The sea which laps the coast along Great Yarmouth has boosted the town’s fortunes attracting fishermen and tourists, but its coastal position also made it a weak link in England’s defences.
Its hazardous location caused King Henry III to order a wall to be raised to turn the town into a fortress during the late 1200s.
Yarmouth was a prime target for pirates and invaders. In particular, building the wall took on a renewed significance when the English started fighting the French in the Hundred Years War.
|Time And Tide's reconstructed sea wharf.|
Pebbles from the beach and local flints were used to build the wall, and although it was seen as a vital coastal defence, the construction was dogged by a lack of money.
Death and disease
Everyone in the town was forced to help build the wall or pay someone to do his or her share. But in the mid 1300s, it almost became the town’s death sentence.
People lived in crammed rows of houses inside the perimeter which led to appalling conditions where an enemy, far more deadly than the French, thrived.
The Black Death spread like wildfire through Yarmouth’s close-knit community, wiping out two-thirds of its population.
The plague pit where thousands are buried is across town - today there is a Sainsbury’s supermarket on the site.
The plague’s devastation meant the wall and the moat took around 100 years to complete, but the work didn’t stop there.
|A grave inscribed with Hebrew|
When Queen Elizabeth became nervous about an invasion she decided to raise the wall and bolster it with military features.
In the tower opposite the Time And Tide Museum, you can still see the long arrow slits for the archers.
Out of town
Today, it’s one of the most intact medieval walls in the country. Until 150 years ago, standing by the Time And Tide Museum meant you were outside Yarmouth.
The 23-ft high wall marked the edge of town and there would have been nothing but the sand, sea and wind buffeting behind you.
Although there would have been no buildings beyond the wall, there were graves. Jews were banned from being buried inside the perimeter up until the 19th century. This cluster of graves with Hebrew and English inscriptions can still be seen.
Interestingly, inside the old town and close to the graves, a pottery and museum have been built out of shipwrecks against the wall.
More of the wall can be seen after stage seven if you turn down the side of the Market Gates shopping centre at North Market Road.
The precinct was built in the 1970s and its architects had to design a solution to preserve a stretch of wall and a guard tower.
Inside the shopping centre, many parents with pushchairs will have cursed the steep slope, perhaps without knowing that they are walking over an ancient defence which once offered their ancestors a sense of safety.
From the wall, turn right heading to St Peter’s Road. When you reach St Peter’s Road take a left, then turn right at the end of the road into King Street. Walk for around 150 metres and stop when you’re opposite a jeweller’s.