JUL 10 SHINGLE
In 1907 a Royal Commission commenced enquiring into the reasons for the encroachment of the sea on various parts of the coast of the United Kingdom and was required to recommend ways to reduce the amount of land that had been washed away in recent years.
On 15 November that year, Hamon Le Strange appeared before the commission’s Coastal Erosion Committee sitting at Great George Street, Westminster, chaired by the Honourable Ivor Guest M.P. He gave evidence that he that he was the owner of 12 miles of the Hunstanton shore, and his estate abutted that of the King at Wolferton Creek. He had inherited rights in respect of that area of foreshore from the time of King John, including fishing and all royal rights, shipwrecks, royal fish, etc. He claimed that his property extended as far seaward as a man could ride a horse into the sea at low water and hurl a javelin. The owners of any boats beached on his foreshore were obliged to pay him royalties, as were the owners of fishing nets, bathing machines, huts, tents etc. He was particularly interested in preserving his expanse of foreshore and had been obliged to protect the sand banks by groynes, but they had been destroyed by the sea 5 or 6 times in the previous 50 years; the last time being in 1898, when a breach of 150 yards wide had been made in the sea defences. He had constructed solid clay banks near Heacham, and the natural dunes were strengthened by 13 or 14 groynes. In the 48 years from 1858 to 1906, a total of £16,734 had been spent on protective works and £5,823 on upkeep. However he had reclaimed a considerable amount of marshland at Holme, as a result of which the sea had never again been able to break through. The weakest part had become the strongest, reinforced by the shifting sands. He estimated that on average Hunstanton Cliff was eroded by about 9 inches a year, mainly due to the effects of rain water. From Hunstanton Cliff round to Gore Point, the foreshore was mainly sand and the protection from the sea consisted of sand dunes consolidated by marram grass.
On principle he thought there ought to be some power to compel the foreshore to be protected where it could be shown that it was necessary. For example the Le Strange Estate derived a certain amount of revenue from selling shingle. Owing to the large accumulation, no harm could result by taking it, except where the bank was narrow, or where it could be shown that the removal of shingle was detrimental to the interests of other people, and then he forbade its removal. The benefits of the public must override the interests of the individual. He believed that an act of parliament should be passed preventing the removal of shingle without the sanction of a central authority, such as the Board of Trade.
The Coastal Erosion Committee’s final report in 1911 said ‘The removal of material from many parts of the shores of the kingdom and the dredging of materials from below the low water mark has resulted in much erosion on neighbouring parts of the coast and removal of sediments from the shore should be made illegal.’ It was also realised that dredging caused the gradients of the foreshore to become steeper and more vulnerable to the impact of the waves.
No action was taken as a result of the report recommendations, despite obvious examples of what would happen if it was ignored, such as the loss of the fishing village of Hallsands, South Devon, after the shingle protecting it from the sea was lowered by about 12 feet when materials were removed in order to build an extension to the Royal Dockyard at Devonport.
By 1928 much had changed in Hunstanton. The rocks on the foreshore were a constant reminder of the forces of nature, as the cliffs had once extended a considerable distance further out to sea. The older residents of New Hunstanton could remember that acres of land once used for laying up boats had been washed away. The town had grown and a further 200 acres of land had been transferred from Heacham to Hunstanton. The sea defences had been strengthened by extending the original 800 yards of wall and promenade, built the previous century, for the protection of the southern part of the cliff and the Green. A concrete sea wall and promenade 1125 feet long and 16 feet wide was built from near the Sandringham Hotel tennis courts to just south of Seagate Road. 2 sets of steps allowed access to the beach. This worked well in holding back the sea from the area of the railway station and adjacent streets. The top of the seawall was expected to be about 1 foot 6 inches above the height of the abnormally high spring tides .The aggregates required had been taken from the beach and the space behind the wall was filled with refuse from the waterworks. A 16-foot wide slipway at the northern end gave access to the beach, the sand of which had been strengthened by 3 timber groynes, 150 to 200 feet long. An area of about 4 acres of foreshore had been reclaimed, on which an open air bathing pool, car park, model ship sailing pool and café had been constructed at an expense of almost £20,000. There still remained a 2,000-foot gap of low lying shore between the end of the new sea wall southwards as far as the artificial bank constructed many years ago by the Drainage Board. This area frequently flooded and it was generally accepted that further protection would have to be provided at enormous expense. The residents of Hunstanton and Heacham would have to share much of the financial burden
It is scarcely believable that at the same time, this area of beach was being devastated not by the tides, but by the carting away of untold thousands of tons of shingle by boat and road, destroying the natural shore defences made by the sea and spoiling the general appearance of the beach. Month after month when tides and weather permitted, large gangs of navvies were described as being continually at work, feverishly loading into barrows the shingle of the south beach of Hunstanton and the beaches of Heacham. These were loaded in turn into the capacious hold of the steamer the Citie de Londres and other huge boats, said to be manned by foreign speaking crews. This led to newspaper reports that the government should be notified that ‘our island shore was being sold to foreigners for mere pelf, and that the removal of the protective layer of shingle laid open the coast to dangerous erosion.’
A local contractor, Fred Grange of Hunstanton, had acquired the sole rights of shingle and sand removal in 1922 for a rental of £100 per annum for 6 years from Mr Charles Le Strange, the then Lord of the Manor. Grange denied doing any harm and said that there was still as much shingle on the beach as there had been 6 years before, as there was always much more being washed up by the tide. He believed the erosion was caused by the sandbanks of the Wash which were getting larger and larger each year, and therefore forcing the tide onto the shore. He denied selling shingle to foreigners. Because he had received so many complaints locally about his carts cutting up the southern beach roads and banks, to avoid unpleasantness, he had been forced to take the shingle away in boats. Most of the vessels came from Boston, Hull and Grimsby for their local authorities to use for road making. He had been fortunate enough to make selling shingle a paying proposition. He had a large family and had built up a good business, which it seemed was about to be taken away. Charles Le Strange expressed his regret at what was happening and explained that in the old days the squire received a small royalty of about 1 shilling a load for shingle which was carried away in small quantities by local ratepayers. He did not expect the shingle to be shipped away in such enormous quantities by the contractor, who was taking full advantage of his side of the bargain, as no restrictions had been placed in the lease.
Residents of South Beach Road Hunstanton repeatedly urged the council to acquire the shingle rights and thereby preserve the safety of their bungalows, although Hunstanton was less at risk than Heacham, as a bank had been built between the road and the shore. However there was concern that the foundation of the new sewerage outfall had already been seriously weakened.
Some of the bungalow owners between Hunstanton and Heacham decided to improve their own sea defence to prevent their properties from being swamped. Two neighbouring residents had combined to erect a concrete wall 70 yards long around their buildings. The wall, camouflaged by shingle, was sunk 7 feet into the beach, was 2 feet 6 inches wide at the base and 2 feet above sea level. 16 tons of cement had been used in its construction, which showed that providing an artificial barrier to replace a natural defence was not a cheap option. Another owner said that 2 years previously there had been a natural hillock of shingle in front of his bungalow, which had prevented a view of the sea, but that had all been taken away and now more sea could be seen than was enjoyable. He also said that during the Christmas of 1927, an exceptionally high tide had caused great alarm when it washed the front of the bungalows. In the previous 2 years he estimated that about 9 yards of the beach had either been washed or carted away, and in company with the other bungalow owners, he blamed the removal of the shingle for the inroads of the sea.
A Peterborough butcher claimed to have recently bought cheaply one of the largest bungalows on Heacham beach, as by then buildings were being sold at almost any price due to the advances made by the sea. He was indignant at the devastation of the beach, but admired the strenuous work being done by the contractor’s men. He believed that the efforts made by the men loading ships by wheeling barrows full of shingle up planks would be an inspiration for many workmen.
On 13 July 1928 Charles Le Strange chaired a meeting of all the interested parties affected by the removal of shingle .He agreed not to allow anyone to remove shingle from the beach after the current lease expired on 12 October 1928. He contributed £200 towards the sea defences, and gave the council the land in front of Seagate.