Of Saints and Shipwrecks

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Beneath the spectacular white and red chalk cliffs of Old Hunstanton in northwest Norfolk lie the sorry remains of what was once a working boat, the Steam Trawler Sheraton. Although she started life in 1907 as a Grimsby fishing trawer, and would later serve a a patrol boat and mine sweeper during World War II,  the Sheraton suffered the ignominy of serving as a target practice vessel for the RAF in 1946. In 1947, a gale caused the boat to break free of her mooring on the Lincolnshire side of the Wash and the Sheraton eventually washed up on Old Hunstanton beach.  Much of her bulk and fixtures were salvaged and now only the bottom of her hull remains, reduced to just a barnacle-covered skeleton of ribs and braces after more than half a century’s scourging by the tide.IMG_8366

The coast at this spot is known as St Edmund’s Point, a name that references the arrival of St Edmund who is said to have been shipwrecked here in AD855. The 14-year-old boy, who would be crowned King of East Anglia the following year, would go on to become a religious cult hero and England’s first patron saint after his matrydom at the hands of Danes in 870. Later, in the 13th century, the monks of Bury St Edmunds would build a chapel on the cliffs above the spot where Edmund was reputed to have landed in gratitude for his safe deliverence. The ruins of the chapel lie close to a white early 19th-century lighthouse, now a private residence, whose light was extinguished at the outbreak of World War I never to be rekindled.

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The beach at Hunstanton is one of the few places in Britain where the foreshore is privately owned. The Le Strange family, who have been lords of the manor here since shortly after the Norman Conquest, have in their possession a charter that states that as well as the beach itself they own ‘everything in the sea as far as a man riding a horse can throw a javelin from the low-tide mark’. The hereditary title of Lord High Admiral of the Wash is also retained by the family. So, the skeletal remains of the Sheraton wreck belong, technically at least, to the Le Strange estate, as do the picturesque seaweed-covered rocks that set off any decent photograph of the cliffs. If St Edmund had pitched up here a couple of centuries later than he did perhaps he would have become the property of the Le Strange estate too?

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About East of Elveden

Hidden places, secret histories and unsung geography from the east of England and beyond
This entry was posted in History, Norfolk and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Of Saints and Shipwrecks

  1. Simon Horton says:

    Loved this post Laurence, especially the historical notes. Stunning cliff face – beats Beachy Head for colour interest (though the Belle Toute lighthouse nearby is an intriguing residence)

  2. Interesting. Sorry about the boat. In Norway the beaches are not privately owned, but many landowners try to make them their own.

  3. Dina says:

    Great post, vrey interesting and most enjoyable reading!. Amazing really, I thought everything between low and high tide belongs to the Queen.🙂
    We went to see the wreck at Brancaster Beach a few weeks ago. Wow, standing next to a wreck like that takes you way into history.

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