sus­pen­sion bridge to see geese pulling a clown in a bar­rel down the river. The bridge col­lapsed, killing 79.

FOR­GET TRAFAL­GAR SQUARE, THE ORIG­I­NAL NEL­SON’S COL­UMN IS IN YAR­MOUTH

Whether you call it Nel­son’s Col­umn, the Nor­folk Naval Pil­lar, the Bri­tan­nia Mon­u­ment or Nel­son’s Mon­u­ment, this trib­ute to the great Nor­folk­born ad­mi­ral was com­pleted 24 years be­fore the fa­mous Lon­don mon­u­ment – and marks its 200th an­niver­sary next year. It shows Bri­tan­nia stand­ing on a globe at the top of the tower. On open days vis­i­tors can climb the 217 steps to the top of the mon­u­ment. De­signer Wil­liam Wilkins was also the ar­chi­tect of the Na­tional Gallery in Trafal­gar Square, where an even taller mon­u­ment to Nel­son was even­tu­ally built.

WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT A PLACE BUILT FOR FUN?

As a hol­i­day town, Yar­mouth fizzes with fun. It’s in the names of its seafront at­trac­tions – Plea­sure Beach, Joy­land, Mer­rivale; its in the vast sandy beach it­self, the two piers, the Vene­tian wa­ter­ways be­ing re­stored to their for­mer glory; it’s in the ex­trav­a­gant ar­chi­tec­ture in­clud­ing a fake wind­mill, the spec­tac­u­lar Hip­po­drome Circus and grand seafront ho­tels.

A FINE PLACE FOR WRITERS

Peg­gotty, in Charles Dick­ens’ semi-au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal David Cop­per­field, called Yar­mouth ‘the finest place in the uni­verse’ and Robin­son Cru­soe au­thor Daniel De­foe said the South Quay was the ‘finest in Eng­land if not the world,’ and de­scribed Yar­mouth as older, bet­ter-built, more com­plete and for wealth, trade and sit­u­a­tion, in­fin­itely su­pe­rior to Nor­wich. Ge­orge Bor­row (he of the ‘Nor­wich is a very fine city’ quote) lived here and Black Beauty au­thor Anna Sewell was born in Yar­mouth in 1820. In the 21st cen­tury au­thor Harry Brett con­jures a darker, grim­mer Yar­mouth in his pop­u­lar gang­ster crime series.

AND FI­NALLY… WHY IS IT CALLED GREAT YAR­MOUTH?

More than 700 years ago there were two set­tle­ments known as Yar­mouth, at ei­ther side of the mouth of the river Yare, which were even­tu­ally dis­tin­guished from each other by call­ing the big­gest one Great and the small­est one Lit­tle Yar­mouth. Great Yar­mouth stayed great and Lit­tle Yar­mouth is now all grown-up and known as South­town.

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