8 incredible Norfolk sights we wish we'd seen
- Credit: IAN BURT
They are the buildings and places that are lost to time, tragedy and history: the ghost village where skeleton streets can still be seen, a Wild West town in Great Yarmouth, a temple that hid a terrible curse and the pub where a Learn’d French Dog showed how she could spell, solve mathematical problems, distinguish colours and read a watch.
In our second look at wonderful sights and scenes in Norfolk we wish we could travel back in time to see, here are another eight amazing places and buildings we wish we’d seen.
Godwick ghost village
At Godwick, near Fakenham, part of the church tower stands over one of Norfolk’s best preserved ghost villages. Its skeleton of streets and buildings lies beneath the grass, emerging as long dips and mounds. The people of Godwick moved out, or died out, more than 400 years ago but walkers can still wander the village streets. In 1597 Sir Edward Coke, built a barn which is used today as a wedding venue, across one end of the main street. Grazed by livestock for centuries and never cultivated, the pastures reveal long, straight hollows which are the remains of sunken streets, ditches and banks mark the boundaries of individual properties and low mounds show where medieval buildings once stood. The last surviving remains of the Old Hall were demolished in the 1960s after becoming perilous and the eastern half of the church tower fell after a storm in 1981. You can still see a segment of tower and walk those invisible streets, the site is open from dawn to dusk on Mondays, Fridays and Sundays and from dawn to midday on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Find out more at www.lostvillageofgodwick.co.uk.
The High Mill in Great Yarmouth
Southtown Tower Mill, also known as The High Mill and Press’s Mill, was a towering 122ft to the top of the 20ft lantern that capped it and was one of Europe’s tallest windmills and probably the tallest in Britain. Built in 1812, it had 12 storeys and was built on oak piles and a raft: during the Crimean War, it supplied vital flour to the army via Yarmouth’s famous clipper schooners. The mill once stood on what is now Gatacre Road and it is believed that after it was demolished in 1904, its bricks were used to build High Mill Terrace – look for the houses with red chimney pots. In its heyday, the mill was hard at work during the day and night and four men worked each shift. On a clear day, from the top of the mill, the views across land and sea were breathtaking – the lantern also helped to call ships safely to port.
Reffley Temple near King’s Lynn
It is Norfolk’s lost Temple, a place where secret brethren once met by a mineral spring which was dedicated to the God of wine and the Goddess of Love. When it was discovered in 1756, the iron-rich mineral spring in the King’s Lynn suburb of South Wootton in the former hamlet of Reffley, was honoured with its own temple and obelisk. And when both were vandalised and later demolished, those who inflicted the fatal blows had to contend with a terrible curse that damned them for eternity. An oil painting from 1800 shows an octagonal temple with a conical roof, although this building was enlarged in 1832 when a kitchen was added to the back. Two sphinxes guarded the temple and along with the obelisk, brought a flavour of the Valley of the Kings to this secluded spot in the west of the county. By the first half of the 19th century, the spring had started to lose its place in high society as the railways came and carried people away from the west. But the Reffley Brethren still came. In an article in the Eastern Daily Press of September 22 1936, an article was written about the Brethren and their temple, “…many are the folk who have questioned the secrets of the Latin-inscribed obelisk and the mysterious, locked and shuttered little building which unexpectedly comes to view,” it read. On the obelisk was inscribed what was interpreted as a curse: “Whosoever shall remove this or bid its removal, let him die the last of his race.” On June 23 1978, a few days after Midsummer’s night eve, the last traditional public celebration was held at Reffley Spring: an “anniversary binge” as the EDP put it. Today, the site of the temple and the basin is in private woodland and is overgrown – perhaps the spring remains dry, perhaps it will one day flow again.
The drowned village of Eccles
Swallowed by the greedy sea, most of the ancient village of Eccles-on-Sea is now underwater or beneath the sand we walk on today. All that is left of another of Norfolk’s vanishing villages is the pre-war Bush Estate which hides behind the sand dunes: the thriving medieval village that was once here is now beneath the waves or underneath the sand. St Mary’s Church was one of the last survivors of the village lost to the North Sea – some say you can still hear its bells ringing underwater as you sail by. Probably built during the 12th century with a belfry added 200 years later, St Mary’s appears to have been in use until the late 1500s. Three horrific storms in 1570 wiped out swathes of the village houses and left the church in a dreadful state of disrepair and led to it being largely dismantled. The tower, however, was left standing, a useful seamark to aid navigation for passing ships. By the beginning of the 18th century, the church was on the landward edge of the dunes but sand began to bury it, leaving only the octagonal belfry visible. But unusually high tides on Boxing Day 1862 carved into the sandhills and left the tower exposed, once again, like a late Christmas present for the villagers of Eccles. In Norfolk Life, by Lilias Rider Haggard (1892 – 1968), she remembers the eerie sight of the stranded church tower and, even more terrifyingly, the hideous sight of sea-bleached skeletons exposed in the sandy graveyard. Between 1986 and 1996, tell-tale flint circles or rings of clay bricks in the sand gave away the locations of 11 wells which, at the end of their useful life, had become medieval toilets and rubbish dumps – creating a time capsule of history beneath the Eccles sands. But at Eccles, the ruins have not been seen since about 2000 after the Environment Agency’s urgent work to build an offshore rock reef and recharge the beach to protect homes and property.
The Duke’s Palace, Norwich
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In the 1540s, where Duke Street’s car park now stands, the Third Duke of Norwich (whose son was described as “the most folish prowde boy that ys in Englande”) commissioned a palace. On the brilliant Colonel Unthank’s Norwich website, Clive Lloyd offers a potted history of the site and the buildings that have since occupied this central slice of the city.
The palace included courtyards, a fountain, a tower, a bowling alley and covered tennis courts. It was extensively rebuilt and remodelled in 1671, but in 1711, a mere 40 years later, demolition work had started. That was possibly because of subsidence caused by flooding, but some historians have suggested it was because of a row between the Duke of Norfolk and the Mayor of Norwich. Following the demolition, part of the palace's former bowling alley became a workhouse, while the Duke's Palace Inn - a pub - was created. That was demolished in 1974. It was at the palace where the fourth Duke attempted to win the hand of Mary Queen of Scots and where Thomas Baskerville noted, in 1681, that it was “…seated in a dung-hole place”. The Tuscan columns on Mayor John Harvey’s house at 20 Colegate are said to have been recycled from the Duke’s Palace.
Old Boyland Hall
At a lost hall in a lost village near Morningthorpe there is a persistent rumour that Oliver Cromwell’s repentant ghost was said to appear on the staircase. Boyland Hall was a large Elizabethan house to the north of the village which was rebuilt in the 19th century in the Gothic Revival style but fell into disrepair after the death of its owner in 1930 and was demolished in 1947. The only account of the ghost seen on the stairs at Boyland Hall notes that the ghost was recognised as Oliver Cromwell and was said to haunt the hall because he had once had an extra-marital affair with a former occupier. There is little evidence that Cromwell had an affair, in fact his love for his wife was well-documented in letters exchanged between the pair. Filled with art and antiques, the hall was a sight to behold in its heyday.
Cowtown USA, Great Yarmouth
Our more mature readers, ahem, may remember this homage to the Wild West which was on Great Yarmouth’s seafront on the site of what is now the Marina Centre and what was once the open-air Marina. Built to resemble a slice of America’s Wild West when prospectors and pioneers pushed their way towards better lives and scrambled for pots of gold, it was Yarmouth’s last frontier. Gun-slinging cowboys, dastardly outlaws, swinging saloon doors, one-room jailhouses (how many of you have a photograph of you ‘in jail’?!), liquor-fuelled shootouts over poker, it all went on at Cowtown USA from 1975 to 1977. Every day during the summer season there were seven Wild West shows involving gun fights where Sheriff Danny Arnold would seek to keep the peace (they involved a theatrical dog dropping to the ground as if shot, too). Barkers held the photographic concession and were on hand to take pictures of visitors with cowboys and can-can girls and you could pick up an American treat at the Hash House. There was a wrestling ring, a stage coach on the roof and the chance to become the star of your very own ‘Wanted’ poster.
In 1880, Japan arrived in Chapelfield Gardens in Norwich when the Norwich Corporation bought Thomas Jeckyll’s pagoda for £500. Made of cast iron from the foundry at Barnard Bishop and Barnards’ Norfolk Iron Works, the pagoda included Jeckyll’s trademark sunflower design – 72 of the flowers stood like sentinels around the pagoda creating railings. The 40ft high 40-ton pagoda was as beautiful inside as it was out: decorated with Japanese-style textiles (some of which can still be seen in the Costume and Textile department at Norwich Castle), it was a glorious example of Victorian flamboyance where incredible events were held. Damaged during the bombing raids of 1942, the pagoda was dismantled – original sunflowers from the building are in the gates at Heigham Park while copies form the new gates for Chapelfield Gardens itself.