Castle, Soul and Lifeboats: Ten reasons to visit Caister-on-Sea
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2014
1) Caister men never turn back:
The 1901 lifeboat disaster cast a shadow over Caister when nine of the town's men perished at sea after launching the town's life-saving craft on a moonless night in heavy, blinding rain during the storm of November 13. Distress signals had been spotted coming from Barber Sands at around 10.50pm and the crew were woken and finally managed to launch the lifeboat Beauchamp against heavy odds at 1.45am. Battling huge waves and heavy seas, the boat was battered and blown around as it tried to reach the stricken ship. Capsized by a large wave which struck the starboard quarter, the crew was entombed underneath. Washed up in the breakers, land crew were able to rescue three of the crew, leaving nine trapped, their fate sealed. William Wilson, a married man, Harry Knights, 18, John Smith, a 43-year-old father of eight, James Henry Haylett Junior, a 56-year-old father of 10, William Brown, a 49-year-old father of 10, Aaron Haylett, a 49-year-old father of three, George King, 18, and Charles Brown, a 31-year-old father of four all lost their lives. The body of crewman Charles George, 53, washed up on Kessingland beach five months later. At the inquest, James Haylett Senior, who had lost family members in the disaster, told the coroner that the men would have never given up: 'Going back is against the rules when we see distress signals like that,' he said. Journalists translated his words as : 'Caister men never turn back'. The men are buried in the parish cemetery at Holy Trinity Church, placed in a pit in the position they would have occupied in the Beauchamp on that fateful night. Visitors can see the memorial erected in the cemetery in 1903 and there is also a bronze bust and plaque in the town's lifeboat station to commemorate all of the lives lost by those in service of the Caister Lifeboat – in all, 20 men from the town have given their lives to help fellow men.
2) Caister's got soul:
The Caister Soul Weekenders are the UK's largest and longest-running soul music events and run twice a year over the May Bank Holiday weekend and at the end of September or beginning of October. The first weekender took place in 1979 when The Soul Family met to enjoy four days of dancing, drinking and sweet soul. Nearly four decades later, the event is still going strong and this year the party will be on April 29, 30, May 1 and 2 and on September 30 and October 1, 2 and 3. The event actually takes place in Great Yarmouth, at the Vauxhall Holiday Park, but the weekender will forever belong to Caister. For more information, visit www.caistersoul.co.uk
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3) The Romans:
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Built in around AD 200, Caister-on-Sea Roman Fort was a base for the Roman army and navy and was occupied until the end of the 4th century. Occupying a small island on the north side of a large estuary where the rivers Ant, Bure, Yare and Waveney entered the sea, the fort had a garrison of between 500 and 1,000 men who protected merchant ships in the estuary and supported military operations. Part of the fort defences and a building inside the fort were revealed during archaeological excavations from 1951 to 1955 and objects found revealed wide trading links and a rich and varied military and domestic life. You can visit the fort for free – it is open during daylight hours and can be found close to the A149 Caister Bypass roundabout – look for brown tourism signs. Visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/caister-roman-fort/ for more details.
4) Man's best friend on the beach:
Caister has a dog-friendly beach without restrictions and offers a long-stretch of sand backed by dunes and sea defences for a proper walk for your pet. There's plenty of free parking and the opportunity to amusingly post on social media that you're off to California (sands, not the Golden State in the USA).
5) Fast and furious fun:
Great Yarmouth Stadium is actually in Caister-on-Sea and is East Anglia's premier greyhound racing venue where you can catch racing every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday evenings throughout the year, enjoy a meal in the 240-seat racecourse restaurant with a track view, take a tipple in one of four licensed bars. You can also join in the fun of stock car or banger racing on most Sunday evenings from mid-April to mid-September and mid-week in the summer season with Thursday stock car action. In November, the stadium hosts a gala night with a gigantic firework display and a Christmas spectacular is held in December. Visit www.yarmouthstadium.co.uk for more details.
6) Visit the UK's first holiday camp:
John Fletcher Dodd was a founder member of the Independent Labour Party who fell in love with Caister when he visited, bought a house there and started the Caister Socialist Holiday Camp when he pitched a few tents in his garden in 1906. There was no talking after 11pm, fines for messy tents, no swearing, no gambling, no alcohol, no children under the age of two, straw beds and everyone had to chip in with the chores – amazingly, however, the concept caught on and leading lights from the Labour Party came to stay, including George Bernard Shaw, Kier Hardie and Herbert Morrison. The camp grew in the 1920s and 1930s so it could house 500 people. It was requisitioned as a training camp in the Second World War. When it reopened after the war, up to 1,000 people a week would holiday in Caister – and they weren't all socialists! The camp was sold to Haven Holidays in the 1950s and still welcomes holidaymakers from across the country.
7) Get on board a real lifeboat:
The Lifeboat Station at Tan Lane hosts the Caister Lifeboat Experience which has been revamped to include lots of new displays and activities for visitors who can dress up in a waterproof lifeboat kit and get on board a real lifeboat, the Shirley Jean Adye, which served at Caister from 1969 to 1991. Listen to lifeboat stories in a new audio area, watch short films (including the children's ITV show Rosie and Jim where Caister Lifeboat rescued the pair) and discover all about the home of the first of only two offshore lifeboats in the UK which is independent from the RNLI. The current lifeboats, the Bernard Matthews and the Fred Dyble, are run by the Caister Volunteer Lifeboat Service, a registered charity supported entirely by public donation. The Caister Lifeboat Experience is open on Sundays and Wednesdays from March 20 until November 1 and every Bank Holiday during the season and every Thursday during the summer holidays. Entry is free www.caisterlifeboat.org.uk
8) King of the castle:
Caister Castle was built in 1432 by Sir John Fastolf – used by Shakespeare as the inspiration for his Falstaff character – and is built partly in brick, one of the earliest examples of a brick-built building in England. It was besieged and captured by the Duke of Norfolk in 1468 and later owned by the wealthy Paston family. Now partly ruined, you can still climb the 90ft tower of the moated castle for a magnificent view of the ruins and the surrounding area.
9) Cars at the castle:
Just beside Fastolf's brick pile is the Caister Castle Car Collection, a modern museum which boasts the largest private collection of historic motor vehicles in Britain, including an 1893 Panhard et Levassor, possibly the first true motor car ever produced, the very first Ford Fiesta off the production line, Jim Clark's Lotus, Peter Rachman's Cadillac, a Bugatti and a Bentley Speed 6. Look out for veteran, vintage, classic, sports, touring cars and motorcycles and more. Visit www.caistercastle.co.uk for details.
10) Ghostly goings-on:
One of Caister-on-Sea's holiday parks boasts its own ghost in the reception area. 'Mary' is believed to have been a nurse during the Great War and has been seen wandering around in a long grey dress searching for her long lost soldier love...