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Council shines spotlight on Great Yarmouth's cultural beacons with new lighting

Seven of Great Yarmouth's most iconic buildings will be put in the spotlight from this weekend.

St George's Theatre with new floodlighting

The borough council will flick the switch on new lighting on the Town Hall, St George's Theatre, the Tolhouse, the Minster Church of St Nicholas, the Arc Cinema at the Royalty, the North West Tower, and Gorleston Pavilion.

The collection includes five listed buildings and a scheduled monument, with all the buildings representing a special place in the town's history and cultural life.

They will all be bathed in new energy-efficient LED lighting, focusing on the impressive architecture which has seen many of them given legal protection from changes. From spring next year, the council plans to launch a second phase of lighting which will see specially commissioned illustrations projected on to the buildings in a series of light trails.

Council leader Carl Smith said: "Great Yarmouth has fantastic cultural heritage, and that includes many nationally important buildings. This new lighting helps highlight some of the ones that have played the biggest parts in the town's history - from our theatres and cinemas that have entertained thousands of people and generations of families, to a former jail and town defences that had a less happy, but equally important, role to play in our past."

Arc Cinema spokesman Brian Gilligan said: "Cinema is all about light, so we are delighted that the Arc Cinema is part of this project to spotlight Great Yarmouth's cultural beacons."

Gorleston Pavilion Theatre trustee Alex Youngs said: "There is nothing worse for a theatre than being dark, so it is lovely for us to be literally up in lights and showing we are open for the public to enjoy a great theatre experience."

St George's Theatre director Debbie Thompson said: "We are blessed with a beautiful Grade I listed building, and it is great to be able to show it off in suitably dramatic style with this new lighting. Oh yes it is!"

The project is being supported by the government's Town Fund, as part of the See Great Yarmouth In A Different Light project. Last winter, the project supported decorative new lighting in Great Yarmouth, Gorleston, and Hemsby.

The new lighting on cultural buildings will be switched on daily from December 11.


Great Yarmouth Town Hall

This grand civic building was officially opened in May 1882 by the then Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. It replaced an earlier town hall, jail, and police headquarters that had stood on the same North Quay site for 160 years. It was described as having "one of the finest interiors in Eastern England and a measure, like the entire building, of the town's prosperity in the late 19th century". 

In 1998 it was given Grade II* listed status, and restorations in 2007 and 2012 saw the reversal of previous unsympathetic repairs and the addition of a central courtyard atrium and lift access.  

St George's Theatre

Now a thriving community theatre, St George's was originally built as a chapel to complement Great Yarmouth Minster. It was commissioned in 1714 and modelled on Sir Christopher Wren's St Clements Danes in London, and is now recognised as one of the finest examples of baroque church architecture outside of the capital, leading it to be Grade I listed in 1953.  

The chapel was deconsecrated in 1959 and became an arts centre and theatre in 1972. Severe structural problems saw it close in 2006, but Heritage Lottery funding supported a restoration and addition of a new café bar next door. It reopened in 2013. 

The Tolhouse

One of Great Yarmouth oldest buildings, the Tolhouse was built around 1150, probably by a rich merchant showing off their riches through the flint and ashlar walls, tiled roof, finely carved doorway and arched windows. Its name is believed to have come from its use collecting taxes on herring catches in the 14th century, but its rooms and dungeons have also been used as a jail, courthouse, and police station - including for trials by infamous 'witchfinder general' Matthew Hopkins. 

It was gifted to the Mayor in 1883, when it was changed to its current use as a museum.  It has been Grade I listed since 1953.

The Minster Church of St Nicholas

The Norman-era Minster Church of St Nicholas is probably Great Yarmouth's oldest building - although little of the original survives.  

It was founded by the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga, in 1101 and consecrated in 1119, before being extended and remodelled throughout the medieval period with widened aisles, a new south porch, and new windows in the north wall. Bombing and fire in 1942 gutted most of the interior, with the building restored by 1960.  

It was Grade II* listed in 1953, and raised to the status of a Minister Church in 2011. 

Gorleston Pavilion

Originally planned to be part of an improvement and landscaping project to transform Gorleston from a fishing village to a seaside resort, the Pavilion was the only part that was given the green light. Known then as the Shelter Hall, it was designed by the borough engineer J.W. Cockrill in an imposing Italian terracotta style and opened in 1898.  

Empresarios associated with the venue include ticket agent Keith Prowse, the Hippodrome's George Gilbert, and more recently Norwich Theatre Royal's Dick Condon. 

Over the years the venue has been used as a cinema, theatre, and music hall and today operates all year round offering a range of entertainment from both amateur and professional performers.  It was Grade II listed in 1996.

Arc Cinema at the Royalty

A key landmark on Great Yarmouth's Golden Mile, this imposing building opened as The Aquarium in 1875, offering a reading room, concert hall, opera house and aquarium. It also offered roller skating on the roof, which in the winter of 1879 was flooded for use as an ice-skating rink. 

The current neo-baroque façade was added in 1892 when it became a theatre, attracting famous artists including Lily Langtree, Helen Terry and Oscar Wilde., before giving way to cinema in the early twentieth century.  

It has been known as the 3 in 1, the Royalty, the Hollywood and most recently was converted in to the five-screen Arc Cinema. 

North West Tower

Once part of a grand and imposing wall that surrounded the town on three sides the North West Tower is one of 11 remaining towers from an original 16. Construction of the flint and brick walls and towers started in 1285 and took nearly 100 years to complete. The section of wall nearest the North West Tower was demolished in 1902. 

The tower is now owned by the Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust who have plans to convert it to holiday accommodation, following a similar successful scheme at the South East Tower on Blackfriars Road. 

Last modified on 04 January 2022

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