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29 October 2014

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Coast: Walks

The Fishermen's Hospital is a picturesque sight
The picturesque Fishermen's Hospital

Point 7 - Market Place

The Market Place has been witness to the grisly antics of body snatchers who used to transport their lifeless cargo over its cobbles and it was also once home to the last person to sign King Charles I's death warrant.

When Great Yarmouth was the fifth wealthiest town in the country, thousands of people used to attend services at St Nicholas Church.

Just like today, the market was the thriving centre for that community – not just the place for trade but also for gossip. One day in 1827 rumours about gruesome events at the church began to spread.

Body snatchers

It turned out the church’s vicar had other plans for the bodies he was earlier praying for to rest in peace.

The vicar had a nephew at a hospital in London who wanted the cadavers for his anatomy classes.

The bodies were snatched from their graves and hidden in a rented room opposite the church.

When night fell, they were sneaked across the Market Place, smuggled in barrels which supposedly contained wine. The body snatchers would then ship their grisly cargo down the coast and up along the Thames.

Parishioners began to suspect their vicar was occupied with morbid matters rather than the Good Book.

Empty coffins

St Nicholas Parish Church.
St Nicholas Parish Church

In the dead of night, one of the locals braved the graveyard to dig up his dead relative to find an empty coffin.

The next day the chilling news spread across the market and the families of the people the vicar had buried went to exhume the graves, leaving the consecrated ground looking like a ploughed field.

Not surprisingly, the thought of ending up scrutinised on a hospital slab had people scouting for other burial spots.

Just behind the Market Place, the dissenters’ graveyard contains the bodies of townsfolk who chose to rest for eternity here rather than plumping for St Nicholas’ churchyard and risking a visit from the body snatchers.

Anna Sewell

Close to St Nicholas Church is a black and white Jacobean-style building, which was the birthplace of Anna Sewell who penned Black Beauty. The author lived in this house for six months before her family moved to Norwich.

Anna Sewell’s family would have known the Fishermen’s Hospital which is one of the town’s most fascinating buildings.

Fishermen's Hospital

One of the statues at the hospital.
One of the statues at the hospital

The quadrangle of almshouses was founded in 1702 for elderly and disabled workers, or as the building’s sign still says, for ‘decayed fishermen.’

The residents were watched over by a statue of Charity in the middle of the courtyard and had to observe strict rules.

Everyone had to be inside the gates by 9pm otherwise they would be locked out for the night, anyone wanting to marry would have to have their intended vetted, while wives were made homeless if their husbands died.

In the 1700s, the living conditions were cramped with each house containing just two rooms. Today, the accommodation is more spacious and has been converted into a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. 

Miles Corbet

A short stroll on from the Fishermen’s Hospital, next to the butcher’s shop, is the former home of Miles Corbet, the town’s MP.

Miles Corbet's old home.
Miles Corbet's old home

It is believed that the conspiracy to kill King Charles I was plotted in the Elizabethan House Museum on South Quay and Corbet joined in with Oliver Cromwell’s rebellion.

While one signature on the king’s death warrant was Cromwell’s, the last person to add his name was Miles Corbet. But it was an act that would turn around to bite him.

Following Cromwell’s death and the collapse of the Commonweath, Corbet’s disloyalty singled him out as a target for King Charles II.

He escaped to Amsterdam but was betrayed and brought back to England by Sir George Downing, who built Downing Street.

After his imprisonment in the Tower of London, Corbet endured a grisly end at Tyburn where he was hung, drawn and quartered.

Go past the Market Gates shopping centre, turn left at BHS, and go straight down Regent Road towards Britannia Pier, then cross the seafront.

The sign for the mobile phone walk at point seven has gone missing and is in the process of being replaced. We apologise for any inconvenience.

last updated: 12/08/05
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Great Yarmouth
walking man Introduction
Welcome to our walk
walking man Stage 1
The Jetty
walking man Stage 3
Town Wall
walking man Stage 4
Row 114
walking man Stage 5
The Tolhouse
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South Quay
walking man Stage 7
Market Place

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