A guided walk around Winterton village

We had an introduction to the history of Winterton from Ann Meakin and were then guided round the village by two well-informed local people, Dawn and Sandra.  It was a cool but delightful evening. 

These are the notes from Ann and the photographs we brought back.  Ann and our two guides referred to the local history work of David Higgins.  During the walk we saw the houses which had been made formerly been sail and rope lofts; the Hall which has now been turned into flats; the Methodist Churches which are now private houses.  We also saw the lighthouse keepers' cottages and wash houses, the old 'Three Mariners' public house, and heard about the vats for waterproofing the nets and the yards used for spreading out nets for repair.  But perhaps the high spot was the oral history from our two guides: it was they who brought the village alive with their memories over several generations.

Early days

Looking back 2000 years you will remember that Britain was a Roman province and on the Island of Flegg there was a community of Romans at Caister.   The fort was built about 200 A.D. to deter invaders from across the North Sea, who were exploring in order to find new land on which to settle.  However after the Romans departed here in 410 A.D. it was not long before these Saxon people soon discovered that there was no hindrance to their moving across the north sea to settle on the land that the Romans had vacated. They found their ideal place on the island which was named Flegg after the flag irises they found growing here.

These Saxon settlers made their homes along the northern edge of the island, as the names of the existing villages indicate.  Thurne, Repps, Bastwick Martham, Somerton and Winterton are all Saxon names.   The Saxon settlers were pagans but were converted to Christianity during the 7th century.

Then other seekers of new homelands arrived, after about 880 A.D. They settled in the central and other vacant parts of Flegg. They were of Danish origin and the names of those villages ending in 'by' indicate the origins of those settlers. There are no records of conflict between the older and newer settlers as there was sufficient land for everyone.  Martham seems to have been the largest settlement and some people spread to Winterton and Somerton where there were seasonal opportunities for work.

So Winterton was one of the Saxon settlements. Winterton spelt Wintertuna in Domesdy Book - means a 'tun used in winter'.   Somerton means – summer dwelling or a place where cattle could be pastured.  In the early days it seems that the people  of Somerton went for winter fishing off the beach when cod came near the shore.  It is thought that this is a good example of transhumanance. That was a new word to me too!  Transhumanance – shift of local farmers from summer to winter.

The coastline was very different

The Ness beyond Winterton extended far out into the sea. In the Domesday  book it is recorded that the Ness had 15 acres of land, but their acres may have been different from ours.  Winterton was a slightly vulnerable place as the sea so often broke through the dunes to the north, flooding the area inland.

At the Norman conquest in 1066 all the land was confiscated from its owners and acquired by the King, who subsequently divided up the land into manors which he awarded to his favoured barons, who then became Lords of the Manors they held.  Domesday Book in 1086 mentions land in Winterton as having been shared out between four manorial lords. None of the Lords was resident locally, so how it was all managed is quite a mystery and must have been very complicated.

In those days Manors were often bought and sold, so changed hands many times. The Pastons, for example, held manorial land in Winterton. Maybe Sir John Fastolf of Caister Castle did too. His coat of arms is said to be on the church porch but I cannot decipher it.

The church

Winterton Church dates from the 14th century. And was built as a result of a major bequest. Who the donor was I have yet to discover. There was another bequest in the 15th century, and that enabled the tower to be raised in height to 130 feet and a beacon to be placed on top as a warning to shipping.  The Porch is thought to be one of the finest in Norfolk. Perhaps that was paid for by Sir John Fastolf.  It looks very weathered now.

Why is the church on this site?   There may have been a previous church with a round tower like the one at Martham.  We don’t know but the Rectors of Winterton  are recorded from 1342. From 1342 until 1577 it was the de Clere family of Ormesby who were responsible for appointing them.

The Chancel is the oldest part of the church and on the north side, the present chapel, may have been a cell  for an anchorite.  Notice the very slender lancet windows when you look in.  In the 19th century the church was in need of major restoration. As in Martham, it was the money of a wealthy widow that came to the rescue. And it was a daughter of the Rector  -  in this case Rev. John Nelson. She had married William Hume the second son of the family up the road at Burnley Hall and when he died she paid for the restoration in his memory.  That was in 1877-8.

You may have been looking at these memorials on walls around you and wondering about those people. For many centuries Winterton had been a combined parish with East Somerton after the church there became ruinous. So for the occupants of East Somerton Hall, Winterton was their parish church and therefore they were buried here.  Among the memorials you may find – a Brass to Thomas Husband who died in 1676 aged 86 and Elizabeth his wife who died in 1665 aged 68. It was their son who in about 1700 rebuilt the house that we now know as Burnley Hall.

They were followed by the Knights family.  On the wall of the chancel is Engle Knights who died in 1801.  He was rather a rogue who used East Somerton Church as a barn until the diocese realised and ticked him off. I found some interesting correspondence in the Record Office about that.  Maybe that was when the roof was taken off and the tree started to grow in the ruins of East Somerton church that still stands.   Having no children to inherit, he left his house to John Barker Huntingdon - his wife's nephew.  After his death the property was sold to Joseph Hume who had made a fortune from being a surgeon in India. He married Mary Burnley who also had a fortune from her father who had money in the East India Company.   Joseph Hume became a very formidable M.P. (you can read about him in Wikepedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Hume).  He was buried at Kensal Green cemetery in London.  His second son William married the daughter of the rector of Winterton and it was she who restored the church in his memory.

Fishing and the sea

Going back to the beginning of Winterton’s history, you will realise that fishing became a major industry through the centuries.   Winterton fishermen were such skilled seafarers that they were in demand on the big ships from Yarmouth when longhsore fishing was out of season.  This dangerous coastline presented enormous problems.   The Ness was the most treacherous sand spit between London and the north east coast ports.

Hundreds  of ships were wrecked on the local sands.  However this provided a useful source of materials to be salvaged – which were in theory the property of the Lord of Manor  - but that was difficult to enforce. Timbers from the wrecks provided a useful source for house building.   The Winterton Beachmen salvaged everything they could find and put it to good use.

In addition to the beacon on the church tower more warnings were needed for seafarers. After many disputes a lighthouse was built on the cliff in 1687 by Sir Edward Turnour on his land, with permission from Trinity House, and there were also lights on the Ness.  The present lighthouse dates from the 1800s as do the lighthouse keepers' cottages.

In 1822 the first lifeboat was installed. It was 32 feet long and was rowed by numerous oarsmen. Lifeboatmen saved thousands of lives from that time onwards, but sadly many lives were still lost at sea.  The bodies of shipwrecked mariners were frequently washed up on the beach and had to be kept in a mortuary until they could perhaps be identified and buried in the churchyard.


Trade of all sorts developed on the beach.  For example, coal was landed on the beach and that was tightly controlled as duty was payable.  It was kept in a coalyard on the west side of North Market Road and sold to neighbouring villages.  There is a bungalow there now.  Smuggling was a huge problem. From 1684, to control smuggling, a Customs Riding Officer patrolled the coast on horseback all the way from Yarmouth to beyond Happisburgh.  Happisbugh apparently was the worst place for smugglers on this part of the coast.  But no one from Winterton was ever caught as a smuggler.

A famous visitor

Daniel Defoe on his travels in the 1720s visited Winterton and was surprised at the number of dwellings obviously built from old wrecks. He writes that 'they were mostly single storey built of a mixture of flint, local brick, planks, beams and timbers with steep thatched roofs with dormer windows'.

How large a village was Winterton?

In 1801 – the population was calculated as 378. There were 84 families in 54 very crowded dwellings; 78 of the men were seafarers.  At the 1841 Census – the population was nearly doubled to 719.  By that time there were 169 dwellings, so they were still very crowded.   The 'marchese' north of Winterton was common land but they were Enclosed Under the same scheme as Martham.

At the time of the Enclosure Act 1805 .John Barker Huntingdon of Burnley Hall and Earl Winterton, whose family seat was somewhere in Sussex, owned most of the land and so were awarded huge extents of the marshes to the north.   At the time of the Enclosure the Three Mariners public house and The Rectory were the only properly brick built houses. The rest were virtually shacks, as seen by Daniel Defoe.

Looking at the map for 1801 it shows dwellings alongside the road to the beach and in a few other places.  The map of 1829 shows how roads were designated after the Enclosure.  For example, some were private and others were public roads.  Interestingly, the road going northwards to Horsey goes across the dunes.

Notice the coal yard as you walk.

In about 1830 the Lord of the Manor, Earl Winterton, sold land to William Womack who built a splendid new house.  In the 1880s the house was sold to Edward Boult who also became Lord of the Manor, so renamed the house 'The Hall', although it was not truly an ancient manor house but it sounded rather grand.  The house is still there surrounded by bungalows.  The main gates can be seen on the roadside, which indicates the grandeur of this house and the grounds around it.

The 1845 Tithe Map shows more buildings in the triangle south of the main street.  By then houses are being built of brick and tile.   When Rev. John Nelson was appointed to be Rector of Winterton he insisted on the Rectory being rebuilt. In 1821 it was demolished and rebuilt reusing the existing material. The money for it was borrowed from QAB.

Abolition of the brick tax in 1850 encouraged more building. I have found no evidence of a brickfield in Winterton so possibly the bricks came from Martham brickfields.  In the late 1800s there was a continuing replacement of old cottages with new brick built homes.

Hill House near the lighthouse was rebuilt in about 1860. It was owned by John Hume who let it until it became the home of the widow of his son William.

Were there any dissenters in Winterton?

There was a little band of Methodists.  Their first Methodist Chapel was built on land in Chapel Rd. but the land was not transferred legally so it was lost.  In 1843 the second chapel was built in what is now Chapel Road, by Edward Leech who paid for it. Find the date on the wall.  The Last Methodist Chapel was built in 1876 and in use until 2011.   It is now a private house.

The school

In the map of 1905 you can see the school.  Like Martham, Winterton had a National School.  It was built in 1845 on the instructions of the diocese of Norwich, on land given by John Hume. It was enlarged in [1877 and a school house built on the west side.  It is now part of a School Trust with a small number of pupils attending.  The rest of the buildings are a field study centre.

Winterton in the 19th and 20th centuries

In the 19th century, Winterton remained somewhat isolated as the railway was not routed this way.  Therefore tourism did not develop there as it had done elsewhere along the coast northwards from Great Yarmouth.  There was a piece of land called the Twine Ground. Any ideas about what that might have been used for?  In 1900 it was sold for building new homes.

24 New houses were built  opposite the coalyard, in three terraces – May cottages, Snowdrop Terrace and Miriam Terrace.   These are clearly shown on the map of 1905.  You can see that they were by-law houses, similar to Gazes Terrace in Martham.

Council houses were built in Empsons Loke in 1925 and the Bush Estate was started.  At that time there was only water from wells and no electricity or gas.  Electricity was connected to the village in 1930, and in 1934 a Telephone box was installed and Mains water came that year too.  During World War II Winterton was very heavily defended from invasion from the beach.  After the war it took some time to clear away the mines from the beach and other defences.  The anti tank concrete blocks are still there.

In1948 Kenneth Temple bought Hill House and other land and started building Hotel Hermanus in the style of what he had seen at Hermanus Bay in South Africa. He sold it in 1977.  He also built the thatched houses opposite the Fisherman's Return public house.  I think he also built the car park.

Post war housing started to be built and, as you will see, the Hall is now surrounded by bungalows. for

Ann Meakin

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Above: Winterton Hall (Photo: by Kathy)

Below: Arms of Sir John Fastolph)

Arms of Sir John Fastolph