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Stiffkey lies on the North Norfolk coast between Wells and Morston: its name derives from 'tree-stump island'. It is a beautiful village consisting largely of flint and brick cottages - built on the banks of the charming River Stiffkey. The main street of the village is narrow and winding and is bordered on both sides by high walls - making it a dangerous place for pedestrians - especially in the busy summer months. High above the village sit Stiffkey Old Hall and the church of St. John the Baptist.

Henry Willaimson's Cottage

Henry Williamson's Cottage

Henry Williamson

Henry Williamson

In 1937 Henry Williamson - the author of Tarka the Otter - purchased Old Hall Farm in Stiffkey for £2250. He was anxious to contribute to Sir Oswald Mosley's new vision of Britain - but he had no previous experience of farming and after eight years he abandoned the farm and returned to his beloved Devon. He recorded his experiences in The Story of a Norfolk Farm (1941). The book contains some memorable descriptions of the north Norfolk coast:

'The sea was half a mile from the village, and the field ended in a plantation or land-fringe of stunted trees, and then steeply down to a pebbly shore and a creek where a fisherman's boat was moored.

We sat down on the grass, gazing out over the marshes, one vast gut-channered prairie of pale blue sea-lavender. Afar was the sea merging in summer mist and the palest azure sky. There was no sound: the air was still: not a bird stirring. This was the sun I remembered from boyhood days, the ancient harvest sunshine of that perished time when the earth was fresh...'

For some of the time, Williamson lived in a small cottage off the village street - known as Walnut Tree Cottage. (It lies next to the antique shop.) A commemorative plaque has now been erected by the Henry Williamson Society. He also lived in another cottage in the village called River View Cottage (previously Meadow Lea Cottage) which served as his studio/library. Williamson collaborated with Lilias Rider Haggard (see Ditchingham) on Norfolk Life (1943) - a compendium of Norfolk essays and vinettes.

Henry Williamson Plaque

Williamson Plaque

Alan Savory - the Norfolk wildfowler - wrote vividly about duck shooting on the North Norfolk marshes including Stiffkey. The Stiffkey marshes are  famous for the 'stewkey blues' - a type of cockle with a distinctive blue colour. Here is an extract from Savory's Norfolk Fowler (1953):

'There is a place far out on the sands somewhere between High Sand Creek and Stone Mell Creek that is called Blacknock. It is a patch of mud covered with zos grass and full of blue shelled cockles known as "Stewkey Blues". It is a famous place for widgeon, but very dangerous to get on to and off, if one is not too certain of the way on a dark night. The women cockle gatherers from Stiffkey (or Stewkey, as it is sometimes called) who have double the strength of a normal man, go right out there between the tides and get a peck of these cockles and carry them back to the village, miles across the sea and saltings.'

Stiffkey is also famous for the Revd Harold Davidson who was rector in the village during the 1920s and 1930s. Davidson launched a one-man crusade to save fallen women in London which caused scandal and controversy and eventually led to the loss of his living. He may well have provided the inspiration for Michael Palin's film The Missionary. Bizarrely, Davidson died after he was mauled to death by a lion in a sideshow on Skegness seafront; however his body was brought back to Stiffkey.

Davidson's funeral, which  took place in 1937, was witnessed by a young Allan Smethurst - who was on holiday in the village at the time. Smethurst would later transform himself into the Singing Postman - a quirky, but authentic Norfolk singer-songwriter.


More photos of Stiffkey

Henry Williamson Society





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