VERY MANY illustrious names are associated with Yarmouth, but pride of place should be given to Admiral John Perebourne or Perebrown, for, after all, the town arms are a perpetual reminder of his greatness. His great victory at Sluys and the sovereign's gratitude have already been referred to, but he also took a leading part in civil matters. He lived in a most impressive house on the Conge, which was the mercantile centre of the town, and was bailiff on fifteen different occasions. He was on friendly terms with the members of the Paston family which was beginning to become powerful in Norfolk, and was generally held in such high esteem that he was never far removed from the hub of things.

Perebourne's eminence as a naval man was, however, soon matched by that of Sir John Fastolf in military matters, for next to Henry V, he was regarded as the greatest soldier of his day. He was born in Yarmouth in 1378 of a family which had always been conspicuous in the affairs of the town. Alexander Fastolf had been bailiff in 1280, and in the list of occupants of this office in the next hundred years, the name of Fastolf occurs with great regularity, but it is to the family's credit that they gave much of their wealth to the religious houses of Yarmouth. Nevertheless, the name of Fastolf was well known in the country and Sir John was himself a ward of John Plantagenet, Duke of Bedford, who was Regent of France in the reign of Henry VI. His estates were substantially increased as a result of a marriage to Lady Castlecombe and he was now very wealthy indeed.

Nelson Monument on the Denes
yar_IMAGE0687.jpgIn the wars against the French he fought with the greatest distinction at Harfleur, Caen, and Agincourt. So great was his valour at Verneuil that he was made a knight banneret on the field and later made Knight of the Garter for his part in the capture of Granville. During the siege of Orleans he intercepted a strong enemy force bringing up supplies to the beleaguered city and put it to rout. The Englishmen found that the provisions were largely herring, so they marched round the walls, yelling derisively, "Herrings to sell! Herrings to sell!" and, as a result, this conflict has always been known as the "Battle of Herrings". Fastolf's one reverse was at Pataye, where his men fled from the field without fighting, in superstitious dread of Joan of Arc. He was himself accused of cowardice by his enemies, but this charge was soon refuted and he continued to serve in many important capacities on the Continent for many years. In 1443 he obtained leave to build Caister Castle and six years later in his old age took up residence there and entertained "right royally". According to the old chroniclers he was able to make his table glitter with "251 chargeours, disshes and platters and iii flagons, gallon cuppes, quartelets bowles and gobletes". He lived a further ten years to enjoy his well-earned success, but in 1459 at the age of eighty this old warrior died and was buried at St Benet's Abbey. From the Paston Letters he appears to have been a hot-tempered, loud-voiced, but jovial and kindhearted gentleman, quite unlike the Sir John Falstaff portrayed by Shakespeare. Although literary scholars often identify the two men, historians do not consider it a convincing parallel.

During the Civil Wars, Oliver Cromwell was all-powerful in Yarmouth, and he was frequently the guest of his great friend, John Carter, at No. 4 South Quay. It was Carter who took the lead in lending money and plate to the Solemn League and Covenant, and he was later appointed commander of the militia in the town. John Carter invariably received the backing of Miles Corbet and Edward Owner, a former mayor, who had distinguished himself in Parliament by his unremitting opposition to the payment of "ship money". Corbet, who was recorder and parliamentary representative for the town, lived in the Market Place and was Cromwell's personal friend and lawyer, and his is the last signature on the death warrant of Charles I. On the accession of Charles II, royal vengeance was demanded of Yarmouth. The Corporation was thoroughly purged and all charters were surrendered and new ones were issued which gave the king the right to nominate his adherents to the chief offices. Meanwhile Corbet, together with Colonels Okey and Barkestead, had fled to Amsterdam. They then returned to Rotterdam in an attempt to rescue their families. They had friends here, for Downing, the ambassador, owed his rise entirely to Okey's influence, but he not only refused to help, but vehemently demanded from Holland the right to arrest them. The Dutch agreed, forgetting that their country had become the sanctuary for the distressed of all nations, and they were captured at Delft. Pepys in his diary records their end thus:

yar_IMAGE0688.jpgApril 19th 1662. Before we sat I went to Aldgate and at the corner shop a drapier's, I stood and did see Barkestead, Okey and Corbet drawn towards the gallows at Tyburn; and there they were hung drawn and quartered. They all looked very cheerful, but I hear they all died defending what they did to the King to be just: which is very strange.

Many relics associated with Miles Corbet, including his ring and waistcoat and a letter to his mother, which was found in the tower after his death, are still in the possession of his descendant, Mr Miles Corbet Grosvenor, who now lives at Hickling. Little was of course heard of the great Parliamentarian families after the Restoration, but Cromwell's grand-daughter Bridget, a most remarkable woman, married Thomas Bendish, a Yarmouth man who lived in Southtown. She was happiest when working on the land and she would perform any task, however menial. After her husband's death she was a familiar figure, mounted on an aged steed, in the streets of Yarmouth.

The monarchs of England no longer feared for their Crown, but the rights of Parliament were now firmly established and the town, despite the torments of the Restoration, had not lost its thirst for politics. Two noble families, the Townshends and the Walpoles, became intimately associated with it and they were returned as M.P.s from 1708 until the collapse of the coalition between Fox and North in 1784. Other famous members have been Sir Thomas Troubridge, a rear-admiral of the Blue who was drowned in a great storm in 1804, Sir E. H. Lacon, and George Anson. The latter owned almost the whole of Southtown and was a great friend of Coke of Holkham Hall, who used his great influence in the country on Anson's behalf so that the Lacon faction was at first invariably defeated. In 1834, however, Anson and Rumbold were defeated, but following charges of bribery and corruption there was a government inquiry. The election of 1847, another bitter contest, was also followed by a government inquiry, and in 1848 the freemen were deprived of their rights of suffrage because of the gross and systematic bribery that was rife in the town. It is little wonder that Yarmouth was described in Dod's Electoral Facts of 1848 as an "open borough in which money is said to be the best friend".

For many years after 1852 one of the town's two members belonged to the Lacon family, but the contests were invariably stormy and violent, as is evidenced by the scurrilous broadsheets, verses and squibs of the period.

Yarmouth is also well known in the realm of medicine, for it has produced at least two presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons in Sir Astley Cooper and Sir James Paget. The former was the son of one of the town's greatest vicars, whilst the latter was born at 59 South Quay, and later became mayor.

yar_IMAGE0689.jpgIn the field of botany Yarmouth is also worthy of mention, for Dawson Turner, whose daughter married William Hooker, was himself one of the eminent workers in this field. He was born in 1775 and devoted much of his life to collecting illustrations for Blomefield's History of Norfolk and on his death they numbered over 7000. He was also a great book-collector and his manuscript library, which contained more than 40,000 letters, was famous throughout the country. The books were sold in 1852 for £4562 and the MSS. in 1859 for £6558, of which sum the Blomefield realised £460.

Dawson Turner was also a great patron of the arts, and among his proteges was John Sell Cotman, a leading exponent of the Norwich School of Painting, and one of the great water-colourists of all time. He lived on the Southtown Road from 1812 to 1832 and many of his most famous pictures are of Yarmouth and its beaches.

Lord Nelson, who was born at Burnham Thorpe in 1758, was particularly dear to the people of Yarmouth, for it was from their Roads that he so often sailed in search of glory. As he stepped on to the jetty on 6 November 1800, after the battle of the Nile, he was greeted with the utmost enthusiasm, and carried in triumph to the Wrestler's Inn on Church Plain. There he was presented with the freedom of the borough, and it is stated that when the town clerk was about to administer the oath he noticed that Nelson's left hand was placed on the Bible, and exclaimed "Your right hand, my Lord." "That," said Nelson laconically, "is at Teneriffe." After his great victory of Copenhagen in the following year, Nelson once again landed at Yarmouth and was met with the same tumultuous reception. He frequently stayed at the Star Hotel on Hall Quay, where a beautiful elaborately, carved room was reserved for his use. This hotel was later pulled down to make room for the Post Office extension and reassembled in the United States of America.

When it heard of his death at Trafalgar, the Corporation presented an address to the Throne deploring his loss, and the town went into mourning. An appeal was launched throughout Norfolk so that a worthy monument could be erected on the South Denes in memory of this great admiral. The foundation stone of his column, which is 144 feet high, was laid on 15 August 1815. Above the capital is a roof supported by caryatides and surmounting this is a ball upon which stands a figure of Britannia holding a trident and laurel wreath.

yar_IMAGE0690.jpgNelson would have been proud of a schoolfellow, Captain W. G. Manby, who was appointed barrack-master at Yarmouth in 1803. On 18 February 1807, he was a horrified eye-witness of the loss of H.M. Gun Brig Snipe which was wrecked within 50 yards of the shore in a terrible gale. The loss of sixty-seven lives spurred him into working on his now-famous invention. This consisted in its essence of establishing communication between ship and shore by means of a rope attached to a shot fired from a mortar. Almost exactly a year later the apparatus was tested in earnest, for the brig Elizabethan was stranded 150 yards from the shore, but by its aid the entire crew was saved. Parliament approved his invention in 1814 and two years afterwards his apparatus was installed in fifty-nine stations round the coast. He lived in Southtown for the rest of his life, and when he died, aged ninety, he had the satisfaction of knowing that over 1000 lives had been saved as a result of his invention, and a hundred of these were off the Yarmouth beaches.

Now all the world knows that much of the action of David Copperfield takes place in Yarmouth, but Dickens was not a native, yet his portrayal of fishermen such as Daniel and Ham Peggotty is so convincing that it would seem he was no stranger to this part of the coast. It is true that Dickens's Yarmouth seems strange to modern eyes, for not once in the novel is there mention of Yarmouth's rows, the Nelson Monument which must have dominated the view from Peggotty's Hut, or the little bridge over which he passed on his way from "Blunderstone". Moreover, not one of the characters has a Yarmouth surname, yet more than one site and structure have been claimed as the original of Peggotty's Hut, so that it seems that this too was really an artistic creation inspired by many similar huts in the town. Dickens, with a number of friends, stayed at the Royal Hotel in 1848 and had many a yarn with the old Trafalgar veteran Jack Sharman, at this time keeper of the Nelson Monument. It was through Sharman's eyes that Dickens saw the town and its fisherfolk, and it was Sharman who related those tales of shipwreck and disaster used to such good effect in David Copperfield.

Another illustrious visitor was Daniel Defoe, and in A Tour Through Great Britain, published in 1724, he describes a Yarmouth in which everything seems to have excited his imagination. Its commerce, fisheries, its magnificent quays and buildings, its walls and rows, all impressed him mightily, and his one regret was that "though it is very rich and increasing in wealth and trade, and consequently in people, there is not room to enlarge the town by buildings which would, be done much more than it is, but that the river on the land side prescribes them". It is probable that whilst talking to local fishermen, for whom he seems to have a real affection, Defoe obtained the "colour" for that magnificent description of a storm at sea with which the story of Robinson Crusoe begins. Yes, it was just off the shores of this town that Crusoe's wonderful adventures began!

yar_IMAGE0691.jpgThe great East Anglian poet George Crabbe knew Yarmouth intimately and his magnificent descriptions of the customs and amusements of a fashionable eighteenth-century watering-place are obviously inspired by the town. In fact he brought the finished manuscript of The Borough to Yarmouth for his very great friend the Rev. Richard Turner to see, for without his approval Crabbe would undertake nothing. The Rev. Turner, who was minister at St Nicholas for thirty years, moved in the most distinguished social circles, and among his visitors were Dr Parr, Bishop Watson, Paley, Lord Chadworth, Canning, and many others. He was in fact the link between London Society and that of Yarmouth. Another Yarmouth man was the eminent broadland naturalist, Arthur Patterson. His abilities were recognised by the Linnean Society, the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, and other learned societies, but it is only in recent years that he has been assessed at his true worth in his home town. Many of his letters and original drawings are preserved in the libraries of Norwich and Yarmouth, but his great contribution to science was undoubtedly the fine series of books written under the pseudonym of John Knowlittle. Authorities differ as to his best book, but perhaps the best known are Man and Nature on Tidal Waters and Wild Life on a Norfolk Estuary.

Another well-known author was also born in Yarmouth, for at the north-east corner of the Market Place stands the house in which Anna Sewell, the author of Black Beauty, was born. Her mother was also a minor novelist and the author of Mother's Last Words. There seems to be no end to the illustrious names associated with the town—General Ireton, Swinden and Palmer the historians, George Borrow, Ives the antiquary, Manship, father and son, Gurney the banker, William III, and a host of others—but to squeeze them into a book of this size is a task which would have defeated even the legendary Procrustes.

It was at the Wrestler's Inn that Nelson was presented
with the freedom of the borough after his epic victory of the Nile