Experience living history in Great Yarmouth

Yarmouth's incredible history will be brought to life in a series of experience days being held at the town's museums. Catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth I, learn about the textiles that have survived the ages or how the town inspired Norwich school painters. STACIA BRIGGS reports.

At the Elizabethan House Museum, a smartly-dressed Tudor gentleman is shivering at the foot of the wooden staircase, his knee-length breeches offering little resistance to the cold morning air.

Visiting on a day the museum is closed to the public, the heating isn't on and it feels as chilly as it would have done in the 1600s – not the knickerbockers weather.

Morris Jackman has been volunteering for the museum service for about seven years and was custodian at the Maritime Museum which used to be on Yarmouth seafront.

He is one of about 15 volunteers who dress in costume to bring history to life at the Tolhouse and Elizabethan House museums and Time and Tide.

Often spotted as a Tudor gentleman, Yarmouth fisherman or rat-catcher ('We have a dried-out rat, yes. No live ones, though.'), Morris enjoys stepping back in time – even if it is a bit chilly wearing tights in winter.

'You quickly gain respect for the people who wore these clothes, because we live in modern times with modern heating and it's still pretty cold to wear short trousers and tights,' he said.

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'I retired in 2003 just as the museum service was in the process of setting up Time and Tide so I decided to become a volunteer because I enjoyed being at the Maritime Museum so much.

'There are a great bunch of people at the museums and I really enjoy meeting the public and telling them a bit about the period that I'm representing. It makes it real for people.'

The costumes, made by a dedicated team of talented volunteer tailors, are in addition to the museums' beautiful collection of historical textiles.

While Morris and fellow volunteers use authentic, historically-accurate textiles to add a new dimension to history, curator Jo O'Donoghue, who is responsible for three Yarmouth museums, is hoping to fire visitors' imagination with a series of special experience days.

In the Elizabethan House, she points to an intricate Tudor jacket in a glass case.

Thought to belong to John Carter, a former mayor of Yarmouth, the linen doublet dates from the 1630s and is a masterpiece of precision, skill and hard work – decorated with linen and ginger-coloured silk threads and thousands of French knots, lined with red wool and faced on the inner skirts, cuffs and elbows with fine golden silk.

'Costumes are very difficult to preserve because it's a balance between keeping items out on display and making sure that they're not damaged by being hung or by sunlight,' said Jo.

'We have a large selection of textiles in store and there are more available in the handling collections of the museum service. We can ask to have a selection of clothes sent to us from different periods of time so that people can see exactly what used to be worn.

'In our collection, we have everything worn by a Mrs Tubby on her wedding day in 1913, from her dress to her veil, her shoes, her bag, her jewellery and even her underwear.

'It's a snapshot of a single day in time and it's quite wonderful. We've got moccasins picked up by sailors from North America, Chinese slippers, beaded bags from the 1920s, beautiful ivory and feather fans – there are just boxes and boxes of amazing textiles in store.'

The experience days which begin later this month, visitors will be able to look at items usually in the stores.

'I want people coming to our museums to feel that sense of wonder and awe that you should feel when you visit a museum, the feeling that you're seeing something really special.'

Also helping bring history to life will be Rachel Duffield, who works for Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service as a live interpretation officer, but has a double life as Queen Elizabeth I. She will be will demonstrate the detail of period costume in one of the events - Undressing Queen Elizabeth - which will also include a glimpse at some the museums' textiles collection and a talk about the sonnets and poetry that give an insight into love and lust in Tudor England.


Great Yarmouth museums are offering visitors exclusive, behind-the-scenes access to the town's fascinating collections at a new range of experience days. They will be able to enjoy sessions with an artist-in-residence, a costume designer, the museum service's conservation team and Queen Elizabeth I in person.

February 8: Undressing Queen Elizabeth – a fascinating look at Tudor England. Queen Elizabeth I will demonstrate the detail of period costume, peeling back the layers of her garments and revealing the history behind them. An academic expert will then lead participants through the sonnets and poetry that give an insight into love and lust in Tudor England.

February 15: Costumes and Creativity – wonderful costumes, textiles and accessories from the stored collections. Participants can create their own 1960s bag with a professional costume designer.

February 29: Inspiring Seascapes – exploring the paintings of the Norwich School including Victorian painter Joseph Cotman and more modern artists such as Maggie Hambling. Learn the techniques behind these dramatic artworks from artist-in-residence Philip Harvey and meet the conservation team to learn the basics of looking after artwork.

March 7: Hand Painted Glass – calling on the ornate collection of decorative glass at the historic Elizabethan House Museum to inspire students to create their own designs.

March 14: The Secrets of Watercolours – a behind-the-scenes tour of the museums' collections with curator Jo O'Donoghue and Philip Harvey. Meet the conservation team and learn how the delicate watercolours are looked after and stored.

Tickets for the experience days cost �45 per person including lunch provided by the Silver Darlings Caf� at Time and Tide, plus refreshments throughout the day. For more information call 01493 743930.