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Head-shaking over Cromer’s future is really nothing new

PUBLISHED: 15:04 27 May 2018 | UPDATED: 15:04 27 May 2018

Cromer beach awash with bathing machines in the summer of 1888. Shockingly, some bathers chose more direct routes to enjoy a swim... such as skinny dipping.

Cromer beach awash with bathing machines in the summer of 1888. Shockingly, some bathers chose more direct routes to enjoy a swim... such as skinny dipping.

Archant

Keith Skipper delves into Cromer archives and discovers people have always been worrying over the resort.

It’s a fair bet I wasn’t the only local resident of mature inclinations warned to steer clear of Cromer Pier and Promenade as the BBC Antiques Roadshow charabanc chugged into town.

Well, close inspection of old and inanimate objects, some of them gathering dust for years and sadly ignored by fresh fads and fashions, can involve embarrassing amounts of caressing, gossip, probing and speculation.

I took the hint and left it to real enthusiasts and experts to carry on pretending this whole business has far more to do with family bonds and values, a sense of history and artistic merit, rather than how much certain items might fetch at auction.

My timely diversion, appropriately enough, indulged my passion for leafing through old local newspapers and magazines in search of more evidence that the more things change, the more they tend to stay the same.

Take the vexed questions of seaside attractions and the maintenance of charm and respectability amid the “opening up” of our area amid deep fears about the consequences of over-development.

Both debates continue to draw earnest battalion to either side. Perhaps we ought to derive a measure of reassurance from lively skirmishes flaring up for well over a century. Cromer’s identity crisis, so apparent in the search a few years back for a regeneration formula capable of embracing the past while peering into the future, first surfaced soon after the coming of the railways in 1877.

A thundering editorial in The Argus, published in Norwich a decade later, declared: “The cheap trips of the Great Eastern and Eastern and Midlands Railways have brought crowds of all sorts and conditions of men, women and children to the broad sands of hitherto exclusive Cromer.

“It is, of course, delightful to see the masses enjoying themselves, but I cannot help fearing that the Cromer beloved of artists and wearied brain workers is about to be lost to us for ever.”

A letter to The Argus, printed in August 1891, urged the Cromer Protection Commissioners to stand firm against “wretched reminders of suburban London tea gardens” in the shape of lanterns along the seafront.

“Cromer is a watering-hole that depends for its existence upon being devoid of such attractions for cheap trippers as are to be found at Margate, Ramsgate, Yarmouth and such places. Cromer is one of the few remaining places that, ‘far from the madding crowd’, possesses natural as opposed to artificial charms.

“Should any attempt be made to alter the old order of things at Cromer, the reputation of the place will most surely be undermined, and ruination will be inevitable.”

For all that open hostility to change, the grand opening of the new pier on June 8, 1901, featured a growing difference of opinion in high places. You shun some, you woo some …

Lord Claud Hamilton of the Great Eastern Railway, who unlocked the gates with a gold key, expressed the wish that Cromer should never be a “cheap trippers resort”. Lord de Ramsey of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway asked ‘whether it would not be advisable to assist that fine old British institution, the excursionist, to come to Cromer’.

Arguments over the kind of image and attractions the town should offer as a holiday resort are alive and well set for a few more airings along with those in places of similar size and history.

Perhaps an all-time low was reached in the summer of 1890 when the Cromer and North Walsham Post reported it had been urged by residents and visitors to raise a protest against the bathing of men and women in the same area at Cromer. They were branded “degraded creatures with no sense of propriety”.

The paper shrilled: “One gentlemen who complained to us of the indecencies described the clothing of some of these men as scant in the extreme.” Worse to come: “Fishermen have told us of cases in which men with female companions have engaged a boatman to row them about parallel with the beach and have then stripped themselves of every shred of clothing and entered the water in a state of complete nudity.”

The message was clear. Cromer’s reputation as a resort of refined society risked being ruined by “these miserable dregs. As a boat owner remarked to us, these creatures should be hooted on their return to the beach”.

Perfect way to stop the rot!


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