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A brief history of Cromer

The first settlement known in this area was called Shipden. It is not until the 13th century that Cromer is mentioned in documents. Cromer and Shipden are often linked e.g. Shipden-by-Cromer, until the later 15th century when only Cromer is mentioned. It appears that Shipden was closer to the coast than Cromer, and as it was gradually lost to the sea, Cromer grew in importance.

It is likely that local merchants provided most of the town’s early prosperity, engaging in fishing and sea trade. As early as 1390, there is a mention of a pier at Cromer, presumably an attempt to provide a safe harbour for local ships. The substantial town church is evidence of the town’s wealth in the mediaeval period.

The town’s fortunes declined so that by the 18th century, Cromer was little more than a small village gathered around a large, poorly maintained church. This state of affairs might have continued if it had not been for the late Georgian belief in the medicinal benefits of sea-bathing. It was difficult for the local gentry to get to fashionable resorts such as Brighton, so they frequented the Norfolk coast, particularly Cromer. The fashion for sea bathing and sea air led to new houses being built in Cromer at the turn of the 19th century, and some of the town’s older historic buildings, such as Brunswick House on the Gangway, date from this time.

Most notable amongst these “summer visitors” were the inter-related families of Buxtons, Barclay, Gurneys and Hoares. They rented rooms or houses in the area, and built houses here. These families were to dominate town life for much of the first part of the 19th century, ensuring the town remained small and its visitors select.

The railways were late to arrive at Cromer, with a station well outside the town, the Cromer High, opening in 1877, and another, the Cromer Beach (still in use today) opening in 1887. They were a catalyst for the town’s development, bringing large numbers of visitors to the resort.

The main landowners, the Bond Cabbell family of Cromer Hall, sold off large areas of land for building in land sales between 1885 and 1891. Streets of boarding houses and large hotels grew up on the west and south-east sides of the town.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, the seafront was reworked with new promenades, culminating in a pier, built between 1899 and 1901. Such developments ensured that Cromer continued to attract the most stylish people of the day. Visitors included Tennyson, Oscar Wilde, Lord Curzon, J.M. Barrie and even a young Winston Churchill.

Visitor numbers peaked around 1905, although Cromer remained popular up to WW1, and still attracted fashionable visitors in the inter-war years.

Following the Second World War, the town became a popular resort for family holidays, although this declined with the growth of foreign holidays.

The town is now recognised as an attractive holiday destination, offering good family holidays, with a remarkable backdrop of fine Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Between 2000 and 2005 Cromer had a regeneration scheme which improved the seafront and town centre. Today, the ever-popular Carnival, a Crab and Lobster Festival and the Coast arts festival help attract visitors to the town.

Information kindly supplied by Andy Boyce (Cromer Preservation Society)


© 2016 Cromer Town Council
Email: info@cromer-tc.gov.uk