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Yarmouth (St. James)

YARMOUTH (St. James), a market-town and parish, and formerly a representative borough, in the liberty of West Medina, Isle of Wight division of the county of Southampton, 10 miles (W.) from Newport, and 94 (S. W.) from London, by Portsmouth, and 105 by Southampton; containing 567 inhabitants. This place, which derives its name from its situation on the river Yar, was formerly of much greater extent and importance than it is at present. It suffered severely from attacks of the French, by whom, in the reign of Richard II., it was pillaged and entirely burned, and by whom on two subsequent occasions it was nearly destroyed. The town field, laid out regularly in right angles, though now destitute of buildings, clearly appears to have been originally the site of a part of the town. Yarmouth is situated on a bank sloping to the sea, on the eastern point of land at the mouth of the Yar, and consists of several neat streets, for the most part running east and west: the houses, which are of freestone, are in general well built and of neat appearance, and public baths have been established. At its western extremity are a castle and small fort, erected by Henry VIII., the latter occupying the site of a church or ancient religious house, and consisting of a platform with eight guns, and houses for the garrison. A large house near the former, which has been converted into an inn, was erected by Sir Robert Holmes, for the reception of Charles II., a portrait of whom, during his stay here, was painted by Sir P. Lely, and is in the possession of the Holmes family.

The trade is now very limited: a considerable quantity of fine white sand, used in the manufacture of flintglass and the finer sorts of British china, is obtained for exportation from some pits on the shore of Alum bay, near the Needles; and the principal imports are, coal from Sunderland, and timber from the New Forest. A constant intercourse by boats is kept up with the opposite town of Lymington, in Hampshire, and before the general use of steam-boats, this was considered the safest and most expeditious passage to the island: a steamer plies daily between Yarmouth and Lymington. The market is on Wednesday, and a fair is held on July 25th: the market-house is a neat building, with a hall over it, in which the several courts are held, and the public business of the corporation is transacted.

The original charter of incorporation was granted by Baldwyn de Redvers, Earl of Devon, and confirmed by Edward I. and various successive monarchs. That under which the corporation now acts was bestowed in the 7th of James I., and ordains the appointment of a mayor and twelve capital burgesses, with power to choose a steward, a town-clerk, and a sergeant-at-mace, and to create freemen: this last privilege is not exercised. Borough courts are held by the mayor and steward, and the corporation is entitled to all the fines, forfeitures, and profits of the courts, with many other privileges. The town first sent members to parliament in the 23rd of Edward I., but made no other return until the 27th of Elizabeth, from which period it exercised the right without intermission until the 2nd of William IV., when it was disfranchised. The living is a discharged rectory, in the patronage of the Crown; net income, £100. The church, situated in the centre of the town, is a neat structure consisting of a nave and chancel, on the south side of which is a sepulchral chapel, containing a handsome statue of the full size, in Parian marble, of Sir Robert Holmes, formerly governor of the Isle of Wight. The edifice underwent a complete repair in 1831, when the tower was raised a considerable height, at the expense of T. Alexander, Esq., and a gallery was erected by the corporation. Here are places of worship for Baptists and Wesleyans. The sum of £30 per annum was bequeathed by Thomas, Lord Holmes, of which £10 are distributed to the poor, £10 paid towards apprenticing a boy, and the remaining £10 given to the minister. There are some vestiges of a Roman station, on the site of which a house has been built, occupied as a private residence.


Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.