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Will listing of memorial to 1880 Eliza Adams lifeboat crew block controversial Wells restaurant plan?

PUBLISHED: 16:56 14 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:56 14 July 2017

Thomas Kew, one of two survivors of the Eliza Adams tragedy, pictured next to the memorial. He launched the appeal to fund the memorial to the lost crew. Picture: Wells Lifeboat Station.

Thomas Kew, one of two survivors of the Eliza Adams tragedy, pictured next to the memorial. He launched the appeal to fund the memorial to the lost crew. Picture: Wells Lifeboat Station.

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Historic England has given fresh hope to opponents of a council’s controversial plan to bring a new 100-seat restaurant and holiday apartments to Wells.

The Eliza Adams memorial as it is today, with the Wells harbour office in the background, which was the lifeboat station at the time of the tragedy. Picture: RAY HEWITT. The Eliza Adams memorial as it is today, with the Wells harbour office in the background, which was the lifeboat station at the time of the tragedy. Picture: RAY HEWITT.

The body has awarded a Grade II listing to the Eliza Adams memorial, which commemorates the lives of 11 Wells lifeboat crew members who drowned at sea 137 years ago.

The memorial is at the proposed development site, on Beach Road.

There have been talks of moving it a mile north, close to Wells beach, to be part of a planned new lifeboat house.

This would enable North Norfolk District Council’s (NNDC) proposed restaurant development to take place.

The Eliza Adams and the lifeboat house before the tragedy in 1880.  Picture: WELLS LIFEBOAT The Eliza Adams and the lifeboat house before the tragedy in 1880. Picture: WELLS LIFEBOAT

The Grade II listing means the memorial’s historic significance is officially recognised.

It does not guarantee the move will not happen, but the listing must be taken into account when decisions affecting the memorial are made.

An NNDC spokesperson said: “We acknowledge the listing and any proposals developed for the site will give due consideration.”

While there has been strong opposition in Wells to the restaurant plan, opinions have been mixed over the memorial move.

An artist's impression of how the new restaurant at Beach Road, Wells, could look. Picture: North Norfolk District Council. An artist's impression of how the new restaurant at Beach Road, Wells, could look. Picture: North Norfolk District Council.

Some feel the new lifeboat house would be an appropriate setting.

Others highlight how the memorial was located at its current site because it is close to where the Eliza Adams lifeboat set off on its fatal mission.

Thomas Kew, one of two survivors of the tragedy, ran an appeal which raised funds for the memorial to be installed.

Wells Town Council has sent a questionnaire to every home in Wells seeking residents’s views on the memorial.

Ray Hewitt, chairman of Wells Playing Field Committee, who opposes the move, said: “I’m sure Thomas Kew would be proud to see this memorial given a Grade II listing and it will undoubtedly give NNDC something to think about.

“Many feel NNDC should take a long look at one of their other 117 assets and leave our town’s small, but precious part of Wells heritage alone.”

The Wells RNLI owns the memorial and is due to discuss it this month.

Coxswain Allen Frary said: “We have not decided what to do. Having spoken to the descendents of those who died on the Eliza Adams, the majority are in favour of the move, so I will represent their views.”

The story of the Eliza Adams tragedy

The Eliza Adams lifeboat capsized on October 29, 1880 after two successive rescue missions.

A large wave broke over the lifeboat, capsizing her and driving her mast into the sand, preventing the lifeboat from self-righting. Twelve of the crew were washed from the boat and 11 died. One of the two survivors remained in the boat, tangled in the lines until the mast snapped and the boat righted itself. The other survivor laid on the rudder before being washed ashore.

Survivor, Thomas Kew, launched an appeal which paid for the memorial to be installed in 1906.

The other survivor was William Bell whose great-grandson, Allen Frary, is Wells’s current lifeboat coxswain. Those who died were: Robert Elsdon (Coxswain); Frank Abel; John Elsdon; William Field; William Green; Charles Hines; George Jay; Charles Smith; Samuel Smith; John Stacey and William Wordingham.

The restaurant plans

The Wells site is one of several across the district which North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) is looking to develop.

The council is looking bring in money from its corporate assets to avoid raising council tax and cutting services as it manages cuts from central government funding.

Strong opposition has been expressed in Wells and, in February, more than 200 residents voiced concerns at a public meeting.

Many believing the development would not be in-keeping with the surrounding area and others have questioned the morality of using public money to set up a business which would compete against existing traders.

The strength of feeling prompted NNDC to set up a working group to meet regularly with representatives from Wells Town Council to discuss concerns and these meetings are continuing. The town council has sent a questionnaire to every home in Wells asking for people’s views.

What does the Grade II listing mean?

The Eliza Adams memorial was given a Grade II listing after an application was made to Historic England by a member of the public.

A spokesperson for Historic England said: “The listing of a building or monument is a means of recognising its significance and ensuring that this is taken into account should any proposals for development or change be made which would affect it.

“While memorials which have been listed generally remain in situ there may be rare occasions on which strong arguments for their relocation arise.

“Normally it would be for the local planning authority to determine whether the case for moving the memorial outweighed the case for retaining it in situ.

“As in this case the local authority is potentially both applicant and planning authority its determination of any application for listed building consent would be likely to be referred to the National Planning Casework Unit.”

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