Resort's glorious past on parade as heritage centre opens
PUBLISHED: 09:05 15 February 2020 | UPDATED: 09:05 15 February 2020
Hundreds gathered to raise a glass to a seaside town's heritage centre at its official opening.
Hunstanton Civic Society was gifted a former Nat West bank, on the town's Greevegate last Easter.
It houses a collection of memorabilia which chronicles the history of the resort and milestones including the coming and going of the railway, the 1953 floods and the demise of its once proud pier.
Thousands have visited the volunteer-run attraction since it opened last summer. At Friday's opening Michael le Strange Meakin, a descendant of Henry Styleman le Strange who founded the town as a coastal resort in the 1840s, said: "It's absolutely splendid. They've done a really good job and an outstanding amount of work. It's got some wonderful displays."
Amanda Bosworth, chair of the town's civic society, said the centre's aim was to celebrate all that people love about Hunstanton and its surrounding area.
West Norfolk historian Dr Paul Richards, who performed the ribbon cutting said: "It's amazing that a community group like yourselves have put so much effort in."
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The civic society's collection was housed in a former shop on The Green from 2013, when it was offered the building for a peppercorn rent.
But it was left looking for a new home when its owner needed to sell the premises.
Retired surgeon Andrew Murray snapped up the former NatWest on Greevegate in Hunstanton for an undisclosed sum last spring.
"We had to move out and if we hadn't got this building, we would have been in a bit of a mess," he said.
Guests included Brian Holmes, who first founded the heritage centre. He said: "It's a unique town, which was formed totally different to most towns."
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Hunstanton was the brainchild of Henry Styleman le Strange, who saw the potential of building a rail link to carry tourists to the coast.
Its darkest day came on January 31, 1953, when a storm tide smashed through flood defences, claiming 31 lives.
MORE: New light on Norfolk flood victims as new heritage centre opens
Reis Leming, a 22-year-old American airman based at RAF Sculthorpe, rescued 27 people as the sea swirled over South Beach Road.
Leming's unit - now the United States Air Force's 67th Special Operations Squadron - has retained close links with the town where many of its men were billeted.
Lieut Col William (BJ) Kelly, its commanding officer, said it was "a beautiful friendship".
Lieut Col Kelly was presented with a replica of the silver pheasant given to the American air force in 1954 by the then Lord Lieut of Norfolk Sir Edmund Bacon, as a token of Norfolk's thanks for the efforts of Leming and other personnel during the floods.
The original was displayed in Norwich Library from 1962 until 1994, when it was lost in the fire which destroyed the building.
Sir Edmund's widow paid for a replica to be made, which was presented by Ian Brown from the RAF Sculthorpe Heritage Centre.
Earlier, shoppers paused as the City of Norwich Pipe Band marched through town before performing a display on The Spinney.