OPINION: Similar sounding Norfolk villages badly need looking after

Caister Castle

Caister Castle - Credit: Archant

A cursory glance at a local map would hardly suggest they had anything in common beyond similar names with significant spelling differences.

Caister -on- Sea -that’s Caister with an “e” – is a large coastal village with a strong lifeboat and fishing background almost next door to bustling Great Yarmouth.

Caistor St Edmund – that’s Caistor with an “o” – is a small oasis of calm three miles south of Norwich, not far from the shadow of County Council headquarters on Martineau Lane.

However, these contrasting communities, are both blessed with with rich histories dating back to Roman times - and also share current concerns at the heart of an increasingly contentious saga about the blatant way greedy developers are being allowed to plunder irreplaceable qualities of character and space all over Norfolk.

The name “Caister” derives from the Anglo-Saxon word “ceaster” meaning “Roman fort,” and this seaside settlement received such an adornment in around AD200 as a base for a unit of the Roman army and navy.

Even so, its role as a fort appears to have been reduced following construction of the Saxon Shore fort at nearby Burgh Castle. Son of a Norfolk squire, and a professional soldier much of his life, Sir John Fastolf built Caister Castle over a period of 20 years. Completed in 1454, it contained over 40 rooms. The original layout featured two rectangular courtyards surrounded by a moat and connected by a drawbridge.

The western court was dominated by a slender tower 90 feet high still standing today with part of it is used as a car museum. By quirky coincidence, West Caister is latest location earmarked for what many locals regard as unwanted and unwarranted extension of Caister village sprawl over recent years. They cite more traffic and extra pressures on overloaded services and facilities as inevitable burdens..

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No doubt government housing enthusiasts, planners, builders and compliant Great Yarmouth Borough councillors will dismiss such opposition as “drawbridge brigade bluster.” Persimmon Homes have an application in for 665 more homes to form Magnolia Gardens at an estimated cost of £50m on land off Jack Chase Way,

Dave Griffiths and Lynda Bradley slowly uncover a skeleton found at the latest excavation at the Rom

Dave Griffiths and Lynda Bradley slowly uncover a skeleton found at the latest excavation at the Roman City at Caister St Edmond in 2012 - Credit: Archant

The project finds room for a new primary school and land for what is called “a local centre” to spread retail and business opportunity. Perhaps a complete rebuild of Caister Castle could tastefully embrace local history. A little drawbridge to the past.

Meanwhile, Caistor St Edmund , a tiny village with still-vibrant Roman links, has to brace itself for a possible major invasion of development forces capable of totally undermining its present unhurried character and enduring feel for digging into a fascinating history.

Remains of Roman market town ,Venta Icenorum, are nearby in the care of Norfolk Archaeological Trust. An updated brand of the Iceni resistance movement may be required to see off plans for180 new homes to almost double the size of the place, plus a country park, primary school, village hall and play facilities

Lampro, submitting the application to South Norfolk District Council on behalf of developers Glavenhill, claim the site was promoted as “a highly sustainable mixed-use development” in the local plan. Proposals were first put to villages at a Caistor St Edmund and Bixley Parish Council meeting in November.

That gathering inspired early contenders for “Understatement of the Norfolk Year, 20222”, such as : “It’s a lot to take on in a small village” and “My road only has eight houses on it; this is on another level”.

Maybe history can bequeath an enduring set of values and proper sense of proportion at a time when so much irreparable damage is sweeping across this precious plot. We can’t live in or dwell on the past at total expense of sensible planning, careful building and legitimate alterations – but we can learn from it, respect and recall where and when appropriate and help keep it relevant for future generations.

True Norfolk defenders have remained highly suspicious about excessive change dressed up as exciting progress since that crafty reprobate Maximus Secondhomeicus launched his Best-Crept Pillage Competition for posh visitors a few colourful brochures ago.

We are told the fearsome Roman army of occupation had gone by 420, a clear indication they didn’t fancy being caught up in rush-hour traffic largely of their own making. It had more than doubled by 430AD (approaching Deadlock).

New roads, new towns, new industries, booming economic and social development .. mission accomplished. So much better than Norfolk BC (Broadband Coming). The invaders could pack their togas, helmets and dialect phrase-books after a few farewell, cheese-and-mead parties and move on to enlighten other musty corners across the globe.

It was missionary work on an industrial scale and set the tone for so many others intent on dragging Norfolk out of the Dark Ages by giving them things already mucking up places from which their would-be saviours had escaped in earnest droves.

As an old Norfolk boy mused recently as he sipped a pint of mild in the snug of The Eradicated Coypu: “Thass bin a’gorn on since time immoral.