December 12 2013 Latest news:
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Soft sand between the toes and Marram grass brushing against bare legs.
For thousands of people, memories of hazy summer holidays spent on Hemsby beach hark back to a time when life moved a little slower; when rows of wooden huts were sitting pretty on top of the dunes, parents took their children fishing from the beach, and this stretch of east Norfolk’s coast was famed for its wide, sandy seafront.
In the past week, heavy rain and stormy tides have taken another toll on Hemsby’s shoreline. The damage caused almost overnight serves as a reminder that, while holidaymakers might come to sit back and slow down, time could be running out for the resort.
In its heyday in the 1930s and 40s, the railway brought generations directly into Hemsby every summer. As chalets and static caravans spread, holiday villages owned by Pontins and Richardson’s opened up.
Historian Andrew Fakes, author of The Story of Hemsby on Sea charting the rise of the beach resort, said the Norfolk coastline has been ‘fed’ by sediment coming from Northern England and that caused the coast to be “reasonably stable” for some years with the notable exception of ‘sea surges’ in 1938 and 1953.
For many, the heyday of holidaying in Hemsby and Newport on the east Norfolk coast, near Great Yarmouth, were the inter-war years – when the Midlands and Great Northen railway line brought families direct to the village, bucket and spade in hand.
The resort’s history, however, stretches much further back; the Hemsby and Newport slogan – 1,200 years of seaside fun – is a nod to the villages’ Viking heritage.
The Newport Cottages in Hemsby are a rare survival of homes built for people who made a living from the sea in the late 19th Century. Sitting in a designated conversation area, the terraced houses are built from beach pebbles and lime mortar.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, a number of wooden holiday huts on the dunes were demolished to make way for defences designed to deter enemy landing craft. After the war, families returned in their droves to take advantage of Hemsby’s then wide sandy beach.
“In the 1980s, sand banks in the North Sea altered to form a rip tide off Hemsby which began to scour the beach and cause the sand dunes to start to collapse,” said Mr Fakes, president of the Great Yarmouth & Districy Archaeology Society.
“Most of the properties on the beach and the top of the sand hills had fallen on to the beach or had been demolished by the 1990s. And erosion goes on.
“The cost of concrete sea defences is very high at several million pounds a mile and has a life expectancy of about 30 years. The local authority and Government must decide on the priority of coastal defence against many other demands on the public purse.
“In the mean time I wish the good people of Hemsby every success in their attempts to hold back the sea, but it is probably relevant to remember the words to me of the noted Hemsby fisherman and beach man, Mr Walter ‘Twoshy’ Brown, who in fact lost his own home to erosion. ‘If Davy Jones want it, boy, He’ll take it and there isn’t anything you can do about it!’.”
Today – still bursting with people during the school holidays – Hemsby’s beach front is estimated to contribute £80 million a year to the region’s tourism industry.
If the knock on effect of coastal erosion is fewer tourists, the impact will be felt far and wide.
Yesterday, businesses on the Hemsby strip – a street of amusement arcades, neon lights and late night eateries, said Hemsby will lose loyal visitors as well as newcomers if the beach continues to disappear.
“The beach is why people come here,” said Del Derby, who runs the Two Way Cafe on Beach Road. “This summer we’ve had people stay here but then go to other beaches, up to Sea Palling. Whether they’ll come back next year, you don’t know.”
On the wall of the cafe are photos of wooden huts lost to erosion in 1995 – entire bungalows falling off the crumbling dunes.
“A man has described how he watched as his £5,000 holiday home was smashed to pieces by 40ft waves after it slipped into the sea,” read the article underneath, cut from this newspaper almost 20 years ago.
Bad winters have always taken sand away from the beach – that is the nature of a changing coastline –but locals remember a time when the sand returned in time for summer and holidaymakers would be none the wiser.
This time, however, the beach has not had time to repair itself and the dunes are crumbling.
Campaigners raising funds for DIY sea defences have their “fingers crossed” concrete blocks along the Marrams will give Hemsby a fighting chance against the onslaught of Mother Nature. The blocks are due to arrive any day now – but will it be too late?