Creative Writing Interpretation of a High Street Sound Walk in Great Yarmouth
Knapped Flint Cracked Concrete
A succession of different bells ring, jingle and tinkle as if to signal our entrance.
Light drums accompany them.
A vehicle thrums and then accelerates away in the background.
(Bells tinkle at intervals under the voice of a man with a local accent) I’m an anarchist community activist based in Great Yarmouth on King Street. It’s got a lot of resonance for me being here. (A vehicle approaches) I was born probably 100 yards from where we sit right now – the vehicle passes – on Deneside in the old Great Yarmouth General Hospital, a building that’s sadly no longer there. The hospital probably got demolished 1982. (A distant gull squawks intermittently) I also lived 100 yards away from this spot for the entirety of the 80s in what was the closest thing Yarmouth ever came to, like, a squat scene. And at that time, King Street – a gull chatters in the background – was a hub of activity. It was a vibrant kind of scene that gradually got dissipated, I suppose, towards the end of the 1980s – a car roars past – by the mid-90s, that had kind of fallen into disrepair, where – another car passes – a lot of the people who’d had businesses here couldn't sustain them – a throatier vehicle follows – for one reason or another.
Great Yarmouth Wall, site of New Gate, demolished 1776.
A light ambient tone fills the silence with expectation.
I've specialised in looking at the wall for a number of years now. So, having spent a fortune on books, finding out the description from historians, I decided to build it. When it came out, I was amazed. I placed it in the position and followed the wall back. And this was when I became…to get really interested in it, because the wall didn't make much sense. There were certain angles of the wall where a builder would never have done a right angle. He would have taken a short length for economy reasons and speed. But this had all kinds of manner of turns, which nobody had actually looked at before. The wall took 111 years to complete and it was finished in 1396.
Great Yarmouth Wall, site of Oxney’s Gate, demolished 1776.
The tone is maintained, then rapidly falls away.
People and gulls chatter in the background.
While, in the foreground…
[Woman] Today, we're in our shop on Theatre Plain in Great Yarmouth, where we have knitting displays and we're trying to raise money for the Louise Hamilton Trust. The shop is on what used to be the site of the ABC cinema.
[Second woman] Previously known as the Regal.
[First woman] The Regal, yeah.
[Second woman] Yeah.
[First woman] And it was a lovely site – gulls cry intermittently in the distance – where lots of people performed over many years, and they used to have an annual pantomime. (A child wails in the background) And I think, Sandra, you saw somebody really special.
[Second woman] Yes, I did. In my younger days – a mass of material clatters and bangs in the background – I did actually see the Beatles here. (The clattering is swiftly cut off)
[First woman] I remember in my day when I was a teenager – an engine runs and more material clatters – the highlight of a night was not going to a pub or anything.
[Third woman] No.
[First woman] It was literally walking up one side of Regent Road, if you could walk, because there were so many people…
[Third woman] (Overlaps) Yes.
[First woman] ..and then turning round and coming back up the other side.
[Sandra] Up the other side.
[First woman] And that's what you did all night long.
(Third woman laughs)
[Sandra] But, you see, them days – dance music spills out of a vehicle that rolls past – Regent Road was open till about 11 o'clock at night, wasn’t it?
[First woman] Oh, yes.
[Sandra] The shops. (A car horn beeps) And even at that time of night, it would be heaving, wouldn’t it, with different people.
[First woman] When I said to my son one day… You couldn't really walk on the pavement down Regent Road.
[Third woman] No.
[First woman] You had to walk on the road cos there were so many people, always.
A gull squawks in the near distance and voices overlap on the street,
indistinct apart from a woman’s final, peremptory ‘No.’
I was born in Great Yarmouth in 1950 and I was born in a small terraced house on Priory Gardens. My mum took in visitors and my dad was a plumber. And part of taking in visitors was you were given posters to put up in the window. And with those posters came free tickets. (A conversation takes place in the background) You could go and claim a couple of free tickets and go…and go and see the shows. So – some knocks, as of building work – I got to see when I was six and seven large numbers of shows, music-hall stars, and then subsequently, later on – jazz music plays in the background – the sort of emergent 60s bands, which all came to Yarmouth. Now, my dad, being a plumber, was called in one evening to sort out a handbasin in the ABC Regal and was able to get me a ticket to see the Beatles. The Regal was demolished. It was a beautiful 1930s art deco cinema – the jazz music moves in from the background – but it was versatile. It would show films. I can't remember the number but it's got to have been about 1,500 plus. (The music comes very close, along with voices, before starting to fade) And at that time, growing up, shall we say, between 13 and 18, the music scene in Great Yarmouth was second to none in the country. I mean, even London almost, I would say. So it was absolutely an astonishing place to be. (Voices hold a conversation in the background) The Beatles tickets in money now were three pounds and the top tickets were, I think, eight pounds. So music was accessible. But if your mum stuck your pos…a poster up, you were able to see lots of other things as well for free, which…which was absolutely amazing.
Shop bells ring and tinkle, singly at first and then collectively.
Drums join the improvised melody
and a light ambient tone adds to the air of expectation,
the sense of doors – quite literally – opening.
Multiple bells continue to ring, tinkle and jangle
until, finally, the music produced fades.
[Great Yarmouth Wall expert from earlier]
The wall is a prehistoric monster in a lot of respects, and what I mean by that is that somewhere right in the middle is the original wall. On the outside of it, it’s been…has been refaced several times. The Victorians did a lot of refacing. They wanted to keep it. (Playing children scream in the distance) So there are very few parts of the wall that are original. But underneath there, there is. It's a simple wall, really. Basically, it's two walls, two brick walls, filled with rubble – children’s shouts draw closer – and then faced on the outside with knapped flint. (Children yell in the near distance) The wall is one mile long, just over, by a quarter of a mile. Now, that makes – a child shrieks – the actual town inside the wall only a quarter of a mile square. So originally you could stand at St Nicholas’ church before any buildings were there and look all the way down right to the other end of the wall.
A man whistles a tune. Two men greet each other and exchange pleasantries.
One chuckles and says, ‘See you later.’
In the background, playing children shout and scream.
Now, in Victorian times, there was a shortage of bodies for dissection and, of course, there was a great interest in finding out how the body worked. (Bells of different sizes ring and jangle) So anatomy became very important to surgeons, particularly wanting to know how things work and how they could correct things. And the churchyard of the Minister entertained some body-snatchers. People became very worried about their deceased in churchyards. (Bells continue to ring) So a dissenters’ churchyard was created just off the marketplace behind the old Co-op building. And this was surrounded by a high wall with a watchtower. So a person was paid to keep watch over the graves. (Bells tink and jangle) People think ‘dissenters’ means ‘nonconformist’, whereas, you know, the other interpretation could be the word means that people…who dissented from being buried in the churchyard around the Minister.
Vehicles pass in the background.
In 1827, Thomas Vaughan snatched at least 10 recently buried bodies from the churchyard, sent them to London and sold them to surgeons to dissect.
A vehicle recedes into the distance.
We're at the Great Yarmouth Fishmen’s Hospital. This hospital was erected at the expense of the Corporation of Great Yarmouth anno Domini 1702. At a common council on the 3rd of July 1711 – passing footsteps slap the hard surface – it was ordered that ‘no person be admitted under the age of 60 years. That fishermen only be admitted, but if married their wives to accompany them.’ (A bird chirrups) ‘That if any fisherman becomes a widower in the Hospital, he shall not marry out of the said Hospital’ – haunting trumpets play – ‘without the approbation of the Committee…’
The woman’s voice fades as she reads
but the trumpets play with a regal lilt
before they too fade.
So, what can I tell you about the Minster? This is one of the biggest parish churches in the country. There's always a little bit of dispute about that. Some places have a cloister that they can include and measure but ours doesn't. It was founded in 1101 by Herbert de Losinga. And at the time, Great Yarmouth was one of the wealthiest places in the entire country. After York, it actually has the most complete mediaeval walls. It was really an incredibly wealthy market town and, of course, it was also a gateway into Norfolk and from the sea. So the herring fisheries and a lot of other industry coming across from Europe would land here. Chapels were added for each of the guilds of the town because the guilds wanted God's favour. And they wanted to sponsor a place where they'd look – gulls squawk in the distance – all of their luxury, all of their wealth, could be seen as well. And of course, the church was the main social gathering place. So each of these sort of alcoves we see and some that you no longer can see throughout the building would have had a side chapel – faint bells tinkle – and it used to be traditionally you could only celebrate the Eucharist once at an altar every day. So if there were 16, 18 guilds that wanted Mass said for them, they needed 16 or 18 altars. (Bells chime and clunk) So that's why they paid for their own specific side chapels. And then a priest would have said Mass at one one hour and then at the next side chapel someone else would have said one the next hour. So if you'd come in here at any time of day, it would have felt like a bustling – a bell jingles with only a short ring – kind of public marketplace with a service going on at the side. So we have quite a diverse congregation, not a big congregation, maybe only…maybe only 60 to 80 on an average Sunday. It tends to be really local people – a bell tinkles with a short ring – people from the town, people who work maybe in the – same truncated tinkle – chicken processing factories, some people who have just grown up here and helped out, quite a few people sadly unemployed, because we do have very high unemployment here, and then retirees. And – bells chime gently – just…just quite a mixture. It's very nice. I think it looks like an intimidating building from the outside. But when people come in and get to know people, they realise it’s…it really is actually a beautiful space for the everyday person. And I love that. (Two bells ring in succession, the second with a short flat note) I think it’s one of the reasons I like ministering here.
The last two bells ring again, the one chiming, the other jangling.
The chime and jangle repeat, echo and fade.
Reprised, the haunting trumpets replace the bells.
Anna Sewell, the authoress of Black Beauty, was born here on March the 30th, 1820.
A man calls out in the background as an organ plays.
The trumpets accompany the organ
and the voice of the woman reading earlier fades back in...
‘That the Committee make no weekly or other payment to those who do not live and lodge in the said Hospital, unless some extraordinary reason for a short non-residence should be allowed by the said Committee…’ – the organ and trumpets stop abruptly – ‘..and in case any persons wilfully and without leave absent themselves for seven days…’ – a motorbike rumbles, then roars, past – ‘..such persons shall be suspended…’ – the organ and trumpets repeat their refrain – ‘..by the said Committee and discharged at the next meeting. That the outward gate of the Hospital be locked exactly at nine of the clock every night, and that the key of the said gate be kept by such dweller in the Hospital…’ – the organ and trumpets repeat their refrain – ‘..as the Committee shall from time to time direct. That the benefactions…’ – the organ and trumpets finish with a gentle flourish – ‘..and the above orders be painted and affixed at the Gables on each side of this Hospital Gate.’
Light applause dies down and a man clears his throat.
Voices fill the background.
My dad… Mum and Dad had a stall on there from virtually when I was born. (Tap-tap-tap in the background) We used to help out from probably the age of 10. (He raises his voice over a clattering nearby) I was always going to be a market trader. Parents didn't want me to do it, but that was always what I was going to be. Went from…left school, went to college, just for a laugh, then started up my own business and within a week had seven markets. And then gradually it went seven days a week…
(The sound artist chuckles)
..six days, five, four, and now it's two days a week. It's just Wednesdays…
..and Saturdays. (Voices continue in the background) Shopping habits change. But we still serve some of the same people that we've served for 30 years. People come on, they want to chat to you. (Other voices come into greater focus) They like to talk and you don't get it in the shops.
And what about the development plans? (Gulls cry)
What are your thoughts about that?
It definitely needs doing. Infrastructure’s looking tired. The market stores themselves… They've got history but you do have to move on a little bit. Hopefully when it's done, it will… (A child bawls in the background) Hopefully people will go, ‘Let's go and have a look.’ (The child howls) It will be nice when it's done. Yeah, we're moving on now. We've got… Obviously, we've got a diverse culture. Yeah, we've got people who've come in and settled here and they're now starting to take market stalls on. So you will get that cultural balance, which a lot of places… You go to London markets, they’re already like that. And we are starting to get that now. It'll be good in the end, I think, but it’s them lean times in the middle when the work's being done – a gull squawks – that's really tricky.
Multiple conversations overlap in the background.
(Strong local accent) When I was little, about 10, 11 years old, my uncle used to own the Norwich Belle what go out to Scroby Sands, and I used to go down and see him, and then I used to go to the docks, take all the fish, all the herring – clattering in the background – and go and sell it for…fresh herring all around the town with a little wheelbarrow. And then from there I worked on the market, helping market stalls. And then from there I went into business, pottery and glassware on the market, about – tapping in the background – 26, 30 years ago. And then I – more clattering – come out of the market cos you can buy things cheaper on the Internet than in the market. I couldn't buy ‘em on the stall but I could buy ‘em on the Internet. And the Internet is changing everything these days.
Soprano Ruth Vincent – more tapping – 1874 to 1955, butcher's daughter, lived on this site as a child, 1875 to 1894. Became a prima donna at the D’Oyly Carte Opera and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden.
So, my business, well, the family business in itself, started back in 1946 and it was run by my grandfather, who got the idea from up North and went round the Midlands, a place called Mansfield, to do peas. (The buzz of chatter continues) So he took that idea, came down here and started it. And that's how it sort of came about. Three generations of just, you know, doing the same recipe, all cooked in there with all our ingredients, which is bicarb, a little bit of salt, you know, and water, you know, mixed in. And we also get little minced meat pies, you know, from down the road. So they come and get delivered. And hopefully when the new market comes in, we’ll be able to sell a little bit more than just that. So, fingers crossed, you know, it goes well and, you know, we still can carry on. We don't know how much exactly we’ve got to put into the stall. But whatever the cost, hopefully we can carry on, you know, and, yeah, looking forward to the change that’s happening in the next few months.
Jazz plays in the background.
You know, people's habits have changed and everyone knows everything about everything. The Internet is the best and worst thing that's ever happened, really. (A man whistles along to the music and something scrapes) I mean, you had lines you could go to work with. (A man interrupts) Yeah. People used to come out of the villages and…and everywhere from all over the country just to be entertained and see stuff that they would not see every day of the week.
The jazz plays on.
(Calling out) ‘You can have enough for one pound…’
(A third woman laughs)
‘..two pound. I’ll let you have two for five pounds or…’ And all that kind of thing. And the man with the ties.
(Overlaps) And people really… people really believed they were getting… (Fades)
At the moment, the arcade is doing really well. In the last year, nearly all the units have now been filled, which is really good, and that helps the whole, well, community, really…helps them try and drag more people down. (A two-note electronic entry alert beeps) But we enjoy it. You meet many different people. Some you do want to meet. Some you’d rather not meet. (Laughs) We're having a get-together thing in July, later on in the month, to try and – an entry alert double-beeps at a much higher pitch – draw more people down, so everyone – an entry alert with a lower tone answers it – all the shops are doing little things and… Just to get people down here, really.
A more intense ambient hum starts and stops.
Electronic entry alerts of different pitches beep in quick succession.
They echo and fade.
I’ve been here from 1995 till now, so it's about 26 years, you know, and over, like, the first years I've been here, the first 10 years was fine. Ever since that, it's just constantly gone down, down, down. All the listed buildings have all got, like, their own colour code. I think what a friend said…that they’ve got about six colours they’ve got to choose from. And as you can see out there, there’s dark blue, dark brown… I mean, there's one there that's got yellow. But, I mean, I don't think there's anything brighter than that. So where, like, I'm not listed, I can paint my shop any colour I want, which I don't mind doing. But the only reason I'm doing it up, because, just… One, to try and brighten up the street and, two, I’m still trying to make a decision whether to stay on or not stay on. But I need something which I can sell in this town. A lot of people say… I mean, you always hear on the news, Great Yarmouth, Great Yarmouth this… But they always spend money down the seafront but places like this, they don't. When I finish painting my shop orange, I mean, my shop will be the brightest shop in Yarmouth, I think. (Laughs)
A man and woman pass, both talking. The man says,
‘I’d like to make a video about how to…’
Our work is very place-focused. (Voices overlap in the background) So it's about connecting with the heritage of a place and the communities and industries, and working with artists to make those things visible or to animate them or to change them and present new ways of seeing the place that you live in. For the last three years, we've been taking on various spaces on a meanwhile basis. Some of them… One was an old record shop. One was the former Mercury office, the local newspaper. Then we had the old M&S, which is a big purpose-built building in the centre of town. And we're currently in the former Debenhams, a space we called Primeyarc.
Which is a completely different space, actually, because it was built very end of the 70s and 80s as a purpose-built mall. So we're sort of buried in the middle of it but… So it's an interesting context for us because previously, you know, we've been scaling up our operations from smaller shops to a larger shop with Marks & Spencer, which had a very easy public footfall at street level, which kind of piqued people's curiosities. And then here we're currently opposite the vaccination centre, which is an interesting…actually, a really convenient link in the current times as well.
[Same man as speaker before last]
Yeah, since we've moved here, we've worked with lots of people sort of organically, I guess, through bumping into people. Yeah, and all those people bring… (A woman speaks in the background) ..bring their stories and heritage.
[Same woman as speaker before last]
And I think what we’re trying…we are particularly interested in as an organisation is that sort of intersection between past heritage and the future of, of the…the place and the people that are going to occupy it and what drives them. And, yes, certainly kind of using the material of the high street and kind of… It needs to be animated. It needs to kind of… It's been here for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. So it's got to… (Chuckles) It’s got to keep going.
[Same man as speaker before last]
Yeah, heritage can inform the future rather than just be sealed and viewed in the past.
Voices chat in the background and reggae music plays as vehicles pass.
‘Young Crome’, John Bernay Crome, 1794-1842, English landscape and marine painter, and president of the Norwich Society of Artists died here.
The other voices fade.
(Portuguese accent) I came to Great Yarmouth about 10 years ago. And since I came – bells tinkle and drums join them – I created, like, the group of dancers in here in Great Yarmouth, and it was more to bring a little bit of cultural events in Great Yarmouth because there was nothing, like, happening around King…especially King Street. King Street is like the place that you can sometimes relate to London because it's such a cultural, like, street. (Bells tinkle) And we have done a lot of events – drums beat – in King Street. Up till, like, now, we are…we've been, like, using different venues but now we’re sort of based here in the Primeyarc – a vehicle rattles past – which is sort of like…brought us here, in, and gave us, like, a lot of freedom. (The vehicle recedes) I feel like this is a multicultural, like, place. Like, different artists… (Another vehicle passes) I call this place as a community centre.
The drums beat gently and the bells tinkle and chime over the top of them.
I do work with them, with the group, for a long time. It’s called Afroluso Bay Dancers. So, yeah, I've worked with them. Lately I’ve worked with MAP group – a vehicle rolls past – and the young people, to help, obviously, build up the story… (Something creaks in the background) It's about migration, you know, and races. (A man calls out in the near distance) My work over there is a word speech that actually speaks about – another vehicle passes – how can I say, my adventure from…from Mozambique to England, you know. But also, what I try to do on that word speech – someone talks in the background – is actually get the public to know who the migrant is, like, who we are and what's our background and everything. Always got this side of, like, keeping people together, motivation, bringing people to the best of themselves, like, of what they can be.
And I thought, oh, like, I'll go see what this place Great Yarmouth is like, so I came. I just stayed there for, like, two nights and I walked down King Street and I really remember King Street and being like, wow, there's like a…there's like some kind of vibe on the streets. And I liked it and I felt quite free. And I feel like in a lot of places there's no street life any more, that much. But I felt like in Yarmouth there was. (Gulls squawk in the distance) So having this space is like a nice way to have somewhere where people can come – children chatter in the background – and you don't have to pay anything, like, there's no expectation. (The chatter continues) And to be able to do workshops with kids and stuff. I, like… I started meeting so many people who wrote – a vehicle whooshes past – and I thought, like, there should be some way that people can publish stuff if they want and also give it to people that they know. And so I thought, well, I'll set up, like, a press and do that so that people could publish stuff and distribute it and…and do readings and things here.
Gulls cry in the background.
[The anarchist community activist from earlier]
We do workshops for children who are either in the fostering system – a vehicle passes – children who have been excluded from formal education and for people who are home-schooling children as well. So we offer facilities. You know, we've got three floors. We've got a basement area, ground-level area and an upstairs area that can be used for a variety of things. (A vehicle roars in the near distance) People no longer come into town centres to shop. So, really, part of the community activism that we're trying to do is – the vehicle passes – to have spaces that were former retail spaces used for other purposes – faint chattering in the background – repurposing those buildings and those things to give something back to the community, making it kind of community-based – two thuds – and encourage people to come back into town centres.
(Light local accent) Certainly on the, on the King Street, yeah, you’ve seen changes. I mean, we, we never had coffee shops. Yeah? That’s something that Holland had. It isn’t what we had. And now we've got rows of coffee shops and when you walk down King Street – gulls cry – and smell fresh coffee... I mean, we never…we never had that. It was very basic, butcher, baker, candlestick maker. You know, we didn't have that kind of…sort of mixed cultures of Polish and Portuguese up and down the street. (A vehicle passes) Very exotic. I mean, like, you know, years ago you had a basic butcher, you had a pork chop or a pound of mince. Walk down King Street now, you know, you're watching a load of blue lobsters fight in a tank. It’s very different from…from what I knew growing up and that, you know. So they’ve… You know, seen lots of changes come in. And things have come in and sort of maybe they work, maybe they don't.
A growly vehicle manoeuvres and gulls cry and squawk.
The light ambient tone gradually returns.
(Portuguese accent) What I like the most in Yarmouth is the sense of being home, especially because of the languages, because when I go around King Street, when I go Market Place and when I go down St George's Theatre – a thud in the background – I always hear Portuguese voices. I always hear other voices and I don't feel as lonely. I think Yarmouth is a place where people can reinvent themselves and they can take other…other choices, other venues and explore other things.
The tone intensifies, punctuated by bells and blips.
(A faint transatlantic accent) Every day when I walk around, I see something different. If I'm looking at the buildings, I'll see a different gargoyle here or a different feature in the buildings that I never noticed before. So coming to these groups and stuff, like, being involved in the activities, has really kinda opened my eyes to being aware of my surroundings.
The amplified tone continues, uninterrupted.
We're part of Herring House, Herring House Trust. Before the lockdown, we were doing a project on the Wellesley. We've done the carnival in Yarmouth with batiked big flags to take to the carnival. So, yeah, it's all been really good.
Yeah, I’m… I think the history in Yarmouth… (The tone drops out) I quite like – the tone comes back in at its former level – the history of Yarmouth. I suppose when I first got here, I didn't pay much attention to it. I came… I was moved… I'm from Essex originally. (The tone vibrates, inducing, again, an air of expectation) And I was, I was in prison. And I got moved to Blundeston Prison. And I finished my sentence – voices call out from different directions and distances – there and I didn't want to go back to Essex. So, luckily, someone there at the prison found me Herring House in Yarmouth and I came here and I've been here ever since. Things were a bit up and down when I first got here. (The tone continues to vibrate) Once I started to deal with them, then I became aware of like, wow, it’s…it’s got real history. And especially with the hostel I was in, we get involved in lots of groups. I was amazed at how much history there was that I didn't know was there until somebody pointed it out. And for example, the town wall, we did a town wall walk and I didn't realise there were so many entrances to that town that used to be enclosed behind the wall, which was amazing to then think that we were on this wall walk and hearing about the fact that soldiers would have been doing God knows what a thousand years ago and it's amazing how the two worlds collide all those years later.
Once again, bells and blips join the vibrating tone.
[Great Yarmouth Wall expert from earlier]
I started to see how the town was changing. People would say the town was dying. (The vibrating tone continues) It was shops, basically. They couldn't support themselves any longer because people were buying online. So how can you get the footfall back? Yarmouth still has enough to become a mediaeval centre of excellence. So I put a presentation together and I took it to the town hall, and several others, and I gave this presentation and I suggested to them, quite powerfully, that they should get rid of the shops, open the marketplace up and show people what it was like during the mediaeval times. And also, while we’re at it, why don't we put one of the gates back? Beautiful market gates. And why don’t we do that? We’ll have flags, we'll have gate opening ceremonies. They didn't exactly laugh at me, but they… (Chuckles) They did look at me for a long time.
Truncated rings, segments of rings and blips
weave in and out to the vibration of the tone.
It’s the bells we entered by…tinkling on the way out.
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