Manual Ref* NFgyGO004 Show 4 images 1054

Headstone of William Adams

County Norfolk   District Council Great Yarmouth Borough Council 
Civil Parish or equivalent Gorleston  Town/Village* Gorleston 
Road Magdalen road/Crab Lane 
Precise Location Gorleston Old Cemetery 
OS Grid Ref TG518042  Postcode NR31 
Previous location(s)  
Setting Cemetery  Access Public 
Artist/Maker Role Qualifier
Not known  Stonemason(s)   

Commissioned by

Adams family 

Design & Constrn period

Probably 1913 

Date of installing


Exact date of unveiling



Abstract Animal Architectural
Commercial Commemorative Composite
Free Functional Funerary
Heraldic Military Natural
Non-Commemorative Performance Portable
Religious Roadside, Wayside Sculptural
Temporary, Mobile Other  

Object Type

Building Clock Tower Architectural
Coat of Arms Cross Fountain
Landscape Marker Medallion
Mural Panel Readymade
Relief Shaft Sculpture
Statue Street Furniture War Memorial
Other Object Sub Type: Headstone

Subject Type

Allegorical Mythological Pictorial
Figurative Non-figurative Portrait
Still-life Symbolic Other

Subject Sub Type

Bust Equestrian Full-length
Group Head Reclining
Seated Standing Torso
Part Material Dimension
headstone  Limestone  150 x 70 cm. 

Work is

Extant Not Sited Lost


Parochial Church Council 

Listing status

Grade I Grade II* Grade II Don't Know Not Listed

Surface Condition

Corrosion, Deterioration Accretions
Bird Guano Abrasions, cracks, splits
Biological growth Spalling, crumbling
Metallic staining Previous treatments

Structural Condition

Armature exposed Broken or missing parts
Replaced parts Loose elements
Cracks, splits, breaks, holes Spalling, crumbling
Water collection Other


Graffiti Structural damage Surface Damage

Overall condition

Good Fair Poor


No Known Risk At Risk Immediate
Inscriptions In loving memory of William Adams who saved 140 lives from drowning. Died Oct. 14th 1913, aged 49 years. Also his wife Ellen Elizabeth Adams, died Feb. 25th 1939, aged 72 years. "Re-united." Also their son, Pte. Graham Adams, died while a prisoner of war in Turkey, aged 19 years. 

Description (physical)

The headstone is wider than usual, to allow for the relief at the left, showing William Adams diving down under a branch to rescue a figure whose head can just be made out in the sea beneath. There is a small urn in front of the headstone and a bowl with flowers between the stones marking the plot. 

Description (iconographical)

The unusual relief, together with the report on his funeral, quoted below, suggest that the headstone was commissioned in 1913 after the death of William Adams, and that the references to his wife and their son were added later. William Adams was born in Gorleston on 25th January 1864, the son of Trinity pilot Abel Adams. He developed into a highly proficient swimmer at an early age, making his first rescue at the age of 11, saving the life of a young girl who had fallen from the pier into the sea. This marked the beginning of a lifetime of life-saving, recognised in the award in 1890 of the Royal Humane Society's bronze medal for his bravery in rescuing a local lad named Robert Drane. In a life-saving career which spanned 38 years William Adams was responsible for rescuing 140 people from drowning. On leaving school he was employed as a tinplate worker returning every summer to his alternative occupations as bathing hut proprietor and swimming instructor on Gorleston beach, which meant that he was usually close at hand if a bather required assistance. He died at the early age of 49, after an illness which had not prevented him from rescuing an elderly man a month before his death. The Yarmouth Mercury reported: 'The funeral of the late Professor William Adams took place amid many signs of sorrow and respect at the passing of one of Gorleston’s bravest and most efficient sons. The flag was flown at half-mast above the grey old tower of St. Andrew’s Church and on the Recreation Ground the Gorleston football players wore black armlets. Many shops were shut as a token of respectful sympathy.' The tribute continued: 'in all his rescues he always put aside any thought of personal risk, acting on the moment with one thought uppermost, that the life of a fellow creature was in peril. Such characteristics make the true hero.'  


Date taken:  17/7/2010
Date logged: 

Photographed by:
Stewart William Adams

On Site Inspection

Date:  17/7/2010

Inspected by:
Stewart William Adams

Sources and References

Information from his great, great grandson, Stewart William Adams 


Date entered:  21/7/2010

Data inputter:
Richard Cocke