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Article posted: December 1, 1998
Visiting Ghosts in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk (UK)
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
I stopped in England on my way home from Sweden last month. After the revelations of my great-grandmothers jail sentence, which I wrote about here recently, I decided I would visit my grandfathers birthplace. I thought that if I walked the streets she had walked, I might come to some understanding of her behavior.
Great Yarmouth in Norfolk is an unusual town. It was built on a spit of sand which sticks out into the North Sea. In the Middle Ages it was both a fishing port and a line of defence against the French. The English built a wall around the tiny place and crammed everyone into 145 narrow streets or rows.
The rows were very narrow, most of the six to eight feet wide, but some much smaller. The littlest was Kittywitches, only 27 inches wide. There was a law which ordered that no front door could open outward, since it would cause havoc with the traffic going up and down the street.
The rows were numbered. If anyone wondered why they were all parallel, the curator of a Yarmouth museum told me it was so that the sea winds, and the frequent floods which washed across the whole peninsula, could flush out the garbage and bad smells which tended to accumulate in the rows.
This was not a great place to raise children. My grandad was born in Row 45, which was lost in World War II. In one night, the Germans rained down 4000 bombs on the little town, destorying the medieval system of rows, the church and the single industry, a silk factory which manufactured parachutes.
It seemed like overkill for a single factory, but I learned that the cause could be traced to memoirs of Lord Jellicoe, an English admiral of World War I. He said that the English navy had been saved in that war by the herring fleet of Great Yarmouth. Someone in Berlin had read the book, and the result was that night of bombs.
The town was so shattered all the civilians were moved out.
During my research there a month ago, I found the burial of my grandfathers Uncle Tom in 1944. He died far from Yarmouth, but whether he had fled the bombs or migrated some years earlier I have yet to learn. This will lead to more research, but it does point out the usefulness of cemetery records, where I found the information.
Uncle Toms address in Leicester was given in the records, which will help me find out more about him.
I walked the length of the central street in Yarmouth, looking for the traces of the Rows. Every once in a while there was a gap between stores with a fading number, which showed that a Row had once been there. I could see the ghosts of shawl-clad women scurrying from their slum houses to work gutting fish or winding silk in the factory.
Having gone from Row 145 to Row 1, I know that my family lived in the poorest part of town. The pub at the end of Row 45, where Grandad was born, is one of the oldest there. I sat down there for a drink, in the certain knowledge I was sitting where my ancestors had sat before me.
I also had that wonderful experience of entering a used bookstore and finding tables piled high with local histories of the place. I picked up an armful to expand my knowledge of my grandfathers childhood surroundings.
In London I visited the Family Records Centre in Myddelton Street, where the civil registration records and census are now available. For those who remember the crowded conditions at St. Catherines House and the misery of working in Portugal Street, this beautiful building will be a joy. There is a handsome bookstore attached and all the staff were friendly and helpful.
Both the Public Record Office and General Register Office now have websites if you would like to consult them. The PRO is at http://www.pro.gov.uk and the GRO is at http://www.ons.gov.uk.
COMING IN MARCH 1999
One of the reason for doing genealogy is to see how our ancestors lived. The most dramatic experience was emigrating across the ocean, but how much do we know about what it was like? It would be terrific to hear an actual emigrant describe the trip.
Across the Waters: Ontario Immigrants' Experiences, 1820-1850
by Frances Hoffman and Ryan Taylor gathers together selections from firsthand accounts so that today's readers can discover what it meant to be a pioneer in Ontario. From the day they decided to strike off across the Atlantic to the first harvest in their own clearing, the settlers will tell you about the seasickness, the quarantine station, the mosquitoes--the fish you could scoop out of streams with your bare hands, the pride of owning your own land and the joys of helping one another build a house.
Hoffman's and Taylor's previous book, Much to be Done, gave diarists from the Victorian era the chance to tell us about their lives. Their new book offers the same opportunity to those diarists' parents and grandparents.
Across the Waters: Ontario Immigrants' Experiences, 1820-1850 will be published in March 1999 ( originally planned for May '99) by Global Heritage Press in softcover and hard cover (library binding) versions. Reserve your copy today!.
Books By Ryan Taylor
Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.
Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997
More Family History Research Resources