diamond geezer

 Saturday, March 08, 2014

Postcards from Great Yarmouth

In the 10th century the land it stands on didn't exist, until a sandbank grew across the mouth of Breydon Water. In the 14th century it was one of the wealthiest towns in England, thanks to its proximity to rich fishing grounds. In the 19th century it became a thriving seaside resort, and in the 20th century declined. In the 21st century Great Yarmouth is attempting to reinvent itself more as a daytrip option, should you ever be in the area, or near enough.

They could have called it The Museum of Herring, but that probably wouldn't have drawn the crowds. Instead they call it Time and Tide, because that's more alliteratively appealing, and because it conceals the fish bit. The museum opened in 2005 and is based in a Victorian herring curing works. By the time you leave you will know everything there is to know about this humble fish, and the people who caught it, and how it was preserved, and thankfully a lot of other non-fish-related things too. If they offer you an audio guide at reception take it. It's free, and many of the displays are only brought to life if you're listening to the informative, entertaining and occasionally sarcastic commentary. First up is a recreation of a Great Yarmouth Row, one of the hundreds of narrow alleyways that led down to the seafront, inhabited by local characters circa 1913. That year saw the high point of the Great Yarmouth herring industry, which is outlined in acceptable depth across the ground floor of the neighbouring building. Millions of fish were salted, speared and hung up to dry here, and the genuine smell of kippery smoke still permeates the 9m high chamber. Upstairs there follows a full history of the town, which is where the sandbank bit comes in, plus obviously a lot about boats and ships and all things maritime. I liked the Beside The Seaside gallery, remembering the heyday of the guest house landlady and the end of the pier show, and especially enjoyed the mechanical miniature pier complete with buxom spinning Britannia. My complete circuit of the museum took almost two hours, far longer than the narrow entrance had suggested. And then my Dad bought me lunch in the adjacent cafe, a classy but friendly affair with not quite enough smoked fish on the menu. I can see how Time and Tide earned its nomination for European Museum Of The Year, alas losing out to a Heritage museum in Belgium. Recommended.

The first week in March alas isn't high season on the Great Yarmouth seafront. Even if the weather's unseasonably fine there'll only be a few souls out and about, including those preparing for the new season and one suspicious looking family whose children really ought to have been at school. The Winter Gardens weren't living up to their name, and the amusements within the Wellington Pier were going mostly unspun. Still, where else can you get a tea for 79p, a coffee for 99p, and scone, jam, cream and cuppa for only £1.49? Alas there's no current admission to Merrivale Model Village, one of the largest in the country, complete with its own quarter mile of model railway. We were therefore pleased to see the Pleasure Beach open so wandered in, but the lack of activity should have been a clue, and we were swiftly ushered out by winter workmen who locked the gate behind them. March is still the season for repairing and repainting, so the candy floss booths still have undercoat showing, and the Log Flume is an undressed stack of metal chutes. One day soon the monorail will run again, and they'll close the gap to complete the Scenic Railway, the only such operational wooden rollercoaster in the UK. It looks incomplete from the beach, a lot of the vertical planking removed to facilitate repairs, but then there's nobody on the beach to notice either. Best come back in the Easter holidays when hibernation ends, and Great Yarmouth wakes up for another hopeful summer season.

There are several Nelson's Columns, the global icon in Trafalgar Square being the most famous, but there's a lesser known alternative in Great Yarmouth. Norfolk's monument is five metres shorter, but also 25 years older, erected from public funds as an elevated tribute to the great Admiral Horatio. Great Yarmouth was selected as the most appropriate place in the county, thanks to its naval connections, and the tower went up on the South Denes between the docks and the military barracks. It looks a mighty stupid location today. The navy's operations are long gone, and the southern half of Great Yarmouth's sandy spit is now given over to industrial use. Walk towards the column, more correctly known as the Norfolk Naval Pillar, and the residential streets cease just beyond the Pleasure Beach. It takes some nerve to keep going past builders yards, Indoor Karting and storage depots, but have faith. A small square with metal railings survives within the estate, and within this rises an imposing Doric column. That's Britannia on top, not Nelson, and she's facing inland which some say was a ghastly error on the part of the designers. Beneath her are six supportive caryatids, and below that the names of Nelson's four greatest victories, one on each square face. Come on a summer Sunday and you can climb the 217 steps to the top, but only two people at a time because the spiral staircase is particularly narrow. Come on a March weekday and all you can do is look up and admire, and get stared at by the lads on fag break at the microelectronics firm across the square. It really is a comedown for the great Horatio, his monument ignored by 99% of visitors to the town because it's down the far end where none of them ever need to go. But a recent restoration gives hope that Nelson's Other Column may still have its victory.

Also in town...
Nelson Museum (open Feb-Nov)
The Tolhouse (opens 7 April)
Elizabethan House Museum (opens 1 April)
Sealife Centre (open all year)
Great Yarmouth Maritime Festival (6th/7th September 2014)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream