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Weird Norfolk: The lost village of Shipden

PUBLISHED: 14:40 18 August 2017 | UPDATED: 15:59 18 August 2017

The lost village of Shipden lies beneath sea near Cromer Pier. PHOTO: Colin Finch

The lost village of Shipden lies beneath sea near Cromer Pier. PHOTO: Colin Finch

Archant © 2007

It is the vanishing village that just can’t stay silent, a forgotten parish from the Norfolk coast that was swallowed by the sea, the county’s own Atlantis just a stone’s throw from the famous Cromer Pier.

The Domesday Book tells us that Shipden boasted 117 residents, three acres of meadow, 36 swine and four-and-a-half plough teams, a harbour, several manor houses and two churches – one that served Shipden-juxta-Felbrigg and Crowmere, the other the village itself.

Villagers fought hard to save St Peter’s from the ravages of the sea in the 14th century, watching helplessly as the graveyard was claimed by the tide and then taking action by building a jetty in a bid to save the building. Their efforts were in vain.

Guidebooks from the 18th century claim that the church was still visible at low tide and this remaining rocky relic from a lost village was named Church Rock, with romantic souls claiming the three bells from the building could still be heard at the pier’s edge, carried by high winds.

Local folklore has it that only the foolhardy would set sail after the bells had been heard as they only chimed to warn of an impending storm.

In August 1888, a small pleasure steamer picked up around 100 passengers from Great Yarmouth’s Britannia Pier so they could take the 35-mile journey up the coast to Cromer.

As the Victoria reached her destination, there was a sudden crash and lurch as she seemingly did the impossible: hitting a church tower while still out at sea.

Fanciful notions that the Victoria was skewered atop the tower like a pig at a hog roast were scuppered, much like the ship itself, as rescuers discovered the steamer was actually stuck on the stone tower which fortuitously prevented it from sinking.

Passengers were rescued by a flotilla of small boats from Cromer and relieved pleasure seekers were relayed back to Yarmouth by steam train.

Meanwhile, powerful winches were set up to try and haul the Victoria free and salvage her but the weight of the wet tow ropes was too great and eventually the steamer had to be blown up, along with the top of the submerged tower, to prevent a repeat calamity.

Almost 100 years later, Yarmouth’s Sub-Aqua Club members dived on the remains of the Victoria and salvaged items such as a hinge from her bronze rudder. Club scientific officer and founder-member Percy Trett recalled that the divers were fascinated “by swimming along a street in Shipden 40ft below the sea where people had once walked”.

And still, underneath the waves, the lost village of Shipden stands, the first outpost from Norfolk on sea roads that lead to the icy Baltics, a reminder that the waves can not only claim the lives of seafarers, but also eat up entire villages, too.

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