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Winterton lies on the Norfolk coast between Hemsby and Horsey. The village is dominated by the tower of Holy Trinity Church which rises to the height of 132 feet. Winterton has a long history as a sea-faring and fishing village and also lies on a notoriously dangerous stretch of coast. The churchyard of Holy Trinity is littered with the graves of sailors who died at sea - and inside there is a Fisherman's Corner established by the Rev. Clarence Porter who, himself, drowned while attempting to save a choir boy.

Winterton Church

Holy Trinity Church, Winterton

Winterton Ness

Daniel Defoe (1660-1731)

In his A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724-6) Daniel Defoe was well aware of Winterton's reputation and wrote:

'The danger to ships going northwards is, if after passing by Winterton they are taken short with a north-east wind, and cannot put back into the Roads, which very often happens, then they are driven upon the same coast, and embayed just at the latter. The dangers is this place being thus considered, 'tis no wonder, that upon the shore beyond Yarmouth, there is no less than four light-houses kept flaming every single night....'

Daniel Defoe

He then goes on to document a terrible series of shipwrecks off Winterton Ness which occurred on a single night in 1692:

About the year 1692, (I think it was that year) there was a melancholy example of what I have said of this place; a fleet of 200 sail of light colliers (so they call the ships bound northward empty to fetch coals from Newcastle to London) went out of Yarmouth Roads with a fair wind, to pursue their voyage, and were taken short with a storm of wind at N.E, after they were past Winterton Ness, a few leagues; some of them, whose masters were a little more wary than the rest, or perhaps, who made a better judgment of things, or who were not so far out as the rest, tack'd, and put back in time, and got safe into the roads; but the rest pushing on, in hopes to keep out to sea, and weather it, were by the violence of the storm driven back, when they were too far embay'd to weather Winterton Ness, as above; and so were forc'd to run west, every one shifting for themselves, as well as they could; some run away for Lyn Deeps but few of them, (the night being so dark) cou'd find their way in there; some but very few rid it out, at a distance; the rest being above 140 sail were all driven on shore, and dash'd to pieces, and very few of the people on board were sav'd:

At the very same unhappy juncture, a fleet of loaden ships were coming from the north, and being just crossing the same bay, were forcibly driven into it, not able to weather the Ness, and so were involved in the same ruin as the light fleet was; also some coasting vessels loaden with corn from Lyn, and Wells, and bound for Holland, were with the same unhappy luck just come out, to begin their voyage, and some of them lay at anchor; these also met with the same misfortune, so that in the whole, above 200 sail of ships, and above a thousand people perished in the disaster of that one miserable night, very few escaping.

It is no coincidence, then, that it is also at Winterton that Robinson Crusoe experiences his first shipwreck. After setting sail from Hull, Crusoe travels down the east coast but gets into difficulty off the Norfolk coast. Fortunately though he manages to reach the shore in a rowing boat and make his way back to Yarmouth on foot. Robinson Crusoe was first published in 1719 and is widely regarded as the first English novel.
'While we were in this condition, the men yet labouring at the oar to bring the boat near the shore, we could see (when, our boat mounting the waves, we were able to see the shore) a great many people running along the strand, to assist us when we should come near; but we made slow way towards the shore; nor were we able to reach the shore till, being past the lighthouse at Winterton, the shore falls off to the westward, towards Cromer, and so the land broke off a little the violence of the wind. Here we got in, and, though not without much difficulty, got all safe on shore, and walked afterwards on foot to Yarmouth...'

Defoe drew inspiration for the novel from the real-life adventures of Alexander Selkirk who, in 1704, was put ashore on the uninhabited island of Juan Fernandez in the Pacific Ocean. Selkirk was rescued five years later by Woodes Rogers.

Wilkie Collins (1824-1889)

While researching his novel Armadale (1866) - Collins visited Winterton and fell in love with a local girl called Martha Rudd - who later returned to London with him and became his partner.

Sam Larner (1878-1965)

The folk singer and fisherman Sam Larner lived in Winterton and there is now a blue plaque on the wall of his former cottage. Sam was discovered in 1956 by a BBC radio producer from Birmingham who recorded 25 of his songs. Sam learnt most of his songs - some of which were a bit risqué - from fishermen he worked with on the drifters. He is best known for Now Is The Time For Fishing. Ewan MacColl also wrote The Shoals of Herring about Larner's life.

Sam Larner's Cottage, Winterton

Sam Larner's Cottage

Sylvia Townsend Warner (1893-1978)

The novelist Sylvia Townsend Warner visited Winterton frequently staying at the Hill House which was once owned by Valentine Ackland's family. The Hill House is now part of the rather bizarre holiday centre which includes African inspired thatched huts.

The Hill House, Winterton

The Hill House today

Both Ackland and Townsend Warner wrote poetry inspired by the beach and dunes at Winterton. Here is Ackland on the subject: 'The dandling sea nursed me, the sand was soft and gentle./ Larks sang and I was unwatched for long hours of clear daylight.' The couple later became gay lovers and lived for a time at both Salthouse and Sloley.

Edwin Brock (1927-97)

After careers in the Metropolitan Police Force and advertising, the poet Edwin Brock moved to Low Tharston in Norfolk in the 1970s. In 1993 he suffered a stroke and for several weeks lost both his memory and his ability to speak. However, he managed to recover his health and in the final years of his life he wrote prolifically -  frequently inspired by the Norfolk landscape. Here is a his delightful poem entitled Winterton:

It is a sinking
into sand; marram grass
too sharp to lie on; eyes
stinging in the wind, and
a nerve in the cheek jumping
like an actor playing Dostoevsky.

A few memories remain:
the seal pup
dragging its wound up the beach
showing a ripped belly
and crying for help;
terns dive-bombing
the air above their nests;
the flotsam fox
bitten and chewed
scourged and scraped
but still recognisable

and always the grey North Sea
disappearing into a grey sky.

Beachcombing between the season's
limbs to discover

or coming off the frost-crisp dunes
rejoicing in ownership.

Sixty-eight years should burst
the walls of a skull with this;
but mostly it drifts
like fine sand, or bangs
against the groynes whenever
the wind blows towards the land.

The following anonymous rhyme presents a disparaging view of the Winterton - and some of its neighbours:
Pakefield for Poverty
Lowestoft for Poor,
Gorleston for Pretty Girls
Yarmouth for Whores,
Caister for Water Dogs
California for Pluck:
Beggar old Winterton -
How Black she do look!


More photographs of Winterton

More Edwin Brock Norfolk Photo Locations






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