is not far from Martham and our neighbours are very
much coastal communities. Little wonder that this
topic attracted over seventy people to our January
meeting. Added to this was the reputation of speaker
Peter Lawrence, who had addressed us at an earlier AGM
and had led the highly successful coach trip to
Constable Country a year or two ago. The Methodist
Church was full to the brim.
we were learning about the relationship between people
who lived along the coast and those who plied their
trade upon the sea. About how landsmen could make a
living out of the misfortunes of the seafarers but,
increasingly as we moved through history, offer them
support and protection.
look like it, but the Norfolk coast has always been a
very dangerous place for shipping. None of high cliffs
and rocky reefs of Poldark fame, but insidious sand
banks which, unlike reefs and cliffs, keep moving
about with the waves and tides. What was a safe route
last week can see a vessel run aground this week, be
capsized by the wind and waves and the entire crew
drowned within a rope’s length of the beach.
railways there were hundreds of vessels passing our
stretch of coast every day so some of the disasters
were huge. During the 1700’s 140 vessels were sunk in
one storm just off Winterton.
parts of the country this offered rich pickings for
wreckers, but along the east coast things were done
differently – and this is where the beachmen came in.
We learned how beachmen organised themselves into
companies which shared the income derived from
salvaging ships and their cargoes. They established
beach communities (top picture) built watch towers and
adapted fishing vessels into what were really the
first lifeboats. It has been suggested that saving
lives became at least as important as salvage.
abundance of slides Peter took us through the process
by which this evolved into the RNLI and the Coastguard
service. And then through the changes that have
altered these services in recent times. We learnt a
little of the technicalities of unsinkable boats and
of all the things that there are to see at the Caister
Lifeboat Station (lower picture) – the busiest in the
UK. And finally we reached National Coastwatch, which
was very necessarily established, as a voluntary
service, when the government closed down visual
Coastguard stations in the 1990s. Peter was clearly
very proud of his wife’s leading, national role. We
were left with the thought that all these issues could
be the subject of a future visit!