As a rising sand bank Great Yarmouth has been used as a landing point for fishermen from many countries, it became famous for its fishing industry particularly its trading in herring by the Cinque ports. By the time of the Domesday Book, 1086, it had grown into a little town with a population of a few hundred. In 1209 King John gave Great Yarmouth a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). From then on Great Yarmouth was a self governing community.
In the Middle Ages the prosperity of Great Yarmouth was based on herring fishing and by the 12th century a herring fair was held at Yarmouth. (Fairs were like markets but they were held only once a year. Merchants came from all over Europe to buy herrings at a Great Yarmouth fair). However certain ports in Kent called the Cinque Ports were given jurisdiction over the Yarmouth fair. That might seem surprising but ships from the Kentish ports fished off Great Yarmouth. Furthermore Great Yarmouth had not yet been given a charter and was not yet self-governing. So the Kentish towns ran the fair, which caused much resentment among the people of Great Yarmouth. In 1277 the King gave Great Yarmouth joint authority over the fair. However the people of Great Yarmouth were not satisfied and in 1297 ships from Yarmouth fought a naval battle with ships from Kent off Belgium.
However the ports of Kent were declining as they silted up and Great Yarmouth continued to grow in prosperity. In the late 13th century stonewalls were built around the town. In the 13th century friars arrived in Great Yarmouth. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach. In Great Yarmouth there were Franciscan friars There were also Dominican or black friars and Carmelites or white friars. In the Middle Ages Great Yarmouth prospered. However the harbor kept silting up. Several attempts were made to dig a new haven during the Middle Ages and the 16th century. The present one dates from 1614. During the 17th and 18th centuries Great Yarmouth continued to quietly prosper.