Sunday, 11 June 2017

Sheringham and Cromer I

On Wednesday the bf and I took the Norwich train from Ely bound for the north coast of Norfolk and the small, quiet seaside resorts of Sheringham and Cromer.  It took nearly two happy hours gliding through the understated Norfolk landscape, changing at Nowrich.  It was a day punctuated by trains, for waiting on the other platform at as the slid into Cromer station was a steam train, a late engine too being built in 1957, that would spend the day trundling up and down between the Cromer and Sheringham.  And at the rear of the train, and only adding to the excitement, was a fabulously liveried diesel engine that once belonged to London transport.  The first thing we made for in Sheringham was the original red brick station that now belongs to the North Norfolk Railway heritage line.  A wonderfully evocative place.  It was a sunny though very blustery day.  Up until my twenties I used to visit both resorts regularly, Sheringham more than Cromer.  It was interesting, but sort of bitter-sweet to return after so many years.  Both resorts have changed; Sheringham perhaps has gone a little shabby in places, Cromer was looking decidedly sprucer than I remember it.  Both resorts developed from pre-existing fishing and trading communities - Cromer was already a small town before the fashion for sea-bathing developed.  It has an enormous Late Gothic parish church and narrow lanes of Georgian and Victorian houses.  Very atmospheric.  However the heyday of both resorts was the late nineteenth century when this part of the Norfolk coast suddenly became wildly fashionable, and both resorts have plenty of buildings in the 'Queen Anne Revival' style of Richard Norman Shaw and George & Peto.  The local exponent of this style was 'Skipper of Norwich', G J Skipper - John Betjeman thought of him as the Gaudi of Norwich - and the prime example of this work in Cromer, now that the metropole and the Grand have been demolished, is the magnificent 'Hotel de Paris' high and proud above the cliff.  Sheringham has lost all it's grand red brick hotels except one, the Burlington, and that is currently for sale and is likely to be turned into apartments.  I can remember the demolition of one of them.  It made the local news and is still a car-park.  I suspect it was the Sheringham Hotel which was another work by Skipper. Quite the best building around is St Joseph, the RC church in Sheringham and is an exceptional early work by the architect of Liverpool Anglican cathedral Sir Giles Gilbert Scott.  A very powerful essay in Gothic Revival architecture, my only criticism really being the rather tame roof inside.  It definitely required something punchier.  Still there was much to enjoy.  A very refined and convincing piece of work verging on the sublime, with none of that froideur that can infect Scott's work.  The detailing is excellent, rather Spanish inspired mainly.  The tiny occulus in the mighty N wall being inspired however, I think, by the one in the North transept of Melrose Abbey, and more obviously the East wall of the collegiate church at Fowlis Easter, also in Scotland.  The interior is narrow and vertical; the narthex is small and low and with its sense of compression has an element of Baroque theatricality.  Sheringham is rather more low-key than Cromer, less brash perhaps, - the original settlement being really more of  a village.  The original parish church is inland in the utterly charming flint village of Upper Sheringham; the Victorian one, St Peter's, in Lower Sheringham (to use its proper name) dates from 1895-7 is by St Aubyn & Wadling.  A big boned church, pretending to be in Surrey, that looses a lot by having a slate roof.  Pan tiles would have been better.  Final word: don't miss the Shell Museum in Sheringham - its fantastic!

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