History of Sea Palling & Waxham

We are indebted to the late Mr Ronnie Pestell for his advice on this entry and also for giving his permission to use extracts from his books - detailed below.


The Domesday Book (1086) records that Palling comprised 9 villagers and 14 smallholders. There were 20 acres of meadow, 14 wild mares, 2 cobs, 23 pigs and 71 sheep with a total value of £4.00. It was surrounded by areas of salt marsh.


Its story  has been inextricably linked to the sea since pre-history. The town of Waxham Parva disappeared under the waves together with its church and the large estate of Gelham Hall. One of the earliest accounts was written by John of Oxendes, a monk at nearby St. Benet's Abbey, in which he relates the destruction wrought by the great storm of 1287   " .. the sea, agitated by the violence of the wind, burst through its accustomed limits, occupying towns, fields and other places adjacent to the coast .... it suffocated or drowned men and women sleeping in their beds, with infants in their cradles .... and it tore up houses from their foundations, with all they contained and threw them into the sea with irrevocable damage". Several more incursions occurred over the centuries and by 1604 neighbouring Eccles had lost 66 houses and over 1000 acres of land. Just 3 years later Palling's defences were breached and Waxham was flooded in 1655 and 1741. Lack of proper maintenance of the dunes led to continuous breaches and it was not until C19 that a programme of sea defence work was started. The great storm of 31 January 1953 took the lives of 7 Palling villagers - part of the 100 who perished in Norfolk alone. (A memorial plaque is in St Margaret's Church). Following this tragedy the sea wall was extended in 1986 and in 1995 the Environment Agency undertook a multi-million pound project erecting nine barrier reefs.


                                                                 Stormy sea at Sea Palling


Of course the sea also provided opportunities for the villagers - smuggling being one which reached its peak in the mid 1770's. Revenue cutters patrolled the coast and there were seizures of tea, Geneva and other spirits on several occasions and it is reputed that Palling was the headquarters of a band of armed smugglers. To counter this a Coastguard service was established in 1822 and a station built at Palling, which contributed to a decline in smuggling. Alongside this there was also salvage work. Local fishermen became organised into companies and bought themselves fast sailing yawls. There were two beach companies based at Palling, known locally as the Blues and the Whites. It was a perilous occupation and the demands for exorbitant payments may be excusable given the dangers involved. The companies prospered with the increase in maritime shipping and by 1838 had brick built sheds for storage and a lookout built to watch over the Haisborough Sands. Tragically on 16 December 1842 one of the boats was lost with 5 crew and a few weeks later  a yawl went down with the loss of 7 crew. The impact on the village was immense as most of the drowned were young men with families. (A history of the successor R.N.L.I. lifeboats may be found on the Inshore Lifeboat page of this website.)


The coast is still hazardous and in December 1948 a steamer "The Bosphorous" was ensnared on the offshore Haisborough Sands and its cargo or oranges was jettisoned. To a populace emerging from the privations of war, the sight of the beaches strewn with loose and crated oranges was "miraculous" and revived another Palling custom that of plunder! The inhabitants of 1948 could trace this pastime back for centuries when the scavengers of wrecks were known as "pawkers", despite the attempts of the Lords of the Manor to claim all shipwreck. Perhaps the greatest coup was the wreck of "Lady Agatha" in 1768 with a cargo valued at  £50,000 - none of which was recovered by authorities.


Away from the sea, the villages maintained an agricultural existence with, for a time, the addition of brick making. The bricks being transported by wherry along the New Cut to various Broadland staithes. The industry ended around the start of the C20 and the kilns dismantled.


Palling Parish Council was officially formed on 12 March 1928 by a "large representative meeting".  The civil parish of Waxham was added to the parish of Palling by the County of Norfolk Review Order of 1935.  The official change of name from Palling to Sea Palling was adopted in November 1948.


Anyone wishing to learn more about the History of Palling and Waxham is strongly recommended to obtain a copy of "Palling, A History Shaped by the Sea" by R. E. Pestell -  Revised Edition 2017 with David Stannard, Poppyland Publishing . (ISBN 978 1 909796 35 5)

Also "Wild Waxham" by Caroline Davison & Ronnie Pestell - Norfolk Historic Building Trust 2004.


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