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29 October 2014

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Coast: Walks

A restored house in Row 111
A typical house in Row 111

Point 4 - Row 114

For nearly a thousand years, if you lived in Great Yarmouth then you would have almost certainly lived in the rows crammed inside the town wall. But far from protecting its residents, the defence became a death sentence in the 14th century.

Great Yarmouth's rows existed in a medieval format until 1942 when two nights of heavy bombing by German aircraft flattened much of the town.

The lanes of tenements and houses were unique to the town and drew the eye of famous visitors including Charles Dickens.

The rows sloped down to the harbour.
The rows sloped down to the harbour

The writer lived in Great Yarmouth in 1848, using many of the town’s characters and landmarks as inspiration for his classic novel David Copperfield.

Dickens was intrigued by the medieval grid of narrow alleys and is said to have commented, "Many picturesque old bits of domestic architecture is to be found among the rows."

Health hazard

But for the people who lived in the dark, tightly packed lanes it could be a hazardous existence.

Raw sewage used to be sloshed out of windows which meant the paths streamed with foul-smelling substances.

Getting rid of waste was one reason why the rows were designed in a format to run east to west, so the breezy easterly winds would shift the pong.

The pebble pathways were also constructed to slope down towards the harbour so all the mess would end up in the sea when it rained.

With everyone having to live within the town wall, space was vital. The 145 rows were crammed so close together that there was one alley which measured just 18ins across at its narrowest point.

Inevitably, neighbours living cheek to jowl caused problems. If you opened a window you could shake hands with the person opposite, so there was little privacy.

Row numbers are painted on black squares.
You can still see the row numbers

Most of the rows were between three and five feet wide so just opening a door could injure innocent passers-by.

Eventually a law was passed to make householders reverse the hinges on their doors so they would open inwards instead.

Bailiffs were sent as enforcers and those who ignored the order were fined and their door was nailed shut until they complied.

Troll carts

The rows were so compact that normal carts couldn’t go up and down, so a new model of transport was invented.

Troll carts were long and narrow and their two wheels were placed underneath the carriage so they didn’t catch on buildings and damage the brickwork.

Until 1804, rows were named after well-known characters who used to live there or a local landmark.

This was confusing as some of the lanes were so long that your address would change depending on which stretch of the row you lived in and in which century! So the lanes were numbered and everyone had an address, at last!

Wandering around the town’s streets, you’ll still see black painted squares with white numbers daubed on the side of buildings.

From 1930 sections of the rows were condemned as slums and they started to be knocked down. The onslaught of WW2 meant the demolition was called off, but two days’ worth of German air raids caused 2,000 houses to be destroyed.

St George's Theatre.
St George's Theatre

Today, restored examples of the rows and traditional housing can be seen at English Heritage's Row 111 and the Old Merchant’s House, next to the Norfolk Nelson Museum on South Quay.

St George's Theatre

A few steps away from Rows 113 and 114 is the imposing St George's Theatre, which was consecrated as a church in 1715.

As the daughter church to St Nicholas, it was modelled on London's St Clement Danes, which was designed by Sir Christopher Wren.

In the 1970s, St George’s faced the bulldozer and there were plans to Tarmac the site as a car park, but the borough council ploughed money into reviving the building while its ornate pulpit was moved to St Nicholas.

From Row 114, head towards St George’s Theatre and turn left into Yarmouth Way and continue straight ahead to the black and white building in front of you, the Tolhouse.

last updated: 19/07/05
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Visit the Coast homepage
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
walking man Stage 6
South Quay
walking man Stage 7
Market Place

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