Secret historical gem in Great Yarmouth set to open

ONE of Great Yarmouth's most fascinating ruins is re-opening to the public after an 18 month restoration that guarantees its future for decades to come.

Greyfriars Cloisters are among the historic resort's 'hidden gems,' tucked away behind the quay and passed-by unnoticed by hundreds of pedestrians every day.

But their crumbling stones chronicle every phase of the town's changing fortunes, with rebuilds, conversions, plundering and bombings all adding a layer to create what some regard as an architectural onion.

Simon Tansley, English Heritage site manager, said urgent remedial work to safeguard pillars held up by the thinnest slivers of eroded mortar took place last summer.More recently steel rods had been inserted into main walls - some 700 years old - to stop them falling over as part of a �50,000 restoration.

He said: 'It's a beautiful site. Its well-intact cloister arches are rare in the country. But at a local level it tells the story of the town on a small site. Linked in with the Row houses you get the complete Yarmouth story from a fishing community to becoming a wealthy town, to attracting the orders who begged from the wealthy and obviously did very well.

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'A lot of the stone came from Caen in France like Norwich Cathedral. It is the layering and the fact there are so many periods within this structure and it's that which tells the story.'

The Fransiscan Friary was set up in the 13th century taking the name Greyfriars from the colour of the friar's habits. In it's day the site spread beyond Queens Street and Yarmouth Way including a huge church, only the south wall of which remains.

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Following the dissolution of the monasteries it was abandoned and plundered. In the 17th century it was briefly resurrected as a military training ground.

But in the 17th and 18th centuries with building still restricted to within the town walls much of the site was taken over for housing, with period workmen erecting new homes around the old.

Rows 92 and 91 and a half were built into the ruins, cottage tenements wrapped around the ancient building, knocking through doors and adding fireplaces, even adding a Victorian schoolhouse where James Paget was said to teach.

The site suffered bomb damage in the second world war. Remarkably, however, remains of the interior of the church were discovered in a 'secret' section behind a more modern wall in the 1960s.

It revealed beautifully decorated window tombs probably reserved for the Friary's 'big-givers' and the traces of Medieval wall paintings, the still-vibrant blues and reds hinting at the their original magnificence.

To celebrate the restoration English Heritage is running two open days with guided tours on July 24 and 31 at 10am, tickets �2 and �1.

In the past vandals who more recently knocked over a figure kneading bread have put a stop to summer-long opening and the site remains locked most of the time although available to pre-booked groups of ten or more.

Greyfriars Cloisters are located along Row 92 between South Quay and Greyfriars Way. Contact the historic properties team on 01493 857900.

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