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Peggotty's Port (Great Yarmouth)

Norwich to Yarmouth - Acle - Across the Marshes - Yarmouth - " The Norfolk Gridiron " - England's Largest Parish Church - A Town won from the Waves - Beachmen and Beach Companies - A Vanishing Type - Salvage Work - A Dangerous Coast - Notable Wrecks - Historical Houses - Defoe's Impressions of Yarmouth.
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Only very brief reference need be made to the journey from Norwich to Yarmouth, as much of the country through which it leads is dealt with in the chapters devoted to the Broadland, Yarmouth, and the Norfolk coast. Indeed, it is doubtful if many tourists, except those who cycle, will follow the route now indicated, for the river trip down the Yare, from the Norfolk capital to Norfolk's largest port, is so pleasant that most people who do not travel by rail prefer it to the journey by road.

To reach Yarmouth by road you leave Norwich by that fine thoroughfare, Prince of Wales's Road. You soon arrive at Thorpe Hamlet and Thorpe village, two distinct but adjoining places, the former of which is a " parish within the county of the city of Norwich." Thorpe, the scene of many old-time water-frolics, is a very picturesque place, straggling along the north bank of the Yare. Its old church is now in ruins, but a new one has been erected for the villagers and the numerous Norwich citizens who have here suburban homes. Between Thorpe and Acle you pass through portions of the parishes of Postwick, Brundall, Blofield, and Burlingham, and get some charming glimpses of the river valleys scenery of the Broadland. After leaving Brundall you lose sight of the Yare, but at Acle you cross the Bure by the last bridge which spans the river as it Hows seaward into Breydon Water. Acle church, the greater part of which was built in the fourteenth century, is one of the numerous Norfolk churches roofed with thatch. At one time Acle was a market town; but it has lost the especial privileges granted it by Richard II., and is now glad to cater for the many anglers who find their way here, and the yachting parties which visit the Broads and rivers.

The most direct route from Acle to Yarmouth is a new road across the marshes. It is a rather dreary and monotonous road, but those who travel it are able to gain a good idea of the far-stretching Norfolk marshlands. For nearly nine miles it is bordered on both sides by flat lands which have been reclaimed from what was once a wide estuarine valley. They are almost featureless except for the windmills which pump the flood-water out of the dykes, and a few isolated marsh farmsteads and cattle-tenders' cottages. Here the wild fowl from the Breydon flats spend most of the hours during which the flats are covered by the flood tides; herons stand sentinel by the dykesides or wing their way heavily to their nesting-place at Reedham; gulls are as numerous as rooks; and green plovers and redshanks cry mournfully as they rise from their nests amid the rushes and tussock grasses. In summer these and the many other birds which dwell in the marshes are seldom disturbed by man; but when the close season is over, and their numbers are increased by large flocks of fowl driven southward from the frozen North, the flight-shooter makes his presence felt among them, and neither by night nor day are they safe from his gun. Except for the birds, you will have few companions as you travel this road, and will probably be glad when you arrive at the Yarmouth toll-gate and pay your halfpenny for admission into the town.

The other route from Acle to Yarmouth is by way of Burgh St Margaret and St Mary, and a bridge over a narrow neck of Filby Broad. Burgh St Margaret and St Mary were formerly distinct parishes, each possessing a church; now they are but one, and all that is left of the church of St Mary is a small portion of the tower in the middle of a field. When you have passed through Burgh and Mautby you find yourself in Caister, a coastline village famous for its ruined castle. The distance from Caister to Yarmouth is inconsiderable, and you enter the most 1 popular place in East Anglia by a road which leads you past the largest parish church in England.

If you make Yarmouth the starting point of a ramble along the Norfolk coast you may not feel disposed to stay long in this old town, which in the holiday season is so thronged with pleasure-seekers that one longs, while in the midst of its crowd, for quiet retreats, sunny, lonesome seaboards, and peaceful waterways. Yet the town has attained such popularity as a holiday and health resort that almost all England has, at some time or another, slept within its walls. Its places of interest and historical and literary associations are not a few, and even amid the stir of crowded beach and Marine Drive, the clamour of the busy marketplace, the trafficking of High Street, and the active interests of quays and fish wharves, one cannot but call to mind that this is the town which first welcomed the Norfolk hero Nelson on his return from his victories; that kings have stayed here in houses that are still standing; that Sarah Martin, the self-sacrificing prison visitor, was born near by and laboured for the good of the vicious and down-trodden in the local gaol; and that Charles Dickens laid the scene of a great part of " David Copperfield " in the fishermen's quarters near the harbour. Dickens called Yarmouth " The Norfolk Gridiron," on account of the number of narrow lanes, locally known as " rows," which connect the wider thoroughfares; but the people are not eager for the fame of their town to be perpetuated by this name. They prefer it to be known that their parish church is the largest in England, that their quay - about a mile in length - was once considered " superior to any other in Europe save that of Seville "; and that for centuries Yarmouth has been an important centre of the North Sea herring fisheries.

The larger Norfolk towns seem to have been ambitious to eclipse in some respect all other towns in the kingdom. Norwich boasts of possessing a larger market-place and greater number of churches than any other provincial town or city; Yarmouth of the biggest parish church in England. Very few cathedrals exceed it in size, and viewed from whatever aspect it is fine. It is dedicated to St Nicholas, the fishermen's patron saint, and was founded by Herbert de Lozinga, who, in 1091, accompanied William Rufus from Normandy, and purchased the bishopric of Thetford. As a penance for the sin of simony he was enjoined by the Pope to build sundry churches and monasteries. He erected St Nicholas' on the site of an earlier church dedicated to St Bennet; and to him Norfolk is indebted for its Cathedral and Priory at Norwich, its Priory Church of St Margaret at Lynn, and other ecclesiastical buildings. Since Bishop Lozinga's day St Nicholas' has been several times enlarged, and at one time contained no Jess than sixteen chapels, each with its altar and priest. During recent years it has been so restored that its interior has much the appearance of a new church. Some of the old Norman arches, however, are still to be seen, and among the objects of interest within its walls are the Prior's Tomb, the Fastolff Tomb, and the " devil's seat," made of the skull of a whale; while the library contains, among other rare works, a Hebrew roll of the Book of Esther. A curious relic of the days when all sorts of mummeries were played in churches are the church books, which contain an account of certain payments made for making, working, and renovating a piece of pantomimic deception known as " The Miraculous Star." You find in it such instructive passages as these: In 1465, " paid for leading the star, 3d. on the twelfth day "; in 1506, "for hanging and scouring the star," and " a new balk line to the star, and rising the star, 8d. "; in 1512, "for a nine thread line to lead the star." Charges are also included for the " mending of angels." About seventy years ago body- snatching on a considerable scale was carried on in St Nicholas' churchyard by a resurrectionist named Vaughan, who is mentioned in the biography of that distinguished Yarmouthian, Sir Asеtley Cooper.

All towns are much alike to one who is anxious to get out into the fields and on to rural highways and byways; but a seaport, be it ever so much connected with the fishing industry, is never so stifling as are the streets of some old inland towns; and so, as you ramble through the narrow rows, descend into the dungeons of the old Tollhouse and Gaol (now a public library and the museum of the local branch of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society), visit the house where Louis XVIII. of France stayed, and the inns where Charles II. and George IV. lodged, you are all the while conscious of inhaling a salt-laden air, and that at any time you can, without going far out of your way, stroll down on to the sands and be refreshed by a sea breeze. Even an examination of what is left of the town's old fortifications is not enough to keep your mind in an antiquarian groove, for you realise that it was against enemies which might come from over-sea that the stout walls and watch-towers were built; and go where you will the low level of the land reminds you that Yarmouth has been won from the waves and is only held from them by a frail tenure. Centuries ago the waves swept over the site upon which the town now stands, and flooded inland up the eastern valleys. The dwellers where Norwich now lifts its spires then saw Roman galleys sail up a wide estuarine waste of waters, the mouth of which gaped from the Roman camp at Burgh to that of Caister. All along the East Anglian coast the sea has been the maker and destroyer of towns and hamlets; and when you remember this you are glad to go down to the harbour mouth and think over what it has done and is still doing for the old town. There, too, you may see the smacks come in from the North Sea trawling grounds, the 'longshore boats put out for a cruise among the surf-whitened shoals, ice-barques and steamers arrive from Norway, and timber ships from the Baltic. Out in the roadstead steam-tugs tow ships and trawlers towards the port, fisheries protection gunboats lie at anchor, and 62 wind-bound coasters roll and dip to the undulations of the waves. It is impossible for the hours to weigh very heavily when the fishing boats are racing for the bar, and fishermen, clad in gleaming oilskins, and with spray-drenched faces, bring them up to the wharves. And even if it were, there are stories to be told of stormy nights and the old free- trading days; and there are beachmen whose fathers "ran " many a keg and bale, and who themselves have had many strange adventures, to tell them.

The beachmen of Yarmouth, and of the Norfolk coast generally, deserve more than a passing mention, for their record is one of which England may well be proud. They are the heroes of many a hard fight against wind and wave; they have done deeds which merit a more permanent memorial than a scanty notice in the public press. Their daring and hardihood have won for them a certain local fame; but a reference to them does not stir men's hearts as it should, and there is a likelihood that in the not far distant future much of their brave work will be forgotten; for the era of the beachmen is almost over. True, they still man the lifeboats, and are seldom found wanting when their services are needed; but the genuine beachman is a vanishing type. Steam-tugs and salvage companies have taken out of his hands most of the work once left to him; his graceful yawls and slender gigs lie rotting on the shingle. The old beach companies, which, by their keen rivalry, ensured speedy assistance to ships in distress, are almost extinct institutions. Here and there may be seen a tumbledown wooden shed or "court," adorned with defaced figure-heads and battered name-boards, and in it the members of some old company still meet on stormy nights; but of late years many such buildings have disappeared.

Anyone who is familiar with the coast-line of East Anglia can easily picture the scene presented in the old days when the burning of a flare, the soaring of a rocket, or the booming of a gun, announced to the beach companies' watchers that a ship had struck on a shoal. In a moment loud cries would arouse the sleepers in the beach- men's cottages; lights would gleam from the windows, doors would be flung open, and men, putting on pilot-coats and oilskins as they ran, would hasten down to the shore. Within a hundred yards of each other the members of rival companies would strive with might and main to get their yawls afloat, and when the swift-sailing boats were beyond the shore surf, a strenuously contested race would ensue. The first man to lay hand on the endangered vessel would probably win for his crew and company the prize, the masters of ships, when in need of help, generally engaging the services of the first arrivals. If possible, anchors would be laid out and the ship got off the shoal, and when she was brought into port her owners would have to settle a heavy salvage claim; but should she be hard aground or breaking up, the crew would be landed and the beachmen would do their best to save the cargo. Every member of a beach company who so much as laid a hand on a yawl as it left the beach was entitled to a share of the profits of a voyage.

Forty years ago there were seven beach companies at Yarmouth, the Holkham, Standard, Young, Diamond, Roberts', Star, and Denny's companies. At the neighbouring port of Lowestoft there were several similar institutions, and three of them, the Old, Young, and North Roads Companies, exist to-day. Writing in 1866, Mr J. G. Nail, author of " Chapters on the East Anglian Coast," says: " Of late years the competition of the steam- tugs has greatly interfered with the gains of the beachmen. They sally out of the haven and intercept the beachmen's prizes, and also render ships' masters more independent of their aid. The beachmen complain bitterly that when a valuable cargo is the prize, the steamers get before them; but in cases of wreck, and where human lives only are at stake, they are suffered to risk theirs in the rescue unopposed." If this could be written five-and-thirty years ago, it is little wonder that the beachman's calling is now scarcely worth following.

Owing to the network of sandbanks lying off Yarmouth, the coast has always had a bad reputation among seamen. Many lamentable disasters have occurred here, and almost every winter adds to their number. Over 1000 seamen are computed to have lost their lives here in 1692, when, out of 200 coasters which anchored in the roads, 140 were wrecked by a terrible storm. Nearly a hundred years later, thirty ships and 200 men were lost; and in 1801 H.M.S. Invincible, after striking on Hammond's Knowl, went down with her captain and 400 men. Six years later the gun- brig Snipe ran ashore at the harbour mouth, sixty-seven sailors perishing within a few yards of the shore. Good came, however, of this disaster. It set the inventive barrack- master, Captain G. Manby, to work upon the construction of an apparatus by means of which people on the shore might communicate with and rescue those on a stranded ship. His invention was brought before Parliament in 1814, and two years later there were about sixty stations of his life-saving apparatus along the coast. Captain Manby died in Yarmouth in 1854 - not before he had the satisfaction of knowing that his invention had been the saving of over a thousand lives.

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