Then and Now
by Geoff Pardon
Following a recent conversation I had regarding my collection of old views of the village, it was mentioned that it would be interesting to visit the locations where the originals were taken and then compare the changes that have occurred over the years, and this is the result. In the descriptions given I have drawn from my knowledge of having lived in the village all my life and my father and my grandfather before me.
Beacon Hill 1930
A colour postcard published by Pearson’s stores of Trimingham. The B1159 coast road winds its way over Beacon Hill and each side of the road is grazing farm land. The small side road on the left is the entrance to The Nest, which was originally a holiday retreat built by the Jarrold family (of the Jarrold department stores). The building on the hill-top is Beacon Hill Cottage which was demolished when the “Golf Ball” radar was installed by the RAF. Directly opposite to this house there was a track leading to the cliff top, which continued on to a beach access at Marl Point below Beacon Lane. Later, due to cliff erosion, the track went on down the cliffs behind where Trimingham House caravan site now is and on to the Fishermen’s gangway. This was the route taken by the fishermen of the village to where the boats were kept, and they had small huts and bell tents on the cliff to keep their gear in.
In 1941 ten acres of land on both sides of the coast road at Beacon Hill was taken over by the M.O.D and was initially used by the army as an early radar site for detecting E-boats and low-flying aircraft as part of the wartime defences. Also at this time the infamous mine fields were sown along the cliff tops, and in 1942 the site was transferred to the Air Ministry when it became RAF Trimingham. The site was equipped with a Type 54 radar on a 200 foot tower, which was sited directly behind Beacon Hill Cottage. On the seaward side of the road three other types of radar were installed on concrete plinths, which remain there today. On the land side of the road a guard-house was built along with access to the underground operation rooms. A military accommodation site was established 1.5 miles away at what is now Fraser Crescent estate and Collingwood Drive. This site also became the base for the mine-clearing operations which took place up until 1966, when the beach and cliffs were declared safe for the public to use.
The same view taken in 2019
Beacon Hill cottage has gone and the track that led to the beach was closed when the M.O.D took over the site. Access to the beach is now via Vale Road. A second entrance to the site has been created just over the hill on the land side of the road. This is for heavy transporters to access the site and move the mobile radar unit contained in the “Golf Ball” to other sites. The sea side of the road was for a few years used as grazing pasture but has now become largely overgrown.
The site was mothballed in 1964 and in 1969 the 200ft tower was demolished; in 1980 RAF Trimingham was closed. The site was sold and the guard-house became a private house. At the end of the 1980s the MOD decided to repurchase the site, but only the landward side of the road. The guard-house was modified, having its original 1940s veranda removed and dormer windows put in the roof. Further development of the site saw Beacon Hill Cottage demolished and by the mid 1990s the radar dome appeared and on-site generators were installed. Today the site remains operational and is linked with RAF Boulmer, in Northumberland and RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, forming part of the UK air defences.
On the seaward side, cliff erosion has reached the boundary fence of the site, where there used to be around 30 meters of rough grass land and barbed wire fencing before the cliff edge. The entire cliff top had barbed wire fencing which stretched from the Low grounds at Watch Tower Lane on the West side of the village to the border of Mundesley in the East. The fencing had signs warning of mines and to keep out. When the beach was re-opened the wire and signs remained as it was estimated that around 100 unexploded mines remained. Cliff erosion has now taken all of the fencing and the mines!
For more details about the RAF at Trimingham visit:
Wikipedia, RAF Trimingham; Norfolk Heritage Explorer, RAF Trimingham; Subterranea Britannia.
East Cliff 1926.
A photo taken looking west from the cliff top behind Beacon Hill in 1926. The large building on the left was High-Cliff House, now High Lawns. The building to the left was the post office and general stores, now Seagulls and Old Post House. To the right can be seen the roof of the large barn at Beacon Farm and in the distance is the Church. The next building in the distance to the right is Bar Haven, a guest house which had a nine-hole golf course, and at the time had its entrance on the old coast road (Loop Road). Bar haven is now Grey-stones and was one of the few properties in the village to have a wartime air-raid shelter. The whitewashed building is Cliff Farm and at the time was a working farm with several outbuildings.
All of the buildings and land to the right of Cliff Farm have been lost to cliff erosion. Some of the houses were demolished and materials used to construct the Retreat on Gimingham Road. Also parts of the red brick and flint walls can be found on the beach after rough weather washes away the beach sand. The area was known as Low Street and a roadway from here led up to the Crown & Anchor yard where it joined the coast road. This road was called the Promenade, and there was another track past Cliff Farm and High-Cliff House which joined the coast road on Beacon Hill.
One of the properties was a four bedroom house called The Lime Works which was owned by a Mr James Marshall. He operated lime kilns here and created a track down the cliff to where the chalk was excavated by hand, employing a horse and cart to bring it up to the kilns for burning. The process produced quick-lime for building and soil treatment. My grandfather, when not at sea, worked for Mr Marshall, and he used to turn the lime in the kilns. This was to ensure the chalk was dried evenly. Mr Marshall was also a saddler and harness-maker.
Low Street used to run further East from here and had a row of terraced houses similar to Malvern Terrace in Middle Street. These were lost to cliff erosion a decade or so before this photo was taken.
The same view in 2019
This photo was taken from a position as near as possible to the 1926 photo; however, with about 40 meters of cliff top gone, here the view is at a slightly different angle. The cliff edge is now just to the right of Cliff Farm and there are more than 50 meters gone here. The Promenade road has been closed and incorporated into the grounds of Cliff House and the track past High Lawns is now the driveway to Cliff Farm. Cliff Farm is used as a holiday home and the black timber chalet to the left is Windy Ridge, another holiday home. This was once a naval radio listening station operated by WRENS, who were billeted at Cliff House in the 1914-18 war; Cliff House was a convalescent home at the time. High Lawns is now flats, along with the adjoining stables now called The Coach House.
High Lawns, formerly High-Cliff, was once a guest house and gained its name from an extensive lawn area to the west of the building that once had a tennis court and a bowls green used by the guests and the local bowls club.
The bungalow in the foreground is The Dale which was built on the site of a former holiday chalet called The Pightle. This was constructed from an old railway carriage standing on telegraph poles as legs to counter the slope of the land. The farm land in the 1926 photo has mostly all been lost to cliff erosion and the remaining area up to the main coast road is now disused meadow.
Mundesley Road 1930
A view of the Mundesley Road looking East on a printed postcard published by S.E.Pearson, General Stores, Trimingham. The coast road has no markings and no speed limit. The building in the distance is High-Cliff House with its stables, and the next building is Seagulls with the Post Office and general stores just behind the Crown & Anchor hotel sign. Directly opposite here was the fresh-water pump in a gap in the hedge. Not every property had mains water at the time and fresh water was collected and carried to individual properties. There was a cast-iron hand-pump to fill your bucket and a wooden picket fence around the gap in the hedge. Mains water arrived in the 1950s and the derelict pump was removed in the late 1970s and donated to Cromer Museum. The Post Office was also the telegraph station and at this time few houses had telephones, so messages came to the telegraph station where a hand-written note was given to a runner who then delivered it. The runner was usually a young lad and my father used to do this for 6d (2.5p) per message.
The Crown & Anchor hotel was built in 1890s, and had 18 double rooms, two bars and a restaurant. There was also a stable block with hay-loft adjacent to the hotel and this was on the Promenade road leading down to Cliff Farm and the cottages in the area known as Low Street.
The building at right angles to the road pre-dates the hotel and was a converted farm building and was used as a garage and storage by the hotel. Next to this building was Taylors Lane which led almost 120 meters to the cliff edge, where there was a small cottage. On the lane, just past the hotel there was a wide-gated entrance to the hotel gardens, which led to a flight of steps with concrete crowns on plinths at the hotel door. The lawns and gardens went almost halfway down the lane and just beyond here there was a midden. A midden was an early form of rubbish dump and was used mainly for glass bottles, tin cans and ash from coal fires – no plastic or polythene bags in this age. Taylors Lane was a very ancient track and its hedges were composed of sloes bushes, hedge maple, wild filbert nut, crab apple and wild hops. The building behind the flint wall is Beacon Farm, a working farm at the time with pig sties, bullock sheds and a large hay barn around a big square yard behind the farmhouse. In the hedged area just beyond the flint wall was the farm pond. This pond was fed through a drain under the road with water from an area known as The Pit across the main road at the bottom of Middle street, which was natural drainage from the fields and roadway. The pond overflowed into another drainage pit further down Taylors Lane and this led to a natural drain which ran to the cliff edge at the bottom of the lane.
The white fence on the left was the entrance to a camp site, where the Boys Brigade had a summer camp. The Boys Brigade also camped on the cliff top at Trimingham House, before the District Council created a permanent camp-site on the Gimingham Road.
And in the right-hand corner of the picture is the edge of the Green and the entrance to Middle Street.
The same view 2019
The coast road looks much the same but now has markings and a 40 mph limit. The biggest change is that the Crown & Anchor has gone. In 1988, whilst undergoing a major refurbishment, a fire broke out in the roof and it was destroyed beyond economic repair, and after standing derelict for five years it was demolished in 1994 along with the stables. The old farm building on Taylors Lane had been demolished in the mid 1970s after the roof collapsed during a gale. The site has now become “amenity land” and is just a grass meadow with sea views. The Promenade road and Taylors Lane have both gone and the cliff edge is now only 40 metres from the main road which would have been up to the lawns and gardens behind the old hotel! The area which was a midden went down the cliff in the 1990s and I have many interesting old bottles and stone jars found from here.
On the opposite side of the road the drainage pit at the bottom of Middle Street has gone, and the surface water now goes into drains connected to the main sewer which was built in the late 1970s.
The pond in Beacon Farm has been filled and the second drainage pit on Taylors Lane has now gone over the cliff. Beacon Farm is now a private house with B&B and no longer a working farm, but in the early 1960s there used to be corn driers in the large barn behind the house and there were pigs and bullocks in the smaller outbuildings. The corn driers were moved to Grange Farm in Church Street when the farm was sold. The fields behind the farm on the cliff edge were used for growing hay and the area which was used as a camp site is now gardens to the Bullock Cottages.