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Part of Corbridge's 'West Prospect' shows the many find buildings which were in existence at this time

MANY BUILDINGS of noble proportions other than the Tolhouse have been built in Yarmouth in days gone by, and if the numerous prints which are still in existence are any criteria, then eighteenth-century Yarmouth must indeed have been a wonderful town in which to live. Most of these fine buildings were grouped either around the Market Place or along South Quay. The Guildhall, for instance, stood on the left-hand side of the Gate of St Nicholas, and was built on arches so that people could walk to church underneath it. It was 76 feet long and 22 feet wide, and was used by the Guild of the Blessed Trinity which had been formed as a result of privileges granted by King John in his Charter of 1209. At the Reformation this merchant guild was suppressed, and the Guildhall came into the possession of the Corporation, but in 1544 it was substantially repaired and a new roof erected. This had once belonged to Mettingham College, a religious house near Bungay, which like our own priory had suffered at the dissolution of the monasteries. The erection of a new town hall made the Guildhall redundant and it was pulled down, but in 1723 was rebuilt to provide a private chamber for the council and a public assembly room. For a time the hutch was kept there, and once a year the council met to elect its mayor. But after the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835 all Corporation activity was centred on the Town Hall. In 1850 the Guildhall was demolished to improve the approach to the church from the Market Place. Just across the road the Corporation erected a fishermen's hospital. This was intended to house twenty fishermen and their wives, aged sixty and over, who had fallen on evil days. A small but comfortable living-room on the ground floor, with a bedroom over, was provided for each couple, but they had to be indoors by nine o'clock each night, for then the outer gates were locked. At one time inmates who became widowers could not marry persons not residing in the hospital without permission of the trustees. In the centre of the charming rectangular courtyard formed by the buildings there is a piece of sculpture personifying Charity standing on a square pedestal.

yar_IMAGE0682.jpgUnfortunately the excellent woodcarvings of two fishermen, which used to stand on the pedestals of the front gate, have long since decayed, but another figure representing St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, may be seen in a cupola over the inner door. From its inception, the charity, in addition to more usual benefactions, enjoyed an annuity of £60 which was paid by Charles II from his excise on beer. It was calculated that this was the equivalent of the amount paid every year by fishermen in the process of quenching their thirst, and in consequence, when this tax was repealed, payment ceased. When Earl Grey took an interest in the matter, however, the annuity was renewed and paid out of His Majesty's Customs. A little farther along the market stood the Children’s Hospital, which was built on the site of the ancient Hospital of St Mary, which was founded in 1278 and which was particularly rich in endowments. At one time it owned all the land between the Pudding Gate and Market Gate, but it soon came into the possession of the Corporation and in 1551 part of it was converted into a grammar school. In 1634, largely as a result of the efforts of Edward Owner, who gave £1000 from his own pocket, part of the school was equipped for teaching the children of the poor. The Corporation assisted and the income of this school by the middle of the seventeenth century was approximately £500 a year. The first workhouse was also built on this site, but all the buildings were demolished in 1842, when a new school containing living quarters for the master and mistress was erected. Later, this too was pulled down, and a new school—the present Hospital School—was built instead.

But this was not the only school in the Market Place, for at the south end, where a fish restaurant stands today, there was a charity school. This was built in 1724 on land given by the Corporation and was a handsome building of two storeys. Its main feature, apart from its five well-proportioned windows, was a series of three niches containing carved representatives of "Charity", "Boyhood", and "Girlhood". The school itself consisted of two large rooms, and 34 boys and 30 girls between the ages of 8 and 14 were taught there. Helped by donations and legacies, the school grew fairly rapidly and, by 1866, 100 boys and 50 girls were clothed and educated from its endowments. The management of the school was at this time invested in the vicar of Yarmouth and eleven directors, and all pupils were instructed in the faith of the Church of England.

These were but a few of the dignified buildings which graced what was one of the most impressive market places in the kingdom, but they were matched and perhaps surpassed by those on the river-side. In a modern seaside town one would expect to find the finest buildings on the sea front, but eighteenth-century Yarmouth turned its back on the sea and faced west, for the haven was the town's front door. And what an imposing sight the Quay must have been! It was about 100 yards wide in places and for its entire length was tree-lined. Here fine vessels in their hundreds moored—not ugly coasters and colliers —but fine four-masted barques and sailing ships of all kinds. There was movement, colour and atmosphere everywhere, and from the bridge to the South Gate an array of beautiful buildings, many possessed of a Dutch air, gladdened the eye.

Instead of the present grandiose but impressive Town Hall, there was a much smaller building which, to quote from the guide-books of the period, was "a palladian edifice which faced the west". In the forecourt were two large brass cannon captured by Nelson at the battle of Copenhagen, and these set off to perfection the portico of the Doric columns.

The Children's Hospital had been a school since 1551 but the children of the poor were admitted only in 1634. It was demolished in 1842

No. 4 South Quay, an interesting old Elizabethan house with a false Georgian front, and now the property of the National Trust, is steeped in the stuff of history. It was built in 1596 by Benjamin Cooper, a rich Elizabethan merchant, who sold it to John Carter, the leader of the Presbyterian Party in Yarmouth and a personal friend of Oliver Cromwell. Its rooms are richly panelled and its chimney-pieces finely carved, whilst the ceiling in the main room is richly ornamented, and is considered by many judges to be the finest possessed by a small house in the kingdom. The house was a frequent venue for the Parliamentarians and there was a very important meeting in 1648 attended by all the principal officers of the army. No unauthorised person was allowed in, and dinner, which had been ordered for four o'clock, was put off until eleven at night. Even then, they ate sparingly and immediately departed for their army stations. This was obviously a most important meeting and it is probable that it decided upon the execution of Charles I. Later this became the home of C. J. Palmer, the author of the famous Perlustration of Great Yarmouth.

The building, which has been used by His Majesty's Customs since 1802, is another house not only interesting for its architectural features but also for its historical association. It once belonged to John Andrews, who was not only the richest herring merchant in the world, but also the leader of the successful revolt against the Corporation's extortion of heyning money. This made him most unpopular in official quarters and he soon found himself in a cleft stick, for he discovered that after building his magnificent house, he could not get in without erecting steps on land belonging to the Corporation. He was told that he must get in by means of a movable ladder, as the Society of Friends did at their meeting house!

Perhaps the most impressive building on the quay, however, was the old Customs House which stood two doors lower down. This was the site of the wool staple in the days of Edward II, and as it was customary for the monarch to "farm" his duties to private individuals for a fixed sum, it saw a multiplicity of owners, but in £600 it was presented to the town by Thomas Damett. A room at the back was then allotted to Dutch refugees as a house of prayers, on condition that they kept the clock on the front of the building in good repair. This had been erected in 1593 by the town chamberlains. The royal arms and those of the borough, which were displayed in a prominent position over the handsome doorway, may be seen in the museum at No. 4 South Quay. Official measures of all kinds were kept in this building and many of the town's dues were paid there. It then served a multiplicity of purposes, but despite its use in recent years as a warehouse, sail-loft, concert hall, theatre, and library, it was always known as the Dutch Church until its destruction by enemy action in 1942. Nowadays, when one looks at the remains of these early public and domestic buildings in their existing settings, it is difficult to understand the eulogies they occasioned among visitors and writers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but it must be remembered that at that time Yarmouth was a very important town, and its buildings were far in advance of those found eleswhere. It was unquesionable the finest town on the eastern seaboard for centuries.