Norfolk on a stick: Maritime heritage honoured in seaside village's sign
PUBLISHED: 14:57 11 March 2019 | UPDATED: 15:50 21 March 2019
It's a peaceful part of the coast today, but Burnham Overy Staithe was once a major maritime centre. DR ANDREW TULLETT examines the village sign that honours its heritage.
The whole design is encircled by a rope, creating the shape of a shield, with figure-of-eight knots on either side.
A curlew stands on top of the sign.
The coast here is home to many types of wading bird.
Day trippers can travel by ferry from Burnham Overy Staithe to Scolt Head Island, a shingle and sand island just offshore, which consists of a variety of rare habitats.
It is internationally important for the birdlife it supports and is a National Nature Reserve. It has been owned by the National Trust since 1923.
To the right of the anchor, Overy Staithe Towermill is depicted.
It was built by the owner of a local water mill, Edmund Savory, in 1816.
The tower mill was owned and operated by the Savory family for around 100 years, being passed first to Edmund’s son John and then to John’s son, John Jnr The mill was damaged by a tailwind in 1914.
All the mill machinery had been removed by the time the building was sold in 1926.
The funeral of John Jnr was reported in the Dereham and Fakenham Times on June 25, 1921:
“On Thursday … there were laid to rest in the parish churchyard the remains of the oldest inhabitant in the parish, Mr John Savory, who was for many years a highly successful man of business, as a miller, merchant and farmer.
He had reached his 91st birthday and retired from business some twenty years ago …”
The mill was later converted to residential use before being donated to the National Trust in 1958.
The six floors of the mill are now rented out as holiday accommodation.
Those lucky enough to stay in the windmill can enjoy fine views across the north Norfolk coast and out across the sea to the Trust’s Scolt Head Island reserve.
To the left of the anchor a sailing craft reminds us of the origin of the village as a port and the current importance of recreational sailing.
It is possible that large ships were once able to sail up the River Burn, which emerges at Burnham Overy Staithe, to Burnham Overy Town a mile inland.
A combination of falling sea levels and silting of this channel during the medieval period led to the establishment of Burnham Overy Staithe in the 1400s.
Burnham Overy Staithe continued to be a major port for many years.
This role eventually declined as ships became steam-powered and larger, the railways took away trade and silting continued. The last cargo of coal delivered to the port at Burnham Overy Staithe arrived in 1923.
The village claims associations with two great icons of the world of sea-faring, each at the opposite ends of their careers. Horatio Nelson is said to have learnt the art of sailing here and The Hero public house is named in his honour.
Captain Woodget, the last and most successful master of the Cutty Sark, retired here.
Woodget took charge of the clipper in 1885.
Under his command the ship broke several speed records as it plied the route between Australia and Britain transporting loads of wool.
Woodget died on March 5, 1928. He is buried in the churchyard of St Margaret’s Church in Burnham Norton - coincidentally where Nelson’s father, and two of Nelson’s brothers, were once rectors.
On Woodget’s grave rests a large stone anchor encircled by a stone rope.
Discovering the area: A ‘Coastal Treasures’ walk
Burnham Overy Staithe is on the route of one of a new series of circular waymarked walks recently installed across north-west Norfolk by Norfolk Trails. The trails have been developed in partnership with Norfolk Museums Service to highlight the rich heritage of the area.
The ‘Coastal Treasures’ routes, as they are collectively known, will be officially launched during Easter 2019.
The Burnham Overy Staithe walk leads from Flagstaff House, where Captain Richard Woodget once lived, inland to St. Clement’s Church at Burnham Overy Town where he was married. It continues to St. Margaret’s Church at Burnham Norton where Woodget was baptised and is now buried.
The route also passes two mills, including Overy Staithe Towermill, and the ruins of the Carmelite Friary of St Mary near Burnham Norton.
-Dr Tullett, from Lakenham, researched just about all of Norfolk’s 500-plus town and village signs as part of his Signs of a Norfolk Summer project. He now gives presentations on the topic, and anyone looking for a speaker can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more details of that and Norfolk’s other signs, visit the Signs of a Norfolk Summer page on Facebook, or search for “Norfolk on a stick” on www.edp24.co.uk