Cromer is a bustling seaside resort perched on the north Norfolk coast. Featuring a Grade II-listed pier and an old town complete with narrow winding streets, the word ‘traditional’ immediately comes to mind when describing this charming coastal location.
Despite the unearthing of prehistoric and Neolithic flint instruments in the area, Cromer’s origins are difficult to determine – there’s absolutely no mention of it in the Domesday Book. In fact, the first written mention of Cromer can be found in a will made in 1262.
The origins of its name are also uncertain. Some believe it to be a derivative of the north English word ‘cromer’ which describes a ‘gap in the cliffs’. Others consider Cromer to be the medieval term ‘Crowemere’. The latter is recorded in a legal document of 1422 which makes mention of a place called Shipden.
The Lost Village of Shipden
According to the Domesday Book, Shipden was a village of 117 residents which comprised a harbour, a collection of manor houses and two churches. However, the relentless incursions of the sea eventually swallowed up the town – its submerged location is around a quarter of a mile to the north east of Cromer’s pier.
Late 19th century guide books claim that one of the churches could be seen at low tide. These remains were dubbed, Church Rock, which was struck in 1888 by the pleasure steamer Victoria. Although 100 passengers were stranded, all were rescued. Nevertheless, the rock was later dynamited to prevent further mishaps. The underwater village is regularly explored by local dive teams.
Over the years, numerous artefacts have been salvaged from the churches as well as the wreck of the Victoria.
Development of Cromer
Cromer began to flourish during the medieval period as a year-round fishing centre. Crab and lobster were harvested in the summer months, herring in the autumn and cod in the winter.
As a result the town thrived. Its wealth was reflected by the impressive church of St Peter and Paul whose imposing tower still dominates Cromer’s skyline.
But as with many UK coastal towns, it was tourism that truly put Cromer on the map.
Growth as a Seaside Resort
During the late 18th and early 19th, Cromer became a popular holiday location. Its notoriety was helped considerably by famed writer Jane Austen who mentioned the town as ‘the best of all the sea bathing places’ in her classic work Emma.
The poet Clement Scott also helped establish Cromer in the public consciousness by naming its cliffs, ‘Poppyland’ – an image which was used extensively in railway posters. And it was the arrival of the railways in 1877 that cemented Cromer’s holiday-town reputation, bringing in a steady flow of tourists and day-trippers the whole year round.
To accommodate the influx of visitors, new facilities were built including Cromer Pier and the Pavilion Theatre. An assortment of ornate hotels and boarding houses were also constructed such as the majestic Cliftonville Hotel and the Hotel de Paris.
Other notable establishments include the Sandcliff as well as Red Lion which pre-dates the other hotels having been built in the 17th century. In addition, access to the beach was improved with the opening of the Gangway as well as a new promenade.
Today Cromer remains a popular holiday resort but manages to retain much of its historical character. The narrow streets of the old town twist around the 160ft tower of St Peter and Paul, the tallest church tower in Norfolk, while the crab fisherman still prepare their baits on the eastern edge of the beach.
A cliff path leads about a half mile east to Cromer lighthouse – although not open to the public, it’s still possible to get quite close to the tower. Read on for more information about Cromer visitor attractions and places of local interest.
Cromer is quite an unusual seaside town in that its pier hasn’t yet burnt to a cinder – a fate that’s sadly befallen similar structures at Brighton, Hastings, Southend and Bognor Regis.
Built in 1902, Cromer’s pier is 450 feet in length and home to the 500-seat Pavilion Theatre – one of only five end-of-pier theatres in the UK. A special variety show runs throughout the year and includes comedy, dance and speciality acts.
As well as the theatre, there’s a highly-rated restaurant and bar, both of which offer outstanding seaside views. As testament to its historical significance, Cromer Pier was granted a Grade II designation in 1975.
Cromer Beach is a Blue Flag award-winner and comprises a broad expanse of golden sand. Backed by the town’s Victorian seafront and divided by the famous pier, this well-kept beach offers good bathing on clear days.
At low tide, there’s plenty of room in which to plot up, even during the summer months. However, the beaches at East and West Runton as well as Overstrand are within walking distance and offer an escape for those looking to get away from the high-season crowds.
Cromer Lifeboat Station
In addition to holiday-making and fishing, Cromer has a proud tradition of maritime rescue that dates back to 1804. The town actually has two boathouses – one is located inshore while the other is situated at the end of the pier – the latter houses a Tamar class lifeboat and is open to the public.
Admission is free and guided tours are also available for large groups – the tours provide fascinating insights into sea safety, day-to-day operations of the station and the equipment used by the crew. There’s also an RNLI gift shop.
Henry Blogg Museum
The Henry Blogg Musuem is located on the Gangway and celebrates Cromer’s most decorated lifeboatman. Blogg served for 53 years as part of the local RNLI helping to save 873 lives. These brave feats of rescue are without parallel in the history of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution.
Fittingly his gallantry was rewarded with the RNLF Gold medal, four Silver Medals as well as the George Cross. Blogg was coxswain of the lifeboat HF Bailey during the Second World War which is displayed at the museum. Other noteworthy exhibits include a Morse code machine as well as a sizeable collection of paintings and photographs documenting Cromer’s maritime history.
Cromer Museum is also worth a visit and features an impressive collection of fossils as well as photographs and displays of the town from yesteryear. There are also two galleries dedicated to the work of 20th century photographer Olive Edis, as part of an exhibition named Fishermen and Kings.
Edis photographed a host of figures during her career including prime ministers, royalty, scientists as well as local Norfolk fisherman. The galleries comprise original prints, slideshows and light-boxes which vividly showcase the work of this talented artist.
Felbrigg Hall offers an excellent day out and is a five minute drive from Cromer. This elegant Grade I listed 17th century country house is renowned for its unspoilt Jacobean architecture as well as the ornately decorated, Georgian interior.
Visitors are offered access to the whole property allowing them to see at first hand the many opulently-furnished rooms. Highlights include the Great Hall, with its 15th century stained-glass windows, the Cabinet Room, complete with gold-gilded Italian paintings and an accurate recreation of a working Victorian kitchen.
The hall’s estate comprises 520 acres of woods and waymarked trails as well as a walled garden that features a variety exotic plant and tree species.
Amazona Zoo is another popular visitor attraction near Cromer that’s home to more than 200 animals from tropical South American. Some of the most noteworthy residents include spider monkeys, jaguars, pumas, caimans and Chilean Flamingos.
There’s also a reptile and spider enclosure that houses a variety of snakes which includes an anaconda. In addition to the animals, there are two well-equipped play areas for under-12s with seating for parents looking to take a break.
Looking to stay near Cromer? Visit our Norfolk holiday cottages page for some inspiration!