Great Yarmouth is a large seaside town on the Norfolk coast and home to numerous beautiful historic buildings and with open and potentially picturesque waterfronts. Some grand vision thinking could see this town quickly become a thriving location and major attraction.
This visit was seriously curtailed by a flat battery on route leaving only a few hours to look around before needing to move on.
Coming over the Haven Bridge in fading sunshine the immediate impression was of a grand town, with beautiful buildings lining a wide boulevard-esque road running parallel to the River Yare.
Parked up behind the impressive Town Hall and taking to foot, the narrow roads and alleys give an intriguing sense of what could be around the corner before suddenly being confronted by Regent’s Road. Similar to too many other British high streets, the town centre is a mess of poor architecture, terrible layout, badly maintained paving and a lack of love.
At the far end, the wide clean empty sandy beach surrounds a short pier with a host of very British kind of shows, three with ‘Stars who are dead”, as one wit quipped on Instagram. After a plate of possibly the worst chips I have ever tasted I returned to Brook and moved her to one of the numerous bland car parks that blight the centre of town and set off again on a wider arc. While walking my mood lightened as I began to see rich potential.
The buildings running both sides of the river have Creative Quarter written all over them. Some stunning architecture on one side, practical large warehouses on the other with plenty of space for mooring boats. This could be a buzzing area instead of the occasional lost tourist and constant traffic I encountered. There are at least four museums and numerous buildings of significant interest, all grand and only some in need of serious investment.
Walking along the river towards the train station, there seems very little wrong with any of the buildings and it is easy to imagine how thriving the river part of town could become with just a little more TLC.
After a longer walk than expected I reach the fabulous Vauxhall Bridge, which a local group has managed to save and partly restore. The train station is the other side and is a terminus for Norwich trains. I enquired whether the trains once ran over the bridge and was told this was a long time ago, when there was a line through many of the Suffolk and Norfolk coastal towns. I have subsequently found out there were once two stations in Great Yarmouth!
Back over the bridge and a short walk I reached Northgate Street and the attractive St Nicholas Parish Church. Despite the very wide and well-maintained roads with a massive Aldi supermarket, the area retains a village feel, with some wonderful architecture and occasional places of interest. Anne Sewell, author of Black Beauty was born in a local house.
Great Yarmouth just needs a grand vision and some enthusiasm.** With a relatively small amount of funding the town could become a buzzy thriving place. The largest single investment would be to move the train station over the river nearer the town centre/Town Hall, using Vauxhall Bridge. Developing artist studio spaces with accommodation on both sides of the river would swiftly bring to life the alleys and footfall for the museums and other places of interest. A subtle night lighting programme for buildings of interest will give the town a year-round feel. Utilising the vast empty space by the quayside for high quality food and drink markets may drive up the standards of the food offering throughout the town, which appeared generally poor.
There is already a large concentration of professions in Great Yarmouth, with numerous small law practices and accountancy firms, which offer a readymade audience with disposable income. Where there are lawyers and accountants there are usually other related financial and legal professionals, providing tantalising opportunity in becoming a regional finance and legal hub.
I did not see much new building construction going on, what I did see was not what the town requires. The high street area needs to reduce its retail offering, some of the streets could or should return to housing to concentrate the footfall. Although the beach areas seem well maintained they is a lack of tempting food or retail offering. The wind turbine exhibition building is unsightly, blighting the beachfront, although the actual displays looked interesting and involving. The pier entertainment is steeped in the 1980s and will struggle to attract new, younger audiences, and unlikely to appeal to the professionals working in the town. Refocusing the offer would raise the overall profile of the town and provide a driver in attracting visitors from Norwich and surrounds, crucial for a year-round economy.
It was good to see the old M&S store being used as an exhibition space by Original Projects, a local arts organisation. There are numerous empty spaces that could be brought back into temporary use and attractive to a host of different users. Training in professional services and new technologies could be a viable use. The park area is attractive, well maintained and inviting, a real local asset.
Great Yarmouth was clearly prosperous in the past, and is not out of time to become a great place again. There are plenty of assets to build upon and from this short visit, there seems enough population and business density to develop a thriving river front and quayside creative quarter. Moving the railway station closer to the centre or installing a tram line is essential, which would in effect also reduce traffic blight. Another, longer visit is probably required.
**NOTE: I understand there is a masterplan for the town, which I have not viewed at time of writing so my conclusions may coincide with the council vision.
Photos and Videos | John McKiernan
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3 thoughts on “GREAT YARMOUTH”
It’s an odd town, Yarmouth, which hangs like an appendix on the rounded East-facing belly of Norfolk. It’s two, or possibly three or even four, totally different towns squashed up in a narrow strip and nothing seems to fit together properly. Hard to believe that 5,000,000 visitors go there annually. Where on earth are they? They come, apparently, just to the seaside part of town during daylight in the summer. They then go out of town to camp sites and caravans and holiday parks where they actually spend their money. That’s why the eateries and hotels in town are pretty dire. And the shops in town are empty. If you thought your chips were bad on the seafront try the ice cream!
Great Yarmouth Borough Council does see the potential for the river side of town and that Area where I chose to do some development – re-using some of the beautiful old existing buildings. I believe you have to get young professionals with a bit of money to want to live and work back in the town in good quality, well-designed housing and workspace. Where better than the harbour side, with the view you show in your video? But with all the traffic roaring past it isn’t really conducive to the cafe life they envisage!
The Council also seem to want to encourage even more seaside visitors by allowing a local developer to build a Premier Inn and a potential casino and more “amusements” on what is currently an area of unspoilt dunes. These visitors just provide local jobs for eight weeks of the year.
There could be huge potential in renewable energy and the southern part of the town which narrows down to a tiny spit and a wonderful look-out over the North Sea has been designated an Enterprise Zone. Sadly the new buildings being built down there, which could be exciting architecturally, are cheap and nasty boxes. There is no attempt at “place-making” and the whole area is ready to become another separate town within a town.
The Master Plan for the Town Centre itself with its market place and many beautiful buildings as well as run-down shops, wasted areas of empty space and yet more chip stalls does not seem to have been drawn up by imaginative, sensitive consultants. It is a London surveyors stab at it as far as I can see. It just doesn’t even pretend to relate to or draw together the other Yarmouth towns (the sea side town, the harbour side town, the industrial town or the cultural town). I fear that it will end up by costing a huge amount and only make matters worse.
Recently a lot of money has been spent on “improving” the arrival from the station into Yarmouth. All that expense obviously passed you by! I agree. You simply end up arriving into an Asda car park.
The more I think about how to make this potentially wonderful place actually become wonderful the more I realise how really difficult it is. And neither you nor I have even commented on the social problems that are very great indeed. I fear that it might even be easier to move the entire railway station than make much other progress.
Thanks for the great response Gillian, and very timely as I am just completing a series of blogs of other areas I have visited on the trip since Great Yarmouth. It is very discouraging to read about the new developments, this is just madness and would be the opposite to what will be visitor attractions of the future = natural beauty. Day trippers are not the solution. The offer presently in play is also not attractive enough for people to give up an evening to stay there. A Premier Inn will cater for stag and hen nights, builders and occasional families lost in Norfolk. I believe there is great potential in GY but first it would need to find the people who believe in the town, if any exist. Check out the posts coming up on other locations visited and see if it sparks any ideas. Thanks John M