A brief history of Hunstanton by Ken Arnott
Hunstanton is a small Norfolk seaside resort that lies at the mouth of the Wash and is affectionately known, for obvious reasons, as “Sunny Hunny”. It is the best kind of resort with its award winning beaches that are among the safest in England, plenty of seaside sports and entertainments and a climate that boasts more sunshine and less rainfall that the great majority of resorts in Britain – What a combination!
A special bonus, thanks to Hunstanton being the only East Coast resort that faces West (check the map!), visitors can enjoy the extraordinary sight of the sun setting over the sea – a memorable experience.
Hunstanton’s motto is “Alios delectare iuvat” which freely translates to “It is our pleasure to please others”
Let’s get the confusing bit over to start with. The village of Hunstanton was mentioned in the Domesday Book so it has a long history. The seaside resort, on the other hand, was created in the middle of the 19th Century by the Squire of Hunstanton Hall, the largest landowner in the area. In the early days it was known as “the sea-bathing station of Hunstanton St Edmund”
At the time there was nothing between the lighthouse and the neighbouring village of Heacham apart from an extensive sheep run, so when the resort’s oldest building, The Golden Lion Hotel, opened in 1846 it was nicknamed “le Strange Folly” But the critics were unaware that the Squire, who not only conceived but designed the resort, had made careful plans for the town’s development, plans that included a railway. When the line opened in 1862, the year that Henry Styleman le Strange died, the future was secure.
Officially Hunstanton embraces both the resort and the old village, but the latter is still known as Old Hunstanton.
The le Strange family have been associated with Hunstanton for nearly a thousand years. Indeed the present Squire lives in the town today. The family’s ancestral home, Hunstanton Hall, was sold in 1948 and converted into flats. It is reputed to have a ghost!
The le Strange’s came from Brittany after the Norman invasion and married into a leading Saxon family in the area. Probably the best known le Strange was Roger who translated Aesops Tales into English, fought unsuccessfully to dislodge Cromwell’s forces from King’s Lynn and, in 1663, produced the country’s first newspaper “The Public Intelligencer” earning him the title “Father of the English Press”.
Hunstanton has long been associated with Sir Edmund who, as King of East Anglia, led a small army against the invading Vikings, was captured and, after refusing to give up his Christian faith, was tied to a tree and shot by Danish archers. Legend has it that when St Edmund first came from Saxony in AD855 he landed near Hunstanton cliffs.
The ruined Chapel near the lighthouse was built in his memory in 1272. Nine stained glass windows depicting the life of the saint can be found in St Edmund’s Church.
The cross on the top Green is a bit of a mystery. It is assumed to be the reeded shaft of an ancient village cross that was moved from Old Hunstanton to the present position when the Golden Lion Hotel was built but its previous history is unknown.
Blazing beacons and lanterns warned ships of dangerous sandbanks in the Wash centuries before the first lighthouse in 1666. The present lighthouse, built in 1844, ceased operations in 1921 when it was replaced first by a lightship, then by a remote-control fog buoy. It is now a holiday home.
Some more bits of information
- There is a memorial in the Esplanade Gardens with the names of the 31 people (15 British, 16 American) who lost their lives in the great 1953 floods.
- The water tower at the top of Redgate Hill is now flats.
- A late Neolithic Early Bronze Age settlement was found when constructing Oasis Way off Redgate Hill.
- Hunstanton lost its 830 foot long pier in a heavy storm in 1978.
- The Hunstanton – King’s Lynn railway line was closed down in 1969.
- Hunstanton boasts the biggest tennis tournament in the U.K. with 1,350 entries in 2006.
- Hunstanton has played host to both world and British water-ski championships.
- The Princess Theatre was named in honour of Princess Diana who took her sons to the pantomime there.
- Hunstanton is 16 miles from King’s Lynn, 45 from Norwich and about 120 from London.
- Lord High Admiral of the Wash is the hereditary title which gives the le Strange family the rights of the North West Norfolk foreshore for as far as man can ride out to sea at the low tide and throw a spear.
- St. Mary’s Church in Old Hunstanton was built in the 14th Century. It has a Norman front.
- P. G. Wodehouse stayed regularly at Hunstanton Hall and typed out some of his stories while sitting in a punt on the moat.
The Cenotaph in Hunstanton’s Esplanade Gardens
Hunstanton’s Cenotaph is situated in Esplanade Gardens just off Cliff Parade. It is a white stone Cenotaph with a bronze wreath and ribbon on its face and is smaller and similar in style to the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London. On the south side, the names of 53 men who fell in the First World War, are remembered. On the north side, the names of 15 men are commemorated who fell in the Second World War and on the reverse side, 2 men who have fallen since the second world war. Every year, folk of the town congregate at the memorial on Remembrance Sunday to witness the 2 minutes silence. Due to its exposed position, this annual occasion can be a daunting experience on a cold November morning: but it is an event that many people, old as well as the young feel it their duty to observe.
1953 Floods ~ Hunstanton
At Hunstanton on Saturday 31 January 1953, the gale lashed sea burst through the bank of sand and shingle. A wall of water ten feet deep rushed through the 320 yard wide gap and across the low-lying land to the west of the railway line.
Beyond the level-crossing was nothing but wild water.
By the time Sunday dawned on a scene of desolation . . . .
- 35 bungalows had been wrecked
- 70 more had been damaged
- 180 beach huts had been turned to matchwood
- 6,000 acres between Hunstanton and Woolferton had been inundated
31 people – 15 British and 16 American - had died