Gorleston & Great Yarmouth History

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Great Yarmouth Town Hall

The first Town Hall on the present site was built in 1715 at a cost of 880. The imposing entrance to this grand building faced onto South Quay. This "first" Town Hall was demolished in 1870 to make way for the present Town Hall. Prior to this, the affairs of the borough were conducted at The Tolhouse which still stands next to the library or The Guildhall (now demolished) which was near St Nicholas's Church.

The cornerstone of the present Town Hall was laid on the 20th April 1880. The facade of the Town Hall is constructed of red Mansfield Stone ans was designed by architect J Pearce at a cost of 35,800. The opening of the building was a grand affair being conducted in the presence of the Prince of Wales on 31st May 1882.

However civic pride in the new Town Hall was short lived as it was soon realised that the western side of the building (facing South Quay) was sinking. Architect Pearce's monumental building was too close to the River Yare and the ground could not support it's weight. At the time it was feared that the whole building would have to be demolished this only four years after its opening. As an interim measure the western side of the building was supported by huge wooden beams to arrest the immediate problem whilst any options open to the council could be considered. The Council acted decisively and as it has proved correctly, in adopting the plan put forward by Engineer Duckham who devised a system of wrough iron girders to underpin the walls of the Town Hall. These girders were then jacked up on screw piles to level off the building. The piles and girders were encased in concrete. Engineer Duckhams work has stood the test of time.

21 South Quay

The Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners opened their offices at 21 South Quay in 1909. The front of the building is of Cornish Granite for the ground floor. The rest of the building being constructed of flint. The windows have granite dressings. The roof is covered with a dark brindled plain tile. The main windows are made of oak and glazed with lead lights fitted with steel casements. The front entrance has a solid oak front door carved with dolphins supporting a cast bronze letter plate. The door handle and and four shields in the front of the building are also of cast bronze.

All the public offices are located on the ground floor. Marble mosaic floors and oak panelling with an oak staircase to the first floor make up the decoration. The committee rooms make up the first floor. Altogether a grand building.

The Custom House

The Custom House was built in 1720 for John Andrews, who by the time of his death in 1747 had been described as, "the greatest herring merchant in Europe". The house itself consists of a central part of three storeys and a basement. The frontage has a six window range, with two-storeyed side wings of one window range. There are semi-circular arched passages on the ground floor with stone voussoirs and keystone. The windows are 18th century double hung sashes with glazing bars (small panes) in flush cased frames as they should be for a building of this age. There is some 18th century panelling on the ground and first floors with a good 18th century staircase with cut and carved strings.

The building was purchased in 1802 by the Government for use as a Custom House. True to form the Victorians could not resist tinkering with the building. In the early 19th century a central Tuscan portico with fluted columns and cornice was added to the front of the building. I leave you to make up your own mind about this "enhancement". The Custom House was taken over as offices for the Great Yarmouth Port and Haven Commissioners in 1986.

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