Norfolk on a stick: We shall fight them on the beaches – until 1966!
PUBLISHED: 18:32 08 August 2019
The village sign at Trimingham in north Norfolk evokes a pastoral scene with a explosive past. DR ANDREW TULLETT recounts its story
Saint John the Baptist's Head church looks out to sea over the cliffs on Trimingham's village sign.
According to White's trade directory of 1845, "The church was visited in ancient times by pilgrims, who came to see the head of St. John the Baptist, which the priests pretended they had got."
For many years it appeared that Trimingham might join its neighbours on the east coast - Overstrand, Sidestrand and Mundesley - and develop into a tourist destination.
Five pathways once led to the beach.
They descended the cliffs, which are the highest in Norfolk at almost 18 metres (60 feet) tall.
A visitor in 1902 reported that Trimingham was, "becoming popular with holidaymakers, chiefly on account of its fine beach, good bathing and the walks along the cliffs".
However, in 1951 a local paper reported, 'Trimingham exists now solely as a cliff-top farming village.'
This is how it is depicted on the sign. Today there is no safe access to the beach from the village.
It began to go wrong in the summer of 1940, during the Second World War.
Although many Norfolk beaches were mined to prevent a German invasion, Trimingham was the only area where mines were placed in and around cliffs.
The task of clearing Norfolk's minefields began toward the end of the war, in January 1944.
The job claimed the lives of 26 men between then and 1953.
Two of these lost their lives at Trimingham on May 26, 1953, as the EDP reported, 'That morning a mine was detected and marked with a cone about two fifths of the way up the cliff. Both men saw this cone. In the afternoon an explosion was heard. Those investigating found a crater with a body lying some 50 yards [45 metres] away. Parts of another body were found over a wide area.'
There were also civilian casualties.
Two boys died in January 1943 and a 65-year-old man, Ben Payne, was killed whilst hunting rabbits on the cliffs.
Maps used to indicate the position of mines were of little use since the cliffs had been subject to erosion and falls since the mines were placed.
In the face of a seemingly insurmountable challenge, an act of parliament in 1946 caused the danger area to be closed to the public in perpetuity.
Residents fought to reverse this decision. An unsuccessful application was made to the parish council in April 1946 from a Mr Coleshaw, who wished to run donkey rides on the beach.
All other Norfolk beaches had been cleared of mines by 1947.
A petition was sent to the secretary of state for war by signatories requesting that a 180 metre (200 yard) stretch of the beach at Trimingham be opened opposite the church.
Reverand Page testified to a safe route down the cliffs - it was one he had used around 200 times for his daily swim before police had become aware and stopped him.
In response to the petition, mine-clearing efforts began again in August 1947.
In one week, 1,800 metres (2,000 yards) of beach were searched and 30 mines removed.
When checked again just one week later, more mines were found.
Clearing ceased again and the request of the petitioners was refused on safety grounds.
In 1953 a further 100 mines were found and removed. Progress was slow because of cliff falls, erosion and moving sand.
By 1966, 528 mines had been removed and 300 were presumed to have been destroyed by self-detonation or other accidental reasons.
It was estimated that 100 or so mines were unaccounted for, but it was considered that this made the beach no more of a hazard than any other beaches in the region.
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Trimingham beach finally reopened to residents and visitors on Monday, August 1, 1966.
-Dr Tullett, from Lakenham, researched just about all of Norfolk's 500-plus town and village signs as part of his Signs of a Norfolk Summer project. He now gives presentations on the topic, and anyone looking for a speaker can contact him at email@example.com. For more details of that and Norfolk's other signs, visit the Signs of a Norfolk Summer page on Facebook, or search for "Norfolk on a stick" on www.edp24.co.uk
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