Saturday, 17 May 2014

Post-war Planning in Great Yarmouth

My visit to Great Yarmouth was met with much disappointing as I was greatly excited by my research of the town with its medieval town walls and lanes as well as one of the largest parish churches in England. There are two sides of great Yarmouth, the side which looks onto the sea which was developed in the 19th century and the much older medieval side which was the old town which looks onto the river Yare. The side which looks onto the sea is a declining British sea resort and is deeply depressing deprived of interest and full of the tacky British sea side. The other side is that which looks onto the river which is of much more interest. The outskirts and main shopping street are reminiscent of a deprived northern industrial town in there dereliction and deprivation. The town walls which were indeed in some places impressive are mostly hidden from view by buildings and are not used as the great asset that they are to the town. The church, which is very large also did not live up to exceptions and is a mess, the less said about it the better. The one area of genuine interest in great Yarmouth (except the walls) is the quayside next to the town hall where some remnants of the antique medieval town survive. However remnants is the right word as the blitz took a heavy toll on the town especially the 'lanes' (narrow streets running from the quayside) which were one of the wonders of the town. What did survive the blitz was swept away in the euphoric of post war utopian planning so that what little there is left is isolated and does not convey the dense street pattern which once existed. 
Extract from my visit to Great Yarmouth

It is the post-war redevelopment of the quay-side which is of interest in this post. Much of the lanes where lost in the heavy bombing of the blitz although much still survived albeit in need of restoration and repair, however the decision for much of the area effected was made for a clean start like so many other towns and cities across Britain. Yarmouth house just behind the quayside attempts both to stand out and blend in with the townscape. 
Built in 1970 as government offices by Taylor and Green. It stands out due to its height, six stories much higher than any building on the quayside in front but its use of materials and style is somewhat sympathetic to the town (this is debatable). It does not appear to be particularly 'brutal' on first glance but the height and length of the building is clearly making a statement and is unsympathetic to the historic townscape, all characteristics of a building of the brutal school. Its conception is certainly akin to brutalism but its use of materials is a notable exception. It uses flint panels for blank walls, a local material evident in many of the older buildings of the town where concrete would have otherwise been used and tiles for the preliminary roofs also a local material and used where more efficient modern materials could have been used. The pyarminds on the roof are actually functional and house tanks and other utilities for the building. 

Architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner calls the style of the windows (which also attempt to 'fit in' to existing townscape with pointed windows) aggressively mock Gothic and disproves of the buildings concessions describing the overall effect as 'awful'It is certainly an interesting building, I think the use of local materials in new buildings is essential as it conveys the local character of the area (ie. the flint in this building) however the way this building attempts to integrate with the historic quayside and become less conspicuous by 'mock Gothic' and the slate roof (which may be a homage to the slate roofs of medieval town) but at the same time it is conspicuous by its shear size. Such a contradiction undermines the effect of the building and makes it look ridiculous. 

The entrance to the car park (which is shared with the non-descript post-war public library) which is a gap between two older buildings off the quayside is decorated with a blue plaque which explains this entrance was possible by the demolition of a medieval building demolished after the war is a telling sign of post war planning of the quayside area. However some attempts were made to preserve the character of this part of the town. Two of the older houses on the quayside are now museums (run by National trust and English heritage) and a third behind the quayside on one of the old lanes has been rebuild as a museum (see picture left). A handful of buildings which were deemed important were rebuilt in this area after the war (even if other medieval buildings were still being demolished in the name of progress). The rebuilding of the museum shows an alternative way of rebuilding after the war which if it had been implemented on a wider scale could have preserved the unique character of the lanes and made the town a great tourist attraction for its beauty, it was not to be as in so many other cases.

 Above left- another example of rebuilding behind the quayside on the lanes
 Above right- the rebuilt museum with 'Yarmouth house' in the background

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