Fascinating facts about 9 of Norfolk’s Poppyland villages
PUBLISHED: 16:27 19 May 2020 | UPDATED: 17:16 21 May 2020
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From naked ladies to the Sex Pistols and invasion to infection, we find facts and folklore from Norfolk’s Poppyland villages
Most Mays Cromer and Sheringham are crawling with crustaceans as the Crab and Lobster Festival is in full swing, and alive with music as the folk of Folk on the Pier appear.
This year is very different and there is a lot more than rivalry between the two towns. There is East Runton, West Runton, Beeston Regis, Felbrigg, Aylmerton and more!
So join our sideways looks at some surprising facts about the villages between, and within nipping distance of, Cromer and Sheringham.
Overstrand began as a little fishing village, once known as Beck Hythe, but was dubbed ‘the village of millionaires’ in Victorian times. When London journalist and travel writer Clement Scott saw the poppy-laden lanes and cliffs in 1883 he called the area Poppyland and inspired many to not only visit but to buy land and build lavish homes. Edwardian architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (who designed The Cenotaph and much of New Dehli) designed Overstrand Hall and The Pleasaunce for titled clients. Fifty years later the Overstrand biplane bomber, made by Boulton and Paul of Norwich, was named after the village.
• Village people
The Kinks, Sex Pistols, The Rolling Stones, The Stranglers, The Jam, The Clash, T-Rex, Chuck Berry, Four Tops and Duran Duran are just some of the internationally famous bands that played in tiny West Runton.
The West Runton Pavilion hosted concerts by some of the biggest names in pop, rock and punk. The building was originally a sports hall built beside The Village Inn. During the Second World War it began holding dances, with music provided by military bands. As the war ended it became the first music venue in the country to run a free coach service – to and from Wells. Free transport was soon added for music fans along routes to North Walsham and Fakenham. Bands loved playing here because the acoustics were good and, far from the beaten musical track, they could trial new material. In August 1976 the Sex Pistols are said to have performed in front of about30 people.
The pavilion was demolished in 1986 but is remembered in a blue plaque on the wall of The Village Inn.
• Child’s play in East Runton
The first Montessori school in England was opened in East Runton in 1914 by the Rev Bertram Hawker, after he met Maria Montessori in Rome. Impressed by her philosophy of encouraging children to learn through play he set up a Montessori school at his home in Runton Old Hall, in East Runton, where 12 children from the local school were taught by Evelyn Lydbetter. There are about 700 Montessori Schools in the UK today – including the Westacre Montessori School in East Walton, near Sandringham, where Prince George was a pupil.
• National Trust national collection
Felbrigg is a history hotspot, but if colchicums are your thing then the estate gardens are a must. They are home to the National Collection of colchicums, which are also known as autumn crocus, meadow saffron and naked lady.
• Fishy tales and flowers
A mermaid once dragged her fishy tail from the sea and up to Upper Sheringham, either lured by the beautiful singing coming from All Saints Church or to seek shelter in a storm. The stories differ but the result was the same – she crept into the church and can still be seen there today, carved into a 15th century pew end.
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Nearby, the rhododendrons of Sheringham Park are some of the best in Britain. The earliest plantings, of the huge red-flowered rhododendrons, date back to around 1850. More seeds were obtained at the turn of the 20th Century from famous plant collector Ernest ‘Chinese’ Wilson. A handkerchief tree, which also flowers in May, is believed to have been grown from seed he brought back from China. Interestingly, it was Norfolk’s world-famous landscape gardener Humphry Repton who suggested the new hall should look over parkland rather than the sea, saying: “The Sea at Sheringham is not like that of the Bay of Naples”.
The waters just off Weybourne beach are called Weybourne Hope. The shingle shelves steeply here, making the deep-water approach ideal for smugglers’ ships – or invaders. An old rhyme says: “He who would all England win, should at Weybourne Hope begin.”
An ancient wayside cross on the boundary with Gresham is said to have helped guide pilgrims to the shrine at Walsingham. Ghost stories swirl around the shallow pits in nearby fields. These ‘shrieking pits’, made in medieval times by people digging for iron ore, were believed to be haunted by a woman searching for her lost child.
There are more story-shrouded water-drenched shrieking pits in Northrepps. Here a broken-hearted woman, abandoned by her married lover, threw herself into freezing water in despair – and then called for help, in vain.
A plough sits inside the church. It was made in the village, at the foundry famous for developing the Gallus plough, widely used from its invention in Northrepps in 1830, into the 1920s. Early in the 19th century Northrepps was used for trials of the life-saving rescue ropes known as a breeches buoy.
• Ice Age
Geologists have called Kelling Heath the best example of a glacial outwash plain in England. Melting ice, at the end of a retreating Ice Age glacier, would have dropped rocks, pebbles and grit here.
Kelling Hospital was built as one of the first sanatoriums for working men with tuberculosis in 1903. Revolving chalets, to maximise patients’s exposure to the sun, had been invented in Mundesley three years earlier. After the sanatorium closed in 1955 its pretty chapel became the village church.