Book shines new light on history of Cromer and Overstrand

Most people pass through or even live in towns and villages with barely a nod in the direction of their history.

For Cromer residents and tourists, it is hard to avoid absorbing information about lifeboat hero Henry Blogg, and impossible to escape the towering town centre church.

Now, those who want to delve deeper than the obvious and find out more about the history and mystery of Cromer - and its smaller neighbour, Overstrand - can read all about it.

Town taxi driver and historian Christopher Pipe has compiled a book called A Dictionary of Cromer and Overstrand History.

The tome is the first detailed book on Cromer's history to be published for 70 years. It has nearly 600 alphabetically arranged entries of streets, buildings, organisations and themes.

Almost 1,000 people are mentioned in the book, which makes it a rich source of information for family historians whose North Norfolk lineage pans generations.

Mr Pipe said: 'I have tried to provide quick answers to the straightforward questions, while also uncovering enough surprising and little-known facts to make the book absorbing to browse in.

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'This is not a complete history of Cromer; for the most part it is a ragbag of titbits which I hope will provide the starting point for further historical enquiry.'

He added: 'Still less does the book contain a complete history of Overstrand. Very little has been written about Overstrand other than the story of the development of 'Poppyland' at the end of the 19th century, but its history overlaps so much with that of Cromer that it seemed churlish not to include in the book such information as I have happened across.'

The book features scores of old photographs that are a window on the two settlements' past.

But it particularly comes to life with a series of vignettes about memorable residents.

For while Cromer and Overstrand may be genteel seaside resorts, they have been the home for some controversial and colourful characters, including:

? Peggy Salmon - A London stage actress who came to Cromer in the 1930s in search of aristocrats and royals, and hoping to find work at the Pavilion Theatre. When high society left at the end of the season, she was stranded without any money. She stayed to 'entertain' the US troops in the 1940s, and was later paid in lamb chops while working at Cliff House Hotel. Shameless even in her old age, she once turned up naked in The Albion pub, and in her 70s appeared topless in Cromer Carnival with one breast carrying the word 'mild' and the other 'bitter'.

? Alfie Howard - In the 1950s Cromer Town Council employed Londoner Alfie as town crier and summer entertainer. His Sunday evening concerts and carnival events proved popular with locals - except the town's temperance society. The society objected to some of Alfie's activities being sponsored by breweries and complained to the council, which decided to not make further use of his services.

? Bartholomew Rede - Born in 15th century Cromer, Mr Rede became a wealthy goldsmith and minted the first English sovereigns. He entertained one of Henry VIII's wives, Katherine of Aragon, at his London house. It is said that 'at a banquet an Italian merchant showed him a jewel worth 1,000 marks and said that it was beyond the purse of the King. Rede had it ground down to dust and drank it with his wine. 'Speak honourably of the King of England', he said to the Italian, 'for though hast now seen one of his subjects drink 1,000 marks at a draft'.'

? Laurence Reynolds - In 1895, Mr Reynolds of Overstrand was shot in the head by a boy with a revolver. Dr Dent operated at Cromer hospital, but the bullet remained in his skull. After remaining unconscious for three weeks, he opened his eyes. 'Do you know me, Larry?' asked the doctor. 'That I do and all,' he replied. On being asked how he felt, Mr Reynolds said: 'Rarely thirsty and I could do with half a pint of Bullard.' A few weeks later he was taken to an eye specialist in Norwich, who was so intrigued by the case that he had X-ray equipment sent over from Germany to help him locate the bullet. Dr Dent and another doctor, Dr Fenner, bought Mr Reynolds's head so that they could make a section of the track followed by the bullet. But medical science was scuppered because Mr Reynolds lived on well into his seventies.

? A Dictionary of Cromer and Overstrand History is published by Poppyland Publishing and available for local bookstores for �19.95 (hardback) or �14.95 (paperback). It can also be ordered online at