The Sailors’ Home (Great Yarmouth Beachmen and Fishermen's Institute, British and Foreign Sailors' Home and Refuge for the Shipwrecked of All Nations), Marine Parade, Great Yarmouth.
The coast off Great Yarmouth was a dangerous place, especially in foul weather. The port was busy with fishing boats and general cargo boats. Thousands of ships passed through the Yarmouth Roads every year, navigating their way through shifting sandbanks.
In July 1858, a meeting was held with a group of men from the various Great Yarmouth Beach Companies, with a view to founding a Sailors’ Home containing a nautical school, a library and a reading room. It would become a refuge for the many shipwrecked seamen, who were landed from the wrecks occurring on this dangerous part of the Norfolk and Suffolk coast. A trust was created and trustees from Great Yarmouth included: the Collector of Customs, the Inspector of the Coastguard, merchants, a ship-owner and a chandler.
The home was to be funded by members and voluntary subscriptions. A small museum would be housed at the home and a charge would be made to view the donated objects. The objectives of the home were established: to provide a place of refuge for the shipwrecked with comfortable board, lodging and medical attention; to be open for seamen from men-of-war, yachts, fishing vessels and merchant ships; the home to be open to men of all nations, where they may be received and entertained at the lowest possible charge, when they are paid-off from their ship, on leave, waiting to join a ship, detained by the weather, or in any way requiring accommodation.
The prime mover for the foundation of the Sailors’ Home was George Simon Harcourt, who became the first secretary and treasurer. He was well connected and used his connections to obtain funding from outside Great Yarmouth. In February 1859, the Sailors’ Home was opened in temporary buildings at the rear of the Bath Hotel. Fund-raising began to pay for a permanent home with a sea frontage. The Corporation of Great Yarmouth granted the site to the north of the Jetty at a nominal rent. In March 1861, the new building, fronting the sea, was completed. On the first floor was the museum and library. Here was a collection of maps, charts and nautical instruments. There were over 1,000 books. Puzzles and table games were provided for the amusement of the seamen. The boardroom was used by apprentices, who wished to prepare themselves for the Government schools, or to become mates or masters of ships or, simply, to take the first steps in reading and writing. The cost of the building and fixtures amounted to £2,000. In October 1861, the Illustrated London News reported: forty thousand vessels pass the home every year and over half the wrecks in the United Kingdom occur in the sea off the Norfolk coast. The paper stated that, since the commencement of the Sailors’ Home, 799 souls had been rescued from the sea and succoured at the institution from 95 vessels, either wrecked or foundered. Seven lives had been saved by the use of the resuscitation equipment. By 1883, over 5,700 people had been rescued from shipwrecks and had been received at the home. The Sailors’ Home closed on the 1st January 1965, as improvements to navigational aids made shipwrecks rarer.
During its 150 year history, The Sailors' Home had cared for more than 11,000 shipwrecked sailors from 29 different countries. They were given accommodation, food and basic medical care, sometimes having been through terrible ordeals.