Meet West Runton artist Fiona Davies who is preserving fishing heritage with pride

Artist and step dancer Fiona Davies. The East Runton village sign which Fiona repainted.Picture: ANT

Artist and step dancer Fiona Davies. The East Runton village sign which Fiona repainted.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

Being born into a famous and respected Norfolk family, whose bravery and traditions are among the county's proudest boasts, is both lucky – and a responsibility. ALEX HURRELL meets a woman who is honouring and preserving her inheritance, and also leaving her own individual mark on the future.

The late Richard Davies.

The late Richard Davies. - Credit: Archant

Fiona Davies remembers turning up at school one morning covered in fish scales.

She had spent the previous night helping her dad Richard unload a herring catch so huge it nearly sunk his fishing boat.

Fishing, its heritage, and the sea run deep in multi-talented Ms Davies' veins.

A traditional Norfolk step dancer, she is also an artist, village-sign painter, music promoter - and you can catch her playing Jack's mum in the next Overstrand Players' panto.

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Born in West Runton, Ms Davies, 45, is one of Cromer's famous Davies fishing clan whose service to the town's lifeboat is long and legendary.

Her great, great, great-grandfather, James John Davies, who married the daughter of Cromer's first coxswain Robert Allen, served as coxswain, as did her great, great-grandfather, her great-grandfather, 'Old Jack' Davies, her grandfather John 'Little Joe' Davies, and her late father, who died in 2010.

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The post is currently held by Ms Davies' brother, John.

And the RNLI's most decorated lifeboatman, Henry Blogg, was her great-grandfather's half brother as her great, great-grandfather married Blogg's mother, Ellen.

Ms Davies has Blogg's old armchair, etched with his initials, in her cottage home on East Runton's Lower Common.

'I'm extremely proud of my family heritage,' she said. 'There have been some very brave Davies men - and women.' But she was never tempted to enter the fishing trade herself, joking: 'I think my father and I would have both been over the side of the boat every day because we would have clashed - we were so much alike.'

Ms Davies misses her dad greatly and organises a popular Richard Davies Memorial Session, including step dancing and folk music, during May's annual Folk on the Pier event in Cromer where she volunteers as fringe festival manager.

Her love of step dancing dates back to childhood when she would watch and copy family members, including her father and grandfather, who danced and sang folk songs like The Foggy Dew in pubs including the Albion, Cromer and the resort's former Bath House and Belle Vue, as well as the Black Boys at Aldborough.

'Stepping' is believed either to have been taught to Norfolk fishermen by the northern fisher girls who followed the herring boats to Great Yarmouth, or to have its origins in the clog dancing brought to East Anglia by Flemish weavers.

Nowadays Ms Davies takes a plywood board with her and uses it to step dance in her father's old boots, which have 'blakeys' - metal plates - on the soles.

She describes it as a 'freestyle, vernacular tap dance,' with no formal moves.

'It's about adding a beat to the music, not about fancy steps,' said Ms Davies.

'We are losing our traditions - there are not many steppers left now - and it's nice to keep them going.'

But it looks as if the dying art form will survive at least another generation as both her children, Ben, 21, and Emily, 18, were taught the technique by their grandfather, and today Ben step dances in public.

After leaving Cromer's Sutherland House School, Ms Davies worked for a North Walsham glass engraver and studied art and design in King's Lynn before joining the Navy and moving to Portsmouth, aged 21.

That career only lasted 10 months as the pull of her North Sea home proved too much, but she did meet her ex-husband in the service.

In 2010 she graduated in Contemporary Fine Art from the then Norwich University College of the Arts.

Over the years Ms Davies has found time for a number of art projects and her work has featured in exhibitions both in Norfolk and London.

Her dragon design was used as the Norwich Beer Festival logo one year, a painting of Cromer Pier was used as Folk on the Pier's publicity posters, and she has been commissioned to refurbish village signs, including those at Gimingham, Edingthorpe and her own, at East Runton.

She enjoys researching a village's history, adding extra details to the signs. Haveringland's includes a Mosquito aircraft which crashed in the Second World War and, while working on it, Ms Davies looked up the incident and painted in the plane's number, for extra authenticity.

A long fascination with capturing breakwaters in paint is over - 'I got bored with them' - but has resulted in a legacy of artworks.

'I liked their stillness. They are sculptural, man-made structures which nature takes over,' she said.

This summer she opened a gallery of her work in her home and is currently creating a driftwood sculpture there with her partner, Jeff Dady.

And when Ms Davies is not dancing or painting, she's likely to be promoting bands, including Sons of the Delta, and Jigantics. 'I do a lot of things,' she said. 'It doesn't make me rich, but it makes me happy.'

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