Locating a fitting tribute to Norfolk’s Hero of the Sea

Many Norwich citizens know about Nelson’s statue in the Cathedral Close in Norwich, now voiced by Stephen Fry for the Talking Statues project. But how many people know about the huge column on the coast? At the very south end of Great Yarmouth, as you head towards Gorleston, stands a tall pillar, dedicated to the ‘Norfolk Hero’. It stands at 44 metres high (only 8 metres shorter than Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London). Originally built on open ground, the Pillar is now surrounded on 3 sides by an industrial estate and the other by the sea.

nelson column

Drawing by George Clayton Eaton. NRO, ETN 4/13/9

This image of Nelson’s Monument drawn by George Clayton Eaton, shows the monument as it stood in the 1850s, surrounded by mainly open countryside (NRO, ETN 4/13/9).

Creation of the Column

It was created in 1817-19 by William Wilkins, and was the first monument in England dedicated to Lord Nelson, pre-dating Nelson’s Column by over 20 years. At the top of the pillar is a statue of Britannia, facing inland and holding an olive branch in her right hand and a trident in her left.

Where to locate the Column?

Although the authorities were relatively quick to provide a tribute to Nelson, just over 10 years after his death, the prospect of where to locate the monument proved to be tricky. The records of the Town Clerk’s Department within the Great Yarmouth Borough Archives (NRO, Y/TC 35F/1) highlight a meeting of 1815, were it was decided that the monument should be placed in or around Great Yarmouth. They state that the monument should be a column and that it should be useful for navigation by sea. This information was sent off to the Court of Corporation of Trinity House, to be discussed at their meeting in September of that year. However, they were not so keen on the idea, preferring instead to place the column in Cromer, where it could serve as a lighthouse. This, they thought, would be particularly useful if coastal erosion destroyed the existing lighthouse.

Thankfully the matter was clearly resolved and only 2 years later the monument was built in Great Yarmouth. Many of the visitors to Great Yarmouth’s Pleasure Beach have probably never noticed the figure of Britannia watching over them as they enjoy their rides. Next time you visit, be sure to look out for her.

Other Nelson Documents

The Norfolk Record Office holds a number of documents relating to the life and memory of Lord Nelson, from letters written by him, to his baptism and even a lock of his hair. More information on each of these items can be found in Lord Nelson- Norfolk Hero.

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