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How did Yarmouth get its half-lion half-fish coat of arms?

PUBLISHED: 10:59 10 June 2015 | UPDATED: 11:29 10 June 2015

The Battle of Sluys 1340 was a gory affair with hand-to-hand combat taking place on boats.

The Battle of Sluys 1340 was a gory affair with hand-to-hand combat taking place on boats.

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As residents and visitors alike well know, Great Yarmouth boasts one of the most distinctive - and unusual - of any coats of arms. LIZ COATES tells the remarkable story of the sea battle that gave the town it’s emblem and the event being panned to mark it’s anniversary

Dr Paul Davies and Andrew Fakes from the Great Archealogical Society who are set to reveal a blue plaque remembering the Great Yarmouth 'Bodysnatchers'; Picture: James BassDr Paul Davies and Andrew Fakes from the Great Archealogical Society who are set to reveal a blue plaque remembering the Great Yarmouth 'Bodysnatchers'; Picture: James Bass

It was a decisive but long-forgotten naval victory that lead to the creation of Great Yarmouth’s regal coat of arms that today appears on everything from civic regalia to bins.

With no dedicated fleet of warships King Edward III assembled hundreds of merchant vessels - the majority from the east Norfolk port - for his assault on northern France in what was to become the Hundred Years War.

The fierce sea battle at Sluys, then the best harbour in Europe, saw the English overwhelm a combined force destroying French naval capability for some years allowing the King to land with little opposition and head off an invasion of England.

Afterwards hailing the contribution of men and ships from Yarmouth Edward allowed the town to half its coat of arms of three silver herrings and add his own three lions, elevating its standing and providing an arresting heraldic emblem.

Great Yarmouth's coat of arms which was transformed after the Battle of Sluys when a grateful King Edward III allowed the town to take in elements of his royal herald.Great Yarmouth's coat of arms which was transformed after the Battle of Sluys when a grateful King Edward III allowed the town to take in elements of his royal herald.

Now to commemorate the 675th anniversary of the Battle of Sluys on June 24 1340 a national conference is being staged in the town.

Eminent speakers have been lined up for the event at St George’s Theatre on June 27 to talk about the battle and events in 14th century Yarmouth.

Organisers hope it will help boost the profile of the heritage-rich resort, known more for its gaudy amusements, ice-creams and fast food outlets.

Dr Paul Davies, chairman of Great Yarmouth Local History and Archaeology Society which is behind the conference said the bloody battle was a key point in the town’s history.

Conference will commemorate 14th century Battle of Sluys

The naval engagement at Sluys occurred after the French fleet of 200 ships gathered to stop Edward III’s fleet landing in Flanders.

Philip VI of France had built up a considerable force with the intention of invading ngland.

The French ships were lashed together across the river estuary to create a floating platform protected by archers and artillery.

However, Edward’s fleet, with the wind behind them, smashed into French ships in a bitter battle that lasted all day.

The fight was in effect a land battle on ships with the English long bow proving decisive, but there was much hand-to-hand fighting.

The French fleet was severely beaten losing two admirals.

The English chronicler, Geoffrey Le Baker, records 25,000 Frenchmen killed for the loss of 400 Englishmen.

Although Sluys was a devastating defeat of French naval power, Edward was unable to follow it up by eliminating the French navy completely, because he had run out of money.

The next battle involving sea power in the Hundred Years War was during the Siege of Calais in 1347, which lasted almost a year.

During this time, Great Yarmouth provided Edward III with 1,075 mariners and 43 ships, whereas London only provided 25 ships.

He said he was keen for local folk and those from further afield to know more about the town’s illustrious history - at one time the fifth most important tax-giver to the crown.

The battle at Sluys would have been a terrifying spectacle, he said.

Forget ships at a distance firing cannons, this was close-up combat at its most savage with boats lining up against each other so that men-at-arms could hack at their adversaries, throwing the survivors overboard.

The task force of ships (cogs) were not designed for warfare or manned by naval personnel and being a seafarer in the middle ages was a risky and violent business in an age when the king required maritime towns to have ships on standby for battle.

“Yarmouth has a great deal of history attached to it,” Mr Davies said. “Especially its built heritage that people are not aware of. There are several conservation projects going on in King Street and we are trying to encourage people to be interested in their home town.

“Hopefully people from afar will look at Great Yarmouth as a year-round heritage destination as well as a tourism destination.

“Yarmouth was very much in the heat of this battle and was rewarded.”

The 170-member society whose history dates back to 1888 is keen to boost its activities and says the conference is its most ambitious project to date.

Responsible for dozens of blue plaques around the town bringing to prominence episodes and people 
from the past it aims to close the conference with the unveiling of another disc to mark the Battle of Sluys.

The conference will be held at St George’s Theatre, King Street, Great Yarmouth on Saturday June 27 from 10am-4pm.

Tickets priced £18 without buffet lunch or £28 with buffet lunch are available from St George’s Theatre Box office on 01493 331484 and via www.stgeorgestheatre.com

Alternatively contact Paul Davies on 01493 843647 or email paulpearce@yarmouth8143.freeserve.co.uk.

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