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Weird Norfolk: The Eccles-on-Sea sea serpent

PUBLISHED: 13:15 14 July 2017 | UPDATED: 13:15 14 July 2017

Mr HE Witard's sketch of the sea serpent he saw off the coast of Eccles-on-Sea. Picture: EDP Library

Mr HE Witard's sketch of the sea serpent he saw off the coast of Eccles-on-Sea. Picture: EDP Library

Archant

Unseasonal storms had all but blown away by the time that the former Lord Mayor of Norwich, London MP and their friend went for a stroll on Eccles beach in Norfolk, a quiet stretch of coastline – or it was until the appearance of Norfolk Nessie.

In a letter to the Eastern Daily Press on August 6 1936, Herbert Witard – who had been Mayor in 1927 – noted that he, Labour MP Charles Ammon and Archibald Gossling, a British trade unionist and Labour politician, had been standing on Eccles Beach at 7.25pm when they noticed an “unusual form travelling swiftly about one mile from the shore”.

He added: “Looking at it from a distance, it appeared to be a form of a huge serpent about 30 or 40 feet in length and skimming the surface of the water in a wormlike movement but travelling at a terrific speed, certainly not less than one mile a minute.”

A reporter at the EDP probed for more.

“I am positive,” said Mr Witard, “that what we saw was a sea serpent. We were all on the beach together on Wednesday evening when we saw the creature and it was a perfectly clear evening…this creature looked like a huge snake. Its action in swimming was wormlike and not the roll of a porpoise.

“Its speed was terrific. I said not less than a mile a minute in my letter, but 90 to 100 miles an hour is not an exaggerated estimate. I have by me a copy of the Strand magazine for 1895 containing an article on sea serpents. One of the serpents described is exactly like the one I saw. It disappeared very quickly on the skyline in the direction of Happisburgh.”

Mr Witard’s sighting was given further credence by Wroxham man Colin King: “Undoubtedly this accounts for what we saw on Wednesday afternoon. I was sitting with my wife and daughter on the sandhills at Eccles when I pointed out to them a black snake or wormlike object travelling at a terrific speed on the surface of the water, about half a mile or so out, going in the direction of Happisburgh.

“The time we saw it was between 2 and 3pm, and as Mr Witard saw it at 7.15pm, I have been wondering if there were more than one or if this creature is still in the vicinity.”

HE Witard wrote again on August 11 to answer his critics: “Sir – I am more than interested to learn that several of your correspondents are certain the sea serpent seen by my friends and myself was not really a sea serpent at all, but just a flight of birds, a shoal of porpoises, or it may have been just a flight of our own imaginations.

“There seems to be ample evidence of the existences of such a monster…two and half years on the sea gave me many opportunities of watching the habits of porpoises, wild ducks and other birds of flight. It has since been reported to me by friends of mine that they saw a similar monster off the Eccles Coast a day or two previous to it being seen by me. Perhaps we are like the man who saw the giraffe for the first time and said ‘there bean’t no such animal’.”

Another sighting of a five-humped creature in the sea at Mundesley added fuel to the flames and even more perplexing was this anonymous letter sent to the EDP: “…It is also very interesting that this should have been seen off Eccles, as it was only last year that I had occasion to be at Eccles on business when my attention was called to a body that had been washed up by the sea. I made a close inspection of this, and although part of the tail was missing, it was of considerable length and had a fish-like body, yet with the bones of an animal and small feathers on the neck, and also a long, thick tail similar to that of a crocodile. I think I am right in saying that this body was buried somewhere on the beach at Eccles.”

Entrepreneurial souls at Edward Bush in Norwich were quick to capitalise on the mysterious sighting, taking out an advertisement in the EDP: “Sea Serpent at Eccles? Pay a visit to Eccles on Sea. You cannot be sure you will see The Sea Serpent, but you can be sure of seeing THE BUSH ESTATE – carefully panned seaside estate with attractive, well-built bungalows…even the monster was interested in the Bush Estate…”

But after less than a fortnight of lively exchanges in the letters section, the EDP editor had the final word: “This correspondence is now closed.”

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