The Saxon, the Dane and the Black Shuck - the story behind Overstrand’s village sign
PUBLISHED: 15:40 24 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:55 24 June 2019
Everyone from millionaires to mythical dogs have called North Norfolk’s Overstrand home. DR ANDREW TULLETT tells the story behind the village’s sign.
There was perhaps never a more consequential visit to a seaside village than that made by the theatre critic Clement Scott to Overstrand in 1883.
In article entitled 'Poppyland - by a holidaymaker' that he wrote for the Daily Telegraph, he portrayed the area as a rural idyll.
The name Poppyland was further popularised when Scott's poem The Garden of Sleep was put to music by the English composer Isidore de Lara. It contains the memorable lines, 'Sleep! Sleep!, From the Cliff to the Deep! Sleep, my Poppy-Land, Sleep!'
The lure of Poppyland encouraged many visitors to Overstrand.
In 1888 Lord and Lady Battersea employed the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens to design a grand residence, The Pleasuance. Other wealthy Victorians built new homes here.
For a time Overstrand became known as 'the village of millionaires'. The poppy that adorns one of the spandrels on Overstrand's village sign is a direct reference to this significant era of Overstrand's past.
The village sign has a history of its own, which is explained on two plaques attached to the supporting post.
The first reads, "This sign was designed by pupils of the Belfry School and carved by Bob Sterry and Peter Metcalfe of Overstrand. It replaces the sign donated to the village by the Overstrand and District W.I. in Jubilee Year 1977. Dedicated and unveiled 29th May 1993."
The second states, "Overstrand Parish Council commissioned this replacement sign in 2009 which was carved by Ralph West and his Grandson Terry West."
The original sign was made by the prolific village sign creator Harry Carter.
It was also double-sided and featured a poppy on one of the spandrels. Similarly, the initials 'WI' appeared on the original as it does today.
This acknowledges that the Women's Institute initiated the construction of the first sign. References to locally caught 'Cromer crabs' are also common to both signs.
However, the two signs differ in the main themes depicted above the name of the village.
On one side of the original, 'The Saxon' and 'The Dane' faced each other.
Their effigies represented the encounters between the two that would have occurred along this stretch of coast.
A coin from 517AD, during the Saxon era, is recorded to have been found in the parish.
Between the opposing sides was 'Black Shuck'.
This legendary beast has long been part of local folklore.
To see the large ghostly dog is sometimes said to be an omen of death. In the background stands what, according to a local story, was once the lair of Black Shuck. The building is, in fact, St. Martin's Church.
Today it is complete and welcoming visitors once again. It was restored between 1911 and 1914 having been a ruin since the 1700s. The renovated church appears on the modern sign.
On the other side of the original sign a shipwreck was depicted on the shore with one of the crew having struggled up Overstrand's steep cliffs.
At the top a female figure stood with her hand stretched out.
A guide to Norfolk's village signs published in 1979, just two years after the original sign was erected, states that the lady is Rebecca Hythe.
She reputedly ran a public house on the cliffs that was once popular with sailors and smugglers.
Records show that a public house called Beck Hithe House did exist.
It was sold at an auction in neighbouring Cromer on Friday 28th November 1794. Trade directories from the mid-1800s state that part of the beach at Overstrand was once a fishing station known as Beck Hyth.
Whether Rebecca Hythe ever existed, or whether she is Beck Hythe personified, is still open to conjecture.
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The modern sign replaces the old shipwreck survivor struggling up the cliff with an image of a visitor today descending down the walkway toward the sandy shore.
At their side is their faithful companion - a large black dog!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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