Sheringham’s history is firmly embedded in it’s relationship with the uncertain North Sea on it’s doorstep, the often turbulent waters of which have claimed both land and lives over the years.
Evidence of occupation can be traced as far back as the 9th century BC and a Roman kiln has been excavated at Upper Sheringham. The first known records of Sheringham are recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086 in which a church at Silingham is mentioned.
Much land has been lost to erosion but the high ground of the Cromer Ridge has always been a good vantage point from which to watch for unwelcome visitors and on which warning beacons could be lit.
Early fishermen launched their boats from the Sheringham Hythe to the west of the town, theirs was the main industry and one that continued as the main source of income until well into the present century. In the late 1800s upwards of 200 fishing boats could have been seen working off local beaches, many arguments and disagreements were a common occurrence, not to mention the danger associated with all these boats trying to land at the same times to suit the tides. It was this situation that led some fishermen to load up their worldly belongings into their boats and travel to such places as Grimsby, Hull, Skegness and Great Yarmouth to start new lives.
The population of the town in 1801 was 392 which mainly consisted of the large fishing families such as the Wests, Craskes, Coxs, Bishops, Peggs, Farrows and Grices. It was common that the fathers and sons shared the same names, there were once 14 Henry Grices living in Beeston road! To distinguish between each other they used nicknames based on either:
- Physical characteristics, eg. ‘Squinter’ West (left)
- Physical actions, eg. ‘Bounce’ Craske, (from his manner of walking)
- Expressions used, eg. ‘Gofather’ Pegg, (as he used to say to his father when he went fishing and wanted him to take him)
It was the loss of life among local fishermen in tragedies at sea that led members of the Upcher family of Sheringham Hall to donate money to enable lifeboats to be built and their generosity founded the lifeboat service in Sheringham. Firstly came the private boats, followed by the boats supplied by the newly named Royal National Lifeboat Institution (previously known as the National Instituation for the Preservation of Life from Shipwrecks).
The year of 1887 proved to be a turning point in Sheringham’s history. The catalyst was the arrival of the railway in June of that year. This led to a veritable explosion of building, with new roads, pavements, a promenade, hotels, shops and houses appearing at such a pace that within just a few years Sheringham and the Sheringham Hotel catered for the cream of national society. Sheringham fishermen realised there was money to be made from this invasion of people to the town and let out deck chairs and took the visitors on fishing trips. In many instances the fishing families let out their entire cottages with the family making do with the wash-house or backroom.
The North Norfolk coast has always been regarded as a potential invasion area and this threat was underlined during the two world wars, when thousands of troops were stationed in and around the town. The anti-aircraft training camp at Weybourne brought in regular batches of hundreds of men and this, with the regiments already in residence, gave Sheringham the atmosphere of a garrison town. During World War II Sheringham was very much a ‘front line’ town, under threat from a possible invasion, with frequent air-raids which made it a dangerous place to live. On January 14th 1915 the first bomb to hit British soil was dropped by Zeppelin L4 and fell through the roof of a house in Whitehall Yard, Sheringham, without exploding (parts of this bomb can be seen in the Sheringham Museum). In addition to the normal hazards of the job the fishermen now had to be alert for floating mines in the water.
In the immediate post-war years there were quite radical plans to demolish most of the northern end of the High street from the Clock tower to the seafront and re-develop it along the lines of a miniature Great Yarmouth or Skegness. Fortunately the necessary capital could not be raised and the character of the town was preserved.
The last thirty years or so have seen a great deal of housing expansion as new estates have been built to the south of the town, in terms of new households Sheringham has seen the biggest growth of any town in North Norfolk. The history, geology and archaeology of Sheringham has been preserved as much as possible in the Sheringham Museum in station road, with a number of the old lifeboats soon to be displayed in the new lifeboat museum on the seafront next to the Crown Inn.