Cromer fishing heritage centre plan

An historic old cemetery at Cromer could become a fishing heritage centre to showcase the lives, skills, memories, gravestones - and even a boat - from the time-honoured local seafaring industry.

The idea aims to restore a quaint flint building on Holt Road which is listed for its historic interest but is currentlyon an 'at risk' list and boarded up to keep the vandals out.

Now local councillors hope a rescue scheme can be included in a new bid for European funding aimed at supporting fishing communities.

A North Norfolk-wide business case is being drawn up after the district was told it would get a share of a �4.6m Fisheries Local Action Group initiative.

Schemes could include a lobster fishery to create habitat beds and a hatchery to help the current local industry.

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But at Cromer there are hopes a slice of fishing industry history can also be included through the old cemetery scheme.

Town, district and county councillor Hilary Thompson said the chapel had been boarded up in recent years because of vandalism, and was in need of repairs.

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But it was hoped to use it to display pictures, and hold fishing-related craft workshops such as the pot, net and gansey jumper making sessions which proved popular during the recent cab and lobster festival.

'There is no water or power there, so it could not be open all the time, but it could open a few times a year,' she added.

Talks with the North Norfolk Historic Building Trust are being held over the state and future of the building. Its surveyor and secretary Malcolm Crowder said renovations could cost around �100,000.

Previous schemes to look at converting to other uses such as a studio and holiday cottage had not got off the ground because of the cost of adding extensions and facilities to the site which has no power and water.

The Gothic-style Victorian chapel, built in 1860-61, also contained pews, panels and linked toe Chief Reporter Bond Cabbell family of Cromer Hall, whose cenotaph is the corner of the graveyard.

The grounds also contain four gravestones, from between 1881 and 1903, listed for their historic interest because of carvings of old rowing lifeboats and fishing boats. They include members of the well-known local Davies and Balls fishing families.

North Norfolk District Council conservation officer Phil Godwin said the chapel had be identified as being at risk because of its condition, but there had been problems finding a future use that was economically viable.

The fishing heritage scheme was the 'most sympathetic' idea yet, and while it was part of the FLAG bid, officers were also looking at Heritage Lottery Fund options too.

A fishing boat once used by legendary lifeboat coxswain Henry Blogg, which was been brought back to the town for restoration and display could also be put in the grounds, added Mrs Thompson.

Earlier plans to display the Q J and J at the Gangway, close to the Blogg lifeboat museum, had stalled, so the cemetery fishing museum would be a fitting location.

The boat ended its days as a pleasure craft in Essex and was saved from the scrapyard by preservationists who bought it to North Norfolk and store it at Sheringham until it was moved closer to home four years ago.

Cromer fisherman and distirct councillor John Lee welcomed the heritage idea as 'a good idea which makes use of the building' and would be educational about the days of fishing 'before engines and pot haulers.'

Some fishing history was shown in the town and lifeboat museums, but the chapel would be fully dedicated to the subject.

North Norfolk Business Forum is leading the FLAG project under the chairmanship of former fisherman and Cromer Crab Company boss John Williams, and district council officers are drawing up bids for a range of fishing-related projects - such as better beach equipment and branding - across the area, including Wells, Blakeney, Sheringham and Cromer, where 62 boats last year landed a total of around 493 tonnes of fish worth nearly �1m.

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