We dedicate this History of Hemsby to the countless families of Norfolk people who have lived here throughout the centuries.
The tall, dour men who battled with the waves, many of whom left their bones there.
The sun-bronzed farm workers who spent their lives on the land, which was watered by their sweat.
The craftsmen who left behind evidence of their skills.
The housewives of the past, who, toiling in their cottages from daylight to dark without any labour-saving devices, still managed to bring up families of ten or more on less than £1 weekly.
Yearly our true Norfolk population is diminishing; although the general inhabitants are increasing, soon Norfolk people will be in the minority; let us then remember those who have gone before.
Every village has its ghosts but those in Hemsby seem very illusive. Hill House, The Vicarage, Red House, The Cottage and Sea View were said to be haunted; but I have never found out what most of the apparitions were like. The sole exception is the one at the Vicarage, which is said to be a servant girl.
The surrounding villages however, are full of ghosts. My grandmother used to talk of the Somerton Coach, which came through here to Yarmouth, the driver and horses being headless.
Another old woman used to frighten us by talking about ‘Hyter Sprites’, possibly a deviation from the Norse ‘Hyter Gulreig’.
Manor of Hemsby
According to the Doomsday Book, in 1085 it was held by William Beaufoe and at his death Herbert Losinga, Bishop of Norwich, who on the foundation of the Priory of Norwich, settled it on that convent. It was then granted, in fee of £70 per annum, to Henry Marsh. In 1280 Roger de Hemesby granted a certain rent to William de Walesham the Prior.
Upon the dissolution of the Priory by Henry VIII in 1539 the Manor reverted to the Crown. In 1546 the Dean and Chapter surrendered all their possessions to King Edward VI which had been confirmed to them by Henry VIII. During the same year Edward granted them in great part back again with the exception, among others, of the Manor of Hemsby, the Rectory and advowson of the Vicarage passed by royal grant in 1552 to John Dudley Earl of Northumberland in consideration of the site of the Monastry of Tinmouth in that county. He was attainted in the reign of Queen Mary, but his son Sir Robert Dudley had a grant of it shortly afterwards.
In 1565 Queen Elizabeth recited the grant made by her sister to Sir Robert Dudley, now her faithfull councellor and Earl of Leicester of this Manor ’30 messuages, 14 cottages, 1000 acres arable land, 200 of meadow, 1000 of pasture, 80 of wood, 1000 of furze and heath and the advowson of the Vicarage’.
Lady Godsalve and John Walker by lease had manors here at that time. Sir Thomas Gresham purchased the Manor from the Earl the same year and in 1571 settled this manor with the Rectory and advowson of the Vicarage on himself for life, the reversion on Nathaniel Bacon Esq., of Grays Inn, Son of Sir Nathaniel Bacon Lord Keeper of the Great Seals, and Ann his wife who was the illegitimate child of Sir Thomas Gresham. They had three daughters and co-heiresses. Anne married John Townsend of Raynham, Elizabeth to Sir Thomas Knevet Junior of Ashweldlthorp and Winifrede to Sir Robert Gawdy of Claxton. This Lordship fell to the share of Elizabeth and when her husband in 1605, she settled the Manor on Nathaniel Knevet, a younger son. It was afterwards in the Paston family. Edward Paston being Lord in 1742.
Other Lords were:
Revd. Tilyard M.A.
1860 – George Copeman Barker
1890 – George Barker
1891 – Julia Diana Haggard (later Lofthouse) the last owner of Hemsby Manor.
Finding of ancient artifacts hereabouts have been pretty rare. We have nothing to compare with those of Winterton, where in 1750 a man’s leg bone (pronounced so by the College of Surgeons) weighing 57.5 pounds was found. In 1901 a Mr Woolston found a British Celt (Stone Axe) in perfect order and in my time at school it was in a show cabinet there.
Jacob Hall found a Roman vase in the cliffs at Newport. Several hammered gold coins of Scottish origin were found when the cliffs subsided at different times.
The last one shown me struck me as a historic treasure because it was dated 1603 and bore the head of James VI who became James 1 of England on the death of Elizabeth in that year. I surmised that this money may have been lost from a French ship returning home after delivering munitions to their allies the Scots.
What was reputed to be a Roman bath was unearthed on the site where Dr. Poole now lives on North Road, but the people who found it possibly were the great grandfathers of our modern vandals. They knocked it into rubble which is all the experts found.
Since the war when Mr. R. Guest ran the Guest House on Yarmouth Road he dug up some objects and notified the County Archaeologist who came over and examined them. He said they were Anglo Saxon loom weights. Surprisingly no further interest was shown in this site.
When one considers the Roman, British, Anglo Saxon and Danish incursions along this coast and that ploughs until fairly recently would only dig down 4 inches deep, it would appear there would be tons of artefacts under the surface. They should be searched for before the whole land is concreted in.
The Sanctuary Stones in this village have caused a controversy among the experts. Rev. Gibson in 1801 stated they were Sanctuary Stones but had the same trouble as I have had getting any documentary proof or even any official mention. In his time he discovered a base in the Street as it turns to Winterton Road. This is now in the Churchyard near the War Memorial. A second was found in Pit Road opposite the Bell. This was found by Mrs Pat Long and myself when they demolished the three old cottages that stood on this site, and was removed to inside the West Gate of the Church. The third supposed to be in the precincts of Hemsby Camp on Beach Road, I have never seen and the fourth is now standing on the left in Yarmouth Road near the council houses. I dispute that these were (as some say) Anglo Saxon processional crosses, because the complete one has the same motifs carved on its post as the font in Hemsby Church. This however is not its original location, as it was moved in 1878, being in the way when the railway lines were put through.
Hemsby is a small holiday village on the Norfolk coast 7 miles north of Great Yarmouth, the so-called Blackpool of the East. The east coast of Norfolk has miles of golden sands stretching North & South of Hemsby and although the water is cold, Hemsby is a relaxing place to have a holiday with plenty to interest locals and visitors alike.
Hemsby is mentioned in the Doomsday book, being described as a hamlet covering 43 meadow acres with 50 households, 3 slaves, 2 salt pans and 160 sheep.
The bishop was the only landlord with 33 villeins* and 13 smallholders. There was also a large green to the west of the old church. Unfortunately with the progress of time that green has now disappeared under housing development.
The 12th Century St Mary the Virgin Church is central to modern day Hemsby.
By 1801 there were 74 families with a total population of 367. Advance 50 years and the population had grown to 739 and by 1901 that number had not increased at all because in 1861 nearly 80 beachmen and fishermen migrated to the Scratby Parish and incoming families were still trying to make up the deficit.
Today Hemsby has evolved dramatically with a resident population of about 2,500 people which can grow to about 22,000 in the peak holiday months.
Hemsby has always been a farming community with fishing as a major alternative. The annual Longshore Herring Festival held in September commemorates the most famous of those ‘fishing’ days. In days of yore however, a bit of smuggling was thrown in to enhance income and provide some excitement. In the winter of 1946 it would have seemed like ‘deja vu’ for those old parishioners but it was a new experience for the then modern day smugglers.
Imported fruit was still rationed, and the people were facing another Christmas without oranges, but a seafaring incident was about to change all that. The M.V. Bosphorus bound for Hull, struck the Scroby sands off the coast of Great Yarmouth, and in order to refloat their vessel the crew jettisoned its cargo of Jaffa oranges. Within hours this cargo was being washed up on the Hemsby’s beaches. In a scene reminiscent of the film ‘Whisky Galore’ they were eagerly collected by the locals, armed with Tilley lamps, sacks, and whatever forms of transport they could lay their hands on.
The village also once had its own railway. Hemsby railway station opened on 16th May 1878. The Midland and Great Northern, which was locally known as the Muddle and Go Nowhere rail company, opened in 1887 and closed in 1959. The railway line brought happy campers from London and the Midlands during the summer months, when special excursions were laid on.
To discover more about Hemsby’s past please refer to the following publications:
A History of Hemsby. – by George Beech [Typescript in Norwich Local Studies Library, 1980s]
The story of Hemsby-on-sea, its history and evolution. – by Rusticus [Flegg, 1978]
* Villein – a feudal tenant entirely subject to a lord or attached to a manor.