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A short history of HunstantonIn the vicinity of Hunstanton there is evidence of a late Neolithic and early Bronze Age settlement in the Redgate area which was discovered in 1970. The Iceni and the Romans were active in the area and around 500AD there was also an Anglo-Saxon settlement. On Christmas Day 855 a 14 year old Saxon called Edmund landed on the Norfolk coast at a place which would become, in some 200 years, Hunstanton and which is called St. Edmund’s Point to this day. Edmund was crowned King of East Anglia in 856, martyred by the Danes in 870 and later became the first patron saint of England.
Old Hunstanton is mentioned in writings in 1038. “Hunestanesteda” appears in the Domesday Book (1086) and very large lease-holdings were acquired by the Le Strange family in the aftermath of the Norman Conquest. However, the beginning of today’s (New) Hunstanton, was due to one man – Henry L’Estrange Styleman Le Strange (1815-1862) – who inherited some 10,000 acres from Wolferton to Thornham in 1840. He lived in Hunstanton Hall and conceived the idea of making a new town when he realised that people were coming to enjoy the sea air and stroll along the beach. It was about this time that the seaside first became popular. It became fashionable for aristocrats, who could afford to travel, to visit small fishing villages like Blackpool and Brighton, where sea-bathing and fresh air were suddenly desirable. So in 1846 his plans began to take shape and the first building was erected – the New Inn – now the Golden Lion Hotel – fronting onto the focal point of a large triangular Green sweeping down to the shore and with beautiful open views across the Wash.
The New Inn (Golden Lion) was the only building between the Lighthouse and Heacham for some 16 years, becoming known as Le Strange’s Folly. The coming of the railway was the trigger for the town to grow.
An architect himself, Henry Le Strange was determined that the town should be designed to high standards and well known London architects were accordingly engaged. He also planned the handsome Gothic style terraced housing to be built partially in the attractive local carrstone and gave the land for the public gardens on the front together with the land for the railway which opened in 1862.
Cheap rail travel made seaside trips available to the general population. Sadly, in that same year, Henry died at the age of 47 without seeing the fulfilment of his vision for the making of the new town of Hunstanton St. Edmunds.
Henry was a truly talented Victorian gentleman. Although he died so long ago the evidence of his creative achievements lives on in both Old and New Hunstanton. Hunstanton was referred to as the railway resort – the only resort to be purpose built on a greenfield site. Under the patronage of his son, Hamon Le Strange, and spurred on by the investment boom between 1850 and 1870, and the purchase of Sandringham by Queen Victoria for her son, the Prince of Wales, in 1861, Hunstanton soon grew beyond the original planned coastal village to become a fully-fledged Victorian seaside resort.
The very fact of a ‘Royal Station’ at Wolferton on the Lynn-Hunstanton line added strength to the venture and it became a railway with a difference. Regrettably the railway was dismantled in 1969.
A pier was erected in 1870 from ‘The Green’ but was unfortunately swept away by the storm of 1978.