Sunday, 9 January 2011

The Rows of Great Yarmouth

I've managed to trace some roots of mine back to the Rows of Great Yarmouth, so it appears I am connected to them.

What is a Row?

Well, for about 900 years the old town within the medieval flint town walls, was laid out in ranks of buildings separated by three north-south streets, and over 150 narrow east-west roads, called rows.

Farden's Map of Yarmouth

Charles Dickens, who lived from 1812 to 1870, and who visited in 1848 whilst writing David Copperfield, and was here at the same time as my relatives below, describes these rows as:

"A Row is a long,narrow lane or alley quite straight,or as nearly as maybe,with houses on each side, both of which you can sometimes touch at once with the finger tips of each hand, by stretching out your arms to their full extent.

Now and then the houses overhang, and even join above your head, converting the row so far into a sort of tunnel or tubular passage. Many picturesque old bits of domestic architecture are to be found among the rows. In some rows there is little more than a blank wall for the double boundary. In others the houses retreat into tiny square courts where washing and clear starching was done, and wonderful nasturtiums and scarlet runners are reared from green boxes filled with that scarce commodity, vegetable mould.

Most of the rows are paved with pebbles from the beach; and strange to say, these narrow gangways are traversed by horses and carts which are built for this special service. A few rows are well paved throughout with flag stones; carts are not allowed to enter them and foot passengers prefer them to the pebbly path ways. Hence they are the chosen locality of numerous little shopkeepers.

If you want a stout pair of hob nailed shoes, or a scientifically oiled dreadnought, or a dozen bloaters, or a quadrant or compass, or a bunch or turnips the best in the world, or a woollen comforter and nightcap for one end of your person and worsted overall stockings for the other, or a plate of cold boiled leg of pork stuffed with parlsy, or a ready made waist coat with blazing pattern and bright glass buttons, with any of these you can be accomodated in one or other of the paved rows. Here you have a board announcing the luxurious interval duiring which hot joints are offered to the satisfaction of a salt water appetite; from twelve till two no one need suffer hunger. Elsewhere is the notive over the door that, within, Live and Boiled Shrips are sold by the catcher himself, the orginal article and make no mistake. "

The streets were very narrow and transport was difficult as it was impossible to navigate your way through with a horse and cart. Cows occasionally, yes, horse and cart, no. 

In fact a special cart, as mentioned by Dickens above, was designed, called a Troll cart. It was 12 feet long but only 3 foot 6" wide. It had 2 wheels which revolved on a box axle placed underneath. They were a bit like the Roman chariots you see in films. They were used for ferrying produce from the dock to the market place, and if they met another cart in a row, one of them had to back all the way to the town centre or port!

I recently traced an ancestor's family, via the various Census', to Row 2 and Row 28. The family in Row 28 seems to have been a huge family in a very tiny house.

Row 2 was called variously, Black Horse Row, Bird in Hand Row, and East West Flegg Row.  Known after the public house at the corner of the row, it was at one time paved with granite sets and in 1912 the large maltings of Lacon's Brewery blocked the western end. The row was divided into two by a narrow cross row which didn't have a name or number. The Ragged School, forerunner of the North Mission, was to be found here.

Row 28 was known as Conge Row. It's one of the most ancient parts of the old town. Henry 1 appointed a Provost or collector of duties, who resided here and it became known as the Kings Conge. It was adjacent to the Lords Quay, and the provost was conveniently nearby when a ship had to pay duties, to load or unload a cargo. The row was only 12 foot wide so life must have been all-a-bustle!

Goerge Todd who owned a dairy mid way along the north side, took cows daily to Cobholm and Southtown marshes to graze. There was also a timber yard and brushmaker. On the corner was the Falcon pub.

A taste of my ancestors life in the Rows.

Undated letter, circa 1850-1875

I found a letter from a neighbour/relation (un-named because I can't read the signature) talking about one of my relatives, Rosina. It was probably a hard letter to write as the subject matter is difficult, and it obviously follows on from previous letters or meetings, when doubt had been cast on her assertions. It seems that my relative, Rosina was bullying and being very cruel to a sister called Cissie. Another unconnected and much later letter exists accusing that very same lady of being cruel, by her then daughter. So it was a life long commitment to nastiness.

Here's the first letter written about Rosie  (my great grandmother) when she was living at home in Row 28, and obviously young, but old enough to be in charge and inflict cruelty. She seems to have been caught out by this relation who was visiting the house, and who wrote to Rosie's father.

"Dear James,

...................I hope you will believe me when I tell you what I saw and heard myself. It's very sad for me to write and have to tell you these things, but believe me they are true and what happened while I was staying. Did Rosie tell you of the battle we had concerning the ill treatment of that girl? I tried to see you alone to ask you to judge that child rightly but Rosie wouldn't let her be in your company 1 minute alone, much less me.
I asked Rosie why she hated that child and treated her so cruelly and she replied that she did hate her and wished she was dead. Poor girl, so do I. R said she would make her suffer when I was gone. The child wasn't allowed even to go to the bathroom unless the little ones were sent to see what she was after and her clothes were hopeless and the child not allowed to wash them or have them washed, and most days sent off without breakfast or dinner. Don't imagine it's just now that it's so bad for it's been like it for years."

.........(she then calls on various neighbours as witnesses, and goes on for a page saying it's his and his wifes place to sheild the child).............

.."I didn't hear R speak one kind word to that child all the time I was staying and she wasn't allowed to sleep in my room or be in my company on the excuse that she wouldn't get up, but I've always found her to do what I asked her to do. Won't you consider the case and let her stay a few months at least with me." 

Whizz forward a few years and here's a bit of the letter written by my grandmother to her father.  It's about the same woman, her mother. My grandmother appears to have run away from their home in London.

My dearest Dad,

I was pleased to get your letter this morning, but I am sorry I cannot do as you wish in returning home. I have told B everything and I came here of my own free will because as I told you I could not remain happily with Mother. I was accused of things which I never did......and there are many other little things which I have never said anything about. I ran away because I was unhappy or if you want the plain truth because I dared not stay alone in the house with mother....etc.....

 So a nasty relative?


  1. phew! what a revelation to find. Your grandmother must have been a very strong woman.
    I love the description of the old "rows"
    all the best for this year.

  2. Very interesting post Annabel. I started working on my family tree in Ancestry but have stalled. Funnily enough I have connections with Yarmouth from several generations back. My relatives then moved to Hull and eventually ended up in London and Essex whence came I.

  3. I have to admit, I'm really getting into this Annabel, maybe you could consider serialising this tale????

    Such an intriquing history...I've always thought it would be so interesting to 'meet' past relatives....and you almost have with these documents.

    Thanks for sharing

  4. Thank you ladies. I have replied to you all personally. When I was speaking to my mum about this today, she said my father hated this woman..his she was unpleasant to him. It came to a head one day, and he threw a bowl of porridge at her. Sorry, but that's really funny!