You are on page 1of 60

Great Yarmouth

Local History and



Among this year’s contributions, we have articles about local architecture and some of our many
local historical buildings. In addition, we have articles about several personalities with a local
connection, as well as summaries of the society’s regular outings, meetings and other activities
undertaken throughout the year. I hope you find all of these interesting.

Back issues of some Journals published since 1993 are still in stock. If any are missing from your
collection and you would like them, please contact me and I will supply if copies remain.

John Smail


Telephone: 01493-300999
Address: 36 Yallop Avenue, Gorleston, Great Yarmouth. NR31 6HD

Great Yarmouth
Local History and

No part of this publication may be copied or reproduced without the written permission of Great
Yarmouth and District Local History and Archaeological Society and the author(s) concerned.
Apply in the first instance to the editor.

The responsibility for obtaining any necessary permission to copy or reproduce other people’s
material, or to copy or reproduce material from other publications for use within Yarmouth Local
History and Archaeology lays with the author(s) and not the Editor or the Society. Upon receipt of
articles from contributors, the Editor will assume that all the necessary authorisation has been
obtained and he will not be held liable in the case of subsequent query.

The responsibility for accuracy of facts within any article lays with the author(s) of that article and
not with the Editor or the Society.

Any opinions expressed within an article are those of the author(s) of that article, and not
necessarily those of the Editor or the Society.


Registered Charity No. 277272


President: Andrew Fakes

Chairman: Paul Davies

Treasurer: Derek Leak

Secretary Patricia Day

(e-mail :

Membership Secretary Peter Jones

Committee: Stuart Burgess

Gareth Davies

Ann Dunning

Alan Hunt

David McDermott

Ben Milner

John Smail

Michael Wadsworth

Patricia Wills-Jones

Honorary Members: Shirley Harris

John McBride

Alec McEwen

John Mobbs

Colin Tooke

Three Committee Members retire each year according to a three year rota.
Officers are elected tri-annually, and Honorary Members remain so for life.
Yarmouth Archaeology & Local History
Table of Contents

Table of Contents (continued)


20th January The Percy Trett Memorial Meeting - short talks by society members

17th February Arthur Nelson and the Suspension Bridge Disaster of 1845
Gareth Davies - local historian and author

17th March Soldiers of the First World War

Nigel Amies - historical re-enactor
21st April The Great Yarmouth Whale Fishery
Charles Lewis - former curator of Great Yarmouth Maritime Museum and author

19th May Beer Brewing in Norfolk

Nicola Hems - historian, curator Museum of the Broads
15th September Horatio, Lord Nelson. The Life and Career of England’s Greatest Admiral
Mark Mitchels - writer and public speaker
20th October Seventeenth Century Norfolk Farthing Tokens
Adrian Marsden - Numismatist Norfolk Museum Service

17th November Digital Reconstruction Images of Yarmouth Town Wall

Paul Patterson - engineer and graphic designer
15th December Christmas Social Evening, including a short lecture by a member and a buffet

Lecture Summaries 2017

January 2017

The first meeting of the Society for 2017 was ‘Member’s Night’, when three presentations were
given on a local theme.

The first talk was by Ben Milner on ‘Methodism in Great Yarmouth’. He spoke of the early
attempts by preachers to proselytise in the town, first by Thomas Olivers of Norwich, in 1754, who
was chased away with some violence. The next attempt was in 1760 by Howell Harris, who let it
be known there would be a Methodist meeting in the Market Place; a mob assembled to confront
it. Harris was a Captain serving in a Welsh regiment in the town. Whether it was by the power of
his preaching or the presence of his soldiers among the crowd, Howell’s sermon was delivered to
some effect and without violence.

John Wesley actually visited Great Yarmouth in 1783, and Methodism became popular in the
town, but the congregations became very disputatious with three main groups: the ‘official
Wesleyan sect’, the Killemites, and the Primitive Methodists, all of whom had their own following.
Mr Milner listed the high number of chapels built around the district, some of which were large
and impressive buildings, but the ‘Primitive’ preferred very simple austere buildings. It was only
recently that many Methodist churches closed and amalgamated.

In the second talk, Stuart Burgess spoke of his field walking finds in Somerleyton and Ashby. With
the help of society members, he divided fields into ten metre squares and undertook a detailed
visual scan of them, finding evidence of past land use from the Mesolithic age to that of World
War II. Stuart felt that the area around the big fresh water lake of Fritton Decoy has always been
a good place for human habitation, and the evidence he has found confirms that from stone age
settlers to the present day, it has attracted people.
In the third talk, David McDermott spoke on the subject of the Royal Aquarium, a very ambitious
project to create a theatre, skating rink and zoo, with marine creatures that could be observed in
glass-fronted tanks. However, it proved to be impossible to raise sufficient funds to build the
planned complex. A more modest building was actually erected, but perhaps the greatest
moments of the building was when it was taken over by John William Nightingale, who ran the
building as a large theatre and dining hall capable of feeding 1,000 people. This attracted huge
excursions to Great Yarmouth for a holiday beside the sea. The present building contains some
the original features, although these are largely hidden from present visitors.

The President thanked the members for their presentations, saying how pleased he was that the
society has such talented researchers and speakers among its members.

February 2017

The speaker at the 17th February meeting was Gareth Davies, ably assisted by his wife. The
topic was the career of Arthur Nelson after the collapse of the suspension bridge in 1845,

Nelson, who described himself as a ‘low comedian’, had performed the stunt with the geese and
bath tub before the incident in Great Yarmouth and went on to do it elsewhere without mishap.
Following the collapse of the suspension bridge on the afternoon of Friday 2nd May, the circus
left the town the next day, but he remained until the following Tuesday in: a state of great mental
and bodily anxiety.

Mr Davies said that Nelson was talented musician, tumbler and acrobat. He could develop a
good rapport with his audience, was able to comment on and mock the famous people of day,
and joked about items in the news.

Nelson had a good relationship with a lady calling herself ‘Madame Wharton’, who produced a
show she called ‘poses plastique’. This involved representing great works of art, where the
performer appeared in a skin-tight, flesh-coloured, costume in a classical pose. This, it was
argued, was high culture, but Victorian moralists were worried that it was mere pornography.
Unfortunately, Madame Wharton died of typhus at the age of 27, and Nelson erected a fondly
worded headstone in Macclesfield churchyard.

Arthur Nelson went to America to perform in P.T. Barnham’s Circus, and also with Pablo
Fanque’s shows. Interestingly, the Metropolitan Police banned him from performing his bath tub
act on the River Thames because of fears for public safety and concern about pickpockets.

Gareth Davies’ considerable research into Nelson’s past revealed many interesting facts about
his life and career, for instance, he was fined four guineas for being involved in an alleged fight
with a theatre manager, and that he died of gangrene in Burnley on 27th July 1860, leaving only a
small estate.

‘The Maker of Modern Yarmouth’ : J. W. Cockrill (1849-1924)
Kathryn Ferry

In the second half of the 19th century, established seaside resorts experienced a significant
building boom while entirely new settlements were created to benefit from new levels of leisure
time among the increasingly urban population. The expanding rail network allowed for easier
access between industrial towns and the seaside and, in 1871, the Bank Holiday Act introduced
the principle of statutory holidays. Indeed, it may be argued that domestic tourism really began to
develop as an industry during the later Victorian period; the number of visitors was certainly on a
scale that demanded vast investment in infrastructure, entertainment venues and what we would
now call townscape enhancement. In 1905, an excursion by Bass employees from Burton-upon-
Trent to Great Yarmouth saw 11,000 people arrive en masse for a day trip and in the following
year the resort played host to an estimated 50-70,000 visitors over the August Bank Holiday
weekend alone. It was a time of great opportunities as well as great challenges, and the man
credited with transforming Great Yarmouth from a fishing port to one of the most attractive
seaside resorts in the country was John William Cockrill. (1)

Upon both his retirement as Borough Surveyor in 1922 and his

death two years later, colleagues remarked on Cockrill’s
tremendous work ethic, claiming that illness had forced him to give
up at the age of 73, despite a wish to continue with ambitious plans
for the improvement of his home town. The fact that he was born
into a period of rapid change and economic development helps
explain why Cockrill chose to spend his working life in Great
Yarmouth yet accounts of his character suggest that, whatever the
conditions, he would have stayed to use his talents for the local

He was one of Great Yarmouth’s most loyal sons. If he had set his
sails towards other spheres he could have commanded a much
more remunerative position, but he elected to stay in the place of
his birth because he loved the old town, which he helped to bring
up-to-date, and abreast of many seaside resorts.(2) John William Cockrill

This loyalty should not, however, be taken as evidence of a provincial or ‘small town’ mentality.
Cockrill travelled widely on the continent and often made use of new materials in his buildings.
He served as vice-president to the Norfolk and Norwich Association of Architects and, in 1913,
was elected president of the Institute of Municipal and County Engineers. In 1916, two years
after its foundation, he took on the presidency of the Town Planning Institute.

John William Cockrill was born on 3rd June 1849 at 247 Bulls Lane, Gorleston. Due to its
location on the west bank of the River Yare, Gorleston was formally in the county of Suffolk
though its proximity to Great Yarmouth was recognised in 1835, when it became part of that
borough. John William’s father, William Cockrill, was also born in Gorleston, where he had been
apprenticed to a local builder. The 1861 census records his occupation as ‘bricklayer’ but over
the ensuing ten years his business had expanded to such an extent that William Cockrill
appeared in the 1871 census as a ‘builder (employing 6 men)’. From about that date, William and
his brother, John Waller Cockrell, were establishing their family business as the predominant
building firm in Gorleston and, as the town’s population nearly tripled from 6,653 in 1871 to
17,981 in 1911, they undertook many speculative developments, filling in green fields to house
the new inhabitants. It has been estimated that by the time of William Cockrill’s death in 1911,
the family may have been responsible for as much as 80% of Gorleston’s housing stock; five of
his eight sons followed William into the construction business.(3)

Thanks to this family background, John William Cockrill was well placed to pursue an architectural
career. From c1862-70 he attended Yarmouth School of Art (at that time housed on South Quay

in an old house famous as the birthplace of surgeon Sir James Paget) and, in 1869, got his first
job with the Southtown and Gorleston Local Board. At the age of 20 he was employed as
‘Surveyor and Inspector of Nuisances’ on a salary of £45 per annum, later rising to £70 plus £8
per annum for supervision of Gorleston cemetery. In 1872, he oversaw the provision of proper
drainage, street lighting and pavements in central Gorleston before it, along with neighbouring
settlements Southtown and Cobholm, was brought within the sanitary remit of Great Yarmouth
borough in 1873. Cockrill was then, as he put it: taken over with the water carts, dustvans and
wheelbarrows, becoming Assistant Surveyor retaining responsibility for Gorleston.(4) He
continued to undertake improvement works and, in 1874, laid concrete paths along Gorleston
High Street, beginning an association with that material that led to the nickname ‘Concrete
Cockrill’. Discussing this sobriquet in an interview upon his retirement, Cockrill confessed that the
concrete paths had, in fact, been begun before his time by a man named Burwood and had been
continued by him on pragmatic grounds: The reason for so much concrete work in Yarmouth was,
of course, its extraordinary durability and cheapness since sand and shingle were provided free of
all cost on the beach in such abundant quantities that thousands of tons have been sent to other
towns.(5) Reporting on his use of concrete paving in 1889, Cockrill stated that he had laid 30
miles of it during the previous seven years, and not £7 had been spent on repairs.(6)

Cockrill’s first architectural commission was the Lowestoft Road Wesleyan Methodist Church at
Gorleston (1866). This was the church where he worshipped so the job presumably came about
as a result of personal connections. It was followed, in 1875, by another church for the Gorleston
Baptists. His Stradbroke Road Board Schools opened in 1876. Built at a cost of £3,000, between
them the separate girls and boys schools could accommodate 500 pupils. The front of seven
paired windows features three projecting
bays beneath shaped gables. Though the
walls are ostensibly buff brick, Cockrill used
thick pilasters of red brick to accentuate the
projecting bays, also employing this colour
contrast below the windows in two string
courses that enclose red brick
cartouches. The use of decorative
brickwork, and Flemish shaped gables and
detailing, may have been inspired by the
Rows that characterised Great Yarmouth’s
South Quay. This network of over 160
narrow streets was still largely intact in the
mid-19th century and included 16th and
17th century houses that borrowed motifs
from Dutch and Belgian cities with which
Great Yarmouth merchants traded across Stradbroke Board School
the North Sea.

In 1882, Cockrill was promoted to the post of Borough Surveyor following the death of his boss H.
H. Baker. The post, which he was to hold for the next 40 years, gave Cockrill a new measure of
influence and with it the ability to make significant improvements. On a functional level, his
achievements over this period included laying the electric tramways, remodelling the drainage
system and re-laying more than 100 miles of sewers. He moved the Great Yarmouth race course
no less than three times, widened and lengthened Marine Parade and terraced the seafront with
flower gardens, carrying out experiments as to which species would best thrive in the salty air.
He reconstructed the Jetty and rebuilt Wellington Pier in iron instead of wood. He erected the
borough’s refuse destructor, laid out three recreation grounds and developed the Corporation
estate with housing schemes and a garden suburb. In Gorleston, he created a new seafront,
embellishing it with beach gardens, shelters and a pavilion in keeping with the town’s burgeoning
reputation as Great Yarmouth’s more genteel sister resort. It is no surprise then that one
councillor declared on Cockrill’s retirement that only by adding one third to his years of service
would a correct record be achieved; for he always did more than a full day’s work. He began very
early in the morning and went on till late at night.(7)
Cockrill clearly took his civic responsibilities seriously but his influential position also allowed for
greater architectural opportunities. By the mid-1880s he had built the Raglan Fish Curing Works
for Messrs. Maconachie at Lowestoft (1882), his only known architectural project outside the
borough, as well as The Tramway Hotel (1877-78) and the lodge at Gorleston Cemetery (1879;
he built the cemetery chapel in 1889). These commissions notwithstanding, his appointment as
Borough Surveyor had been the subject of heated debate within the council and it seems that he
could not immediately silence his critics. His proposals for Britannia Pier were lampooned by one
councillor, who claimed that Cockrill lacked the qualifications of a real architect. Stung by this, he
spent three years in part-time study at Yarmouth School of Art in order to take the examinations
for membership of the R.I.B.A., which he achieved in 1888.(8) His work over the ensuing decades
was proof of Cockrill’s ability, but designs for even more ambitious schemes sadly never made it
off the drawing board.

It may have been a pier that caused him trouble in 1885, but Cockrill did not give up his plans to
redesign these most important of seaside structures. Great Yarmouth had been the first resort to
have two; the Wellington Pier, opened in 1854 in memory of the Iron Duke, and the Britannia Pier,
built in response to the Wellington’s popularity and opened in 1858. In addition, located between
these two Victorian piers, was an older wooden jetty, an unadorned promenade that was free to
enter. In their early days, neither the Wellington nor the Britannia Pier offered the sort of
entertainment venues that would come to be expected by visitors at the turn of the century. In
1875, however, such a building had been projected for the north end of Marine Parade, designed
by John Norton and Philip E. Masey of London. A monumental structure in Italian Renaissance
style, it was to incorporate a 194ft long grand hall above an aquarium with a vast winter garden
attached in front. The estimated completion cost was £50,000 but, after £20,000 had been spent,
the money ran out and the glass conservatory was never even begun. Despite visits from the
Prince of Wales, the Aquarium lacked public support and was forced to close in 1882. It was sold
for just £5,000 and the local architects, Bottle and Olley, were brought in to remodel the façade
and convert it into a successful, if much plainer, theatre and banqueting hall. The original scale of
this project and its rapid failure are important factors to bear in mind when considering Cockrill’s
proposals for pier pavilions in the 1890s.

Cockrill prepared drawings for the lengthening of the wooden Jetty in 1890, getting tenders for the
necessary ironwork so that the extension could be carried out that same season. In 1896, there
was discussion of further improvements to the Jetty which, had Cockrill got his way, would have
changed this simple walkway into something substantially grander. Cockrill prepared at least six
schemes, of which drawings for four have survived.(9) Schemes ‘A’ and ‘B’ of November and
December 1896 show a large new platform at the end of the existing Jetty, octagonal in shape
with a central raised deck featuring an Oriental pavilion and, around it, a second lower deck for
promenading. Eastern influences were often to be seen in seaside architecture of this period,
used as a way of enhancing the sense of ‘otherness’ and fantasy that resorts tried to cultivate.
The first pier to take up the Oriental theme was at Brighton, where Eugenius Birch probably took
inspiration from the Royal Pavilion to introduce Oriental elements into his designs for the West
Pier of 1863-66. Three years later, Birch gave Hastings Pier the first integral pleasure pavilion
which, with its octagonal tollhouses, was wholly Oriental, a concoction of onion domes and tall
finials. By the 1890s, this style had become well-established and Cockrill clearly felt that Great
Yarmouth should keep up with the trend.

His earliest designs included the inevitable onion domes at either side of an arcaded entrance as
well as above turrets on the four corners of the pavilion. Scheme ‘A’ featured a tent-like roof
stretched over the entertainment building whereas scheme ‘B’ made more sophisticated
references to Islamic architecture that suggested some prior study. It may be that the travels he
was noted for included destinations beyond Europe but, if not, there were certainly published
sources Cockrill could consult; he is known to have amassed a fine professional library. (10) His
scheme ‘B’ pavilion design is centred around an octagonal hall under a shallow dome. The space
is lit by a clerestory of six narrow lights on all except the rear elevation, where there is an extra
room with an angled apsidal end. On the other three elevations circular domed spaces project
from the central octagon. These clustered domes around a central top-lit space are reminiscent
Proposal for Jetty extension, Scheme ‘B’, 1896

of Ottoman mosque design, while the two-tone banded walls suggest the influence of Mamluk
Cairo. At each angle of the octagonal pier platform there are little domed octagonal kiosks with
an Egyptian-style decorative cornice. All the windows are set within horseshoe arches and this
shape is also used to create the six-bay entrance arcade. It is an accomplished design that
manages to be absolutely Oriental while maintaining an understated charm. There is no doubt
that, had the funds been available, Cockrill’s Jetty pavilion would have been among the finest of
its type in the country.

Two further drawings demonstrate how these early proposals evolved. The first, entitled:
Borough of Great Yarmouth Proposed Jetty Extension 1897, shows yet another variant on the
orientalised pier head with a central open space enclosed by arcades with onion domes. Here
the pavilion has been transferred to the shore, where it has become a much larger affair with a
hall/winter garden sandwiched between brick facades. The drawings marked as ‘Corporation
Pier, Scheme ‘E’, concentrate on this latter building; all traces of the Oriental have disappeared in
favour of a continental styling reminiscent of exhibition or museum architecture. The front
elevation has an arcaded ground floor of seven bays either side of a five-bay entrance block
flanked by domed towers. The projecting central three bays are topped by a large dome and
lantern. There are smaller domed towers at each corner of the pavilion and running above the
arcade is a 28-bay loggia. Cockrill’s ‘Sketch from S.W.’ shows 21 bays on the ground floor of the
west elevation with an upper floor of twice that many smaller openings. In scale, it owes more to
Norton and Masey’s failed Aquarium than to Cockrill’s own Oriental pavilion designs of 1896. An
aerial view with cut-away sections shows a layout that was to include a double height arcade of
shops running through the middle with a large hall filling the western side, presumably for
theatrical performances and concerts, and a swimming pool on the eastern side.(11)

The Jetty proposals are important in demonstrating Cockrill’s ambition because, though the
architecture that he did produce is of high quality, he was clearly capable of much grander ideas.
Despite Great Yarmouth’s growth as a seaside resort during his tenure as Borough Surveyor,
Cockrill was still reliant upon the public purse, which had a significant impact on what he could
afford to build. In 1897, as he was preparing the pier scheme, the Corporation was debating the
need for a shelter pavilion at Gorleston. The resolution, having been passed on 7th January
1898, the new Pavilion sub-committee instructed Cockrill to prepare plans for a building to include
a hall capable of seating 750 people, a minor hall to seat 250, lavatories for both sexes and about
seven shops, at a total cost not exceeding £6,000. Interestingly, the designs he produced re-
used elements from his ‘Corporation Pier, Scheme ‘E’’, perhaps most significantly the window
tracery. The paired lancets that sit within terracotta arches, joined together at the top by a central
teardrop light, are a distinctive feature of Gorleston Pavilion. Although Cockrill probably filled
many sketchbooks on his travels, only one is known to survive and in that one is a drawing of the
same tracery pattern from the church of Ste Catherine in Brussels (1854). The sketch is dated
19th August 1894.(12) This tracery design also appears on the upper floor of the central bay in
‘Corporation Pier, Scheme ‘E’’ creating the centrepiece of the elevation below the dome, as well
as in the single bays between the projecting entrance block and the towers that balance the
composition. The towers themselves appeared in a much reduced form at Gorleston with the
same shaped copper domes on the west entrance front and again, though slightly smaller, on the
eastern elevation.

For the exterior of Gorleston Pavilion, Cockrill used red brick and terracotta. A single storey
refreshment room with independent access was provided on the south seaward side with entry to
the large hall on the west. This space, running north to south, measured just over 98ft by 45ft,
with a curved roof held up by exposed steel trusses. A small gallery was provided at the south
end and next to it, on the upper floor, was a second smaller hall. The original decorative scheme
is now lost, but among the set of contract drawings to survive at the Norfolk Record Office is one
sheet of fluid Art Nouveau patterns which look as though they were intended as ceiling
adornment. In what is now the theatre’s bar, a tiled fireplace gives some indication of how this Art
Nouveau decoration may have been applied throughout the building. Accounts of the Pavilion’s
opening in 1900 are regrettably short of architectural detail but, since building work had not
actually been completed by the time the first audiences were admitted, this is perhaps hardly
surprising. The unglazed windows of the main hall were draped with calico so the crowds were
kept cool by a: refreshing breeze…permeating the air with a delightful brininess which acted as
an agreeable antidote to the humid and strong-scented atmosphere, redolent in an intense
degree of bricks and mortar.(13)
Not wanting to repeat this unfortunate experience,
Cockrill’s pavilion for Great Yarmouth’s Wellington Pier
(bought by the council in 1900) was designed to allow for
just two months’ construction time. Having finally got his
opportunity to embellish the seafront with a new
entertainment venue, the funds were clearly unavailable
for the sort of grand building he had already projected.

Leaving those old schemes behind, Cockrill came up with

something completely different; a pier pavilion of Art
Nouveau design that was entirely unique (fig. 6). Though
it included towers, domes and finials, the pavilion’s clean
white lines were far from seaside Orientalism. Lynn
Pearson has identified in it the influence of European
exhibition buildings. On opening day in July 1903, the
deputy mayor described it as: novel and striking.(14) On
the front elevation the roof curved between tapering
towers topped with copper mob-cap domes. The
tympanum was split into three glazed segments, thin
projecting finials rising upwards between them. Similar
finials rose above the roof line on either side, as well as Tiled fireplace in Gorleston Pavilion bar
above the projecting side arcades. As at Gorleston
Pavilion, Cockrill used a steel frame but, instead of bricks, he covered the Wellington Pier Pavilion
with pre-fabricated sections of Uralite. This new material was made from a mixture of chalk,
silicate, bicarbonate of soda and asbestos fibre. It was novel enough in 1903 for Punch to print
the following one-liner: Felicitous title for a new fire-proof material – Uralite.(15) This cladding was
replaced in the 1950s and with it went some of Cockrill’s most unusual decorative elements. After
failed attempts at listing, the building itself was demolished in 2006 with some parts reused for the
replacement Wellington Bowl structure. In his Wellington Pier Pavilion, Cockrill prefigured
seaside architecture of the 1930s Modern Movement and influenced the design of pavilions at
Southsea South Parade Pier (1908), Bognor Regis (1919) and Penarth Pier (1927-28).

As can be seen from the photo above, Wellington Pier Pavilion was part of a larger seafront
development overseen by the Borough Surveyor. In 1903, Cockrill supervised the purchase of
Torquay’s glazed Winter Garden (1878-81). The building had never been a commercial success,
but Cockrill believed its removal to Great Yarmouth would be desirable: to lengthen the season
with better class visitors, and on wet days…to provide for 2,000 persons under cover. (16) The
borough paid £1,300, a tenth of the original cost, and sent four workmen to begin dismantling the
building. It was then shipped by barge to Norfolk without a single pane of glass breaking, and
opened by the north entrance to Wellington Pier in 1904. Cockrill later added a brick arched
entrance porch to provide lavatory and cloakroom facilities and, in 1909, arranged for the laying of
a maple floor for roller skating. It is now the only surviving example of a Victorian iron and glass
seaside winter garden.

The third element of this development, but the first chronologically, was the laying out of
Wellington Gardens, which covered an area 500ft by 200ft, running south from the pier. Along
the entire eastern length an ornamental shelter with sash windows on the seaward side provided
seating for 700 people. On the garden side, a roof-line punctuated with miniature pediments and
domes was held up on tapering terracotta pillars. (The southern return of this shelter incorporating
a tearoom survives as part of the Merrivale Model Village.) In the centre of the gardens was an
ornate domed bandstand with pillars made of Doulton ware and the base platform built of green
tiles. In all likelihood, these tiles were of a type invented by Cockrill and patented by him with
Doulton in 1893. According to an advertisement in a surviving Doulton catalogue of 1903: By the
use of these Tiles, Concrete Walls are constructed without the aid of any wood or iron plant or

The operation of building is performed by laying a course of tiles on each face of the wall and
filling the intermediate space with soft concrete, the weight of which on the horizontal flange
keeps the tile in a vertical position. This operation is repeated course by course. In buildings
recently erected, the process has been proved to be as quick as building in ordinary bricks.

This method of providing a glazed surface was described as less costly than using glazed bricks
and, as the joints were smaller and less numerous, the appearance of the finished surface was
also more pleasing.(17)

The L-shaped Cockrill-Doulton tile was used in many Great Yarmouth buildings around the turn of
the century and the tiled plinth course on which the Winter Garden still rests is almost certainly an
example. The public lavatories near the Jetty were also originally built using these tiles; at some
point their walls were re-tiled but in places where the second layer is damaged the original
Cockrill tiles can be seen underneath. The more ornate of the two blocks is also probably that
illustrated in the Doulton catalogue as:
Pumping Station, Urinal and Shelter
built of concrete tile and terracotta,
Erected at Gt. Yarmouth 1900.
Though the original plan has been
altered, the date appears in the
terracotta gablet above the door as
illustrated. Although they have yet to
be identified, other buildings around
the country also probably made use of
the Cockrill-Doulton tile and Judith
Martin’s identification of this material
in the Beaufoy Institute at Lambeth
proves that it was not restricted to
Great Yarmouth.(18) The question of
how Cockrill came to establish a
relationship with Doulton is as yet
unanswered, but it may simply have
evolved from his role as client. In 1891, the Borough Surveyor was given the go-ahead to
purchase terracotta vases and pedestals from Messrs. Doultons at £3 each. (19) These pedestals
featured the Great Yarmouth crest and were used along Marine Parade and subsequently in
Wellington Gardens (see foreground of fig. 6) Terracotta was one of Cockrill’s favourite materials
and one that was widely employed at seaside resorts because of its durability.
Between 1890 and 1904, expenditure on public works in Great Yarmouth and Gorleston
exceeded £60,000 (excluding roads). The challenge was always to reconcile the borough’s dual
interests of visitors and fishing for, by the turn of the century, Great Yarmouth was not only a
popular seaside resort, but it was also the world’s most important herring port. Among his many
other achievements Cockrill undertook extensive quay head works at Fish Wharf and designed
the Fish Wharf Refreshment Rooms (1900 and 1904; now the Dolphin Public House), using red
brick, terracotta and his concrete-filled patent tiles. Improving civic architecture in the growing
town, which at the time of the 1901 census had a resident population of 50,000, was also a part of
Cockrill’s job as Borough Surveyor. In 1896-97, he was responsible for a fairly thorough
redecoration of the Town Hall and, while most of his scheme has disappeared, repeat patterns
based on Greek anthemion motifs have survived in the disused court room. In 1905, Cockrill’s
Carnegie-sponsored library extension was opened, followed two years later by a Carnegie library
for Gorleston. He also designed a new police and fire station behind the Great Yarmouth Town
Hall in 1908.

In July 1913, his Municipal School of Art opened to less than enthusiastic reviews. Pevsner calls
it: a remarkably sensible design, but in 1913 the Mayor referred to its austerely unlovely exterior
as a lost opportunity, and considered it: reassuring to note that architecture is one of the subjects
taught there.(20) A block of three by four bays, it has large unmoulded casement windows that fill
the interior with light and answer a serious failing of the dingy old school Cockrill had attended in
his youth. Frequent misquoting has exaggerated Cockrill’s claim of an entirely concrete building
because, as the architect, he was clearly aware of the steel frame with red brick cladding and
terracotta facings. A newspaper report described the exterior materials before reporting the
Borough Surveyor’s comment that:
otherwise…the building is all concrete
except the doors, and it may be added
that he intends one day to see what he
can do in the direction even of
concrete doors. Perhaps he was
playing up to his nickname of
‘Concrete Cockrill’ but his ‘plain
fireproof building’ was not well
received. Its comparative lack of
decoration was blamed on parsimony:
except for the blobs which distinguish
each corner of the squat roof, and the
curious greeny tiles which illuminate
the title over the main entrance, there
is an innocence of ornament which
should surfeit the ratepayers with satisfaction.(21) Used to examples of fanciful seaside
architecture, his critics were unprepared for a lack of enrichment that now appears forward-

Working for the council must have been intensely frustrating at times, but it did allow Cockrill a
platform from which to try to improve the health of his fellow inhabitants, particularly in beginning
clearance of Great Yarmouth’s medieval Rows which, by the late 19th century, had become
insanitary slums. Elsewhere in the town, Cockrill was keen to see that new development was
beneficial and well planned. This included the laying out of Wellesley and Beaconsfield
recreation grounds on the wasteland of North Denes (north of Marine Parade). These were not
the sort of projects that architects in private practice might have been expected to undertake, but
Cockrill rose to the challenge of converting seven and a half acres of sand into grass by diverting
40,000 cart loads of the town’s refuse onto the site. The Wellesley Recreation Ground opened in
1888 and the first football match was played there in April 1890. It was soon clear that better
seating was required for spectators so Cockrill designed a grandstand, dressing room and
refreshment room. The grandstand of 1892, with its attractive timber-framed sides and rear, and
brick ground floor with oval cast iron windows, is now listed as the earliest surviving example in
Within five years, the Wellesley Recreation Ground had been enclosed by streets of houses, and
development continued northwards. In 1899, Cockrill made designs for a smart terrace of three-
storey dwellings along Kitchener Road, though this does not seem to have been built. In 1907,
he submitted plans for a garden suburb on land purchased by the Corporation north of Hamilton
Road. The proposed streets were named
in January 1908 as Sandringham,
Balmoral, Windsor, Royal, Alexandra and
Osborne Avenues. Speaking some years
later to members of Great Yarmouth
Chamber of Commerce about the
implications of the 1909 Town Planning
Act, Cockrill praised the health statistics of
Garden Cities and stated that: The North
Denes should provide healthy sites for
houses, not cheap and nasty, but
convenient small houses on open sites
with no extravagencies, showing the
architect’s capability of designing an
artistic house at a small cost, and forming
an attractive feature to induce people to
make Great Yarmouth their home.(23)

By now, Cockrill had become a respected exponent of proper town planning and his expertise
saw national recognition in 1916, when he was made President of the newly formed Town
Planning Institute. In this role he signed a memorandum to the President of the Local
Government Board expressing the Institute’s professional concern that the momentum for
change, which had been building up before the First World War, might be lost afterwards to the
detriment of national efficiency.(24) Locally he continued to plan for the improvement of his home
town. In private, Cockrill was closely associated with the Wesleyan Methodist Church, though in
later years his allegiance shifted to the parish church of St Nicholas, to which he gave a stained
glass window marking his gratitude for a long life of public service in Great Yarmouth (destroyed
in World War II). His great-nephew, Leslie William Scott Cockrill, records that other family
members often heard him comment that, as a confirmed non-smoker, he spent his tobacco
money on foreign travel. Trips to Italian cathedrals and churches fed his passion for art and, in
his free time, Cockrill reproduced the frescoes he had studied abroad, filling a huge portfolio with
his paintings. Married twice, he had two sons, Ralph Scott (b.1879) and Owen Hanworth
(b.1882), both of whom trained as architects in his office. Ralph Scott Cockrill was the more
talented of the brothers, his work showing the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement as well
as European architectural currents. His most important designs in Great Yarmouth are the Art
Nouveau Hippodrome (1903) and Fastolff House, an office block on Regent Street of 1908,
described by Pevsner as: remarkable… its façade covered by flat panels of glowing faience in the
lushest Arts and Crafts taste.(25)

As far as influence was concerned, contemporaries recognised how much the development of
Great Yarmouth owed to one man. Not only had John William Cockrill shown himself as
progressive in creating the town’s fundamental infrastructure, he had also enhanced the seafront
for visitors and with it Great Yarmouth’s profile as a seaside resort. Though we now know that he
had even more ambitious plans, the buildings for which he was responsible show a willingness to
experiment with new materials and an interest in current architectural trends. London-based
practices had little impact in this coastal area of East Anglia so, during a period of rapid
expansion, the way was clear for Cockrill to create local distinctiveness in Great Yarmouth and
Gorleston to a national standard of design and innovation.

My thanks to Les Cockrill and Matthew Slocombe for reading and commenting on drafts of this
paper. I am also grateful to Jenny Watts and the staff of the Norfolk Record Office, and to Great
Yarmouth Borough Council for permission to reproduce Cockrill’s drawings of Gorleston Pavilion
and the Jetty Extension.
‘Death of Mr J. W. Cockrill: The Maker of Modern Yarmouth’, Yarmouth Mercury, 7th June 1924, Great
Yarmouth Library biography files
Report on the resignation of J. W. Cockrill, Yarmouth Mercury, 15th July 1922, p. 6
The different spelling of the brother’s surnames is correct. Though the cause is no longer certain the
brothers had such a severe falling out that John Waller changed his spelling from ‘Cockrill’ to ‘Cockrell’ after
which they conducted their business separately. Leslie William Scott Cockrill, The Cockrill Family of
Gorleston, privately printed, 1994, p. 63
Obituary notice, Yarmouth Mercury, 7th June 1924
Quoted in The Cockrill Family of Gorleston, p. 29
Cockrill experimented with adding salt water to the concrete mix and claimed that this made it harder when
working in large bulk. Modern thinking would suggest the reverse. See A. W. Ecclestone, Great Yarmouth
1886-1936, privately printed, 1977, p. 21
Yarmouth Mercury, 15th July 1922, p. 6
Information supplied to Leslie William Cockrill, The Cockrill Family of Gorleston, p. 30
My thanks to Mr Leslie Cockrill for providing me with copies of the drawings for scheme ‘A’ and the ‘Borough
of Great Yarmouth Proposed Jetty Extension 1897’. The original drawings for schemes ‘B’ and ‘E’ are in the
possession of Great Yarmouth Borough Council and were photographed in 1991 for Norfolk Record Office
microfilm MF/RO/469/6.
The Cockrill Family of Gorleston, p. 31
Cockrill was keen to provide Great Yarmouth with a proper swimming pool and later produced plans for quite
a grand structure with all the various facilities required by bathers of this period, including slipper, Russian
and Turkish baths. Not until the year of his retirement was a pool provided and this of more modest size.
Ann Dunning, ‘John William Cockerill, M.Inst.C.E., A.R.I.B.A 1849-1924’, Yarmouth Archaeology, 2006, pp.
Sketchbook of J. W. Cockrill, Norfolk Records Office, Y/D 79/1. The pencil sketches date from 1892-1901
and include foreign subjects as well as the South Kensington Museum and Norfolk and Suffolk churches.
See also John Read, Gorleston’s Shelter Hall and J. W. Cockrill, Yarmouth Archaeology, 1982. Cockrill
gave the tracery a touch of Art Nouveau by turning the circular top lights of Ste Catherine’s into teardrops
‘The Pavilion – Inauspicious Opening’, Yarmouth Mercury, 4th August 1900, p.6
At just £3,000 the Wellington Pier Pavilion cost half as much as Gorleston Pavilion. Lynn F. Pearson, The
People’s Palaces: Britain’s seaside pleasure buildings, Buckingham, 1991, p. 27; ‘The New Wellington Pier
and Pavilion’, Eastern Daily Press, 14th July 1903
Punch, 15th April 1903
Quoted in Frank Meeres, A History of Great Yarmouth, Chichester, 2007, p. 94
Incomplete catalogue of Doulton sanitary and building ware cited in Judith Martin, Cockrill-Doulton Patent
Tiles accessed 24th January 2008
Ecclestone, 1977, p. 41
Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson, The Buildings of England - Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East, London,
2000, p. 504; ‘The New Municipal School of Art’, YM, 26 July 1913, p. 3
Yarmouth Mercury, 26th July 1913, p. 3
See David Tubby, ‘The History of the Wellesley Recreation Ground’, Yarmouth Archaeology, 2000
Lecture read to Yarmouth Chamber of Commerce, reprinted from Yarmouth Independent, 21st April 1917, in
Papers Prepared for Various Societies between 1889 and 1918 by J. W. Cockrill, M.I.C.E., A.R.I.B.A, Great
Yarmouth Library
‘The Memorial of the Town Planning Institute to the Right Hon. Lord Rhondda, President, Local Government
Board’, in Papers Prepared…by J. W. Cockrill, Great Yarmouth Library
Pevsner, p. 509

Visit of the Channel Fleet to Great Yarmouth in July 1860
Her Majesty’s Ships Royal Albert, Conqueror, Donegal, Aboukir, Algiers, Edgar,
Trafalgar, Centurion, Mars, Mersey, Diadem, Greyhound and Locust
Paul P. Davies

For centuries, Great Yarmouth was an important Royal Naval base, especially during the
Napoleonic Wars. The Roads offered a safe anchorage and the town was able to offer services
that the fleet required. Since that time, apart from the two World Wars, the presence of the Royal
Navy in the town has diminished. Nowadays, the occasional naval ship visits and HMS
Dauntless, a Type 45 destroyer, is affiliated with Great Yarmouth. Very many people wished to
visit Dauntless when she last came to Great Yarmouth in 2013 and several had to be
disappointed. So, the public still find the presence of a warship of great interest. When the
country boasted a large naval fleet, its appearance in the Roads caused considerable excitement
and must have been a great spectacle, as accounts from the Norwich Mercury, Norfolk Chronicle
and Norfolk News of July 1860 testify. These accounts are written in exaggerated language
typical of the mid-Victorian era.

Not since 1814 had two ships of the line moored off Great Yarmouth at the same time. Therefore,
the news that the Channel Fleet, under the command of Admiral Sir C. Freemantle was to arrive
from Leith in July 1860, was met with great excitement in the county.

In July, Great Yarmouth were informed that the Channel Fleet had, after an anchorage of 16 days
in St. Margaret’s Hope, Firth of Forth, left its moorings under canvas, with auxiliary steam power,
and proceeded down the Firth and out to sea, destined for the Yarmouth Roads. The news of the
departure rapidly disseminated down the east coast and the town and neighbourhood were put on
the alert. Leaving St. Margaret’s Hope on the Saturday, the fleet would certainly, it was argued,
be here on the Tuesday, on which day the Marine Parade and the beach were literally swarmed
with expectant people, whose glasses were searching the waters in every direction; but, owing
either to the perversity of Admiral Neptune, the weather office, or the Vice-Admiral in command
(who is admitted by everyone to be a pleasant and courteous gentleman), the fleet did not
arrive. Much disappointment and innumerable prophecies followed, and while some knowing
individuals averred positively, and on undoubted authority that the fleet had passed and would not
come in here and rumours stated that the
squadron had been seen some distance to
the south of Great Yarmouth, namely, in the
Wold. Others were equally confident, on the
strength of telegrams and unquestionable
information, that the great ships would be
seen on the next flood. However, later in
the week the fleet was in sight. The first
glimpse of the huge vessels was seen from
the lofty lookouts on the beach and it was
calculated that the fleet was about seven
miles off the coast and it would enter the
Roads through St. Nicholas Gat.

People began hurrying to the beach, which,

between 8 and 10 o’clock in the morning
presented, as to throng and bustle, except
that the fair sex had not had time to put on
The Royal Albert
the gay attire in which they looked so well
on the day before when they had expected the fleet. As the Royal Albert, the three-decker and
the flag ship of Vice-Admiral Freemantle, came into sight, the cry was, there they are! and as the
magnificent vessel steamed up into the Gat there appeared something so triumphant and
majestic in her appearance as to make every one who saw her feel proud of the wooden walls,
which have so long defied all the enemies of Old England. Britannia from the top of the lofty

pedestal in front of the Gat-way might look down
with pride upon the splendid ship, which
marched in stately grandeur o’er the mountain

The Royal Albert was seen to be followed by a

long dark line of smoke, and every few minutes
other great ships came in sight moving
apparently with ease and controllable, but
irresistible, force. As the flagship came through
the Gat of St. Nicholas, the dense masses of
people who lined the shore expressed, in a
variety of forms, their admiration of the
dimensions and commanding aspect of this great
three-decker. The seafaring people looked at
the matter with a professional eye, and amongst
them might frequently be heard such
expressions as; Old Rounce (the Gorleston pilot)
is bringing her in stunnin! HMS Edgar

On came the great ship, as gracefully and as gently as a swan would move upon the surface of
an untroubled lake, until she was surprisingly near the shore for a ship of her size. She then
glided round in a most beautiful manner,
as if looking for the best place to drop her
anchor, a point which was soon decided,
when it was found that she was in about
an exact line with the Victoria Hotel.

The sight in the Gat-way had now become

grand in the extreme, as all the line of
battle ships were in sight, moving
majestically forward by the aid of power
unseen, while the flagship was actively
engaged in signalling to the various ships
as they came up as to the respective
positions they were to take. The ships
seemed to be managed with perfect ease,
and could be turned or moved in any
direction with surprising celerity. The
HMS Trafalgar in a rough sea scene while they were taking up their
positions and dropping their anchors was
beautiful and will not soon be forgotten by
those who saw it. Although the day was very cold with a keen wind from the north with outbreaks
of heavy rain, all along Marine Drive and on the
beach were a great number of people. The Jetty
and the two piers were crammed with sightseers.
Flags were flown from many buildings.
Unfortunately, the beachmen were unable to
financially capitalise on the event as the waves
broke heavily on the beach and it was difficult to
launch their craft. Those who did venture into the
sea returned soaked.

The fleet anchored in two lines from Britannia Pier

to the South Battery, and presented a most
gratifying spectacle to the inhabitants, who felt
what a security it must be in a time of war, while at HMS Donegal
the same time they could not refrain from reflecting on the terrible havoc that must be committed
were those quiet-looking ships to un-bosom their thunders, and vent their indignation upon the
town for a space of about five minutes. Soon after the Vice-Admiral’s flag ship had anchored, the
Volunteer Artillery fired a salute of 15 guns, but owing to the regulations of the service, the ship
was precluded from returning the compliment, as it was wasteful of ammunition, but the Admiral’s
flag was dipped. The band of the Artillery subsequently played on the Drive, and gave a festive
character to the morning. The Mayor (W. Worship), the Deputy Mayor (F. Worship), C. J. Palmer
and C. C. Aldred went on board the Royal Albert to pay the town’s respects. Reports stated that
the fleet would stay for at least five days until Wednesday, as the Admiral and officers had
accepted an invitation to a ball, which the Mayor purposed giving at the Town Hall on Tuesday
evening; while, on the other hand, it was asserted that the fleet would depart in the course of the
night, as during the day they had received five or six dispatches from the Admiralty, and thus
disappoint the thousands, who it was expected would come into the town by rail. Neither of the
predictions turned out to be true. Had the ships not been detained at sea by the contrary winds,
which caused them to keep steam up even to the last, they would have been here for four or five
days. Before coming in, they had, for two or three days, been within 60 miles of Great Yarmouth,
trying to reach here with their sails alone.

Ships Guns Tonnage Horsepower The fleet had not been long at anchor
before sundry mariners and bare-footed
Royal Albert 121 3,726 500 frolicsome and reckless tars were seen
Conqueror 101 3,283 800 ashore, lugging away immense baskets
of fresh bread, butter, etc., and
Donegal 101 3,100 800
diversifying this duty by fraternising with
Aboukir 91 3,236 400 as many of the girlhood of the place as
Algiers 91 3,340 600 they happened to come in contact
with. The Blue Jackets are decided
Edgar 91 3,340 600 favourites ashore, and few people seem
Trafalgar 91 3,300 500 disposed to prevent them doing as they
please. It would give great satisfaction
to the inhabitants of this town, if, in their
Centurion 80 2,590 400 annual cruises, the Channel Squadron
Mars 80 2,576 400 would occasionally drop into Great
Yarmouth, for we are sure that their
Mersey 40 1,000 present visit, besides being
Diadem 32 800 advantageous to the town, will obtain
many seamen; for who would wander
Greyhound 17 200
about in a rotten and miserable old
Locust 3 200 collier when he might lead a worthy and
a jolly life amongst excellent fellows, on
The guns of the Mersey were heavy and destructive in board a floating tower and mansion
character and every one an 84-pounder. The weight of her equal to the most convenient and best
broadside from one deck only was 1,740 pounds, whereas regulated establishments ashore?
the weight of the broadside of the three decks of the Royal
Albert was 2,106 pounds. The Mersey was 60 feet longer It is a long time since a fleet was seen
than the Royal Albert. in our Roads, although there is probably
The total number of guns in the fleet was 939, mostly carrying
no point upon the coast where so much
32 and 56 pound cannon balls. The number of men aboard shipping passes as this. The last fleet
the fleet was 1,100 that was in the Roads was in 1810,
under the command of Admiral Somers,
whose flagship was the Victory (Nelson’s old ship). There were then in the fleet besides the
Admiral’s ship of 98 guns, the Formidable, 98; the St. George, 98; the Dreadnought, 98, now a
hospital ship, and a number of 74’s, making together 14 sail, some of which were with Admiral Sir
John Ross, at the blockade of Dantzig, in 1812 (and frozen up there in 1813). In 1801, Nelson
was in Great Yarmouth on his way to Copenhagen, and in 1807, Admiral Gambier’s fleet was
bound for the same place. In the time of those fleets, the North Sea and Baltic Pilots of this port
were of great service; a class of men of whom, we believe, only one remains. His name is
Richard Webb. He was frozen
up in the Baltic in 1812, while
acting as pilot (wintered there
during the burning of Moscow),
and was altogether engaged
for 15 years in piloting
government vessels in the
wars of that time, important
services for which the old boy
alleges he has received
nothing but unfulfilled promises
from the great guns aloft. One
would think that an old sailor
who had served in the battle
and the breeze for so long a HMS Mersey
period, and in such
momentous times, ought to have received some substantial recognition of his services. In 1854,
the fleet passed Great Yarmouth on its way to the Baltic, the ports of which it was going to

HMS Greyhound

The Channel Fleet and the officers and men from it who came ashore during the day were closely
scrutinised and gazed at, parties having been on board the flagship, it became a question of
interest as to what they would do at night. At sunset a gun was fired from the Admiral’s ship, at
the sound of which, as if by magic, the flags dropped from the stern of every vessel at the same
instant, though the topyards did not go down as was expected. That was about half-past eight
o’clock, and at nine bang went another gun from the Admiral’s ship followed by the rattle of
musketry on board the others, and seamen said, there’s the old Admiral a-fallen down the main
hatchway, that being the correct nautical form of indicating that the hands were ordered to turn
in. At about the same time lights were shown in front and at the sterns of the ships, producing a
brilliant and lively spectacle, taken in conjunction with the hundreds of lights on small craft lying at
anchor, and as shown by the screw
colliers which were ever and anon
passing through the fleet and flowing out
dark volumes of smoke. On Saturday,
Mr. Swann’s contract to supply beef at
4½d. per lb., luckily for him, expired, and
he agreed, we believe, to execute the
orders of the fleet at 6½d.

Sunday morning, as had been

anticipated by the Great Yarmouth
innkeepers and others, brought an
immense number of people into the town,
the trains from Norwich being very
lengthy and frequent. The weather was
fine, and as the fleet still remained in the
Roads, there was every prospect of
enjoyment. As the excursionists came HMS Algiers
into the town they proceeded, after
refreshing the inner man at the earliest opportunity, either to the beach or on board the three
steamers of Fill and Company (Chesapeake, Volunteer and Florence Nightingale), which were
ready, as soon as filled, to start for a journey round the fleet. The Chesapeake was the first to
start, and as she steamed down the harbour, the excursionists had a good view of the quays and
shipping, and also of the hamlet of Gorleston. As soon as the bar was crossed, the great ships
were all plainly visible, their sides bristling with guns, and alive with seamen, who, on seeing the
visitors approaching, exchanged a few friendly shouts with them. From the middle of the two
lines in which they were moored, the ships had a noble and awe-inspiring effect upon those who
had not before seen such wonders of the sea. The Mersey, the smartest, the swiftest, and most
powerful frigate of the fleet, was greatly admired, as was also the Royal Albert, and many
thought; how proud must be our Admiral of such a bonny barque.

Officers and men were at nearly all parts of the ship, and cordially invited the excursionists to go
on board, an offer which the steamer declined, out of regard to the safety of the
passengers. Small pleasure boats from the beach, however, were running to the fleet in large
numbers, cutting and plunging through the sea that might have made some persons timid. Their
passengers were allowed to board the warships. The steamers disembarked their passengers
at the Britannia Pier (which found Sunday the most prosperous day of its existence) and
continued throughout the day to run to and from that Pier without intermission. Indeed, in the
afternoon the Britannia Pier, which was
crowded almost from end to end,
presented a remarkable spectacle. The
beef, potatoes, and greens for the fleet
were brought to the pier-head in carts,
and were stacked for conveyance to the
ships in the ships’ boats. The sailors,
amongst whom was the usual percentage
of black fellows, tossed the beef and
cabbages into the boats in a manner not
at all ceremonious, and one quarter to a
certainty, though some say more, was
pitched into Davey Jones’s locker. This
scene of conveying away the carcasses of
about 60 bullocks (so the number was HMS Conqueror
stated, though we think over the mark), of
a few sheep, and goodness only knows how many cabbages and loaves, was very interesting to
the public, and kept the pier crowded with spectators till six or seven o’clock. There was in the
afternoon and evening, the largest assemblage of people on the parade and on the beach that
the oldest inhabitant remembers to have seen in the town, and it was not until a late hour that the
last disappeared. The effect of so many strangers being in the town was to effect an entire
demolition of most of the eatable stores in the hands of the innkeepers; and it is sufficient to say
that a great thirst prevailed. The Jacks and officers who were ashore in some force in the
afternoon preferred wandering into the town and outskirts; and the former, who as a rule were
shoeless, seemed to pick up a good deal of fun. Besides the usual mode of conveyance of
pouring in visitors, we observed several original vehicles from the country arrive in the afternoon,
laden to excess and to the evident inconvenience of the passengers. The day passed off so well
that the majority of the inhabitants retired, hoping, we have no doubt, that the Channel Fleet might
remain a week. Sinister rumours, however, were at work, and some fears were secretly
entertained. Great bags of letters had been taken from and sent to the Post Office, and a report
was that dispatches had been received ordering the fleet off to Spithead at once.

When the general bulk of the population awoke on Monday morning the fleet, with the exception
of the Mars, which had lost an anchor and was waiting to endeavour to regain it, were off. They
left between five and six o’clock at the rate of eight to ten miles an hour. They were to
rendezvous in the Downs on Monday night. Many have a firm opinion that the Mars was detained
by some providential influence, so that the thousands of excursionists who came in later, in the
hope of seeing the Channel Fleet, might not be utterly disappointed.
Some of the naval men on board the ships had a Great Yarmouth connection. The commander
of the Royal Albert was Captain Lacon, the brother of the town’s Member of Parliament, Sir E. H.
K. Lacon, Midshipman Edward Watson, the nephew of the High Steward of Great Yarmouth, Lord
Sondes, and Midshipman Johnson, the son of Captain Johnson R.N., a respected townsmen.

HMS Aboukir

The Channel Fleet at

Portland Roads in 1859


Norwich Mercury of 4th July 1860

Norfolk Chronicle 7th July 1860
Norfolk News 7th July 1860

The Channel Fleet dates back at least to 1690, when its role was to defend England against the
French threat. By 1801, its main role was still to stop French ships from the French naval bases
at Brest, Le Havre and elsewhere in the Bay of Biscay from entering the English Channel.

During the 19th century, as the French developed Cherbourg as a base for steam-powered ships,
the Royal Navy developed Portland Harbour as a base for the fleet. The harbour was built
between 1849 and 1872, when the Royal Navy created a breakwater made of blocks from local
quarries on the Isle of Portland. The Channel Fleet only became a permanent formation in 1858.

With the amelioration of Anglo-French relations and the rise of German militarism towards 1900,
the need for the Channel Fleet diminished and the main European naval arena shifted to the
North Sea.

In 1904, the Channel Fleet was re-styled the Atlantic Fleet and the Home Fleet became the
Channel Fleet. In 1909, under a fleet re-organisation, the Channel Fleet became the 2nd Division
of the Home Fleet.
William Morris and the Yarmouth Anarchists
Gareth H.H. Davies
… when the great struggle between the rich idlers and the poor workers takes place, Yarmouth
will be among the first to proclaim the Commune.

The Commonweal, 30th March 1889

Little has been written about the British anarchist movement and its origins. Being depicted as, a
bunch of bomb-carrying nutters in big black hats and cloaks (i) has ensured that anarchism as a
political philosophy has had but fleeting attention from historians. Evidence of the anarchist
movement in Great Britain is extremely scattered. Unlike other political movements, there was no
central committee whose minutes the competent historian could explore at a national level.
Rather, a few depositories hold propaganda handbills of some of these disparate groups and
there is some evidence of their activities from newspaper accounts. This article explores one
such group in Great Yarmouth. Their origins lie in the wider context of political upheaval, social
disquiet and economic fluctuation in the 1880s and the influence of its larger and more ‘radical’
neighbour, Norwich.

For Yarmouth was not a hot-bed of revolution. Its trading interests and mostly itinerant workforce,
who were governed by seasonal work, ensured that politics was maintained as the preserve of a
middle-class civic elite. Throughout most of the 19th century it was a ‘Tory’ town, with endemic
electoral corruption leading to the disqualification of the freemen from voting at parliamentary
elections in 1848 and, following the election of 1865, complete disenfranchisement in 1868.
When Great Yarmouth’s parliamentary borough was restored for the election of 1885, after a
period of 20 years, the Conservative and Liberal parties had to reach beyond middle class
ratepayers for the first time. But other voices also began to offer the working man alternative
ideas regarding the organisation of society.

By the 1880s, the term ‘socialism’ had become a catch-all phrase for a disparate set of left-wing
ideological systems. From democrats, who believed in working within the electoral system to
secure representation for the working man at all levels, to Revolutionary Socialists, who argued
for a different system, either based on local self-governing communes or state communism, and
anarchists, who believed in the right of the individual to govern himself without formal structures.
There were, of course, degrees of overlap between these dogmas, which enabled individuals to
come together in political groupings. However, ideological division meant that such groups were
fractious and often led to internal dissention and eventual break-up.

The first such grouping to establish itself was the Social Democratic Federation, in 1881. The
S.D.F. was the first avowedly socialist political party in England and developed from the
Democratic Federation, an organisation that grew out of dissatisfaction with Gladstonian
Liberalism. William Morris, the poet, artist and ‘romantic’ idealist,
had thrown his intellectual weight behind socialism when he
became Treasurer of the S.D.F. in 1883. However, splits soon
emerged and Morris was soon to quarrel with its leader, H.M.
Hyndman. The result was that Morris and others formed their own
party, The Socialist League, in 1884. The differences within the
Socialist League were wide. Orthodox Marxism was represented
by Dr. Edward Aveling and Eleanor Marx, the daughter of Karl
Marx; Morris advocated the principles of Revolutionary
International Socialism by: … a change that would destroy the
distinctions of classes and nationalities; Thomas Binning and John
Mahon encouraged activism through trade unionism, and
anarchists, such as Charles W. Mowbray, who took the concept of
freedom to its ultimate conclusion, believed in no authority at all. At
first, their differences were concealed by the fact that they confined
themselves to distributing socialist propaganda, conforming to
Morris’ view that the League should first be concerned with, making
William Morris
Walter Crane one of the most influential artist and illustrator of the period drew the masthead of the
Socialist League and Commonweal. Crane controversially attended a Boston anarchist meeting
in the U.S. and expressed his view that they the four Chicago anarchists, executed in 1887,
had been put to death wrongfully
Socialists. However, by 1887, the anarchists had gained ascendancy in the League promoting
street activism above all other strategies. That year the League’s annual congress passed a
resolution against putting forward candidates at parliamentary or local elections, making the party
wholly revolutionary. Within weeks the trade unionists and democrats had left the Socialist
League. Morris, who described himself as a Communist, found himself in the power of the
anarchists and, to an extent, those who were increasingly impatient for change, moving
inexorability towards a strategy of violent ‘propaganda by deed’.

The first evidence of interest in the Socialist

League in Great Yarmouth occurs in early
1885. A letter exists in the League’s
archives from Mrs. Ethel Leach (ii) asking to
subscribe to the Commonweal, their newly
produced journal under the editorship of
Morris. John and Ethel Leach ran an oil,
paint and glass merchant business, with
shops at 21 Market Place and 113 King
Street, as well as branches in St. Stephen’s
Street and St. Giles’ Street in Norwich.
They were committed Radical Liberals. (iii)

In 1886, a branch of the League was

established in Norwich by the 18 year-old
Fred Henderson, and it was Henderson
who, in October of that year, began to speak
on Hall Quay on Thursday evenings. By the
third meeting, on 27th October, a hostile
crowd of several hundred had gathered
determined to run him out of town. Before
he could start speaking there was a push
from the fringes of the crowd and a call went
up from the back to, Put him in the river.
Chief Constable Brogden had prepared well
for any disturbance, positioning himself near
Henderson and placing constables
strategically in the crowd. This prevented
the mass moving towards the river.
Brogden called on the crowd not to be so
cowardly as to attack a single man.
Although Henderson began his speech it
Inner page of the membership card of the Yarmouth
was thought wiser to take him to the police Branch of the Socialist League. Their club rooms in
station for his own safety. There he waited Row 56 were open every evening and Sundays except
an hour before being whisked away to when open air meetings were taking place

Vauxhall Station, where he once
again was met by a demonstration,
but managed, with the help of the
police, to get on the Norwich train.
If not hostility, there was certainly
antipathy to the Socialist message
up to this point. Attitudes, however,
were to change in the next two
years and enabled a branch of the
Socialist League to be established
in the town.

By January 1887, the national

membership of the Socialist League
stood at just 550 and of these it was
reported that only 280 members
were able to pay their membership
Photograph showing the members of the Norwich Branch of the
fee of a penny a week. The Socialist League. This was probably taken in 1888 or 1889
League’s methods differed from the during a visit by William Morris who is seated in the centre
S.D.F. as they involved public
speaking at street corners and public spaces, which they called, open-air propaganda. This drew
them into direct conflict with the police, who arrested League activists and others on the grounds
of obstructing the highway. Morris himself had been arrested in September 1885 at the trial of
League members on this charge. Following the call for street activism at the third annual
conference (1887), the League began participating in mass demonstrations and supporting
causes, which reflected political and social grievances against national and local government.
Throughout October, Trafalgar Square became the focus for skirmishes with the authorities.
Things came to a head on 13th November, when the Irish National League proclaimed a
demonstration in Trafalgar Square to protest against the Coercion Act, which allowed for
internment without trial in Ireland. The Home Secretary, Sir Charles Warren, banned all meetings
in the square on the pretext it was Crown property. Morris and the League, together with other
groups, joined the demonstration to defend what they believed to be the right of free speech.
Speaking from a cart on Clerkenwell Green, before marching on Trafalgar Square, the Times
newspaper reported that, Mr. William Morris … proceeded to say that wherever free speech was
attempted to be put down, it was their bounden duty to resist the attempt by any means in their
power. (iv)

Marching from Clerkenwell, The

Socialist League banner was in the
hands of a Mrs. Taylor when the
contingent reached the junction of
Long Acre and St. Martin’s Lane.
The Times continued, The police
called upon her to give it up. She
refused and they seized hold of it.
Several of the male members of the
League rushed to the woman’s
assistance and laid hold of the staff.
A sharp struggle ended in the
The Graphic illustrated the taking of the Socialist League’s
constables possessing themselves
banner from Mrs. Taylor at the junction of Long Acre and St.
of the prize. The woman was Martin’s Lane. It became one of the most iconic images of
carried off in a fainting condition … popular protest at the time
The processionists offered great
resistance, but they could not stand the heavy blows of the batons. (v)

In the main square, the Riot Act was being read and the army moved in with bayonets fixed. The
events of the day became known as Bloody Sunday, with 75 arrests being made, 200 people

treated in hospital, three of whom were to later die of their injuries. The next Sunday, mounted
police galloped up and down the square pursuing crowds and an innocent by-stander named
Alfred Linnell was ridden down and killed. William Morris was to speak at his funeral saying:
There lay a man of no particular party – a man who until a week or two ago was perfectly
obscure, and probably was only known to a few … Their brother lay there; let them remember for
all time this man as their brother and their friend. (vi)

Morris was to lecture by choice on ‘Trafalgar Square’ throughout the country over the next few
months, Bloody Sunday becoming a clarion call for defending the rights of free speech and a
point of unity for both Radical Liberals and Socialists alike.

Defending the right of free speech was to play a major part in the creation and rise of the Socialist
League in Great Yarmouth the following year. The Norwich branch resumed sending members to
Great Yarmouth in the summer of 1888. On 2nd August, George Poyntz was arrested for
obstructing the highway on Church Plain. His defence was that religious groups often held
meetings there and his action was no different. If they disallowed socialist meetings then it:
destroyed all free speech. The town magistrates fined Poyntz a total of £2 7s 6d, or one month’s
hard labour. He refused to pay, but was soon released when a public subscription was raised to
pay his fine.

The case of George Poyntz left the Great Yarmouth Watch Committee with a dilemma in that they
claimed his arrest was a matter of obstruction and not one of discrimination against political
rallies. Charles Mowbray, now secretary of the Norwich branch of the Socialist League, pressed
the point in a letter to the Eastern Evening News in which he stated they would continue to hold
meetings on Church Plain, to test the question fully. (vii)

The following week, Captain Fred Symonds of the Salvation Army, was arrested along with the
League members George Cores and Charles Reynolds. Under cross-examination, P.C. Cook
admitted that it had been customary for evangelical and temperance organisations to hold
meetings under the trees on Church Plain for at least four years. He confirmed that they had not
been previously prosecuted, nor had there been any complaints made about obstruction on this
occasion. In the case of George Cores, the Market toll collector was called as a witness. He
confirmed that the defendant had paid a toll to stand on the Plain just like others who used the
spot to draw crowds, such as auctioneers or Punch and Judy entertainers during the summer.

Despite this evidence, all three were convicted and fined 30/-, or face one month in prison with
hard labour. All refused to pay.

The following Sunday a large crowd gathered once again on Church Plain to hear George Poyntz,
who addressed the crowd as follows:… their object that day was not to speak upon Socialism, but
to protest against the course taken by the authorities to prevent them and the Salvation Army and
others holding their meetings in public places. He avowed it be his intention, and the intention of
many others, not only among the Socialists, but also among the Salvation Army, to continue the
meetings in spite of what the police might do, and that they were ready to go to gaol for so doing. (viii)

The Eastern Evening News reported: During the speeches, which were very short, there were
occasional disturbances and hustlings, but nothing of serious character. When the crowd began
to move about, however, matters became rather warm for the police, who were jostled about a
good deal and carried hither and thither by the surging crowd. There was a disposition on the
part of some portion of the assembly to be rather rough with the officers, and one young fellow, it
is alleged, assaulted and obstructed the police. He was therefore taken into custody and
removed after some difficulty to the Police-station. A multitude of people followed the police, and
a good deal of shouting and pushing was indulged in, but no attempt was made to rescue the
prisoner or to obstruct the officers in their duty. One constable (Police-constable Hardesty)
received a nasty kick in the leg when at the bottom of Regent Street, but he was unable to spot
the man who did it, and he therefore has escaped his just punishment. After the meeting knots of
people gathered on the Plain, and discussed the questions of Socialism, free speech, &c., but no
further attempt was made to organise a meeting, and gradually the crowd dispersed. (ix)

The following week, there were the equivalent of mass arrests at gatherings on Church Plain. On
Friday 7th September, some 38 members of the Salvation Army, Blue Ribbon Army, Church
Army, and Socialist League were brought before the Magistrates for obstructing the highway. In
their defence, the barrister employed by the Salvation Army stated: The Army … could not give
up the right which they believed they had of going into the street to address the people, which
was a right they contended they were entitled to by the law of England. He said that every kind of
public body had the same right as that he claimed for his clients. Every man had a right to
express his opinion in public if he did not inconvenience his neighbours, and did not incite to a
breach of the peace. No breach of the law had been committed by the defendants … (x)

George Poyntz, who had been arrested again, said:… they would not pay any fines. By imposing
them they would not quench their free speech, because there were others ready to take their
place. The more they prosecuted them the more they would grow, and he thanked the Bench for
the action they had taken because it would bring their cause more prominently before the public. (xi)

Without doubt, the actions of the Watch Committee, and the police in carrying them out, had
provided the Socialist League with the opportunity to promote themselves as resisting those who
held power in the town, helped by the unlikely bed-fellows of the Salvation Army and other
evangelical groups. The fact that members of the Watch Committee also stood in judgment as
magistrates did not help them seem impartial. It enabled the Pall Mall Gazette to call Church
Plain the: Trafalgar-square of Yarmouth, (xii) a term that the authorities wanted to avoid.

After an adjournment, during which it was agreed that public meetings could be held on Priory
Plain and Coleman’s Granary on South Quay, the magistrates imposed a token fine of 1/- or three
days imprisonment. The defendants once again refused to pay, but this time the prison
sentences were not enforced. The League had established its political credibility with the working
people of the town.

By January 1889, The League was drawing crowds of up to 2,000 people on Priory Plain. On
19th January, some 50 copies of Commonweal were sold and the following week, a branch of the
Socialist League was officially formed, with Charles Reynolds as its secretary. Among the active
members were Reynolds, who had been a member of the Norwich branch before moving to
Yarmouth, George Ruffolds, a ‘look ‘em up’, (xiii) John Milner Headley, who ran a newsagent
business on Northgate Street (xiv) and Charles Brightwell, a bootmaker.

League members regularly made the journey from Norwich or London to support the new branch.
In March, Gertrude Schack, a communist refugee, who had fled Bismarck’s suppression in
Prussia, reported in the Commonweal that: On arriving at Priory Plain, a large audience quickly
collected, whose earnest interest in the doctrines we preach was obviously apparent. It was
evident, too, that our position has been greatly strengthened by the fight for free speech which
took place here last year. We are sure to have a very strong branch here soon … (xv)

Gertrude Schack (left) supported the

open-air meetings of the Yarmouth
Branch on more than one occasion.
A member of the Marxist
Sozialdemokratische Partei
Deutschlands (Social Democratic
Party) and founder of the Verein zur
Vertretung der Interessen der
Arbeiterinnen (the Association to
Promote the Interests of Working
Women) both banned organisations
in Bismarck’s Germany. She was
deported from Germany and arrived
in England in 1886. She was active
in the Socialist League from 1887–90

William Morris founded the Socialist
League in 1884 and visited Great
Yarmouth in August, September and
October 1889. On his first visit he
stated in his diary, ‘I got there on the
most beautiful evening with the low
sun setting over the great flats.’

On 28th August, the Corn Hall

was hired for the arrival of William
Morris himself. He spoke to a
packed hall on the concept of
‘Socialism’, arguing that the way
in which society was ordered
should be changed.
The greatest applause
however was reserved
for his comments on the
London Dock Strike,
which was in full swing.
The Yarmouth branch of the Socialist League had already
tried to disrupt the recruitment of blackleg labour, as
Reynolds was to report in the next issue of the Commonweal:
… a comrade told Reynolds that men were being engaged to
go to London Docks on Monday morning, to take the place of
the dock strikers; well, to prove the truth of it, a comrade belonging to our branch went to Turrell’s
office (xvi) and was met at the door, and was asked if he wanted a job; “Yes,” said our comrade;
well, he was taken inside, and offered 30/- per week, and fare there and back, and was told there
were plenty of police ready if necessary; of course, our comrade signed and came out to tell us
the little game; well, Reynolds and Mr. Halliday, of Lincoln, sent a telegram to Burns, Hyde Park
demonstration, telling them of the scab work going on; and at night we marched from Colman's
Granary to Turrell’s office, and held an indignation meeting, giving three groans for the crimping
Turrell, and telling the men to keep away from London; it was also agreed to meet at 5.30 next
morning, to give the scabs and Turrell a salute, if they go by first
train; we had a grand day, and the people are getting courage. (xvii)

The following months saw the Yarmouth League holding three

meetings every Sunday, in the morning at Priory Plain, in the
afternoon at the same place or at Fish Wharf, and in the evening
at Colman’s Granary. In addition there were weekly discussion
evenings and elocution classes to raise new speakers for their
open-air propaganda. They also got involved with local disputes
and mounted protest demonstrations in the town. For example,
in June they protested at the appointment of ‘a stranger’ as
attendant at the Recreation Ground and in August they claimed
that it was their pressure that had made the Board of Guardians
back down and provide outdoor relief for a fisherman’s widow,
whose husband had lost his life at sea. They also established
regular weekly meetings in Belton, Bradwell and Gorleston and,
by April 1890, had raised enough money to establish a club in
Row 56, which had: amongst its attractions … a library, reading,
boxing, and refreshment rooms. (xviii) The Yarmouth Branch of the
Socialist League took up
By the Autumn of 1890, the branch received the support of the particular causes in the town
anarchist couple Rebecca and John Oldman, who stayed for including the appointment of a
three weeks. Headley reported in the Commonweal on 15th ‘stranger’ to be attendant at the
November that: Most successful meetings have been held Recreation Ground.

during the past month; a lot of revolutionary literature has been distributed amongst the soldiers
and police; large bundles of Commonweal and other literature have also been sent to sea to
enlighten the fishermen to their true position. Altogether, things are moving in the right direction. (xix)

The growth of the League did not go unnoticed and authorities in the town warned those that
might show any sympathy for their revolutionary message: The Priory Plain, where we hold our
meetings, adjoins the Old Man's Hospital, and one of the old men has attended and shown great
interest, sitting as a rule on the stall from which we speak. Well, this poor old man received
notice last week from the clerk by order of the trustees, that if he was seen at the meetings again
he would be turned out of the Hospital, where he gets 5/-
per week, into the workhouse. - These are the modern
followers of a meek and lowly saviour - these brutal
Mammon-worshippers, these bullying Bumbles, who make
their creed stink in the nostrils of all honest and
kindhearted people. (xx)

Despite opposition, the intense tempo of agitation and

propaganda continued into 1891 with ten lectures
organised with speakers, including George Bernard Shaw.
Headley commented in April 1891: The movement which
for a long time seemed to fall on dead ground here, is now
firmly rooted, and aristocratic visitors to this seaside resort
will have Anarchist-Communism dinned into their ears
persistently during the coming season. (xxi)

Police activity at meetings on Priory Plain only drew larger

crowds and the branch soon outgrew its clubrooms taking
new premises in Howard Street enabling Headley to report
in June: Whilst Headley was speaking, several police
rushed in the ring and tried to upset the meeting, but,
seeing that we were determined to meet force by force,
the crowd being with us, contented themselves by taking John Oldman was born on the Holkham
the names of Shaw, Maxwell, Saunders, and Headley, Hall Estate in 1842 and was evicted in
after using a lot of threats about what they would do. This 1870 after he publically campaigned for
resulted in our already large meeting considerably Tittleshall Parish Reading Rooms to
increasing, nearly 1,000 people being present, and our provide more than its narrow range of
comrades have since received summonses. A large Tory newspapers. He became a union
meeting was also held in the afternoon by the same organiser for the National Agricultural
speakers. Owing to rain we had to adjourn to the new Labourers’ Union travelling the country
together with his wife Rebecca. He
Club Rooms in Howard Street, where another large moved first to Cheshire in 1874, before
meeting was held in the evening. On Tuesday, social settling in Chadderton, near Oldham, in
gatherings of Norwich and Yarmouth Anarchists in the 1876. In July 1885, he founded the
Club Rooms, also a grand tea on Tuesday afternoon in the Oldham branch of the Socialist League
Club; the Norwich comrades lost the train, and had to stay and became known as the ‘Apostle of
all night. Success to the Revolution. - J. Headley. (xxii) Anarchy’ for his forthright anarchist
By this time, Morris and his Hammersmith branch had left
the League, giving it up to anarchists such as Mowbray, who was now openly advocating violence
as a means of revolution. The absence of Morris led to the implosion of the League nationally.

The feverish anarchist agitation in Great Yarmouth was a thing of the past. While some of the
protagonists turned to more conventional political activity, others did not.

Fred Henderson had turned to democracy as early as 1890, being elected to the Norwich Board
of Guardians. He spent ten years in London becoming one of six councillors supported by
Ramsey MacDonald's Labour Representation League on the London Council. In 1902, he
returned to Norwich to be the first socialist to be elected to the city council, remaining a member
until his death. In 1939-40, he was Lord Mayor and, in 1947, received the freedom of the city.

Following the demise of the League, Charles Mowbray went on a speaking tour of the United
States. The tour pulled in large crowds. In 1895, he set up an anarchist paper, The Rebel, and
settled in New York. Here he opened a saloon and developed a taste for heavy drinking. After
the assassination of President McKinley in 1901 by an anarchist, he was deported back to Britain,
dying of a heart attack in a Bridlington hotel in December 1910 having, it is believed, drunk
himself to death.
George Ruffolds was perhaps the last Yarmouth anarchist. An improvised device, made from a
Colman’s Mustard tin and containing a mixture of gunpowder, sand, and nails, was left on the
windowsill of the Conservative Working Men’s Club on South Quay on 3rd April 1894, copying a
more deadly bomb planted in Paris the previous week. (xxiii) Although a £20 reward was offered,
the culprit was never caught. Ruffolds was arrested in a drunken stupor a fortnight later on the
pavement at Hall Quay brandishing a similar tin with string poking out of its lid and shouting, Look
out for the bomb. (xxiv) An inveterate drunkard, it was the twelfth time he had been detained for
being drunk and disorderly and he was fined 10/-, or seven days’ hard labour.
Great Yarmouth’s dalliance with anarchism in the late 1880s and early 1890s was short-lived.
Yarmouth was unusual in that its population was small in comparison to other urban areas where
branches were formed, and had no previous history of significant working class unrest. Great
Yarmouth’s parliamentary disenfranchisement for some 20 years before 1885 may have been a
factor. While the working men of similar boroughs had the right to vote in elections, this was
denied to Great Yarmouth and, even then, the 12-month residency qualification introduced in the
1884 Reform Act disqualified many of the itinerant workers in the town. This may have provided
a background for alternative politics when work was short and men were desperate to change
their lot. Actual membership of the Socialist League was small and we must not overplay the
significance of the branch when it came to the political landscape of the town. While the club no
doubt attracted the working class, they did not necessarily become fully committed to their cause
and, if they did, would pay the consequences: … our comrades are undergoing very rough
handling from the master class, assisted by the Authorities. The sweaters boycott unmercifully.
Directly one of their wageslaves shows himself worthy of his manhood by working openly and
energetically for the cause of freedom, he is forced to leave his place, and often loses all chance
of employment. Comrade Headley, secretary of the Club, is almost the only one fortunate
enough to be independent of this persecution, and he is using his liberty to work most
energetically. (xxv)
The core branch members: Ruffolds, Headley, and Brightwell were self-employed and not subject
to employment discrimination in the town. This enabled the branch to maintain its presence but,
other than these individuals, it had to rely heavily on other branches to support its open-air
The 1891, collapse of the Socialist League, inevitably, curtailed the branch’s ability to agitate and
the local branch was renamed the ‘Great Yarmouth Socialist Society’. Yarmouth’s working class
population found expression for their concerns through more traditional means. In the 1892
parliamentary election, the working man’s vote was significant in overturning a large Conservative
majority and electing the town’s first Radical Liberal MP, James Moorsom. At the head of his
victory parade through the town were two banners reading: Yarmouth’s Triumph for Labour, and:
Moorsom’s Workingman’s Victory, acknowledging from whom he had drawn his support.
The election of Kier Hardie to Parliament in 1892 also ensured many began to look towards
democratic representation as a solution and, by 1893, Hardie had been joined in Parliament by
three other independent MPs to form the Independent Labour Party.

Headley was to observe while speaking in a debate at the Yarmouth Liberal and Radical Club in
March 1893, … two or three years ago Socialists were described as the scum of society. Now
they were being respected, and were becoming fashionable. (xxvi) The man who said he would
‘din’ the ears of the Prince of Wales and his son (xxvii) with Anarchist-Communism only two years
before stood for election later that year to the school board on a Socialist ticket. Later, he joined
the Independent Labour Party, being elected to the Board of Guardians for the North Ward in
1901, a position he was to hold for six years.
Quail J., The Slow Burning Fuse: The Lost History of the British Anarchists. – Introduction
Ethel Leach was a formidable campaigner and reformer. As well as supporting Irish Home
Rule, she was a committed suffragette holding her first women’s suffrage meeting in the
town as early as 1880. She was elected to the Yarmouth School Board in 1881 and in 1894
elected to the Board of Guardians. In the early years of the 20th century she was a ‘passive
resister’ refusing to pay her rates on the grounds she disapproved of religious instruction
being given in denomination schools. In 1920, she became the first female Magistrate, in
1924 the first female Mayor, and in 1929 the first female alderman of Yarmouth
Radical Liberals were on the left of the Liberal Party and supported Home Rule for Ireland
Times, 14th November 1887
Commonweal, 24th December 1887
Eastern Evening News, 16th August 1888 p.3
Ibid., 3rd September 1888
Norwich Mercury, 12th September 1888
Pall Mall Gazette, 17th September 1888
a ‘look ‘em up’ was the term used for a general dealer, mostly in scrap metal; what would be
called by the 20th century a ‘rag and bone’ man
Headley was later to set up the People’s Bookstore in George Street
Ibid. 6., - 30th March 1889 p.102
Turrell and Torkilsden, the ship agent, had offices on South Quay and also acted for many of
the large shipping lines to recruit labour in Great Yarmouth in order to break the sailors’
strike earlier in the year
Ibid. 6., - 31st August 1889 p.279
Ibid., 12th April 1890 p.109
Ibid., 15th November 1890 p.367
Ibid., 27th July 1889 p.235
Ibid., 1st April 1891 p.27
Ibid., 6th June 1891 p.36
Ibid. 10., - 4th April 1894 p.6
Ibid. 7., 16th April 1894 p.3
Freedom, October 1890
Yarmouth Independent, 1st April 1893 p.3
Edward, Prince of Wales, as Colonel of the Prince of Wales Own Norfolk Artillery Militia, and
his son, Prince Albert Victor, who became a lieutenant in 1885, visited the town on a number
of occasions between 1872 and 1899; see, Wright, C., Royal Visits to Great Yarmouth
between 1277 and 1899, Yarmouth Archaeology and Local History 2016 p.24-29

The Arrival of HRH Albert Edward, Prince of Wales
at South Town* Railway Station on Tuesday, 30th May 1882
Trevor Nicholls
a narrative upon a water-colour by Geoff Harmer (2013) (23.5 in x 13 in)
We went to Yarmouth yesterday and walked in the great church.
The Artillery was blazing away on the denes : Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1893)

This picture creates for possibly the first time, a professionally painted depiction of one of Great
Yarmouth’s most impressive and distinguished examples of Victorian industrial architecture, alas,
long gone; South Town Railway Station. I should say at once that a number of alterations have
been made to the painting since it left the artist’s hand, including the addition of the five figures
and the floral display in the foreground. Here, in this painting, is one of the town’s most
handsome buildings on one of its ‘high’ days.

Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, visited Great Yarmouth on several occasions during the last
quarter of the 19th century. He stayed at Shadingfield Lodge in 1872, 1879, 1881, 1882, 1885,
1887, 1895 and 1899. Sometimes the Prince came to Great Yarmouth in his capacity as
Honorary Colonel of the Norfolk Artillery Militia (Prince of Wales Own) and was received upon
arrival with the dignity, panache and circumstance exemplified in this painting. In the previous
year, 1881, he had been accompanied by his royal kinsman, HRH Prince George, Duke of
Cambridge (1819-1904), the first visit to Great Yarmouth by the Commander-in-Chief of the
British Army. On some occasions however, the Prince of Wales came to Great Yarmouth in a
private capacity. Then, the local Press simply reported that HRH: had been in the town incog.
The journey from London would have taken about three hours.

In this scene, the Prince’s carriage is just drawing away from the station building. Riding in it with
HRH are Colonel Teesdale and Admiral Sir Henry Keppel (1809-1904), son of the fourth Earl of
Albemarle. Directly behind, on a magnificent Arab grey charger, which might have come straight
from the Arch of Trajan, is Lord Suffield (Charles Harbord, 5th Baron Suffield, 1830 -1914, GCVO,
KCB, PC, Lord-in-Waiting to Queen Victoria and to the Prince of Wales). Following, are the Earl
of Leicester and the officers of the Militia.

To the right of the scene is the Southtown High Mill. Supposedly the tallest mill in Europe, at 122
feet, it dominated Southtown. It was so wide at the base that wagons could enter it for unloading.
The eleven floors were used for the storage of grain. It was built in 1812, sold in 1904 for £100
and demolished in 1905, by which time nearly all of the windmills in the town had been
demolished as the built-up area expanded. Gatacre Road was built on the site, red chimney pots
on two of the houses indicating the exact location of the mill. The mill was the subject of an
article in the Society’s Journal of 2016. There is some licence, a liberty practised by the Masters,
including J. M. W. Turner, in its positioning in the painting; it would have been closer to the
observer than depicted, opposite the north side of the station building. The trees in the
foreground that added to the ‘country house’ appearance of the station at this period, began life in
the gardens of the two 18th century dwellings on this site. A careful study of photographs and
maps of the period suggest that the maltings to the immediate north of the station would not have
been visible from this viewpoint. Thus they are omitted from the scene.

In the station doorway stands George Dowey, the stationmaster, resplendent in his Great Eastern
Railway uniform and not very different from that of Admiral Keppel, proud of his responsibilities, a
pillar of the community and no doubt a force to be reckoned with by those working under his
supervision at this, a focal point of Great Yarmouth life, as the station assuredly was. The 1881
Census shows that Mr Dowey, aged 55, Railway Station Master, was born in Worringtown, Co.
Down. Living in his household were his wife, Elizabeth, aged 54, their three sons aged from 9 to
18, two daughters aged respectively 21 and 26, and a female servant, Eliza Brooks, aged 17.
Elizabeth and the elder daughter were born in Hertfordshire, the younger children in Southtown
and Eliza, the servant at Caister, Norfolk. George Dowey might have been the first stationmaster
at South Town since he was enumerated there in 1861 at the ‘ESR Station House’. Entering the
railway’s employ meant joining a huge organization conducted on disciplined, hierarchical lines
with strict rules to be followed, not least because the safety of the travelling public depended upon
it. Its ethos was well suited to those who had been in the Army or Navy, the similarity going well
beyond the sartorial. Railwaymen did not ‘go to work’; they went on duty. Mr Dowey is clearly ‘on
duty’ in the painting. His family watches from the first floor windows.

Clearly, Mr Dowey enjoyed the high regard of the Independent. To trusted, respected men like
him, a position with the railway meant not only standing and esteem in the local community, but
also security, indeed life-long employment and a pension at a time when, in Victorian England,
such things were especially prized. According to the Census of 1881, four of the children of
George and Elizabeth Dowey were born in the parish of Southtown, presumably in the spacious
living quarters overlooking the station forecourt, a poetic metaphor indeed to have begun life’s
great journey at a railway station!

It is interesting to reflect that Mr Dowey was born at the very start of the railway age (Stockton
and Darlington Railway, 1825). The surname is ‘Dowey’ in the census and street directory, and
‘Dovey’ in the Yarmouth Independent report. What changes in transport he and his generation
saw. In the year of his birth, the journey from Great Yarmouth to London took 15 or 16 hours by
coach, fifteen freezing hours, as Sir James Paget would later remember it, or by sea. Some of
those who made that journey as children would live to make it by rail from South Town in less
than two and a half hours.

John Nightingale, at whose residence Shadingfield Lodge on South Beach Parade the Prince of
Wales stayed on these occasions, owned, with other members of his family, the Royal Hotel, the
Queens Hotel, the Victoria Hotel, the Aquarium Theatre, the Theatre Royal and many other Great
Yarmouth properties.

Local newspapers in those days went into great detail in their reporting of events such as this.
Indeed, it is the accounts in the Yarmouth Independent of 11th June 1882 and The Illustrated
London News of 10th June that have enabled this picture to be created 131 years later. It seems
reasonable to suppose that Count Bismarck, and also the Lord Mayor of London, both mentioned
in the news reports, the latter invited to the opening of the new Town Hall and holder of the
highest civic office in the country, passed through South Town Station at this time.
The Independent report, which is here variously paraphrased and directly quoted, begins by
mentioning that the Prince had only recently recovered from a severe illness. We learn that his
arrival here was on Tuesday evening. A large concourse of people had assembled outside the
station yard and all the way to Shadingfield Lodge. There were flags, banners and festoons on
many public and private buildings. Present on the station forecourt was the band of the Second
Eastern Division, Royal Artillery. It was 6.55pm when the Prince of Wales arrived by the ordinary
fast train from Liverpool Street. The reception of the Prince was of a strictly private character,
none of the borough officers being present, and only a few members of the general public. The
entrance to the station yard and the station itself were guarded by police officers in the employ of
the Great Eastern Railway and they exercised great caution in preventing the access of anybody
who had no official business there nor had not the authority of the stationmaster, Mr Dowey, who,
we need not say, exhibited the activity he always shows in the discharge of his duties on these
eventful occasions.

There was a bright evening sun.

A few moments before the appearance of the train, an announcement was made by an official
that it was in sight and shortly afterwards it steamed into the station, being very punctual to its
time. Lieutenant Colonel Lord Suffield, Colonel Miller, Captain the Honorable H. Denison and
Lieutenant the Honorable Tyrwhitt Wilson had come upon the platform and awaited to receive the
Prince. The first person to step out of the train was the Prince’s servant, a fine, handsome man,
who had always accompanied HRH on his visits here, and who undid the door of the royal saloon
carriage in which the Prince had ridden, accompanied by Colonel Teesdale (his equerry), the Earl
of Leicester and Admiral Sir Henry Keppel. The Prince, who was in his uniform as Honorary
Colonel of the Artillery, on alighting, shook hands with Lord Suffield and the officers who were
with him and at once proceeded to the carriage of Mr Nightingale, which was waiting at the

The few gentlemen who were on the platform raised their hats to the Prince, but no cheers were
given until he made his appearance outside the station, when the guard of honour presented
arms, the band struck up a strain of the National Anthem, and the people sent up a lusty cheer
that was repeated again and again as HRH entered the carriage with Colonel Teesdale and
Admiral Keppel and was driven off (this is the exact moment depicted in the painting). In this
minutiae, the thoroughness of the news report is far more than one expects today. We see the
gentlemen on the platform raise their hats, by the standards of the day, surely not so much an
expected courtesy as instinctive. But what, we shall ever wonder, was the activity Mr Dowey
‘always exhibited on these occasions’?

Mr Nightingale’s coachman again had the honour of driving the Prince to Shadingfield Lodge, the
carriage being driven by a fine pair of horses different in colour as the fashion then in favour. The
route taken was the usual one: Regent Street, Regent Road and the Drive.

There were two arches at the entrance to the station yard (behind the observer) made of wood,
covered with greenery and surmounted with flags, Miss Dowey taking a prominent part in the
decoration (triumphal arches were very much a Victorian device). In the painting, the greenery on
the canopy is copied from a photograph of a military event at the station of this period, as are the
observers on the roof of Plevna Terrace. On the occasion of this visit, the other parts of the
station had bunting and flags, but the interior was sparsely decorated, with banners upon the east
wall. The flags on the buildings on the Quay and the ships in the river made a fine sight. The
grand old bells of St Nicholas’ Church pealed a welcome.

The drive from the station to Shadingfield Lodge did not occupy long and there were cheers from
the multitude of people who had assembled there when the carriage drew up. The Prince and his
attendants alighted. HRH shook hands in a very gracious manner with Mr and Mrs Nightingale
and shortly afterwards went over to the Assembly Rooms, where he dined with the officers and
invited guests. At about 9pm, the Prince, accompanied by Count Bismarck, went to what in those
days was called a ‘burlesque’ and today would be called a variety show, at the Aquarium.
We are thus able to deduce that within a couple of hours of arriving in Great Yarmouth, Prince
Albert Edward was out on the town, for it seems these annual Artillery exercises were as much a
great social event in Great Yarmouth as a honing of martial prowess. There was always a ball at
the Assembly Rooms.

Count Bismarck, son of Prince Otto von Bismarck-Schönhausen, Duke of Lauenburg (1815-
1898), Chancellor of Germany (the Iron Chancellor), had arrived in Great Yarmouth on the
previous Saturday and stayed at the Royal Hotel as guest of Lord Suffield, leaving on the
Wednesday afternoon. The Prince of Wales left on 3rd June at 2.45pm by special train in order to
be in London the next day for the Trooping of the Colour.

The Town Hall (R. B. Pearce, Architect) was declared open by the Prince of Wales on the day
following his arrival, Wednesday 31st May 1882, at a ceremony in the court room followed by a
dejeuner for 350 guests in the Assembly Room, one of the finest interiors in Eastern England and
a measure, like the entire building, of the town’s prosperity in the late 19th century. Nevertheless,
at the time, there were objections to the new Town Hall on grounds of both cost and its foreign-
looking, Scandinavian design. Pevsner thought it compared poorly with the grand town halls of
northern England although, somewhat surprisingly, he approved of its pleasantly asymmetrical
north-facing front. HRH’s visit was chiefly in connection with the militia encamped upon the South
Denes and it was only when the Corporation realised that that would coincide with the completion
of the ‘New Municipal Offices’ that the approach was made to the Prince to declare open the
Town Hall also. Among the distinguished persons present was the Lord Mayor of London, holder
of the highest civic office in the country.

The Independent account continues in similar detailed vein giving, amongst many other details,
the guest list of those present at the dejeuner in the Assembly Room, and also the fact that the
red sandstone used in the building’s construction came from St Bees. What could not be
foreseen of course was that within a short while there would be tremendous problems with the
settlement of this very heavy building on made-ground so close to the river.

The description of the reception of the Prince upon the platform is a reflection of the class-
structure of society and of the Army at that time. Of the four officers present, one was a
nobleman and two more were the sons of noblemen. We are told that the arrival, was of a strictly
private nature. The procession from the station to Shadingfield Lodge was anything but. In the
long history of this ancient borough, few visitors can have been received with greater military
splendour and pomp than these arrivals of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.

The Prince’s arrival here in 1899 was an even grander spectacle, as reported in the Independent
on 27th May. On that occasion he was accompanied by HSH Major-General Prince Alexander of
Teck (1874–1957), brother of the future Queen Mary, created Earl of Athlone after relinquishing
his German title, and subsequently Governor-General of the Union of South Africa and, later, of
Canada). Also present were General Sir William Gatacre (1843-1906), hero of Omdurman and
Khartoum, the Earl of Albemarle and Colonel Lord Coke as well as, the newspaper reported,
HRH’s trusty servant, and equerry. On the train on that occasion, there were no less than six
senior officers of the railway representing the London, Ipswich and Norwich divisions of the Great
Eastern Railway. This time, there was a civic welcome on the platform, with the Mayor, Dr James
Ryley ‘in gold chain’, the Deputy Mayor and the Town Clerk being presented to the Prince. This
was also a naval occasion, the gold braid of the officers’ uniforms contrasting with the attire of the
Army who appeared more ready for service than ceremonial. Outside, on the forecourt,
detachments of the Artillery presented a royal salute, over 100 men in all, half on the north side,
half on the left. Two bands played the National Anthem before three carriages left for
Shadingfield Lodge with a mounted escort.

Two weeks earlier, on 13th May, the Independent had reported the departure from South Town
Station of Major-General Viscount Garnet Wolseley (1833-1913), a later Commander-in-Chief of
the Army, veteran of the Crimea, Lucknow, China, South Africa, and Canada, at a time when it
was feared the United States might attempt to seize her northern neighbour, who had arrived the
previous day at Vauxhall Station from Norwich, again in connection with the militia. With rain
falling steadily, after luncheon, the Mayor placed his carriage at the service of Lord Wolseley for
the drive to South Town Station which was reached at four minutes past four and with utmost
punctuality, Mr Brian Bell, superintending, the train steamed away bound for Essex. The General
was travelling to North Station, Colchester upon further military duties (see post). These military
men were, in those days, celebratory figures and crowds often assembled to see them on
occasions of this sort. Wolseley Road is nearby. Gatacre Road runs through the site of the High

William Gladstone (1809-98) arrived at Vauxhall Station from Norwich during May 1890 on a tour
of the eastern counties whilst a guest of Jeremiah Colman at whose residence, The Clyffe at
Corton, he was accommodated. Press descriptions of his arrival at Lowestoft Station, where he
addressed the assembled crowd for half an hour, and at Great Yarmouth are as detailed as those
quoted in this piece. I can find no record of V.I.P. arrivals at Beach Station, although it might be
reflected that the Midland & Great Northern system gave a straight run from there to Hillington, its
closest station to Sandringham.

In 1880, Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh (1844-1900), as Admiral Superintendent of Reserves,

came to Great Yarmouth twice, on one occasion arriving at South Town Station, and on the other
by road from North Norfolk, where he had been engaged in inspection of the Coastguard. At the
end of the second visit, whilst waiting to leave Vauxhall Station, a woman, no doubt mistaking his
naval uniform for that of a railway official, asked HRH whether the Norwich train had departed.
Prince Alfred took it all in good spirit, whilst Mr Dowey, who seems to have been responsible for
both Great Eastern Railway and Yarmouth stations, put her right and she then became of as
much interest to the spectators as the Prince had been.

The Prince of Wales wore his uniform as Honorary Colonel of the Norfolk Artillery when, in 1879,
he was present at Charing Cross Station upon the return to this country of the body of the Prince
Imperial (Napoleon Eugene Louis Jean Joseph Bonaparte, 1856-1879), great-nephew of
Napoleon Bonaparte. This young man, only child of the late Louis Napoleon III, Pretender to the
imperial throne of France, and the Bonapartists’ last hope of a restored monarchy, had been killed
on active service with the British Army in the Zulu Wars. Since, following the exile of his parents,
in this country, the Prince Imperial had trained with the Royal Artillery, it was appropriate that the
Prince of Wales should have worn the Norfolk Artillery’s uniform on the occasion of the


In this article, I follow the practice of writing ‘South Town’ as two words when referring to the
Station, a practice, historically correct, and followed by the railway in splendid isolation, until the
cessation of its operations here in 1970. With regard to the parish, I write the name as a single
word, the form which became the norm at about the start of the 20th century.

An article by Chris Wright listing royal visitors to Great Yarmouth over several centuries appears
in the society Journals for 2016 and 2017.

In the next issue of the Journal, will appear an article about South Town Station, its history and
life, and an architectural appraisal, being an account of its role as terminus of the East Suffolk
Railway. An extensive bibliography will be appended to it.

South Town Railway Station
its History, Life and an Architectural Appraisal;
The East Suffolk Railway
Trevor Nicholls

South Town Station was opened by the East Suffolk Railway on 1st June 1859 with the
completion of the direct line from Great Yarmouth to Ipswich via Beccles, but was operated from
the outset by the Eastern Counties Railway, itself to become a component company of the Great
Eastern Railway, incorporated in 1862. The East Suffolk system had been built in stages, initially
from Ipswich to Woodbridge (1854) and Halesworth to Haddiscoe (also 1854). The ‘missing
links’, Woodbridge to Halesworth and Haddiscoe to Great Yarmouth were completed in 1859 with
the branches to Framlingham, Snape (freight only), Leiston (and soon afterwards Aldeburgh) and
Lowestoft. The Waveney Valley branch opened a few years later and that to Felixstowe in 1877.

The Yarmouth Independent was fulsome in its praise of the new terminus and of the line itself
with its smartly fitted up carriages which, the Company said, it was to keep for use on this line:
The handsome terminus at Southtown … is an admirable ornament to the town. Indeed it was,
being, as it were, an architectural full-stop to the double row of substantial houses that had been
built during the previous half century on the adjoining tree-lined turnpike road as Great
Yarmouth’s prosperous merchants moved out of the fetid warrens of the old walled town into a
fashionable suburb. The new building in its white gault brick, Suffolk whites, must have looked
stunning, a hint of the grandeur that was Rome amongst the vernacular. Today, the largest
building in Great Yarmouth, in the material, is St Spyridon’s Church, formerly St Peter’s, which
pre-dated the station by a quarter of a century, but the exterior of which is now badly discoloured.

As is often the case at continental railway stations, the arriving passenger emerged onto a wide
forecourt. Within sight, a minute’s walk away, was the quay with its fine old buildings, or as the
press many years later was to describe it: Yarmouth’s Whitehall, Threadneedle Street, St Martin’s
-Le-Grand and Chancery Lane in a row. Holmes and Parkin (I Remember Yarmouth) give an
almost elegiac description of arriving here in the first half of the 20th century, when the station
was thronged with people, which is also how I remember it in the summers of the 1950s and 60s.

This building was not the work of a jobbing tradesman but of a master. Standing quite alone, self-
sufficient at the very start of the turnpike road whose traffic the railway had seized, having neither
regard for, nor need of, its parochial neighbours, just as a Roman triumphal arch has no need of
protecting side walls because the peace has been obtained upon the conqueror’s absolute terms,
it is nevertheless a comparatively small building. It does not shout its presence, for the voice of
authority never shouts, figuratively or literally. It had no need to. Although in the painting
depicted in last year’s Journal, it stands in its own shadow, we are reminded of Ruskin’s
observation (The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849) that: No architecture is so haughty as that
which is simple).

The Station ‘blocked’ the sight-line along Bridge Road, a prime device in elegant urban design
and practice. There is a photograph in the Great Yarmouth Central Library collection, probably
one of the earliest taken in the town, showing part of the roadway of the 1854 Haven Bridge,
looking west. The 18th century houses referred to below have gone pursuant to the compulsory
purchase powers conferred by the Yarmouth & Haddiscoe Railway Act 1855, but before work on
the construction of the station had begun. The photograph was thus probably taken between
1856 and 1858. It is a view towards open country that would not be obtainable again from this
spot until 1977. The asymmetry of the station façade is a mystery; it can hardly have been due to
lack of space on a site, in 1859 on the edge of open country, not that the early railways were ever
averse to exercising their powers of compulsory requisition granted them by Acts of Parliament.
In the event, the presence of two bays to the south of the central section and only one to the
north, did not jar from a visual point of view as much as a written description suggests it might
have. The building was mentioned by Pevsner in his original The Buildings of England (1951)
although, since its demolition, it has been omitted from later editions. Pevsner, given to acerbic,
Photo courtesy of Peter Jones
fastidious criticism, approved of it, and, coming from him, this is high praise: Southtown Station
1859, for the Eastern Counties Railway, a neat, very satisfactory design, yellow brick, and still
essentially Georgian (1962 edition, pp 149).

The neo-classical design was popular from the outset in early railway buildings. Philip Hardwick’s
(1792-1870) monumental Euston Arch and Great Hall (London and Birmingham Railway, 1837)
set the tone for many lesser, but no less worthy, buildings: journeys that had previously begun in
grimy inn-yards now began in surroundings that took their inspiration from antiquity. The
mundane was, with the architecture of the new form of transport, frequently replaced with the
perfect design, balance and proportion of 2,000 years before. For some people, the prospect of
rail travel was still scary. South Town Station spoke solidity, trustworthiness and reliability. In the
cream trim used in both the façade and the interior, was possibly an echo of the Nash terraces at
Regent’s Park, even of ancient Rome and Athens.

The architect is unknown. A single index card at Great Yarmouth Central Library tentatively
suggests that he might have been Robert Sinclair. I would have thought that another contender
would be Frederick Barnes (1814-1898), the Ipswich architect responsible for the splendid Grade
ll listed, Elizabethan-Jacobean revival stations of the Ipswich and Bury line (1845) and still in use
today. An even better contender would have been the Ipswich architect Sancton Wood (1815-
1886), who designed some of the East Suffolk Line stations built during the second stage of its
construction, that is, post-1854.

The new building outshone Great Yarmouth’s first station at Vauxhall, opened by the Norfolk
Railway in 1844. The Norwich to Great Yarmouth line was the first in Norfolk, but its terminus at
Great Yarmouth for all that it originally had a neat Italianate frontage building similar too, but
smaller than, that at Ipswich, was utilitarian, cramped and uninspiring. It was bombed during the
Second World War and extensively rebuilt to handle the traffic diverted with the closure of the
Midlands & Great Northern system in 1959. Some of the original iron pillars and arches of 1844
remain at Vauxhall station to this present day.

The Yarmouth and Haddiscoe Railway Act of 1855, which sanctioned the completion of this part
of the East Suffolk system, authorised the building of South Town Station: on or near the front
garden of Sophia Chevalier. Sir Edmund Lacon, who put up money for the line, said that: it would
be of immense value to Yarmouth, although he is unlikely to have been unaware that the
construction of the terminus would entail the demolition of the house in which he, or perhaps his
father, had been born.
C. J. Palmer, with characteristic thoroughness, deals with this site in his magisterial Perlustration
of Great Yarmouth (Vol 111, 1875). He says that the station occupies the site of two houses that
were built in 1776 by John Green of Wroxham, the first speculative builder in Southtown, under a
lease of 99 years granted by George Anson Esq. The house to the north was purchased in 1795
by William Taylor Esq. who, in 1804, sold it to the late Sir E. K. Lacon, Bart, then Captain Lacon,
who resided in it after his marriage, and in the above mentioned house, the present baronet was
born. This house was purchased in 1810 by Colonel Gustav Belford, who died there in 1816,
aged 68. When required by the railway, it was the property of Mrs Chevalier, elder daughter of
John Farr Esq of Cove Hall, Suffolk and widow of the Rev’d Clement Chevalier, Rector of
Badingham, Suffolk. The Chevaliers are descended from a French family of this name. Antoine
Rodolphe Chevalier, a zealous Huguenot born at Montchamps in 1507, fled into England and
became French tutor to Princess, afterwards Queen, Elizabeth.
The other house to the south was, at the commencement of the 19th century, the property and
residence of David Simpson Esq, corn merchant, who died in 1836 aged 86. His only daughter
and sole heir married George Penrice Esq. MD. It was subsequently the residence of Samuel
Jay Esq., Mayor in 1839. When required for the purposes of the railway, this house was the
property of H. V. Worship Esq. and in the occupation of the Rev’d Mark Winters. A photograph,
probably one of the earliest to have been taken in the town, and in the Central Library collection
having been taken from the western approach to the 1854 Haven Bridge, the railings of which are
visible, shows the site of the two houses as vacant and open country beyond. It must have been
taken between 1856 and 1858; the view would not have been available again from this spot until
demolition of the station in November 1977. It is interesting to note that directly southward of the
station site, prior to the Reformation, was a monastic cell, St Mary ultra pontem (over the bridge),
which name is probably the origin of the dedication of the present parish church.

According to the Rev’d E. C. Brooks, late Rector of Somerleyton and biographer of Sir Samuel
Morton Peto, Bart, (1809-1889) at the time of the conversion of the East Suffolk Railway from a
couple of short lines (Ipswich to Woodbridge, 1854) and Halesworth to Haddiscoe (also 1854), to
the complete system finished in 1859, prices were rising not least because of the Board of
Trade’s requirement that as a main line, there be double track from Great Yarmouth to Ipswich.
There was cost cutting in the building of stations. That at Beccles, an 1854 building would prove
inadequate once the route became a main line. Was
there skimping at South Town? Peto was a large
shareholder in the company, contractor to it, owner of
the land through which the Suffolk section of the Great
Yarmouth and Haddiscoe line passed (the
Somerleyton estate) and lord of the manor in which
the station stood. His favourite architectural style was
Italianate, but it was not adopted for the Great
Yarmouth station. Also missing is a tower; in the
language of railway architecture, the symbol of a
terminus. As stated above, the façade was
asymmetrical, that is with two bays to the south of the
centre block, but only one to the north, which, as
previously noted, seems unlikely to have been owing
to any limitations of the ample site then on the edge of
open country.

The partially enclosed concourse interior was

characterised by three high walls of double arches, the
larger, outer ones being ‘blind’ and the lower, smaller
ones containing doors and windows. Photographs
show that there were at least 16 of these arches on
both the north and south sides, the taller ones being
Photo courtesy of Peter Jones approximately 25 feet high. There were five
corresponding double arches on the shorter east side
with additionally, a central ‘crowning’ double arch
containing a semi-circular window above the cream-painted architrave within the triangle formed
by the overall roof, the outer arch again ‘blind’, facing arriving passengers and making a centre
focus to the whole elegant, perfectly balanced and proportioned composition. Architecture is
concerned with the enclosure of space, of the emptiness which it fills, in the words of the ancient
Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tse. In sum, the interior was a harmonious masterpiece of the
bricklayers’ craftsmanship, of beauty in utility. The enamel advertising signs that appear in old
photographs needed only to have been replaced by tapestries, statuary and Old Masters, for this
interior to have taken on the semblance of the Great Hall of a castle or of the mansion house of a
country estate. The exterior, even with the original full-width canopy, certainly gave the
impression of being the latter, especially when the trees that had begun growing in the front
gardens of the two 18th century houses were still there. As R. S. Joby says, South Town was
Yarmouth’s most commodious station, and as the Yarmouth Mercury would observe over a
century later, in 1967, one of the most distinguished examples of Victorian architecture in the
town. On 1st June 1859, a celebratory dinner was held at the Royal Hotel, Lowestoft to mark the
completion of the East Suffolk Railway and its branches. The Hotel was another Peto enterprise
being then the grandest building in his speculative ‘suburb by the sea’. The Royal was overtaken
in opulence and size with the opening of the Empire Hotel on Kirkley Cliff in 1900.

The line, from the day of its opening, became the principal route between Great Yarmouth and
London. The trains were much quicker than the stagecoach and the Mail which had taken six
hours to Ipswich compared with two by rail. The journey to London had taken 15 hours both by
sea or, as Sir James Paget (1814-99) would recall in old age, fifteen freezing hours on the coach.
Perhaps as a young man, like David Copperfield in fiction, he made the journey from Great
Yarmouth ‘on the box’. In October 1859, with winter coming on, John Cole, the last coachman
competing with the railway, gave up. What must have been his thoughts as he saw this new,
supremely confident building being erected? He was the original for Tony Weller, in The Pickwick

Yet, how soon are the mighty fallen! Sixty or so years later, the station would see coming
towards it, over the Haven Bridge, the first motor coach service between Great Yarmouth and
London. A Yarmouth child born in say, 1839 and 80 years of age in 1919, would have seen both
the last stagecoach and the first motor coach. Exactly 100 years after Cole threw in the towel the
Yarmouth Mercury of 9th October 1959 reported that redundancy notices had been served on 62
employed on the Great Yarmouth to Beccles line, 41 of whom were in the motive power
department. The same issue announced the appointment of a new stationmaster at South Town.

And so, South Town remained the principal station for London from 1859 until 1962. As early as
1855, even as the East Suffolk system was being developed, Mosely, the Great Yarmouth
manager of the Eastern Counties Railway, had criticised the projected new route for duplicating
the existing line via Norwich. The South Town route had the edge by about 20 miles. This insight
would be prescient.

Airports are bland, soulless places. A railway station by contrast has poetry, what the French call:
la nostalgie de la gare, romance and drama; personal, local and national. As Longfellow says, we
cannot buy with gold, the old associations. If those walls could have spoken! Through this
station, day in and day out, for over a century, passed all conditions of men, the indigent and, as
in the painting, the highest-ranking in the land, the virtuous and the vicious, saints and sinners; a
long costume drama in many acts, of private lives and of local, regional, national, even world
history. In the Norfolk Film Archive, there is a very brief clip of the Duke and Duchess of York
(afterwards King George VI and Queen Elizabeth) arriving at South Town in 1931.

From here, Great Yarmouth’s sons went off to the Boer War, the Great War, the Second World
War and other conflicts, some perhaps leaving on a lovely evening like this one in 1882. This
building witnessed their return. Upon these curving platforms they stepped and with what relief
those who waited must have first glimpsed them. Yet there would be those who would have no
occasion to wait here, whose last memories of a husband, son, brother or fiancé would be of
departure, of a last embrace on a crowded concourse beneath those arches, of a young face in a
carriage window, of steadily receding clouds of steam piling high above the rising ground where
the north-eastern-most corner of Suffolk slopes down to the Yare, of a telegram imparting the
dreaded news of the greatest of all sacrifices, of a grief which the lapse of time can never wholly

At happier times came honeymooners, both arriving and departing, (somebody tipped the driver
to sound the engine’s horn as the train drew out of platform three one September evening in 1962
as my newly-married cousin left with her husband), tradesmen and casual labourers, commercial
travellers, day trippers and holidaymakers by the hundreds of thousands came this way. These
last two groups, with those arriving at the other two stations, were to make Great Yarmouth the
resort it became.

‘Scout’, writing in the Yarmouth Mercury in 1967, observed that South Town was, too, the station
of businessmen. On many a morning, half a dozen or so of these men could be seen hastening
to catch the morning train to London, often with business to do over breakfast en route. He
recalled speaking to a man who had been a steward on this line in the Edwardian period. Great
Yarmouth’s businessmen, strong characters all, regarded the catering staff as their personal
retainers who knew just how they liked their eggs and bacon cooked, and who knew who would
want to play chess, draughts and dominoes with whom afterwards. The Great Eastern Railway
introduced dining cars on the Great Yarmouth services in 1899 and the company’s catering, of
which the very best was on the continental boat trains to Harwich, quickly became regarded by
connoisseurs as being of the highest quality: Great Yarmouth kippers or bloaters, toast,
marmalade and coffee and a copy of the day’s Eastern Daily Press as, the dawn in russet mantel
clad breaks o’er ‘yon eastward hill, to quote Shakespeare in Hamlet, in this case, the Herringfleet
Hills, and the morning express to London sped into its journey. The fastest trains were put on in
1904, 121.75 miles, non-stop from South Town to Liverpool Street in two hours 25 minutes, a
time that, to my knowledge, has never been bettered by a scheduled service between the two

Photo courtesy of Peter Jones

The building was damaged by enemy bombing during 1941 and a carriage was overturned. In
1943, a high-explosive bomb that fell on the track was defused by a naval officer who happened
to be waiting on the platform. The Great Eastern Railway signal-box was damaged by enemy
bombing and rebuilt in a Moderne/Deco style. It stood on the north side of the tracks a short
distance beyond the platform ends. It is a matter of local lore that in the East Coast floods of
1953, the signalman was marooned in it for 24 hours. A photograph appears in my “Art Nouveau,
Art Deco” etc. article in the 2016 society Journal.

During 1953 and 1954, following years of neglect and wartime damage, British Railways
modernised South Town Station in what the Mercury described as, the forefront of railway
fashion, the first such scheme in the country. The passenger was no longer to be met by dingy
paintwork, smoky, sooty platforms and depressing waiting rooms. The old wooden roof was
replaced by a light steel structure, the concourse was extended to both avoid overcrowding at
busy times and to prevent locomotives standing in an enclosed space. Two years’ work had
resulted in the walls being restored to their original whiteness. The whole impression was of
freshness and light. Neatly added to the north side was a new wing containing a waiting room
and buffet furnished in 1950s’ contemporary style on the ground floor and offices and storage
space upstairs. This addition had had the potential to spoil the integrity of the original design both
inside and out but, being tucked away and set back from the frontage, it in fact both achieved its
object and from a visual point of view, avoided jarring.

The outcome was, as the press said, echoing its report of 1859, a station the town could be proud
to have as its gateway. South Town especially when new, and again after the refurbishments 95
years later, had another quality; class, for it had been designed by someone who understood the
strict rules of classical architecture and who knew that in the blind arches and the pediment were
two and a half thousand years of history. And yet, sic transit Gloria mundi, within 16 years of
renovation, it would be closed, and within 24 it would have vanished.

In 1955, pre-Beeching, British Railways announced its ‘modernisation plan’, which included the
elimination of duplicating routes. This contained the seed of the end for South Town Station. In
November 1959, after only two objections had been lodged, the direct route between Great
Yarmouth and Beccles via St Olaves was closed and trains were diverted via Lowestoft, for which
scheme the coast line of 1903 was improved to take the heavy locomotives and rolling-stock.
Gorleston was the chief beneficiary of this arrangement, but the journey time from Great
Yarmouth to Beccles, and thus to points south, shot up from 17 minutes by the fastest trains, to
50 by the slowest.

Moreover, the East Suffolk Line was a ‘slow’ line with a 60 mph speed limit. It had been built
cheaply, against the grain of the land, uphill and down dale from river valley to river valley,
following the contours of the land, which meant sharp curves and steep inclines. There were two
swing-bridges over the River Waveney at St Olaves and Beccles with, until their rebuilding in
1926, dead-slow speed limits, and which required a pilot man on every train. The new bridges, by
the way, were superb pieces of engineering. They were in use for just 33 years. In 1962, the
demolition contractors reported them as being in pristine condition, a testimony to railway
maintenance standards of the time, which is borne out by photographs of the Great Yarmouth to
Beccles line taken in the weeks before closure.

Some of the line’s gradients were as steep as, although not as long as, those on the trans-
Pennine routes. The Norwich line, by contrast, followed level ground for mile upon mile, took
advantage of the Gipping Valley and, with the advent of the new Britannia class locomotives in
1951, speeds of up to 90 mph could be maintained. With heavy trains it often became quicker to
travel from Great Yarmouth to London over it. By contrast, until the advent of the Britannias, the
longest passenger trains over the East Suffolk route often required two locomotives between
Great Yarmouth and Ipswich. A ‘banking’ engine was kept at Beccles to assist heavy fish trains
up the long, steep gradient, known to generations of railwaymen as Beccles Bank, whereby the
line climbs out of the Waveney Valley. Compared with this, the Norwich route was a billiard table.

In 1962, British Rail switched its principal London to Great Yarmouth trains to the Norwich route,
thence to Vauxhall Station instead of South Town. There remained a slow evening train from the
latter to London and, on summer Saturdays until 1966, as many as eight or nine trains continued
to run from Liverpool Street to South Town via Lowestoft and Gorleston. On these days, the
station took on something of its old bustling atmosphere. Curiously, although there are many
photographs of the station, including those in Brodribb’s authoritative history and White’s books,
the only one I have seen of holiday crowds is in my own collection deposited at the Norfolk
Record Office in 2014. It was taken during August 1965 and shows the arrival of one of these
final summer Saturday holidaymaker specials.

The Great Eastern Railway, the London North Eastern Railway and British Rail all used the East
Suffolk line, not only as a main line, but also as a diversionary route (Ipswich to Haddiscoe to
Norwich, and, in September 1968, Ipswich to Lowestoft to Norwich) when the Ipswich to Norwich
line was out of commission at the same time as the Cambridge alternative.

On a Saturday afternoon in early September 1966, with the ending of the summer timetables, the
last train left South Town for Liverpool Street. Thereafter, trains ran only to Lowestoft over a
single track. South Town Station became a sorry sight, the main building used for a few years by
the Santa Fe oil company as a depot, but the surrounds derelict, vandalised and an eyesore. The
Borough Council bought the station for £116,300 in February 1969. Railway services ceased in
May 1970 and, in the last days, the few passengers had to go round the back of the station to
reach the one platform remaining in use, number four. The building was demolished during
November 1977. I saw it in ruins; it had gone the same way that the Euston Arch had gone in
1962, the demolition of the latter being described as, the great act of official vandalism in Britain
in the twentieth century.

In the next decade, a dual carriageway, Pasteur Road, was built through the site at Southtown.
The Great Yarmouth Warehousing Company asked the Council if they could buy the station
clock, which appears in the painting, for use in a future building of theirs. This was apparently
refused as the building was not stipulated. Councillor G. Holmes said that he always set his
watch by the clock, which was one of the town’s best public timepieces. The clock, it was said,
would go into store until a suitable location for it could be found.

Today, a blue plaque unveiled by the Great Yarmouth Archaeological and Local History Society in
2010 on the wall of the new medical centre in Pasteur Road, refers to the station. The plaque
actually faces the site of the north wall of the 1953 extension. At the National Railway Museum,
York, is one of the benches made for the station and with fish or dolphins in the wrought iron
ends. A slight rise in the roadway where it passes over the footings of the station is the only other
clue as to the former presence here of one of Great Yarmouth’s finest buildings. Recommended
for closure by Beeching in 1963, the East Suffolk Line survives today between Lowestoft and
Ipswich. Its Felixstowe branch carries 150,000 containers per year.

As I said in the article in last year’s Journal, here was one of Great Yarmouth’s most handsome
buildings. Was, after 1859, any building erected in the town equal to it in either pedigree or plain,
simple good taste? Scaled down to the proportions suited to an English town with a long and
impressive history, South Town Station bore testimony to the truth of the adage about first
impressions. If the destruction of the Euston Arch and Great Hall in 1962 was an architectural
loss of national consequence, and the proposed demolition of St Pancras Station and the Midland
Grand Hotel, an intention, mercifully thwarted, of equal philistinism, was not the station’s fate a
comparable local misfortune?



Allen, C. J., The Great Eastern Railway, Ian Allan Ltd., second edition, 1961
MacDonald, R. J., History of the Dress of the Royal Regiment of Artillery 1625-1897, Sotheran,
Meeres, Frank, Great Yarmouth & Gorleston Through Time, Amberley, 2009
Palmer, C. J., Perlustration of Great Yarmouth Vol lll, 1875
Tooke, Colin, Southtown & Gorleston, Poppyland, 1994
Cooper, J. M., The East Suffolk Railway, Oakwood, 1982
White, M. R., Rails to the Coast, published privately, 2004
White, M. R., The Yarmouth Train, 2005
White, M. R., The Lowestoft Train, 2002
Ecclestone, A. W., A Yarmouth Miscellany, published privately, 1974
Brookes, Rev’d Dr E. C., Sir Samuel Morton Peto, Bart, Bury Clerical Society, 1996
Holmes, J., & Parkin, D., I Remember Yarmouth, Rushmere, 1995
Brodribb, J., The East Suffolk Railway, OPC, 2003
Joby, R. J., Forgotten Railways of East Anglia, 1997
Richards, J., & Mackenzie, J., The Railway Station, a Social History, OUP, 1986
Adderson, R., & Kenworth G., Saxmundham to Yarmouth, Middleton, 2001
Adderson, R., & Kenworth G., Ipswich to Saxmundham
McBride, J., A Yarmouth Compendium, published privately, 2012
Cole, Emily, A Concise History of Architectural Styles (ed), A. and C. Black, 2003
Yarmouth Independent, 11th June 1859, 4th June 1882, 13th May 1899, 27th May 1899, 15th
April 1916 and 24th October 1930
Yarmouth Mercury, 18thJuly 1952, 16th July 1954, 9th Oct 1959, 1st Oct 2010, 17th December
2010 and 19th April 2013
Lowestoft Journal, 15th April 1916
Hedges, A. A. C., Yarmouth is an Antient Town, 1959, revised Boon, M., & Meeres, F.,Blackall,
Johnson, Boris,The Dream of Rome, Hope Perennial, 2007
Mee, Arthur, The King’s England – Suffolk, Hodder & Stoughton, 1949
Highsmith, C. & Landphair, T., Union Station, Chelsea, 2005
Census of Population 1881, Public Record Office, Kew
Directory of Great Yarmouth 1886, Cook
Gordon, D. I., A Regional History of Railways of Gt Britain, Vol 5, the Eastern Counties, David &
Charles, 1968
May, Trevor, Victorian Railway Workers in “History Workshop Journal 1976 quoted in An
Economic Social History of Great Britain 1760-1990”, second edition, Longmans, 1995
Pevsner, Nicklaus, The Buildings of England, Penguin, 1951 (re-published many times)
Conti, Flavio, Greek Art, MacDonald, 1978
Burke’s Peerage & Baronetage 2000, Macmillan
Great Yarmouth Corporation Minutes, 1900
Roberts, J. M., Europe 1880-1945, Longman, 1970
Diary of the Norfolk Artillery 1853-1894 at Millennium Library, Norwich, ref C355.31
Grey-Turner, G., The Paget Tradition, West Bros, Mitcham, 1938
General History and Description of Norfolk 1883 White’s Directories, (Military organisation in the
Illustrated London News, 10th June 1882

The British, Nelson and Trafalgar Schools First World War Memorial
Paul P Davies

In 2014, Michael Wadsworth detailed a brief history of these three schools and the discovery of
the memorial in the Great Yarmouth Borough Council’s stores. 1 This memorial is thought to have
been removed from St. George’s Primary School in the 1980s during building works. In around
2002, a member of the public gave the Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust the memorial, which
had been stored in a barn. It was then stored by the council until 2013. As it was very dirty it was
cleaned and restored using soapy water, toothbrushes and cloths by Great Yarmouth College
students under the supervision of the Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust.

On 10th November 2017, the curate of Great

Yarmouth Minster officially re-dedicated the memorial
at St. George’s Primary School during an assembly
of all the pupils. The Chairman of the Society, Paul
Davies, told the children about the history of the
memorial and the three schools. The children read
out the names of all the men who are named on the
memorial, and some pupils read out poems and
letters they had written about the war. Ancestors of
some of the men who lost their lives attended the
service and laid wreaths. The memorial was
unveiled by a former Mayor of Great Yarmouth,
Councillor Marlene Fairhead. The restoration and
the erection was sponsored by a grant from Historic
England, who had organised a project for the children
of the school studying the First World War.

The dedication on the memorial reads: In Honour of

the Old Boys of the British, Nelson and Trafalgar
Schools and displays the names of 105 former pupils
of these three schools, who were killed in the First
World War. Amongst those named are several
brothers. The majority were killed in France and
Belgium, a few in Palestine and in the Middle East.
Many were serving in the Royal Navy. Along with
this memorial are a dozen or so wooden boards
about six-foot high by a foot wide, with the names of
685 former pupils of the three schools, who served in
the war and survived. These remain in storage as
there is no room to erect them at the school.

These three schools, the Trafalgar Road School (1875-1907), the British School (1813-1906) and
the Nelson Board School in St. Peter’s Road were very close together and no longer exist with
these names.1 The Nelson Board School (built in 1894) is the only one still standing and is now
St. George’s Primary School.1 The original St. George’s School was built in 1877 in St. Peter’s
Plain and had not been used since it was evacuated in 1940 during the Second World War. In
1946, the site was taken over to extend the Great Yarmouth Hospital. So, the Nelson Board
School was re-named St. George’s Primary School.

Restoring this memorial is a fitting way to honour the sacrifice of those who were killed and it is
pleasing that once again to see it erected in St. George’s Primary School. This is the second war
memorial which has been returned to a school by Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust. The
former Church Road School war memorial is now situated in another Gorleston school.

A total of 1,472 men from Great Yarmouth were killed in the First World War.

The British,
Nelson and
Schools First
World War

Wadsworth, Michael, Great
Yarmouth Archaeology and
Local History, pp 138-140, 2014

The Artillery Volunteers
Colin Tooke

On 1st December 2017, a blue plaque was placed on a building in Artillery Square, a building that
for many years had been the drill hall of the 1st Norfolk Artillery Volunteers. The Volunteer Force
was a part-time citizen army raised in 1859, later becoming part of the Territorial Army and
eventually serving with the Regular Army in anti-aircraft batteries in World War 2.

In 1858, the country appeared to be on the verge of war with France and in May the following
year the Secretary of State authorised the formation of Rifle and Artillery Volunteer Corps. These
forces were in addition to the existing militia, who had been re-formed five years earlier and had a
permanent staff based in the town at the militia barracks, built by the Government on the South
Denes in 1854. The new volunteer corps were men who were liable to be called out in case of an
actual invasion, or the appearance of an enemy force off the coast. While under arms, volunteers
were subject to military law and entitled to receive army pay. The men had to pay for their arms
and equipment, which were provided by the War Office, and were allowed to choose the design of
their dress uniform. Each man was required to attend eight days drill and exercise in four
months, or 28 days drill or exercise within a year. The corps would rise, and be disbanded, as
needed for the defence of the country.

A corps of Rifle Volunteers was formed in the town on 1st

September 1859 and, later that month, on 28th September, a corps
of Artillery Volunteers was formed. The artillery corps was raised to
man coastal guns and forts. The artillery unit, known as the 1st
Norfolk Artillery Volunteers, was placed under the command of
Captain Samuel Charles Marsh, who had been mayor of the town in
1843 and again in 1852. There was no lack of recruits for the
artillery and, by the end of the year, 65 men had enrolled. The
dress uniform chosen by the artillery consisted of a dark blue tunic
with sky blue facings, edged with white cord and worn with a
bearskin busby with white plume. This dress uniform was worn on
ceremonial occasions until mobilization in 1914. The battery’s first
headquarters were at the Corn Hall in Howard Street, at the rear of
the Duke’s Head Hotel. Two outlying detachments were also
formed, one in Ormesby and another in Reedham, each with their
own 32-pounder gun.

When first set up, the volunteers engaged a sergeant from the
regular Royal Artillery to assist with training, although this had to be
paid from company funds. By 1860, enough musicians had joined
the corps to make it possible to form a military band. Recruitment
continued and it soon became possible to form two companies and,
at a meeting held at the Victoria Pleasure Gardens on 4th February
1860, Lieutenant Foreman and Gunner Morant were promoted to
Captain and Lieutenant of the additional 2nd Battery. On Good
Friday that year, the rifles and the artillery volunteers drilled
A sergeant of the Yarmouth together for the first time on the South Denes and it was estimated
battery in full dress uniform in that 8,000 to 10,000 spectators attended the occasion.
1903. The original design had
been a dark blue tunic with In September 1861 the volunteers, both rifle and artillery, attended
sky-blue facings but in 1879 a review of the Norfolk Volunteers at Holkham Park. On the return
scarlet, as seen here, was train trip there was trouble when the artillery contingent from Great
substituted for the sky-blue. Yarmouth was reported to have: behaved disgracefully in a most
This uniform was worn only on unsoldierly manner, firing their rifles inside the carriages, swearing
ceremonial occasions. abominably and drinking copiously. It was also reported that, when
back in the town, the men had: annoyed and disturbed the
inhabitants by an irregular firing of musketry. In November, the volunteers salvaged a boat in
trouble off the beach and earned themselves £7 salvage money, much to the annoyance of the
local beachmen. On 25th December 1861, a service was held at the parish church to mark the
death of Albert, Prince Consort, earlier that month. The artillery volunteers fired a salute from the
South Battery, one minute guns for one hour.

In 1862, the Norfolk Revue of Volunteers was held on the South Denes, with 3,262 troops from
three brigades taking part. After the review, manoeuvres were held with the artillery firing blanks
from the South Battery guns. It was estimated that 30,000 spectators had travelled to the South
Denes to watch the revue and the manoeuvres. The men were later given a dinner on St
George’s Denes, where 17 tables were
set up. Lacon’s brewery gave each
man a quart of beer.

Large encampments of troops on the

denes were to become a regular
feature for the remainder of the
century, and notices were posted to
warn the fishing industry not to spread
their nets out to dry on the denes
during the period of the encampments.

In 1863, there was a proposal that the

rifle and artillery volunteers should
amalgamate, but the rifles were
opposed to the idea. In September
that year the band, who by now had An encampment on the North Denes. In the left background
recruited more members, was is the Golf Club house
professional enough to play at the
Vauxhall pleasure gardens.

In 1867, the rifle volunteers had raised

enough money to build themselves a
drill hall on the corner of St Peter’s
Plain and York Road. The Corporation
then gave the artillery volunteers the
option on a piece of ground just north
of this site but, although the option
remained open for the next ten years,
the artillery were unable to raise the
necessary money. In 1868, the men
attended the first Volunteer Revue at
Windsor, in the presence of Queen
Victoria. In 1873, the establishment of
the 1st Norfolk Volunteer Artillery was
reduced to the original one battery.

The artillery volunteers had been

authorised to use the guns of the North
and the South Batteries, the preserve
of the Norfolk Militia Artillery, for firing
A Volunteer encampment on the South Denes c1895, seen
practice. These batteries had been
built in 1782 to protect the town from from the Gorleston side of the river. The tents are inside the
any invasion from the sea. The South white railings of the Race Course. Volunteers came from
Battery stood where the southern end many parts of the country for their annual camp
of Harbord Crescent now is, and the
site of the North Battery is now
Collingwood Road. Originally equipped with 32-pounder guns, the batteries were rebuilt in 1858
and provided with two 24-pounder guns and five 68-pounders, which fired 10 inch shells. During
these practice sessions, shells were fired out to sea at a moving target, towed by a steam tug. In
1862, one gun crew of volunteers missed the target boat but successfully sunk the tug towing the

In 1879, it was reported that the Lands Committee had inspected a piece of open ground that was
used as a bleach1, near the Albion Tavern and at the rear of houses fronting Nelson Road
Central, for erecting a drill hall. Now, having raised the necessary funds, the men were able to
build their hall, which was completed in 1880. Sometimes referred to as Somerset Place, the
area has been renamed in recent years as Artillery Square. The drill hall, built of red brick with
York stone dressings, was 73 feet long by 40 feet wide. Orderly and committee rooms, each 17
feet by 13 feet, were attached. The architect was Mr. Arnott of Hall Plain. The local newspaper
reported: The members of this smart little corps mustered at their pretty new Drill Hall, situate on
a large site, lately used as a bleach.

In July that year, an inspection was held on the North Denes, the men marching from their drill
hall preceded by the band to the denes, where they were inspected by Colonel Rennie, R.A. After
inspection the men were put through their drill and then used the guns of the North Battery for
firing practice.

The drill hall was used nightly for drill practice, and was also put to certain community uses. In
August 1881, a Fisheries Exhibition was held for a week, advertised as having: a magnificent
collection of Models, Birds, Fish, Reptiles, Fishing Gear and Pictures. Admission 6d.

By 1886, the guns at both batteries used by the men for practice sessions had become obsolete
as a defensive feature, and four breech-loading guns were provided at each one. In 1898, the
North Battery was dismantled and the South Battery reconstructed as a practice battery, now
having four 64-pounders, six 80-pounders and two 9-pounder RML guns. In 1889, the artillery
were issued with four 16-pounder guns and limbers, now for the first time becoming a mobile
horsed unit. Horses were hired from local contractors as required. At the 1894 annual inspection
on the South Denes, 128 men were on parade with their guns. They fired at targets anchored in
the sea 1,400 yards distant.

By 1896, the artillery volunteers had become known as the 1st Position Battery of Norfolk
Volunteer Artillery, (Eastern Division, Royal Artillery). The Battery Orders, issued in February the
following year, give an insight into the different disciplines required of the battery.

The Battery will parade for March Out on Thursday 18th at 7.45 p.m.
The Trumpet Band to attend.
Uniform Parades will be held on Tuesdays 9th and 23rd for carbine and foot drill.
On the 2nd and 16th for gun drill. Fall in at 8.15 p.m.
Plain clothes drill will be on Mondays and Thursdays. Trumpet band practice at 7.30 p.m.
Thursdays gun and recruit drills at 7.45 p.m. and sword drill at 9 p.m.
Harnessing drills for rank and file, officers and drivers, will commence on the third Friday in
March. Classes for riding drill and instruction in Watkins Range Finder are being formed. Smart
respectable young men wishing to become members can obtain information from the Drill Hall
any drill night. Standard height: Gunners 5ft 6ins. Drivers 5ft 4ins. Those used to horses and who
can ride and drive preferred.

In 1899, the annual volunteers camp was so large that it was held on both the North and South
Denes, an encampment of 5,000 men, many coming from the Midlands and other parts of the
Eastern Counties. In October that year, several men obtained permission to enlist for service in
South Africa for the Boer War. In 1902, the artillery volunteers were remodelled as reserve
formations of the Royal Artillery and were re-designated as the 1st Heavy Battery, 1st Norfolk
Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers). The 1st N.R.G.A. consisted of five batteries and six
garrison units, of which Yarmouth was one battery. They were now equipped with four new 4.7
inch guns and four ammunition wagons. The
strength of the battery was 162.

Following a series of fund raising events, an

extension to the drill hall was completed in
1906 giving more floor space, with offices
above. A two-storey extension was built on
the west side of the building and at ground
floor level several large openings were cut
through the existing west wall to give access
to the extension. The first floor was divided
into separate rooms with access via a metal
staircase in the north-west corner of the
The 1st Position Battery, 1st Norfolk Volunteer Artillery original building. At the rear of the extension
at the South Star Battery in 1897. Both the north and an external iron fire escape was provided
south batteries were known as ‘star’ batteries because from the first floor, which was made by the
of their design shape. It was from this battery the local iron founders, Pertwee & Back, at their
volunteers practiced, and on one occasion in 1862 Nelson Iron Works, Queens Road. This last
sunk the steam tug instead of the target ship example of Pertwee & Back ironwork left in
the town was replaced by the council in
2005, due to safety reasons.

In 1908, the Army was reorganized and the

Volunteer Force became the Territorial Force,
the costs then to be met by central government.
The men were now liable for service anywhere
in the United Kingdom, but not abroad unless
they volunteered. They now became the 1st
Norfolk Battery, Royal Field Artillery (Territorial
Force), equipped with four 15-pounder guns.
The battery mustered at Henham Hall to
commemorate the transformation brought
about by the new Army scheme.
The 1st Position Battery, 1st N.V.A. in 1900 with
When war broke out in August 1914, the men their 16-pounder gun and limber. The gun and
had been at their annual camp at Colchester limber was kept at the drill hall, but the horses were
for two days when they were ordered to return hired from contractors as and when required
home by route march. On reaching the town
two days later, most of the men were quartered at the Nelson School (on the corner of St
George’s Road and Nelson Road) and the horses stabled nearby. The battery was then
mobilized as part of the 1st East Anglian Brigade R.F.A. (T.F.). The horses, which had been
hired for the annual camp, were retained and others requisitioned from local owners under the
Defence of the Realm Act 1914. After first moving to Brentwood, the battery spent several
months training in various locations before being sent abroad in November 1915. They sailed
from Southampton to Le Havre and for the next four years saw service in France, Egypt (1916),
Palestine (1917), and Jordan (1918), and then back to Egypt until demobilized in May 1919. After
demobilization and arriving back home, many of the volunteers left the battery.

In the early months of 1920, the Territorial Force was revived and later that year the Great
Yarmouth battery was re-formed and designated the 335th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, (T.F.)
with Major H. Martin commanding. The battery was issued with two 18-pounder guns and,
following a recruitment drive, several new men enlisted. Funds from the Sergeant’s Mess, which
had remained untouched since 1915, were used to produce a memorial tablet to the eight men
lost in the Great War 2. This brass tablet was erected on the south wall in the drill hall, and
unveiled on 11th December 1922. The Territorial Force was renamed the Territorial Army, the
two guns replaced by four Mark II 18-pounders and, in 1924, the battery was re-designated the
335th Field Battery, Royal Artillery (T.A.).
During the 1926 General Strike, the battery formed a unit of the Civil Constabulary Reserve. The
battery continued an old custom of escorting the mayor to church on the first Sunday of each new
mayoral year and turned out on other ceremonial occasions.

The battery continued into the 1930s with annual camps, exercises and weekly riding schools, but
motorized units now began to replace the horses. By the mid-1930s, war was once again on the
horizon and efforts were made to increase recruitment to the T.A. Retraining enabled the units to
become anti-aircraft and searchlight divisions in the country’s new, rapidly evolving, air defence
system. The War Office realised that the old drill hall was now inadequate, and a new Royal
Artillery Drill Hall was built on Southtown Road in the late 1930s. By 1937, new 3.7 inch guns and
searchlights were becoming available and, on the outbreak of war in 1939, the Territorial Army
was incorporated into the Regular British Army for coastal and air defence. Mobile AA guns were
stored in the Southtown Road drill hall. The old drill hall in Artillery Square was now used by the
Home Guard. At the end of the war, General Sir Frederick Pile, Officer Commanding Anti-Aircraft
Command 1939-1945, said: The T.A. bore the brunt of the anti-aircraft defence of the country with
great enthusiasm and great skill.

In 1947, the Territorial Army was reconstituted. The Great Yarmouth battery then became the
Royal Artillery (Norfolk) T.A. 418th Coastal Regiment. The old drill hall was now used by National
Service Reservists for their regular training sessions, and also by a company of Army Cadets, B
Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment.

In the 1950s, the War Office disposed of surplus military buildings and the Artillery Square drill
hall was handed over to the Borough Council, who used it for several years as a storage depot for
various council departments. In 1970, the Southtown Road drill hall, also now surplus to army
requirements, became an Arthur Hollis supermarket. This building was demolished in 2017.

In 1985, the council leased part of the Artillery Square building to the Yarmouth Community
Enterprises and Industries (YCENI), an organisation administered by the charity MIND. In 1996,
the YCENI workshop constructed a replica troll cart, which today is part of the floral display
outside the Town Hall. In 1997, the charity, First Move Furnishaid Ltd., took over the building,
buying it in 2010.

A bleach was a drying ground, a very local term used to describe an open area, usually at the
rear of terraced houses, where there was space for linen lines. There were several bleaches in
the town and this one served Maddy’s Terrace in Nelson Road, Albion Terrace in Albion Road,
Somerset Place in Russell Road, and Henry Place in Crown Road.
In 2017, the blue plaque was unveiled by Hugh Wiltshire, a retired Great Yarmouth solicitor, and
grandson of Major Percy Wiltshire. Percy Wiltshire had joined the TA in the early 1900s as an
officer and captain, and was transferred from the Suffolk Artillery Brigade to command the 1st
Norfolk Battery in February 1910. He was promoted to major and was to command the battery for
the next five years. On 7th September 1915, Major Wiltshire left the battery to join the 251st
Royal Field Artillery Siege Battery. He was killed in action at Haute Avenue, near Arras in
Northern France, on 25th April 1917. The memorial plaque, now unfortunately lost, had been
unveiled in 1922 by Lieutenant-Colonel C. J. Wiltshire V.D., brother of Major Percy Wiltshire.


Castle, M.A., The History of the Yarmouth Battery, Jarrolds, 1927

Kelly’s, Directory of Great Yarmouth, various dates
Pile, Sir F., Ack-Ack: Britain’s defence against air attack during the Second World War, 1949
Rye, G., Great Yarmouth-The Fortified Town, Yarmouth Archaeology, Journals 1984 to 1988
Palmer, F.D., Yarmouth Notes 1830-1872, Buckle, 1889


You might also like