Great Yarmouth walking

Dinka, Martin, Mandy, Pauline, Martin, Rupert and Rachel, made the rendezvous on the South Quay, at the Southern Docks, outside the Nelson Museum, Great Yarmouth for an understated, hardly planned reconnaissance walk. I’d discovered the walk last year, alone with the dogs, and rocked up at the Hipperdrome seen the show and said, blast, gotta come here again, this needs to be shared.  I told Pauline, and Pauline kept on the case, kept reminding me, and last minute, we did it.

Great Yarmouth is a different beast to Lowestoft, it’s natural comparative seaward neighbour. Both had herring to thank for a rich past. Both had docks with a rich fishing industry to sustain. But Yarmouth was a different beast. Once wealthier, proud Georgian, and now Brexited and down at heal, deserted, left behind.

Thank goodness Martin rocked up with us. It turned out he was from this town, had run a sea front fish and chip shop, his sister a coffee shop. He knew these streets and these stories. It was Martin who pointed out the Rows to us which I had not observed before. Rupert was our knowledge base, guessing one unknown word meant Whig row. The rows run East to West, transecting the 3 main streets than run along Yarmouths peninsular, north to South.

The Rows, often very narrow, provided access to the dwellings of the poorer people.  Most of the rows were paved with pebbles from the beach which made them extremely difficult to walk on and only a few were paved with flagstones. They were named after colourful local characters or public houses,  perhaps the best known was Kittiwitches Row (no. 95) which was also the narrowest, being just 30 ins. (0.9 m.) at its western end. This may originally have gained its name from Kit Witchingham, a 17th century baker who lived here. It was not until 1804 that the Rows were given numbers. The highest Row number was 145. The open gutters along the rows were really running sewers. The Rows, running from East to West, the East winds and rain helped to keep the streets a little cleaner, and on a good blustery day with strong winds and rain the place must have almost smelt fresh


Ivy’s Noted Tea shop – Martin what’s the story?


We passed  massive warehouses housing sea based industries – anchor makers, bouy makers, boat building. Martin knew the back story of each. MARTIN REMIND ME!


Barrack Road Gasometer was our first dally. Built  by R.P Spice and S. Cutler and Son of London in 1884 for storage of coal gas, (highly toxic), created by heating coal and drawing off and cooling the gas from it. It’s a fine example, fantastically ornate and functional at the same time, with pointy pinnacles at the top of each shaft.  There were plans to pull it down but so far it’s  survived. It’s Grade II listed, so there’s hope. In February 2018 it was ‘safe’ from being dismantled. Beside it a stair case going nowhere.


In the distance, smoke house chimneys.


We took at early picnic around the Britania Nelson column. What I liked about this tall column was it’s unexpectedness, it’s testament to a glorious time amid low lieing often crumbling, mostly empty, and dejected buildings. At the base inscriptions commemorate Nelson’s four main victories over Britain’s enemies at the time of the French and Spanish: The Nile 1798, Copenhagen 1801, St Vincent 1797, and Trafalgar 1805. Tangerines, goats cheese on biscuits, ginger biscuits sorted us out.


This pub has been for sale forever, said Martin

20190106_122031We headed for the sea passing strange shaped things which Martin recognised as Wind Turbine feet.  MARTIN whats the story of the harbour further up the beach?


We made it to the sea, a glorious smooth sand beach secured with marram grass.

20190106_12323920190106_123309Walking back along the very different East side, we arrived at Great Yarmouth Pleasure beach, all wrapped up for the winter, even the Dinosaurs feet we noticed were wrapped up in plastic (nervous of the next ice age Marin quipped).

The other Martin, of Martin and Dinka  told us of his childhood in Yarmouth, with the highlight being a ride on the famous all wood Roller Coaster. Here it was. Built in 1932 and still  operational, it is the only ride of its kind in the UK, and one of only eight in the world. It is one of only two remaining roller coasters where a ‘brakeman‘ is required to ride with the train, to control its speed as there are no brakes on the track. It is the second tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in the UK. It is a Grade II listed building. No wonder, it was designed and built by a German (as Martin read out to us afterwards) Designed by German Herr Erich Heidrich of Hamburg especially for a German Exposition after which all parts were shipped to the UK where German workmen assembled on the Pleasure Beach site. The ride’s superstructure is entirely timber in construction, the timber being fir and pine.


We walked passed the  sadly abandoned winter gardens. Opened in 1904, and shut since 2008 over fears it could collapse. The Grade II-listed glass and metal structure was originally built for use in Torquay, but was shipped over to Yarmouth after being bought for £1,300. Yarmoth appears to be good at shipping things from elsewhere to here.


Did we actually hesitate about getting in to the afternoon performance? If we did it was but a blink. We’d rocked up at the Hipperdrome, to find not only sharp timing and a performance beginning in 20 minutes, but as it transpired, we got the last 6 tickets. Who cared they were on bar stools at the top. Bar stools, are naturally near the bar, and here Pauline found a large gin and tonic was a reasonable £4.Sorted. The bar staff doubled up as Spot Girls, or drumers. Everyone did everything. We sat back for the circus.


Two characters saw the show through, the wonderful expressive and funny clown and the MC, who it turned out was the son of the owner.


It was in the 2nd half that the famous water sports begin. The stage sinks down, and fills with water, and on come ……

20190106_153422The synchronized swimmers.


How could we not pay a quid and go back stage at the end? Opened in 1903, Peter Jay took over the Hipperdrome in 1979 and has remained its owner for these 40 years. Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers were a UK beat group in the early 1960s. Their biggest hit, “Can Can 62”.  The group toured with both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones before before disbanding in 1966. Peter Jay was the son of Jack Jay who owned and managed the Windmill Theatre together with several cinemas and nightclubs in Great Yarmouth. In the late 1970s, Peter Jay, together with his father, purchased the Hippodrome and gradually restored it as a theatre and circus venue, restoring the famous circular stage that lowered to reveal a swimming pool.

MARTIN was it Peter who married the daughter (Christine)  Gordon Edwards who ran the Ocean Rooms, Gorleston.
“The only money we make is on Icecreams”

Martin can remember seeing elephants as a kid

‘You must have a question to ask’ said a back stage man. Turned out he was one of Peter Jays sons, the other had been our MC for the evening. Their love of their work, their desire to entertain us with their stories, which must have been asked and repeated a thousand times, was remarkable, as if they’d never tire of the revelation. The diverse history of the circus and Peter Jay was displayed in the old stables and in it’s massive engine room.


The  clown, we found out was Spanish. What a fabulous face.20190106_16022720190106_16053520190106_16055020190106_16093920190106_16134120190106_161831The Greek recommended by Martin (Columbia Toniponis Taverna) was closed, so we took up Pauline’s suggestion and got as much as we could fit on a plate in a carvery somewhere off a roundabout. Delicious and deserved.

We’ve got to return for a ride on the Roller Coaster, combined with a Hippodrome performance of Pirates.


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