The Elizabethan House Museum is a former merchant’s house built in 1596, and located on Great Yarmouth’s Quayside.
In the hands of the National Trust since 1949, it was converted into a living history museum showcasing the home lives of those living in the 16th century.
The house was built by the successful local merchant Benjamin Cowper, who purchased the property, which then extended numbers 1-4 South Quay.
The original mansion building extended from 1-3 South Quay, and there’s believed to have been a monastery situated here which was torn down and reused to build the mansion.
Benjamin Cowper – Cowper built the home after purchasing the land in 1596, and as his wealth increased, so did the size of the mansion, with major additions coming in 1603 and later in 1610.
Benjamin Cowper, or Cauper, was a wealthy merchant from Great Yarmouth whose rising status saw him being appointed as town bailiff (1609, 1618, and 1628) and a member of parliament in 1620 and 1623.
John Carter – Carter was a successful local merchant and town bailiff (1641 and 1651) who purchased the home from Cowper in 1635, along with his brother-in-law Thomas Manthorpe.
Carter was a leader of the Yarmouth Presbyterians and was good friends with Oliver Cromwell, who would regularly visit. The visits would become more frequent before and during the Civil War, as the home became a meeting place for Parliamentarians.
In 1644, John Carter was commissioned by the Earl of Manchester to be joint Commander-in-chief of the town’s militia and was made responsible for implementing Martial Law.
It was during Carter’s ownership that a meeting took place in what is now the Conspiracy Room, where the fate of King Charles I was allegedly decided!
The elder son of John Carter also called John, inherited the house after his father’s death in 1667. He lived in the house until he died in 1700, and it then passed to his younger brother, Nathaniel.
Nathaniel lived in the home with his wife, Mary Fleetwood, until he died in 1722, aged 88.
Upon his death, Nathaniel bequeathed the house to his cousin, Captain John Davall. Davall split the home into two buildings in 1722, which today are nos. 3 and 4 South Quay.
In 1753 the house was owned by David Mason and his wife, Mary. Mason installed the water pump in the scullery as a wedding gift for his wife, only one of a few properties in Yarmouth to have an indoor supply.
David died shortly after marriage, and Mary only lived there until 1757. Mary’s brother-in-law, Thomas Adkin, inherited the property after her death.
In 1771 the house was purchased by Samuel Tover, who died just a year later. The house was passed on to his youngest son, Thomas Tover, who lived there until 1774, when it was sold to William Taylor, the Mayor of Yarmouth, in 1775, 1783, and 1794).
In 1780, the house was sold to John Ives (father of John, the antiquarian), who lived there until he died in 1793. His widow later married Thomas Fowler, who inherited the house but didn’t live there.
It was then passed to William Steward and later Thomas Prince, the town surgeon.
In 1809, the property was purchased by John Dany Palmer, who added the large sash windows and the wrought iron balconies, as you can see today. After John’s death in 1841, the house was passed to his son, Charles John Palmer, who lived in the home until 1867.
Charles was a famous local historian and former mayor of the town, and his time at the home is celebrated with a blue plaque on the exterior of the building.
Charles sold the home in 1867 at auction, including all fixtures, fireplaces, and lighting. In 1870 the Aldred family were the owners, and Samuel Aldred (an auctioneer) converted the front breakfast room into offices. When Samuel died, the home was passed onto Edward Robert Aldred and later Edward’s sister, Mary Aldred.
Mary Aldred died in 1943, and the home was bequeathed to the National Trust. However, her sister Blanche remained a tenant until she died in 1949. Norfolk Museums now look after the Elizabethan House on behalf of the National Trust.