Historic bayonet discovered in hidden cupboard during conservation project in Great Yarmouth

A Bayonet, thought to date from the First World War, has been found in a hidden cupboard under the stairs during work at a Georgian former townhouse in Great Yarmouth.

The grade II-listed property, at 135 King Street, comprises the former townhouse and two earlier row cottages, and is on the at risk registers of both Great Yarmouth Borough Council and Norfolk County Council due to structural issues.

Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust, a registered charity, has purchased this historical gem, most recently used as a jeweller’s shop, and is transforming it for viable office and accommodation uses, which will save the property and further regenerate King Street.

As part of the sensitive conservation and conversion work, contractor Wellington Construction was asked by the trust to re-instate the elegant curve of the Georgian staircase by removing some 20th century practical paneling underneath the stairs.

Behind this, site manager Roger Pitcher discovered the hidden cupboard, containing an eclectic mix of household items from the early 1900s, plus the heavily corroded 22-inch bayonet, which is now being cleaned and repaired by conservation students at Lincoln University.

Roger said: “Restoring old buildings often throws up all sorts of surprises, and it is important to carry out the work carefully to ensure that nothing important gets missed or damaged

“Whilst we expected we might find items dating from Georgian times, coming across a First World War bayonet was a bit of a surprise.  Even though it’s rusty, you can see that it would have been a fearsome weapon, and this year especially, it makes you realize just what our soldiers were up against in the trenches.”

The preservation trust has been delivering projects since its foundation in 1979, both directly and in partnership with Great Yarmouth Borough Council, which supports its work with expert staff time and office accommodation.

Cllr Bernard Williamson, the chairman of the preservation trust, who is also the borough council’s cabinet member for transformation and regeneration said: “I am delighted the preservation trust is able to conserve this enigmatic building at risk, which is gradually giving up its secrets.

“Secular wall paintings, thought to date from between 1650 and 1720, were recently discovered in another part of the former townhouse during surveys underneath Georgian paneling, which was itself hidden under 1970s hardboard.

“The exact age and provenance of the bayonet is not yet known, but given the age of the other items in the hidden cupboard, it most probably dates from the First World War, possibly taken home as a ‘trophy’ by a resident who fought in Europe.”

There has been a building on the site in some form for about 800 years. Today the property comprises a modern shop façade, a Georgian merchant’s townhouse, two historic row cottages dating from about 1550, a Georgian courtyard and a Victorian warehouse.

The project will see 135 King Street sympathetically conserved and converted, with an office in the front range. The rest of the property, plus the site of unused borough council-owned sheds to the rear, will become five flats.

The project is part of the £4m Townscape Heritage Initiative (THI) scheme, an area-based conservation-led regeneration scheme for the King Street area, whose centrepiece was the complete refurbishment of the grade I-listed St George’s Theatre.

The THI scheme, led by Great Yarmouth Borough Council, is funded through a number of sources, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage and the borough council.