Where the pines meet the sea on the north Norfolk coast

NTTD Wells

A busy day in old Wells. - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

Our beautiful coastal communities may be out of bounds to visitors but you can join us on a journey to wonderful Wells-next-the-Sea a century or so ago.

NTTD Wells

A busy day on Beach Road in wonderful Wells - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

These images take us back to a very different age but, considering how much time has passed, we can see that Wells has not changed that much.

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The quay at Wells - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

And what a rich history its has. Back in the 16th century it was recorded there were 19 ships belonging there of over 16 tons, a total similar to the nearby ports of Cley and Blakeney, but well below those for Yarmouth and King’s Lynn.

The principal trades of the town, surrounded by farmland, were fishing and malt production. Fishing vessels from Wells regularly worked north to Scotland and were amongst the numerous English vessels which fished Icelandic waters from the 15th to the end of the 17th century.

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Time for a mardle. - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

Cod and other fish, caught by Wells fishermen and salted at sea was sent to London and other towns in the south. By the middle of the 18th century malt production from local barley grew dramatically making it the second (after Yarmouth) malt exporting port of the country.

In the first half of the 19th century the harbour was still busy. At some time before 1845 the commissioners had invested in a steam tug which would have been a great asset in towing sailing vessels in and out of the harbour.

NTTD Wells

Is that the old steam-powered tug boat written about? - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

The best way to discover what a place was really like you need to listen to the locals and one of them was George E Sarby who, 45 years ago, wrote to us about growing up in Wells just after the First World War.

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The bank at Wells. - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

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George, who was a building manager for the R.G. Carter Group, said: “It seems there persisted, even if somewhat remotely, an influence of the Edwardian era. Practically all transport was horse-drawn, and in the gaslit streets the newsboy could be heard calling, EVENING PA-A-PER!”

NTTD Wells

Looking good - the young lads in Wells. - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

“Shopping was different then. In the long, light summer evenings, Saturday was the peak period, but it would probably be around 7pm before trade really got going,” said George.

NTTD Wells

Shopping in Wells. - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects.

“From the surrounding villages and isolated cottages would come an invasion of young men from the farms, and quite a number of older people as well. They made straight for the shops where trade continued until a late hour.”

The more affluent tradespeople kept a maid servant – a “general” who could expect a salary of £25 a year (all found) while higher up the social ladder a “cook-general” would be paid around £40 a year.

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Shopping in Wells - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects.

Unless he or she had acquired it by inheritance, a worker could not expect to own their cottage. Most people lived in yards - the most crowded in the old town from Staithe Street to the Dogger Lane and beyond.

Many had large families and little money. Times were hard but people tended to keep an eye on each other and there was a great community spirit between the people of Wells.

NTTD Wells

Fancy a cup of tea or a cup of Bovril at Finns Jubilee Tea Rooms? - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

Come summer the visitors arrived and the focal points of life were the railway and the quay. Commercial travellers and holidaymakers would arrive by train and then taken by pony and trap to their destinations.

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The a look at life on The Plane more than a century ago. - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

“It was the quay that held the greatest fascination for myself,” wrote George.

“The old-world port, with its quaint inns, granaries and warehouses, the steep-pitched roofs and Flemish gables of the Golden Fleece, was full of atmosphere and charm. It expressed a timelessness - a quality of life that had endured down the centuries and would be untouched in a world of change.”

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A charming photograph of children at Wells in days of old. - Credit: Mike Adcock Collection and Norwich Heritage Projects

Such fine words to describe wonderful Wells-next-the-Sea

These photographs are part of the Mike Adcock Collection now being cared for by Frances and Michael Holmes of Norwich Heritage Projects. Thank you for sharing them with our readers.

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