I sit at inside a restaurant watching the people stroll by on Regent Road as I wait for my lunch. Regent Road is a pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of Great Yarmouth, leading from the seaside Britannia Pier and Theatre nearly to the River Yare. To get to the river one just needs to continue beyond Regent through the Victoria Arcade and a bit beyond.
The feeling on this road is of wandering through a flea market, such are the offerings of discount clothing, bric-a-brac, dress-up clothes, accessories, and specialty shops. Mixed-in with the retail are an assortment of restaurants, pubs, and coffee shops that apparently compete mostly by price. Large price boards highlight the best deals and cheapest coffee.
One thing I notice about the passers-by, there are a lot of wheels with them. Baby carriages and wheel chairs, more than I have noticed other places up to now.
Along the River Yare I happen into Elizabethan House, an original home showing it’s more than 400 years of history. Here I enjoy the company of an amicable host guide, a woman in her 50’s, as well as an audio guide. During my visit there are at most 3 other visitors, so the guide happens by to see if I have any questions quite often, and I usually do.
“The locals call this town Yarmouth, but officially it is Great Yarmouth. What makes it great?” There must be an explanation, since we don’t have Great London or Great Brighton. “Yarmouth was essentially on both sides of the River Yare (at the mouth of the river, I notice) and since it was quite separated by the water, they referred to the largest side as Great Yarmouth and the other side would have been Little Yarmouth.” I am reminded of Great Britain and the tv skit show Little Britain.
Not exactly related to the Elizabethan Home, but she is more than happy to answer, I can tell that she enjoys being helpful. My next question is on topic, I wonder, “The enormous fireplaces demonstrate the family’s wealth, but why? Is it so very expensive to have large fireplaces built?” The ones here do look outsized for the rooms they are in, more so than others I can remember.
“They would be opulent in how much fuel they use, not so much in the size when it came to construction.” “So a huge fireplace will put one in mind of burning lots of coal or firewood, whether or not they actually did, it would just suggest that luxury is something that would happen here.”
The kitchen is set-up as it would have been during Victorian times, probably more interesting to look at than earlier times as the Victorians had a lot more interesting gadgets. A balance scale for measuring, mince grinder and sausage maker, a hand-pumped vacuum; that kind of thing.
My guide shows me the door to the narrow winding staircase at the back of the house where the staff would have accessed their attic rooms, able to bypass the main part of the home entirely with this direct link. (I had asked how many staff would have worked in this home and where they would have slept. In India I noticed that some kitchen staff still sleep in the kitchen, at least they did in the home I stayed in in Kolkata. You can see that in another posting where I stayed with a retired aristocratic Indian couple.)
In a bed chamber she tells me how the Victorians had a mistrust of sunlight and fresh air as I ask about the very heavily draped poster bed. “The lady of the household would retreat into her room for as many as 6 weeks in advance of her pregnancy where she’d stay in bed and the drapes would be mostly closed. Perhaps they thought of it like a womb.” Can you imagine, anyone would need to recover from 6 weeks of being in bed, in any condition! Incredible.
In a children’s playroom there is a lovely display of a miniature tea party. Except, instead of dolls sitting at the miniature table, they have 15 taxidermy squirrels. I suppose it might have been seen as cute, but it’s really creepy!
I ask about the fact that I am nearly alone visiting the museum and my guide tells me that Great Yarmouth has seen a decline over the years. With super cheap flights here and throughout continental Europe, one can spend a week in sunny Spain cheaper than they could in Great Yarmouth, it’s impossible to compete. “Perhaps that’s why the young (in carriages), the old, and the disabled make an unusual percentage of the visitors here,” I suggest, “people for whom it is difficult to travel very far are more likely to continue taking holidays here.” “I hadn’t thought of that,” she replies, “it could be.” But she wouldn’t see them in at this museum, it’s off the beaten path and Elizabethan homes don’t generally have elevators.
Here are some examples of the shopping available on offer. Supply tends to follow demand, so you can tell a lot about the economic climate of Great Yarmouth by it’s tourist high street. (This is probably not really a shopping destination for locals.)
I made my way to Elizabethan House along the river Yare. I love William Morris wallpaper. My last home was all colourful paint but I think I want some WM next time. (You can see my former home on this blog, the posting is tagged as “My Home” in the categories.)
I can’t decide whether this is cute or disgusting. Fifteen taxidermy squirrels sat to dinner in the children’s play room. Would they have played with the little dead squirrels, or just looked at them?
I’m glad I visited this seaside town. It’s decline is apparent, but I hope it survives. English seaside resorts are to me quite odd, I think it is due to the fact that a visitor could never count on the weather being warm enough to swim so there needs to be lots of other attractions. Carnival-like rides, casino slot machines, bowling alleys, cinemas, video arcades, amusement parks, and lots of discount shops say nothing of being near the sea to my experience, but they seem to be iconic seaside features in Great Britain.