OPINION - A grand hotel and classy shop fronts can restore our seaside majesty
- Credit: Archant
Look up to the upper storeys of buildings when walking through a town or city, a history teacher once told me.
It is there you will see the history of where you are - and anywhere in the world. It will show you not the modern and adapted frontages which have kept pace with the passing of time, but the majesty and skills of builders who worked everything with their hands.
I have never forgotten that advice.
I still look up. And in my town of Great Yarmouth I see the history of centuries of architecture; the hopes and statements of success and poverty - all in bricks and mortar - and more importantly in design.
The layout of the town steered visitors through an elegant and wide funnel which led to the beach and seafront, where there was a burgeoning tourism business.
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The excesses of the boom tourism years in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s has changed the frontages into all things glittery and garish. Isn’t this a bit passe?
Hasn’t society moved on and visitors expect good food in a variety of settings, from restaurants to niche cafes, and even small stands from where the familar smell of fish and chips emanates?
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They also want things to see and do.
MORE: 9 of the best Christmas markets running in NorfolkAs a child for many years I came to Yarmouth for an annual caravan holiday at South Denes and we would walk as a family every summer evening for two weeks along the seafront, and often into Regent Road.
When I moved here 18 years ago I didn’t know there was a Market Place! So, how many holidaymakers in B&Bs, hotels, apartments or caravans up and down the coast know there has been a market here for centuries and visit it?
Perhaps Great Yarmouth should turn back the clock and go “heritagey” in its centre as a direct contrast to its “kiss me quick” seafront? Why not encourage small independent traders with a niche offering to open up - and why can’t they live above the shop?
Is it because the owners of these buildings want the maximum cash they can get from their purchase, which is often neglected, i.e. substantial rent from the retail ground floor space, then a couple of flats on the floors above.
They must be rubbing their hands in glee... if the trader moves out there is still the rent on the flats coming in, so there is no rush to fill the empty shopfront.
Why can’t the garish, and awful shop signage in some cases, be pulled down and heritage shop fronts be created? Why can’t we become not only a seaside town with a beautiful beach but a place where the history of its burgeoning popularity over the decades is valued?
Imagine, if you will, heritage shopfronts on all of the heritage buildings - second hand bookshops, hand-made jewellery, arts and crafts... somewhere for the holidaymaker and locals to browse after enjoying their lunch on the go from the Market stands. With fixed tables and benches for families to eat and enjoy together?
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And... and... why isn’t there a hotel in the centre of the town, the Market Place hub? Not everyone wants a seaview holiday on a weekend break.
So here’s an idea - Great Yarmouth’s answer to other heritage towns: Le Grand Hotel de Palmer! Slap bang in the centre of the Market Place. Would any hotel group be brave enough to take it on? Probably not.
But imagine, a grand restaurant, a wide open foyer, sweeping stairs to the bedrooms - the locals would dine there too!
However, to attract people into the centre there has to be something to give them something to look at and we have beautiful buildings - that is, if people - including locals - just look up and admire.
Has the time come to embrace the heritage and history, and make waves.