A Town Of Three Rivers

or Continuing The Good Work

(see Mixed Blessings of a Winter Bug)

So, yea, last week I managed to walk six miles (see Marriott Way). But that’s nothing compared with the fifteen miles plus that used to be my staple before CFS brought eight years of enforced couch-hibernation, and I’m determined to return to my former performance.

The trouble is my leg muscles have so atrophied that it’s going to take some concentrated work. The dance aerobics, brisk supermarket walks and weight training might help with the toning but I need endurance training too, and the occasional six mile walk doesn’t answer. So, I’ve worked out a training schedule—unfortunately, weather dependant.

I shall get out there for a weekly walk. To push beyond my present capacity is self-defeating as it creates unnecessary physical stress, so I shall start with a target of four to six miles. When the four to six miles becomes a doddle, then I’ll increase it to six to eight. And up it, and up it. By next spring I should be doing ten miles at least without it crucifying me.

To keep me interested, I’m going to reclaim my old hobby of photography—I may as well since the phone comes with me. Okay, it’s only a basic phone with a basic camera but, who knows, some nice person might get me a decent digi-camera for Christmas. If not, I guess I’ll invest in one before next summer. I used to be a keen photographer, if somewhat click-happy—I went through 2 x 36 exposure films (remember them?) in just one of the Cheddar gorge caves!

So now, after a far longer pre-amble than intended . . . this week’s walk.

Map: Great Yarmouth Detail & Overview

Great Yarmouth: Overview and Detail
showing places mentioned

I’ve titled this post the A Town of Three Rivers, though technically it’s only two rivers—the Yare, for which the town is named, and the Bure—which is the focus of this week’s walk. The third river is the Waveney which, along with the Yare, flows into Breydon Water—a hint of which is just visible beneath the bridge (photo below). Breydon Water is all that remains of the ‘Great Estuary’. Effectively blocked by the sand bar which became Great Yarmouth (as I think the map above shows), Breydon now exists as tidal mudflats, a Mecca for ornithologists in spring and autumn as it’s on the migration route of many wetland birds.

Vauxhall Footbridge

 The newly restored Vauxhall Bridge, now restricted to foot traffic.
At one time it was the main access from Norwich into Great Yarmouth.
A new ‘road bridge’ across the River Bure was built in 1972.

The town being built at the mouth of the former ‘Great Estuary’, every way in, and out, of the town requires a bridge crossing—except north via Caister but that’s a post-thirteenth century development.

Haven Bridge (of which there’s been 3 versions) crosses the Yare.

Old Haven Bridge c.1800

Haven Bridge – c. 1800 (source: Broadlandmemories)

Haven Bridge modern

Haven Bridge – the modern (source: Broadlandmemories)

Until 1845 the Bure was crossed by the ‘Suspension Bridge’. But in 1845 the Suspension Bridge collapsed with great loss of life. Vauxhall Bridge was constructed in 1848 to replace it. A bridge here was essential as it carried not only all traffic from Norwich but also passengers heading to and from the newly opened Vauxhall Station (1844), as well as (later) a tram.

River Bure 1

River Bure, heading northward.

The River Bure rises fifty miles from Great Yarmouth, at Melton Constable. It is navigable for its last thirty miles, i.e. from Coltishall Bridge to Yarmouth. It has two major tributaries, so close they trip over each other—the Ant and the Thurne (See Map above). But I’m heading only as far as ‘Grubbs Haven’ which was the alleged outlet of the Bure until 1346 (but more about havens later).

Although Grubbs Haven isn’t marked on any extant map it’s easy to guess its approximate location as it formed the boundary between Yarmouth and Caister (i.e. Caister-on-Sea).

Caister is named for its Roman fort, though the site wasn’t found and excavated until 1950. Built around 200 CE, the fort served as home to army and navy. However, during its excavation certain items were recovered which made the archaeologists wonder at its military identity. The first building uncovered included a hypocaust and painted wall plaster and female jewellery. It was suggested the building was either an officer’s house, or a ‘seaman’s hostel’ (euphemism for brothel). The site was abandoned around 370-390 CE. South of the site 150 Saxon burials have been found, dating to the Middle Saxon period (650-850 CE). The remains of the fort (basically the barracks’ foundations) are open to the public—for free. I do like those words

But, back to town . . .

North West Tower

The North-West Tower – once part of the town wall

Considering how much bombing the town suffered during WWII, an amazing amount of the old walls still stand. Originally nearly a mile long, the wall had ten gates and fifteen towers. The town was licensed to build its own wall and ditch by grant of Henry III in 1260, although work didn’t begin until around 1280. It then took 126 years to complete, the work delayed by the ravages of the great plague of 1349.

The wall was important, not just for defence but also for kudus. A walled town shouted of wealth, and during the medieval period Yarmouth bred rich merchants like other towns bred beggars. It was ideally situated, the North Sea allowing direct access to the Low Countries and those of the Baltic; the Bure, Yare and Waveney provided a network of waterways for shipping imported wares throughout Suffolk and Norfolk, including Norwich, itself once the rival of London.

But the town’s location wasn’t its only asset. In 1208 King John had granted the town a charter—he was trying to raise cash (he was always trying to raise cash, basically because his ‘big brother’ Richard the Lionheart had scraped the bottom of England’s coffers ). Amongst other liberties and privileges, the charter accorded the burgesses of Yarmouth the right to tax all incoming and outgoing cargos, and to use the income to swell their own coffers (oops, I mean the town’s coffers). As a busy port, this was tantamount to telling the merchants to mint their coin. Needless to say, the neighbours were jealous. There began a feud with Little Yarmouth (across the Yare, now called Southtown) which still was raging in the sixteenth century.

Of course, such privileges came at a cost. In return for these ‘liberties’, once a year the town was to send to the sheriff of Norwich 100 herrings baked in 24 pasties. The sheriff of Norwich was then to deliver these tasty pasties to the nearby King’s manor of East Carlton for the steward in turn to deliver to the King. (For more on the Charter—including a modern translation, see great-yarmouth.gov.uk)

Leaving the Old Town, I was surprised at how many Broads’ cruisers were moored at the Yacht Station this late in the season. I started off counting them but after two dozen gave up. I wanted to be away from there. I’d started out early—while the holidaymakers were still breakfasting. The smell of their crispy bacon was beginning to get to me.

Gt Yarmouth Yacht Station

Great Yarmouth Yacht Station
Yarmouth isn’t really part of the Broads, but sitting on the junction of the three Broads’ rivers, at the height of the season it’s a busy junction.

Converted Houseboat

Broads’ cruisers aren’t the only craft moored here. This coastal tramp has been converted to houseboat. Even within the last 30 years small ships like this would coast between Yarmouth and (e.g.) Wells with cargos of fertiliser and wood.

One of the great things about living in a small town, is how soon you can be away from the traffic, the noise, the fumes, and into tranquillity. This is something I’ve really missed during the years of enforced hibernation.

River Bure With Bird

Sky, river, marsh, and not much else.
You can get an idea of how flat the land in a photo like this.

By now I was walking right on the river’s edge. Since I have a skewy sense of balance (damage to semicircular canals courtesy of labyrinthitis a few years back) I needed my full attention on walking. I slipped the phone into my bag—I didn’t want to lose it into the water—until I’d reached destination. It wasn’t yet 10:00 am, yet it was getting hot. It’s real screwy weather we’ve been having this month.

Bure Park

Bure Park—alias Grubbs Haven

I took several photos here, but this best captures the sense of space. The trees, white poplars, track along the river. I’ve had to adjust the intensity and the contrast otherwise the white of the leaves make them appear as ghost trees. Unfortunately, I’ve also drained the sky.

Bure Park covers 40 acres of what, until the end of World War II, was everybody’s dumping ground. In fact there’s a story of American airmen based some place near here who, rather than ship surplus equipment back to the States, buried it in crates across this waste land. The borough council subsequently tidied the area—which basically meant moving earth from A to B in an attempt to cover the debris and level the site. However, whatever the buried material, it’s gradually decaying, causing subsidence, so every winter large areas of the park flood. It’s only ankle deep, and it does attract wildfowl, so who’s complaining. For the rest of the year it’s the favourite haunt of dog owners. There’s also a Pitch and Putt course (if you want golf, you have to cross river to Gorleston—‘the posh resort’).

Throughout the centuries the profile of Yarmouth has continually changed. Until 1346, the town with its grazing lands, North and South Denes, was an island, separated from its northern neighbour, Flegg Island, by the outflow of the Bure, variously known as Cockle Water or Grubbs Haven. Though no physical evidence of this remains it has been mentioned by several writers. The following snippets I found on Norfolk Heritage website:

In 1599 Thomas Nashe (an Elizabethan pamphleteer) wrote that “some visible apparent tokens remain of a haven” . . .

In 1619 Henry Manship (town clerk 1579-85) recorded: “many Hundred Years past it hath dammed up the Mouth of the river or Channel which passed forth on the North said of Yermouth” . . .

Furthermore, according to Manship, Sir Robert Paston levelled the dunes on the site of Grubb’s Haven for the visit of Queen Elizabeth in 1578. (The Pastons were a Norfolk family whose letters provide a unique resource for social historians of Tudor period.)

Quoting direct from Norfolk Heritage:

Grubb’s Haven is reputed to lie with its centreline ¼ mile north of the Midsands Cross, and was reputed to be the northernmost boundary of Yarmouth.”

The Midsands Cross lies opposite Bure Park. Between 1299 and 1523 the land to the north of this cross was the subject of several court cases, mostly in regard to cattle grazing.

However, I am confused by a passage I found on gtyarmouth.co.uk in reference to this early harbour. The author claims that ships pulling into the Bure would then unload at Kings Quay by the Conge. But the Conge, the oldest settled part of the town, is directly opposite Vauxhall Bridge. Yet the Bure wasn’t yet passing by there. Puzzlement.

Great Yarmouth Heritage Map

This odd looking map by cartographer Thomas Damet (Elizabethan MP for Yarmouth) is oriented upside down and back to front. (South is up, with East to the left.) Despite being produced in C15th, it is reputed to show Great Yarmouth in 1000 CE.
I would say it’s rather extreme, that by 1000 CE much of the Great Estuary was already salt marsh used, as it is today, for seasonal grazing

In 1346 sand was shifted by a howling north-east wind, sufficient to block the Bure and “firm land was made between Yarmouth and Caister”. This forced shipping to use the Yare which at the time went out several miles south of its present exit—closer to Lowestoft that to Yarmouth.

The merchants with their captains complained and the First Haven was cut—closer to Yarmouth, but it still halfway to Lowestoft.

The First Haven didn’t last long—26 years. As with the Bure’s mouth, it too was blocked when a strong north-east wind moved the sand.

In 1393 a Second Haven was cut, this time much closer to Yarmouth—close by Gorleston.

Alas, the north-east winds did blow, and this Second Haven was choked with wind-blown sand. (Set this to music, you could use this as the refrain!)

In 1408 a Third Haven was cut—”where ye Pole stands by Loestof’” (no explanation is given of this, but from 1385 to 1444 the de la Pole family provided the Earls of Suffolk. Loestof = Lowestoft). This Third Haven was maintained “at great charge” until again the east winds did blow.

In 1508 a Fourth Haven was cut. But again, the east winds did blow.

In 1529 a Fifth Haven was cut. But again, the east winds did blow.

In 1549 a Sixth Haven was cut, this by the town’s South Gate. But the work was cut short and destroyed by the dastardly activities of Robert Kett and his rebels who, most unreasonably and inconsiderately, had taken up their pitchforks and scythes to complain of the increasing enclosure of Common Land. Tut-tut, whatever next, the ungrateful vermin.

In 1560—a date that all Yarco Bloaters really ought to celebrate—the present, and Seventh Haven was cut, at about 1 mile south of the town. This was the work of a Dutch engineer, one Joas Johnson. Over the years there has been various improvements, mostly to strengthen the banks—and to keep the sand out!

For those with an interest in such things, a full account is given on www.gtyarmouth.co.uk

I took a break at Bure Park—mostly because I needed to spend a penny (British euphemism for ‘to pee’, from days when it cost a penny to use a public toilet), and those at Bure Park’s ‘Pitch and Putt’  are not unlocked until 10:00 am. I then turned around and walked home.

I was perhaps a mile off completion when my legs decided they’d prefer not to go any farther. Oh no, I told them, you’re not getting away with that. I put on a spurt. I’ve found that by pushing myself I can more easily cover the distance—unfortunately, there’s then a tendency to stretch already overworked muscles and tendons. No surprise, then, to find myself with tender calves the next day—yet I managed the brisk supermarket walk. That was yesterday. Today the legs are fine. I’m fine. I feel good for having achieved target.

The question is now, where is next week’s walk to be? I haven’t yet decided. For a while I want to keep the walks fairly close to home—the chopping and changing of buses, the hectic city streets, the long journey home when I just want to flake out . . . not so conducive to an enjoyable day.

About crispina kemp

Spinner of Asaric and Mythic tales
This entry was posted in History, Photos and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to A Town Of Three Rivers

  1. Brian Bixby says:

    Congratulation on the walks, and thanks for the historical gloss. I’m tempted to do something like this myself soon. And I’m having to watch over my mother’s attempts to walk farther (much smaller distances than you).


    • crimsonprose says:

      I thought of your mother as I was watching a documentary last night on Status Quo. Odd association? No. In 1997 Rick Parfitt had a quadruple heart bypass and was back on stage within 12 weeksr. How’s that for recovery. Of course, he was younger than your mother (then hitting 50), but it gives cause for optimism.


      • Brian Bixby says:

        While I couldn’t help but think of the related fate of Dunwich: again, sand blocking an outlet and destroying a harbor. Yarmouth recovered both a harbor and its prosperity; Dunwich did not.


      • crimsonprose says:

        Dunwich also had crumbling cliffs. The town itself was being swept away. But the story might set bells ringing – it wasn’t the north-east winds, it was a dragon, by name of Skimaskall (though her escapades pre-date even Grubbs Haven. There is evidence that River Thurne was once the outflow of the Bure, as given in Neve.

        Liked by 1 person

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