Where the pines meet the sea on the north Norfolk coast
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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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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!”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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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