A Coastal Pub Tour on Bicycles with notes of Topography and Local History on Happisburgh to Stiffkey in Norfolk

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Coastal Pub Tour : Happisburgh to Stiffkey

A bright sunny day and an early kick-off as we had much to see today. The journey would end at Stiffkey but there were plenty of places I had plotted on the route. For this leg I had been particularly busy preparing notes for the journey. The research for these bike rides takes as long as the trip itself!

Happisburgh : Church of Saint Mary The Virgin

We had a quick rummage in and around the church before heading off. The locals certainly didn't lack ambition when it came to building this structure in the 14th century. It is a whopper and, perched on top of a hill, the tower can be seen for many a kilometre. Visitors can also see for many a kilometre if they clamber up the steps when it is open to the public on Wednesday and Saturday.

Of particular note in the churchyard is a mound where 119 sailors were buried in March 1801 following the sinking of HMS Invincible when the vessel struck Hammond's Knoll, a sandbank just off the Happisburgh coastline. The ship was on its way to join Admiral Nelson shortly before the Battle of Copenhagen. Some 400 men perished in the disaster, the 119 being the only souls that were washed ashore.

Happisburgh : Interior of the Church of Saint Mary The Virgin

Despite its antiquity, the Church of Saint Mary The Virgin is often criticised for the heavy-handed restorations of the 19th and 20th centuries. Even the figures on the superb 15th century font were recut. However, we did get the impression that this church enjoys some vibrancy and the building is seemingly treasured by its parishioners. I wonder if my photographs will be looked upon in a hundred years time? Sharp-eyed historians of the future will notice the hand sanitisers and blue roll and will perhaps talk about the Covid pandemic as though it were like the Black Death! Perhaps it would have been if it were not for Drew Weissman and Katalin Karikó.

Happisburgh of Yesteryear

Happisburgh : View From Church Tower [c.1947]

A view of Happisburgh and the lighthouse from the church tower. In the foreground is The Street and the school, a building dating from 1861. There were olders schools in the village. Indeed, the previous National School had replaced the Free Grammar School in 1811. Dating from the late 18th century, there was also the Lower Happisburgh School at the far end of Whimpwell Street.

Happisburgh : The Monastery [c.1910]

Not the usual photograph for a Monastery. However, the building on the right, parts of which are said to be medieval, picked up this appellation as it was apparently used by monks from Wymondham when collecting tithes at Happisburgh. The adjoining property is known as Thrums. These buildings have survived, as has Camberley Cottage, the property fronting the road and facing The Monastery. This was once the village butcher's shop. The houses to the left of the photograph were destroyed by fire following a thunderstorm in 1929, though some of the stones were used in the construction of Manor Bungalow. The road sign to the left has gone but a delightful village sign now occupies the site.

Happisburgh : Church Farm [c.1926]

The pond at Church Farm still provides a key wildlife habitat on Blacksmith's Lane. Church Farm can be seen here in the years following the First World War. The main building dates from the early 18th century.

Happisburgh : Saint Mary's [Happisburgh Manor] [c.1955]

Known as Saint Mary's, Happisburgh Manor was built as a seaside villa at the turn of the 20th century for the wealthy Albermarle Cator. It was the first major work of Detmar Blow, a disciple of John Ruskin, who became a noted Arts & Crafts architect. Using locally-sourced materials, the property was constructed in the local vernacular style. Taking inspiration from the work of Ernest Gimson, Detmar Blow created a double butterfly-plan house, which became known as Happisburgh Manor. The north end of the house had to be restored when it was bombed during World War Two. The building had been requisitioned by the Observer Corps.

Happisburgh : Post-Office Corner [c.1955]

A double-decker bus is making the tricky manouevre at the bottom of Church Street, a junction known as Post-Office Corner. Like many villages, the location of the post-office moved locations. It had formerly operated next to the National School.

Happisburgh : Post-Mill [c.1910]

Sadly, the old post-mill at Happisburgh disappeared many moons ago. It was built at Whimpwell Green in 1773 to replace an older structure destroyed by a tremendous storm three years earlier. Note the rather unique twin six-bladed fantails that were mounted on a trolley attached to the tailpole. The mill was dismantled in 1921, though the roundhouse survived for more than a decade. There was no trace of the mill by the late 1950s.

Walcott : All Saints' Church

We cycled past Church Farm, once known as Wilkinson's Farm, and out towards Crossways where we turned towards Walcott. As the crow flies it is less than two kilometres from the Church of Saint Mary The Virgin to All Saints' Church at Walcott. I often marvel at the motivation of medieval folks who were not content to walk the short distance to a nearby place of worship, opting instead to erect their own imposing edifice within a stone's throw of the other. The population of Walcott never reached the numbers needed to fill such a church. Replacing an older structure, All Saints' was constructed in the 14th and 15th centuries and was restored to its former glory by the Victorians. Although we couldn't see it for ourselves, Simon Knott informed us that the font stands on a Celtic limestone memorial slab, both of which were removed from the earlier church that stood during the tenure of the de Walcott family.

Walcott : Porch Gates at All Saints' Church

We could not get into the church during our visit but I was rather chuffed with the wrought-iron gates to the porch as they bear the name of the manufacturing firm. I really like this sort of thing and am glad that our driveway has a drain cover with the name of a local builder. I have local bricks on display in the garden and part of a headstone next to our pond. Anyway, the gates here were made not too far away at Stalham by Fitt & Parke, presumably when the church was restored during the mid-Victorian era. The rector at the time was the splendidly-named Horatio Nelson William Comyn who was supposedly baptised on board HMS Victory in 1806. This could be a fanciful story. However, his father, Stephen George Comyn, was certainly a sea chaplain on several of the ships under Lord Nelson's command and a friend of the Admiral. Thomas Fitt was in business as an ironmonger in Stalham from the 1820s but I suspect it was his son Henry who went into partnership with Samuel Thomas Parke. Through ill-health Thomas Fitt relinquished his interest in the business during 1883. His business partner had died three years earlier.

Walcott : Flat-Roofed Bungalows [c.1955]

All Saints' Church was sensibly built inland. Walcott has been battered by the sea over the centuries, some of the village being lost in the great storm of 1953. Perversely, storm hunters head to Walcott when the weather forecast is looking bad for it is one of the few places on this coastline where they can drive next to the sea. The residents meanwhile hunker down in their bungalows glad that they are not in one of the caravans or mobile homes. Following storms in 2007 and 2013, in an act of Cnutism, it was decided to deposit almost two million cubic metres of sand to form an artificial dune, primarily to protect the gas terminal at neighbouring Bacton. With sea levels predicted to rise one cannot help but feel it is merely kicking the can down the road and that places like Walcott are living on borrowed time.

Walcott : Lighthouse Inn

Happisburgh may not have a pub commemorating its famous lighthouse but Walcott makes up for it - and the pub even sports a signboard with a red-and-white lighthouse. The hostelry, along with the hamlet of Ostend, was linked to Happisburgh when its doors were flung open to the public for refreshments in the 19th century. There were actually two lighthouses at Happisburgh but the southern low light disappeared over the cliff in the Victorian period. The remains were later joined by a World War 2 pillbox that toppled over and landed upside down on the beach.

Walcott : Lighthouse Inn [c.1949]

I delved into some records of the past as I was curious to see if the pub had traded under a different inn sign, particularly as there was once a claypit and brick kiln across the other side of the road. However, in the early 1840s, when maltster John Warner was recorded as publican, the house was known as the Lighthouse Inn. At this time most of the parishioners of Walcott and Ostend were engaged in agricultural work, a notable exception being Thomas Pilch who was a watchmaker. His daughter Jane married John Warner in 1833 and the couple kept the Lighthouse Inn before moving to Great Yarmouth.

In 1851 when the census enumerator called into the Lighthouse Inn to fill in his forms over a tipple Benjamin Barrett was running the house. In June of that year he married his housekeeper Esther Doughty. They would later move to Richmond in Surrey where Benjamin remained in the licensed trade but his status had been lowered to that of a waiter.

Walcott : Lighthouse Inn

During the Victorian era, the Lighthouse Inn was seemingly an orderly house for the most part - at least the paucity of juicy newspaper articles would suggest that sobriety prevailed. In the early 1880s the local constable was determined to nab the publican William Cook Cubitt and he was hauled before the magistrates on charges of keeping the house open during improper hours. In 1859 he married Mary Ann, daughter of Charles Wright, publican of the Half Moon Inn at Horning. The couple kept the Swan Inn near Whimpwell Green, a pub much closer to the actual lighthouse, prior to running this house. Their successor, John Crisp, appeared in the press during September 1883 when a Bacton man named Samuel Bargewell was charged with stealing a manure fork from the property. Bargewell, earlier recorded as a pauper, had no means by which to pay a fine and received the harsh sentence of 21 days with hard labour.

It was far too early for us to patronise the Lighthouse Inn but a chalkboard was advertising Woodforde's Wherry, a massive improvement on the Watney's beer that was served here in the latter half of the 20th century. At one time the Lighthouse Inn formed part of the tied-estate of Bullard's, the much-missed firm based at the Anchor Brewery in Norwich.

Walcott : The Beach

On the evidence of our visit to Walcott, traditionally known as Walcott-on-Sea in the post-war years, it would seem that the place has lost a little of its appeal. The beach was virtually deserted but the photograph from around 1960 [below] shows a fair amount of holiday-makers playing in the sand and dipping toes in the North Sea. The presence of the gas terminal at neighbouring Bacton cannot have helped tourism on this stretch of the coast. It was all so different in the post-war years before cheap foreign holidays when urban folk used town gas to stick their head in the oven.

Walcott : The Beach and Coast Road [c.1960]

Walcott is one of the few places in Norfolk where the coastal road runs along the sea wall. Consequently, it has been a popular destination for motorists who traditionally came here armed with a flask and some sandwiches in order to stare out vacantly across the North Sea. Some would only walk the few centimetres from the car door to the sea wall. I mean, that's enough exercise for one day. It would hardly burn off one chip from the Kingfisher Fish Bar these days. Or even a tiny dollop from the adjacent ice cream parlour. These two emporiums are the central attractions along the sea wall. But if folks bring their buckets and spades there is no end of sand with which to entertain themselves. If one is feeling patriotic one could even add to the two million cubic metres of sand and help save Bacton gas terminal for the nation.

Along with the timber groynes on the beach, the sea wall between Bacton and Ostend was constructed in 1954 and supplemented by a timber revetment to the west of Bacton ten years later. They could have done with something much earlier as Walcott Gap disappeared in the late 19th century. Rudram's Gap at Keswick was another loss to the sea in the early 20th century. It is near this spot that the Poacher's Pocket offers a couple of real ales to those digging for victory on the beach. This establishment had formerly been the private Beech Bough Hotel where only residents could enjoy a drink. It was bought in the 1970s, the building extended and internally altered before being opened as a public-house.

Keswick : Beech Bough [c.1912]

In the early years of the reign of King George V Beech Bough was the residence of Frederick George Cosens who had made a small fortune in the export trade of wines and spirits in London. I suspect that he had the property built as he was recorded as the landowner in the mid-Edwardian period. He and his wife Fanny sent their son, Harold Stanley Cosens, to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst and he was later a Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment. He died in what became known as Battle of Armentières in Northern France during October 1914. Although buried in an unmarked grave in France, Harold Cosens is commemorated with a memorial at the nearby Church of Saint Andrew.

During the 1930s Maitland Keddie, the renowned department store director, took up residence at Beech Bough. He is credited with the introduction of innovative and novelty shop window displays, an art that was adopted by all major retailers in the inter-war years. Born in Braintree in 1880, he started his career in an Oxford draper's establishment before joining his father's firm in 1903. The family operated two large stores at Southend and Leigh in Essex.

Keswick : Bromholm Priory Gatehouse [c.1930]

Coastal erosion is, according to climate experts, accelerating at an alarming rate. However, the coastline has been affected for many centuries. Saint Clement's Church at Keswick was ruined by the waves in 1382, the foundations being washed out some 400 years later. Although in ruins, not too far from the Poacher's Pocket is the site of Bromholm Priory, a highly popular spot for Edwardian photographers attempting to capture the perfect image with which to retail bundles of postcards. The next generation of photographers continued to capture a view of the cottages through the gatehouse arch. It is a view that can still be viewed today on Abbey Street. Unfortunately, the remains of the Chapter House and the northern transept of the Priory Church can only be viewed from the public footpath. Visitors came in their droves in medieval times as the Cluniac Priory, founded in 1113 by William de Glanville, claimed to possess a piece of the 'True Cross.' The chaplain who claimed that he brought the fragment from Constantinople tried to flog it to many other monasteries where they scoffed at his tale. However, without the provenance of a modern auction house, the monks at Bromholm took a punt on the relic and were rewarded with visitor numbers that would have had made Billy Butlin cock-a-hoop.

Bacton : King's Arms [c.1920]

The King's Arms was a building not lost to the sea but simply abandoned and unloved for some years before the demolition gang were sent in to put it out of its misery. The building seen here did not even last a century before it was pulled down before the new millennium. However, there had been an older King's Arms on the site across from the lane leading to Bromholm Priory. Being as King Henry III visited the priory in 1223 in order to take the holy waters and dedicate to the relics, it was perhaps inevitable that an inn sign bearing the King's Arms was bestowed upon the old thatched house that looked across to the ruins. The tavern is thought to have opened in the late 18th century, too late for King Henry III to enjoy a tipple of homebrewed ale or those beers made by the Coltishall Brewery who operated the pub in the early 19th century. The King's Arms was one of 53 tied-houses operated by the Coltishall Brewery when the company and its properties were sold at auction in September 1841.

Bacton : King's Arms [c.1900]

The older King's Arms can be seen here in a photograph dating from the turn of the 20th century. The name of the licensee above the front door is that of Horace Thurston. That could be the publican in his horse and trap. If this is the case then his wife Sarah is one of the women stood in the entrance porch. He moved into the property in 1895 and remained until July 1902. The son of a farm labourer, Horace Thurston grew up at Bacton Green and chose to be a fisherman. He would sail out to sea for his catch and then sell fish to the local villages with his pony and trap. He managed to save a little money and by 1895 he had £100 with which he took on the tenancy of the King's Arms to which a general shop was attached. In the following January he married Sarah Beart. He maintained his role as a fish hawker whilst running the King's Arms but by the Edwardian period he was in financial trouble. In July 1902 he and Sarah were given notice to quit. An auction was held to pay his creditors, including Morgan's Brewery and Messrs. Cubitt and Sons. The couple moved to the Earl of Leicester, a beer house at North Creake. However, Horace Thurston still owed money from his time at the King's Arms. He was forced to sell his pony and trap but was still being pressed by his creditors. He was described as "practically penniless" by the end of 1903 and he filed his petition for bankruptcy. His case is one of many thousands who over the years, as tenants to brewers and landowners, have been fleeced. Horace Thurston went back to what he knew best and continued as a fisherman.

Alehouse keeper Robert Whall was the landlord of the King's Arms Inn during the late 18th century. He was 67 years-old when he died in May 1803. Edmund Painter was publican in the 1820s, dying at the house in August 1829. His wife carried on the business but just the following month, on the morning of September 4th, she was a victim of an attempted robbery at the King's Arms Inn. A labourer named John Slap broke into the premises around two o'clock in the morning and, entering the landlady's bedroom, demanded money from the bereaving woman. It was reported that "she cried out an alarm and the villain retreated in haste, leaving his bundle behind." Slap was known by the landlady and her servant as he had previously lodged at the King's Arms Inn. He was soon apprehended and committed to Norwich Castle for the offence. I have checked the criminal register for Norwich and found a John Slapp in the Lent sessions of 1830. He was found guilty of burglary and the sentence was death. They didn't mess about in those days in Norfolk!

R.N.L.I. Gold Medal

The King's Arms Inn occasionally held social events attended by members of the Bacton Lifeboat. Some form of rescue service was based at Bacton in the early 19th century and the station was taken over by the R.N.L.I. during 1857. They commissioned a new vessel and erected a boat house in the following year. In January 1864 the lifeboatmen enjoyed a dinner at the King's Arms Inn paid for by Admiral Wodehouse of Witton Park, during which it was reported "they did not fail to to drink his health, and the honour and prosperity of his family." The dinner and drinks was in thanks for the men that had sailed out and rescued the crew of the barque Ina during the previous month. The National Lifeboat Association had paid £1 to each of the 14 lifeboat crew. However, John Wilkinson of North Walsham raised a subscription on their behalf and each man received £2. 17s. 9d. The courage of the Bacton crew was highlighted in January 1880 when the boat went to the assistance of the Richard Warbrick, a schooner carrying 200 tons of salt from Fleetwood to Newcastle. A huge wave caused the Bacton lifeboat to capsize, two of the lifeboat crew, James Haylett and James Stageman, being fatally injured and drowned. William Cubitt Jr. was instrumental in righting the lifeboat which continued to be battered by the waves as the rudder had become entangled by the rocket line fast to the schooner. In freezing conditions, William Cubitt stripped off his coats, dived into the water and, with the use of a knife, cut the line thus saving further loss of life. For his bravery he was awarded the R.N.L.I. Gold Medal for bravery.

Bacton : Advertisement for the King's Arms Inn [1890]

Morgan's Brewery took over the King's Arms in 1895. The house had previously been operated by the Trunch Brewery, a firm owned by the Primrose family. As can be seen from the above advertisement, the family name was applied to the ales. The advert also shows that an Oddfellows' Hall had been added to the old tavern. The licensee and tenant at this time was Robert Long who was also a shoemaker. During his time the North Norfolk Harriers would often meet at the tavern. Robert Long had been at the King's Arms Inn from the mid-1870s. He was in charge of the house when the fishing lugger Myth, of Lowestoft, ran aground on Bacton Beach in October 1885, the vessel quickly disintegrating during the strong gales. Crewman William Lock died in the incident and the coroner's inquest was held in the King's Arms Inn. The jury returned a verdict of "Accidental Death," though it was heard that Frederick Teasdell, another member of the crew, had disobeyed the orders of the master, Edward Harper, and sailed the vessel when it should have been laid up during the storm.

Alfred and Ellen Steward were the first licensees of the rebuilt King's Arms Hotel. Although born in Happisburgh, Alfred had previously been in service as a coachman at Woolton House near East Woodhay in Hampshire. He married Ellen Hall in 1896. Her sister Emily also helped out with duties at the King's Arms.

Bernard Streten at Kenilworth Road Luton

Fast forward to April 1958 when the licence was transferred to Bernard Streten. a former England international goalkeeper. Well, he was only capped once when he had to pick the ball out of the back of the net twice. England did, however, score nine goals in the game against Ireland in November 1949. Although born in Norfolk, Bernard Streten made his name at Shrewsbury Town before signing for Luton Town just after World War 2. Making his debut in January 1947 against Nottingham Forest, he made 276 league appearances for The Hatters. Something of a showman, he became a favourite with the crowd at Kenilworth Road. He later moved to defend the goal at King's Lynn before entering the licensed trade with his wife Margaret.

Although I am sad to see that the King's Arms has vanished from the landscape, I must credit the new-build house that now stands on the site. The property was constructed in the local vernacular style and will settle in nicely with its surroundings. Much better than some Kevin McCloud-inspired creation that would incongruously sit on the corner. It was whilst having a quick browse to see if the house was featured somewhere on the Internet that I stumbled on Bikes, Beer and Bygone Boozer, the first time I have encountered a kindred spirit in that the author is also a beer-drinking cyclist dabbling in history. He has written about the King's Arms and has even drank in the pub! Check out the site which also features a photograph of Bernard Streten behind the servery.

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Walcott : Beach and Sea Wall [c.1955]


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