7 stories of Snettisham
PUBLISHED: 16:53 12 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:53 12 August 2019
Archant © 2007
Rich in history, wildlife and scenery, Snettisham has a population of less than 3,000 but a treasured reputation that resonates around the world
1. St Mary's
The parish church of St Mary, with its soaring spire second only to Norwich Cathedral in Norfolk, was once even larger and grander, with a now-demolished chancel and aisle. Sheep farming paid for the 14th century rebuilding of this grand church, originally begun in Saxon times. Inside, the building is equally impressive, and, although it is geographically on the edge of the village, it is obviously at the heart of village life, with displays introducing some of the remarkable history, landscape, wildlife and people of Snettisham.
The Snettisham Hoard of huge twisted gold necklaces and bracelets was unearthed around the village from 1948. The discovery of one of the most significant prehistoric finds in western Europe began as a farm worker deep ploughed a former lavender field for the first time. As the plough scraped the carrstone bedrock it uncovered pieces of twisted metal. Thinking they were pieces of an old brass bedstead, the farmer left them at the edge of the field for several days - but eventually showed them to local archaeologists.
They were identified as Iron Age gold and silver torcs, which had been buried in shallow pits, specially cut into the rock. Over the next few decades many more torcs, plus jewellery scraps and Iron Age coins, were found. Some were complete, some carefully broken up and sorted by colour. One theory is that the 175-plus gold and silver torcs discovered were part of the treasury of the Iceni tribe. They make up 70% of the Iron Age torcs ever discovered in Britain.
One coin was made in Carthage, North Africa, showing how the Iceni were connected across Europe and beyond, by sea and via the ancient Icknield Way (or Peddar's Way in Norfolk.) Ken Hill, where the first hoard was unearthed, would have been a look-out site, sheltering an ancient harbour. Parts of the Snettisham Hoard can now be seen in Norwich Castle Museum and the British Museum - and on loan to the Lynn Museum until September 1.
A separate hoard of Roman jewellery was also found nearby and the remains of a grand Roman villa lie beneath Snettisham Park - a working farm and visitor attraction, with a herd of red deer and walking trails taking in its wildlife, farm animals and archaeology.
A Roman oven was discovered during the building of Snettisham bypass and Roman pottery has been found throughout the parish. But this is modern history in comparison with the ancient burial mounds, stone tools and arrowheads left by people who lived here almost 6,000 years ago.
Snettisham beach borders the biggest nature reserve in Britain - the Wash National Nature Reserve. Birds fly in to Snettisham from the Arctic in the winter and Africa in the summer. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds nature reserve is alive with flocks of resident and migratory birds all year round. Ringed plovers and oystercatchers nest on the beach between April and August, tens of thousands of knots arrive through the late summer and autumn, and as winter approaches thousands of pink-footed geese arrive from Iceland, roosting overnight on the Snettisham mudflats, ready to fly out to find food at first light. The sight of the winter sky full of soaring pink-footed geese has been dubbed the Snettisham Spectacular.
The devastating floods of 1953 brought the sea raging inland. A hundred people drowned around the coast of Norfolk - 25 of them in Snettisham. The fiercest northerly gale ever recorded in Britain whipped the surging high tide across beaches, dunes and cliffs. One of the victims was 19-year-old Peter Beckerton, who lived with his family in a beach bungalow at Snettisham and worked as an apprentice carpenter. Their home had been protected from the sea by a large garden and the high shingle bank of the coastal defences but that January night the sea roared into the bungalow. Outside lay a boat. Fred and Vera Beckerton told their children to climb in and braced themselves against debris to survive the night - eventually being helped to safety by policeman Henry Nobbs, who had already saved many lives.
But Peter had left to help their neighbours just before the sea defences failed. He was carrying frail Albert Walton, and helping his wife towards safety, when the wall of water hit. Peter was drowned alongside the Waltons. The boy who lost his life trying to save others was awarded the Albert Medal, one of Britain's highest posthumous honours. His mother was awarded the British Empire Medal for her part in saving the rest of her family and foster children.
Peter's body wasn't found until six weeks after the floods subsided. He was buried in Snettisham churchyard, but the pain of his loss was so great that his mother could not bear to see his name on his gravestone. It was only after her death in 1985 that her will allowed for a headstone to mark the final resting place of her brave boy.
Snettisham beach was once used by smugglers, keen to avoid paying customs taxes at King's Lynn. In the 1570s pirates landed goods here to take to Norwich, and one night in February 1822, 80 barrels of gin and brandy were brought ashore at Snettisham - and seized by waiting excise men. However the smugglers recaptured their cargo, and 100 local people helped spirit it away.
Anyone who thinks a rock festival is a modern phenomenon should have been in Snettisham in 1474, when the village held an event called Rockfeste. Records reveal that Snettisham had its own actors, Morris dancers and sword dancers at the time, and Rockfeste was probably a festival of music and dancing.