WITHIN THE last hundred years or so the annual trek to the sea has become as common and regular a phenomenon in Yarmouth as the arrival of the herring each autumn. Compared with so many watering-places which have sprung up almost overnight, Yarmouth is a resort of some antiquity, for over 300 years ago doctors were recommending its air and salubrity to their patients. Did not the great Charles Dickens say many years ago, "If you bear a grudge against any particular insurance office, purchase from it a heavy life annuity, go live at Great Yarmouth, and draw your dividends till they ask you in despair whether your name is Old Parr or Methuselah."

Nevertheless, the growth of the holiday industry has completely revolutionised life in Yarmouth and the look of the town itself. The old part of the town is built as far inland as possible, for the seamen who built it did not hold in high esteem these superb sea views which nowadays are so sought after by visitor and hotelier alike. These early settlers sought shelter from the salt spray and the biting easterly winds and turned their backs on the sea.

yar_IMAGE0693.jpgUntil comparatively recent times there was no building outside the town walls—there stretched the Denes. These provided magnificent grazing for the cattle of rich and poor alike. There, too, fishermen spread their nets to dry from the earliest times, and their interests were protected as early as the time of Edward I, for he, in a charter granted to are men of Faversham, stipulated that no more than five windmills were to be built on the Denes lest it interfere with the fishing. It is recorded that in Tudor times there were sufficient nets spread out "as would reach over too miles if placed end to end" and that they were valued at over £5000. Criminals, and particularly pirates, were executed or gibbeted on the North Denes, and so regular had these hangings become by 1813 when the practice ceased, that a road near the North Gate was known as Gibbet Close and a nearby residence as Gallows House. The Denes were also used from early times as an exercising ground for the train-bands and in 1585 archery butts were set up, but by 1614 these had been replaced by a shooting range, for the youth of the town were ordered to report there for "exercise of small shot". The suitability of the Denes for military manoeuvres was so obvious that ultimately a militia barracks was built there. In 1925 the Corporation purchased the buildings, together with 26 acres of land, and on the site erected the 382 houses which now appropriately enough are known as the Barracks Estate.

Once the military were established on the Denes, they began to race their horses there, but the first regular meeting dates from 18 to when the officers of the Berkshire Militia organised one. Captain Lacon assisted by presenting a cup which was competed for by members of the Yarmouth Yeomanry. So successful were these meetings that a new racecourse was built in 1922 on the North Denes and horse-racing has now become an established amenity of the town.

By the end of the eighteenth century Yarmouth had become a fashionable watering-place. Its bath-house was famed for its public breakfasts held on Tuesdays and Fridays in every week and for the concerts which were held there. Its bowling greens were also reputed to be of a very high standard. Nevertheless, the Denes were still largely undeveloped. This was due almost entirely to the fear, often expressed by wealthy tradesmen, that the shopping centre might move away from the Market Place, where their own businesses had been established for many years. As a result of their influence all moves aimed at developing the land outside the walls were thwarted.

Instead, in 1810 the Corporation were coerced into moving a most restrictive resolution to the effect that buildings on the Denes should not be higher than 20 feet and that they should not be let as shops or public houses, and that leases could be held for no longer than twenty-one years. The passing of the Municipal Corporations Act in the middle of the century, however, soon saw a reversal of this policy and the Denes began to assume something of their present aspect.

Yarmouth from Gorleston

A fine start was made with Britannia Terrace and Victoria Buildings, and it is a cause for regret that this example was not more widely followed, for the buildings on the sea front, by and large, are a hotch-potch of conflicting styles guaranteed to instil a slight feeling of nausea into the aesthetically inclined. Yarmouth lacks imposing buildings on its sea-front.

Years before Yarmouth became the fashionable resort it is today, its little jetty was well known throughout the country, for it was a favourite subject with artists, particularly those of the Norwich School such as Crome, Stannard, Cotman, and Vincent. The landing of mackerel, the fish auction, the launching of those long yawls for which Yarmouth is celebrated, the comings and goings of craft of all descriptions—all this fascinated them and much of it is revealed on the canvases. There has been a jetty, equipped with a crane to facilitate unloading, at this spot as far back as 1560, and in 1808 it was rebuilt at a cost of £5000. In 1927 it was still further developed by building a glass roof over the shelters, but this popular arcade has since been considerably altered following extensive storm damage.

The Wellington Pier was the first of the two piers to be built. It was erected by a public company in 1853 for 700o, and was then some 70o feet long and 30 feet wide and built entirely of timber. It was purchased by the Corporation in 190o and rebuilt in 1903, but has seen many alterations, additions and substitutions as attempts have been made to adapt it to the changing vagaries of taste in entertainment.

The Britannia Pier, first erected in 1858 at a cost of £6000, has had a much more chequered career. The very next year a ship driven by a gale against the pier cut it into two, and its original length of 750 feet was in consequence reduced by some 80 feet. History repeated itself in 1868. A pavilion was first built on this pier in 1901, but eight years later was completely destroyed in one of the most spectacular fires in Yarmouth's history, and its successor, having incurred the wrath of the suffragettes, suffered an equally awe-inspiring fate. The dance hall was opened in 1933, but this too was destroyed by fire in 1954, and now plans are afoot for the complete modernisation of the pier and its restoration to its former glories.

yar_IMAGE0695.jpgAfter the First World War visitors began to demand more spectacular and more exhilarating amusements than before. The conception of a holiday resort providing only a stretch of sandy beach, safe bathing, a few gardens and the other features of a quiet holiday had gone for ever. Consequently Yarmouth began to develop its sea-front in an attempt to keep in the forefront of resorts catering for this type of holidaymaker. The sea wall was extended and the barren patches of sand between it and the Parade were gradually developed. The waterways, tennis courts, bowling greens and beach gardens were all created as a result of this undertaking. Now, the town was not only better protected against the encroachment of the sea, but regular employment had been found for some 3000 people for a number of winters. The model-yacht pond was built in 1923 to replace a small circular one in the Nelson Gardens, and cost £3400 to build. It was little used at first, so as an experiment a few paddle-boats were provided. This proved an overnight success, and in 1927 a further pond was constructed immediately to the north of the first at a cost of £2250, and the two of them were connected by an ornamental bridge.

The present open-air pool, which now seems so inadequate for its purpose, seemed the last word in 1922, for did it not hold 600,000 gallons of sea-water and cost £14,000 to build? But time marches on and we live in an age of covered pools and aqua-shows and there are plans afoot for a modern pool on this site, but it is doubtful whether it will be opened in so spectacular a fashion as its predecessor. On that occasion the mayor (Councillor F. Brett) challenged the chairman of the beaches committee (Councillor W. H. Bayfield) to a race, and before a distinguished gathering—the mayor swimming a powerful backstroke—won an exciting race by 3 yards.

The Marina is the last of the municipally controlled enterprises on the sea-front, and opinions differ, usually with the weather, as to the suitability of an open-air auditorium on the East Coast. It seats 3000 people, cost £42,000 to build, and was opened in 1927 by Miss Victoria Hopper, one of the most popular actresses of her day.

The development of the Pleasure Beach seems symbolic of the modern demand for noise and excitement. The first switchback was installed on the North Denes and from it developed a scenic railway, which was the first piece of apparatus to earn money on the existing Pleasure Beach. A bigger and better railway was built in 1912, but this, together with a joy-wheel and other elaborate providers of thrills, was destroyed by fire in 1919. The whole of the Pleasure Beach was re-planned—the scenic railway was demolished, new attractions were introduced and the entire area laid out as a modern amusement park—and in 1932 the mountain ride was installed. Since then novelty has succeeded novelty and the advent of the rocket age has opened up new vistas for its ingenious and enterprising management.

The lofty look-outs on the front from which anxious owners watched the arrival and departure of the ships have gone, sail has given way to steam, but Yarmouth Roads remain the only safe anchorage between the Thames and Humber, and interest in the ships that shelter there is never-ending. The Roads are protected by the Scroby Sands 3 miles to the east of the town, which form a natural breakwater. Nowadays they can be seen quite easily from the beach at low tide, but it was in 1580 that they first became dry—on 2 August the bailiffs of Yarmouth landed there with a distinguished company and took formal possession, dined well and named it Yarmouth Island. Sir Edward Clere, Lord of the Manor of Scratby, resented this piece of opportunism, for he maintained that Scroby had been formed from the outscourings of his manor and was therefore his property. The value of the bank to both parties was that much valuable merchandise from wrecked vessels was washed up on it. When the squabble was at its height, the bank, which had become over 1 mile long, disappeared in a storm. In 1920 it reappeared and it was once more possible to walk upon it, and again it was reclaimed—this time by the Port and Haven Commissioners. Now herds of seals bask there, birds build their nests, and it has become a favourite port of call for boatmen plying for hire from the beach.

The holiday industry is easily the most important in the town's welfare, but the seasonal unemployment which it creates has for many years past presented a difficult problem, and this has been intensified by the repeated failure of recent herring seasons. Much has been done to improve matters. New factories have been built on the South Denes, but all are dwarfed, as is the Nelson Monument, by the chimney of a monster power station which perhaps in some strange way symbolises the faith that the town has in itself. But whether or not Yarmouth can achieve the same eminence as she did in the past, he who loves her, will, like Peggotty, be proud to call himself a "Yarmouth Bloater".

South Denes power station