A Page from the Sage
Dick Melton writes...
I have never written much about Old Hunstanton so I thought I would try and bring you some of the history of Old Hunstanton. Legend has it that St Edmund landed near Hunstanton cliffs. He was crowned King of East Anglia in 856 and martyred by the Danes in 870. A series of windows in St Edmund’s church tell the story of his life.
Hunstanton is mentioned in the Doomsday Book; there is reference to an earlier building on the site of the now St Mary’s church. Roland Le Strange came from Brittany and acquired land in the Hunstanton area by marrying Matilda de Brun daughter of a local Saxon chief.
Godfrey de Toftrees was the first vicar. A chapel was erected near the cliff top; this was the highest point on the cliffs and named St Edmund’s Point in 1272. Only the archway and part of a wall are still here today.
In 1310 the building of Hunstanton Hall started. 1347 to 1348 a total of 172 tenants in the village died of the black death during an 8 month period, in 1490 the gatehouse at Hunstanton Hall was built.
1648: this date appears on the gable end of Caley farmhouse now the Caley Hall Hotel. In 1666 the first lighthouse was built at Hunstanton, it was destroyed by fire in 1776 and in 1776 a new lighthouse was built also of timber. In l784 smugglers killed William Green a customs officer, and William Webb of the Light Dragoons. Their graves are in St Mary’s churchyard.
In the 1800s the Le Strange Arms was built, a village inn was on this site dating back to the seventeen century. In 1824 Hunstanton’s first lifeboat and boathouse and in 1838 the lighthouse was purchased by Trinity House. In 1841 Old Hunstanton village school was built, the wooden lighthouse was replaced by a brick and stone one with the addition of lighthouse keepers’ cottages and a prison cell in the tower basement to house arrested smugglers temporarily.
In 1853 a fire destroyed 20 rooms in Hunstanton Hall including the library, banqueting hall and the entrance hall. At the time there was no fire brigade at Hunstanton so a man on horseback had to ride to Heacham to get theirs.
The golf club was founded in 1891, and in 1894 the golf club pavilion was built, a new lifeboat the Licensed Victualler was put on station, and a new larger boathouse was built and it is still in use today.
In 1909 a square tower was built near to the lighthouse for top secret Marconi wireless equipment and to act as a listening post. The Lodge Hotel was built in 1912; it had been a private hotel.
In 1916 the Marconi tower picked up messages from the German grand fleet so the British navy could inform their fleet.
In 1921 the lighthouse was closed down, the lighthouse being replaced by a lightship in the Wash called the Lynnwell and in 1922 the lighthouse was sold at auction to the Le Strange Estate for £1,300.
In 1926 P G Woodhouse stayed at Hunstanton Hall; he became a regular visitor typing out his stories in a punt on the moat.
A garden around the remains of St Edmund’s chapel was laid out in remembrance of the men who lost their lives in World War l.
In 1930 the lighthouse buildings were used as a cafe till 1939, in 1931 the RNLI closed the lifeboat station as there had been no calls since 1916; it was opened again in 1979. The old lifeboat had 53 launches and saved 117 lives.
An unpowered radar detection ship the Sheraton broke loose from its moorings in the north sea and was washed ashore under the cliffs. The deck and the sides were salvaged and the keel remains amongst the rocks until this day.
In 1948 Hunstanton Hall was sold to a Lancashire stockbroker and was made into apartments. Just two years later there was another fire at Hunstanton Hall.
In 1961the lighthouse was bought by Hunstanton Urban District Council, and in 1963 the Coastguard took over the wireless tower and used it as a lookout tower and training centre. 1964 saw the lighthouse sold again for £4,760 after being advertised in the Times by the Urban District Council.
In 1977 Old Hunstanton got a new village sign and the lifeboat station was re-opened. A new lifeboat was bought in 1982called the Spirit of America; its first launching was on Christmas Day. Money for the lifeboat was raised by the American appeal fund.
In 1982 Old Hunstanton school closed down.
This list was written out by the late Ken Arnott who was a school teacher, historian and a correspondent for the Lynn News and Advertiser. He also wrote a small book about Hunstanton. I do not know why, but he stopped writing the Hunstanton list around 1984, but there was a lot going on in Old Hunstanton after this like all the new building going on and the closing down of the Village Club which was a great loss to the people of the village.
Ken also wrote an eleven page list about the history of New Hunstanton starting 1843 and ending in 2003. At the same time Ken published a small but very interesting book about Hunstanton though I would think it is out of print. Another book that I have is called the history of Hunstanton written by a MR L L Gore, it has 415 pages it covers most things that happened in Old and New Hunstanton from doomsday until when it was published in 1984. I was very lucky to get one that is signed by Mr Gore, and there are some very good old pictures in it as well.
For many years now we have had the sea come over at Hunstanton, the main flood was the tragic one in 1953 when 31 lives were lost and then in 1978 when we lost the pier but no loss of life, and another flood in 2013 but again no loss of life. Over the years there has been many ways of alerting the residents; at one time we would have flood wardens who went from house to house in the threatened areas telling the people of the predicted flood then the old air raid sirens were used. I think we had three if not four of these sirens in and around Hunstanton. I know there was one in Westgate in Mr Geoff Searle’s garden and also one near the old gas works, and there was another down south beach but I cannot remember where.
Then the council put flood boards in the gaps in the back sea wall from the fairground as far as the Waterside (Three in One); these flood boards that were made of wood were then replaced by the sliding steel gates. We also have a notice board (PEN) which is short for precautionary evacuation notice. There is I believe three of these notice boards in and around Hunstanton - they light up and flash when a high tide is predicted. I think there is also these PEN notice boards at Snettisham and Heacham. Also I think at Old Town. The most prominent one in Hunstanton is at the entrance to South Beach Road near the Tesco roundabout.
Keeping on the subject of the sea and floods I had a chap get in touch with me asking me if I knew the names of the three people who received the George Medal for saving people’s lives at Hunstanton during the 1953 floods. Only two people received the George Medal for rescuing people at Hunstanton and they, as most of you know, were Reis Leming and Freeman Kilpatrick; both of these men were serving with the USAAF at Sculthorpe. The third person to receive the George Medal was Leading Fireman Fred Sadd from Gorleston who rescued many people in the Great Yarmouth area. Many people received medals for their help in these floods including people from Hunstanton: Geoffrey Searle, William Stoney and William Smith who served with the Hunstanton branch of the St John Ambulance. There were of course many other people who helped on that terrible night in January 1953; that was 69 years ago this year, 2022.
I would like to finish off this month; here is a short story about something that happened to me many years ago.
My father had been in the army for twenty odd years, five of the in a German prisoner of war camp. When he came home he was given three weeks leave, one of these weeks was a holiday which was paid for by the government, we went to Hove near Brighton, along with my mother and father. We went by train and we got there late in the evening. Next day I was up early as we were going down the beach to swim and play ball, when we got within twenty yards of the beach there was a barricade of barbed wire stretched along the beach as far the eye could see there was also many notices saying beware, mine fields, so we spent all of our week’s holiday at Hove walking round the town in the daytime and sitting in listening to the radio; we never got on the beach, but I did not mind as at last in the summer of 1945 my dad was home from the war.
We now have the use of many webcams from Hunstanton right through to Great Yarmouth; unable to get out and about I use mine a lot and I have noticed of late that mother nature has been good to Hunstanton beach by bringing in a lot more sand on the beach between Johnson’s slipway to the power boat slipway. Yes, there are still a lot of stones and small rocks but most of these are up against the promenade wall. Just the other day I saw two men bait digging; lug worms only live where there is plenty of sand, so mother nature has done it again.
Well that’s your lot for this month. keep on a troshin’, all the best
The Boy Dick