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Visiting the Toll House, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England: a 13th century civic building, now a museum

Updated on March 15, 2013
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
The Toll House, Tollhouse Street, Great Yarmouth
The Toll House, Tollhouse Street, Great Yarmouth | Source
 Architectural detail on the Toll House, Great Yarmouth
Architectural detail on the Toll House, Great Yarmouth | Source
Map location of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Map location of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk | Source

A sense of both continuity and change over hundreds of years

This historic structure is reckoned to be among England's oldest civic buildings. Dating substantially from the 13th century, the Toll House (1) was originally a mechant's house, but became the base for Great Yarmouth's civic administration. It is known, in fact, that for many years after becoming a civic building, the Toll House continued to be privately owned, with formal possession of the building by the authorities only occurring centuries after it was first built: parts of the building actually date from the 12th century.

A museum since 1880, the structure is executed in flint, with ashlar. It has sometimes been described as a fortified house. Parts of the structure were rebuilt in the 19th Stylistically, recurring, Gothic pointed window arching is prominent.

The Toll House was used in various functions which included as a courthouse, a library, a toll collection office (hence its name), and a jail. In recent years, the museum facilities have been expanded to include an audio guide descibing an experience of the Toll House from a prisoner's perspective. Visitor accounts of the experience of viewing the former jail cells have included comments to the effect that the evident, former severity of conditions can still have a subduing effect on young people unfamiliar with the rigours of incarceration in centuries past! (2)

A striking feature of the building is a prominent displayed coat of arms of Great Yarmouth, which consist of three Royal lions with the tails of herring (a tribute to the local fishing industry). New roofing was installed in 1960, in addition to other, structural changes.

Interestingly (at least, to myself), given my family name, I read in some genealogical records that a 'John atte Fen' served as bailiff of Yarmouth in the 14th century; whether or not there may exist some ancestral connection between this individual and myself I do not know, but he would surely have been acquainted with the Toll House.

The Toll House is located in the aptly named Tollhouse Street, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England.

March 14, 2013


(1) The Toll House is sometimes written variously 'Tollhouse' or even 'Toll-House'; in using the form 'Toll House', I am simply opting for internal consistency.

(2) Prison reformer Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was from Norwich, Norfolk. Although it is known that her philanthropic work was particularly prompted by her exposure to conditions in Newgate Prison, London, yet, without doubt, comparable conditions would also have been a feature of the jail at Great Yarmouth's Toll House. The building continued to serve this function until the 19th century.

Also worth seeing

In Great Yarmouth itself, other noted buildings include the North-West Tower; St Nicholas's Church; the Anna Sewell House; the Britannia Monument, and others.

Burgh Castle (distance: approx. 6.8 kilometres) dates from Roman times.


How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Great Yarmouth is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. The town is 265 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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