For some centuries the sea has encroached on this coast. In the reign of William the Norman Cromer formed part of the lordship and parish of Shipden, a large village, and must therefore have been situated some distance from the sea; but this village and its church (St. Peter's) were swallowed up by the advancing waves, it is supposed in the reign of Henry IV. At very low tides, a large mass of the wall of the church is still to be seen nearly half a mile from the cliffs; the fishermen call it Church Rock, and it is certainly composed of the squared flints used in building Cromer Church. The sea has made rapid raids on Cromer cliffs. In 1611 great masses of land were washed away; in 1799, several large slips, or "shoots" as they are called, were made by the lighthouse cliffs, which rise two hundred and twenty-two feet above the sea, and these slips brought down with them more than half an acre of ground. A similar slip took place in January, 1825, when an immense mass fell from the cliff with great force on the beach. The fall was awfully sudden and quite unexpected; no sign had been given of it, nor any fissure perceived; happily, though the coastguard kept watch on the beach beneath it all night, the watcher was not on the spot when the fall occurred, and DO lives were lost. A rapid and large stream of water issued from the rent cliff, falling on the bench with great violence. In August, 1832, the lighthouse cliff again lost a huge mass, and the master and brethren of the Trinity House were so alarmed for the safety of the lighthouse, that they built another two hundred and eighty yards further inland. Their precaution was wise, as the old lighthouse fell and was swallowed up in a landslip in 1866.
The new lighthouse is fifty-two feet high, and is situated about two hundred and fifty feet above the sealevel. It has on the top a lantern with thirty lamps in it, in three divisions, placed in plated copper reflectors, which make an entire revolution every three minutes, consequently a full light streams over the sea every minute. The light can be seen twenty-seven miles out at sea; but probably by the time this book is published, the electric light will gleam from it upon the waves of the North Sea. Birds are much attracted by a lighthouse, and swarm round the lantern. The floating light off Happisburgh is twelve miles to the east, and it can be seen from Cromer.
Terrible dangers are occasionally incurred by the people who dwell so near the ocean. In February, 1837, a terrific storm swept away a subscription room, bath-house and other buildings on the beach, and on the next morning the cliff, being undermined, fell, bringing a house with it. An Act of Parliament was applied for to build an immensely thick sea-wall. The Act passed, and Mr. Wright, the famous engineer, built it; breakwaters were also erected, and a new jetty. A fine esplanade now stretches the whole length of the cliffs, and everything gives an assurance of safety. The new jetty is reached from the beach by a flight of stone steps, and there is a path from the town on the sloping cliff, securely railed in, that leads to it. It is the favourite promenade of the visitorsto Cromer. Here the glorious and ever-changing sea spreads in a vast plain before them, or billows dash on the beach, and the surface is covered with "white horses." From the esplanade the sun can be seen to set in the sea in all its glorious hues of crimson, gold, saffron and purple; or we can watch it rise from the ocean in the morning; for Cromer possesses the strange advantage of seeing the sun rise and set in the sea; at least in summer. There are fine sands and excellent bathing here.
Nothing more magnificent can be conceived that the sea view on one side, and the great broken cliffs on the other.
But this is a very dangerous coast, as may be perceived when we remember how many lighthouses there are between this place and Yarmouth, every effort being made to prevent vessels from being driven into Cromer Bay, which has received the alarming nickname of the Devil's Throat. Life boats are always in readiness along this coast, and the fishermen are daring and noble fellows, always ready to risk their lives for those in peril on the sea.
There are, however, many ships constantly passing on the silent highway before Cromer that enliven the scene with the presence of human life.
There are many organic and fossil remains to be found on this coast, and wild flowers grow in abundance in the neighbourhood; some are rare and worth seeking, amongst them is the wild yellow tulip, a very gay and lovely flower, brightening the meadows and the banks of hedges.
A quantity of beautiful seaweed is constantly washed up and left on the shore; this is collected in heaps and used for manure. Jet is often found here after a storm, and amber has been picked up also; some friends of ours once found a quantity of topazes entangled in seaweeds on this coast; jasper, cornelian, aqua marine, and agates of great beauty are sometimes picked up on the beach, and the common pebbles take a fine polish.
There are few shells except fossils, but the living periwinkle is gathered in great quantities on the rocks at low water, and sea-anemones are found of rare beauty.
Cromer Church dates from Henry IV.'s reign. It is built of square 'dints, and has a nave and two aisles. The tower is a hundred and fifty-nine feet high; it is square, and the top is embattled. The entrance is a very fine piece of architecture. The church has been restored within the last thirty years.
A mariner of Cromer, Roger Bacon by name, is said to have discovered Iceland in the reign of Henry IV., and to have been the seaman who took young Prince James of Scotland prisoner on his way to France, to which his father, King Robert, had sent him to save him from the machinations of the Duke of Albany, who had murdered his elder brother. We have seen how James found a home, and finally a queen, at Windsor.
The sea is, after all, the finest adjunct a landscape can have, and the North Sea open, and at times mighty in wrath, forms perhaps the finest seascape we have.
It gives an idea of immensity and power, and of the Divine might that keeps it within its fixed bounds, or suffers it to creep into the land. We cannot help thinking of Byron's powerful lines as we gaze on it.