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New light on Norfolk flood victims as new heritage centre opens

PUBLISHED: 18:43 08 June 2019 | UPDATED: 09:56 09 June 2019

Devastation after the 1953 floods in Hunstanton  Picture: Archant

Devastation after the 1953 floods in Hunstanton Picture: Archant

Archant

New light was shed on victims of the 1953 floods hours after a new heritage centre opened in the town where they were swept away by the sea.

The former Natwest Bank in Hunstanton, which has been converted into a heritage centre  Picture: Chris BishopThe former Natwest Bank in Hunstanton, which has been converted into a heritage centre Picture: Chris Bishop

Russell Martin, his wife Dorothy and their young boys Russell Jnr and John all perished when the sea smashed into their chalet on South Beach Road in Hunstanton.

Until today, they were believed to have all been Americans, as Mr Martin served in the US military at RAF Sculthorpe.

But when his neice Joanne Ellis travelled from Lancashire to Norfolk to pay her respects and see if she could find out more about her relatives, she found the town's newly-opened heritage centre, where she spoke to local historian John Maiden.

From left, Stephen Kent, Tony Armstrong, John Bridger, Ann Stevens, Andrew Murray, Mags Armstrong, Mick Smith and Sheila Kent at the centre  Picture: Hunstantion Civic SocietyFrom left, Stephen Kent, Tony Armstrong, John Bridger, Ann Stevens, Andrew Murray, Mags Armstrong, Mick Smith and Sheila Kent at the centre Picture: Hunstantion Civic Society

Miss Ellis, 50, said her aunt Dorothy came from Lancashire and her cousins - aged just 22 and 11 months when they died - were born in England.

"She was only 22 when she died," she said. "They thought she was American, but she was born here. Her mum and dad didn't talk about it, they were devastated."
Mr Maiden, chair of Hunstanton Civic Society, said: "It's blown me away to see Joanne and get her first-hand knowledge.

"We have a lot of information we share with other people, people come in and share their information with us and fill in the gaps."

A Victorian view of the beach  Picture: Chris BishopA Victorian view of the beach Picture: Chris Bishop

Miss Ellis was one of more than 100 visitors to the new heritage centre, on Northgate, which opened this afternoon.

Volunteers have spent four months converting the former Natwest Bank they were given by an anonymous benefactor after they had to leave their previous home on The Green.

Its displays chart the town's history from prehistoric times to today, with displays featuring the coming and going of the railway, he town's pier and built heritage, along with the floods which claimed 31 lives in the town. The bank's former vault has been converted into a cinema.

An aerial view of the Prom in 1961, donated by Michael Meakin  Picture: Chris BishopAn aerial view of the Prom in 1961, donated by Michael Meakin Picture: Chris Bishop

Tony Armstrong, one of the volunteers who converted the building, said it had been hard work.

"We're all OAPs, we're all retired, so we didn't work 10-hour days," he said.

The centre is open on Saturday, Sunday Wednesday afternoons (1 - 5pm). Admission is free.

Tony Armstrong at the entrance to the former bank vault, which has been converted into a cinema showing a vintage film of the railway between Hunstanton and King's Lynn  Picture: Chris BishopTony Armstrong at the entrance to the former bank vault, which has been converted into a cinema showing a vintage film of the railway between Hunstanton and King's Lynn Picture: Chris Bishop

A display on the history of Hunstanton's pier, before it blew down in a storm in the 1970s  Picture: Chris BishopA display on the history of Hunstanton's pier, before it blew down in a storm in the 1970s Picture: Chris Bishop

One display features architects who helped to shape Hunstanton Picture: Chris BishopOne display features architects who helped to shape Hunstanton Picture: Chris Bishop

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