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From Norfolk RCC
Beeston Regis is a village and civil parish in the North Norfolk district of Norfolk, England. It is about a mile (2 km) east of Sheringham, Norfolk and near the coast. According to the 2001 census it had a population of 1,091.Beeston Regis is fortunate in having good public transport with a frequent bus service on the coast road A149 and a rail service from the nearby stations of Sheringham to the west and West Runton to the east, were the Bittern Line runs a frequent service between Norwich, Cromer and Sheringham. The North Sea is the northern boundary of the Parish, and the wooded Beeston Heath which raises up from the Parish forms the southern boundary.
Evidence of early antiquity in Beeston Regis are few. However, evidence of Roman habitation was found on Beeston Regis Heath in 1859 when a complete set of quern-stones were found dating from Roman times. Quern-stones were used to grind materials, the most important of which was usually grain to make flour for bread.
Up on Beeston Regis Heath there can be found circular pits called 'Hills and Holes' (from the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey map of the area). They are thought to date from prehistoric times. During the Saxon-Norman to Medieval periods these pits were dug to obtain iron ore, which was then smelted in a furnace to produce iron. Beeston Regis is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and within this survey it is called Besetune. Beeston Regis was once known as Beeston-next-the-Sea, but from the year 1399 when Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Lancaster, became King Henry IV, the name became Beeston Regis. Regis (Regius) means owned or appointed by the Crown, and the Living and Manor of Beeston became part of the Crown and the Lancaster Inheritance.
St Mary's Priory and Beeston Common
Beeston Regis has the remains of an Augustinian priory known as Beeston Regis Priory (St. Mary's). Founded in 1216, in 1535 it had only a prior and four canons, who served as parish priests for nearby churches, six boys and seven servants. The boys were in effect the boarders at the canons' school, and their number was increased by day boys. The priory had 40 acres of land with rights to wrecks and flotsam and jetsam. Within the monastic precinct there were agricultural buildings and probably a smithy, a brewery, a guest-house, a wash-house, latrines and other buildings necessary for the running of the busy local community. The priory lasted until 1538 when King Henry VIII banned the Catholic religion and ordered the dissolution of the monasteries and priories. The ruins indicate that the church nave was about 75’ long, having a chancel later added. Beeston Priory was independent, unlike many small houses of the Augustinian Order. A tunnel is said to run to the Dunstable Arms Inn from the ruins of the priory, but if it ever existed its whereabouts is a long-forgotten secret. The suppression of the Priory and its school left a lack of any local provision for education. This is believed to have led Sir John Gresham to found Gresham's School at nearby Holt in 1555.
The Priory ruins today
The cloister, to the south of the nave of the priory church, is now part of the Priory Farm garden. To the east of the cloister, still standing, are part of the walls of the chapter house, and also some traces of the dormitory. The refectory and other domestic buildings probably are beneath or have been incorporated into the eighteenth century “Priory Farmhouse”, which itself was probably built from materials provided by the demolition of the early buildings. Of the main priory church, much remains. The nave, from the west wall to the transept, is 75 feet long and 23 feet wide. The north wall still stands practically to the roof level, although the divisions between the windows have long gone. The belfry tower has gone, although the first steps can be seen in a doorway in the south wall. The south wall is only as high as the window sill level. The west wall is standing almost intact to gable height, although the lining of the original door has been replaced by modern brickwork. The north transept is 24 feet long and 24 feet wide. The east wall of the transept is entirely gone, except for traces of its junction with the north wall. At the south end of this wall once stood a pillar; the opposite pillar, west of the south door, is almost complete and in a good state of preservation. Also in the transept there is a doorway which leads to what is thought to be a sacristy, and is the only doorway remaining in its original form. The architrave is almost complete. West of the transept there is a small chapel 23 feet long and 12 feet wide. Most of the chapel's window mouldings survive. The chancel at the eastern end of the ruin remains to roof height on the north and south side. The original eastern wall has been demolished, but a flint wall has been built up to window sill level. The northeast corner still has most of its window mouldings.
Priors of Saint Mary's Beeston Regis
- Roger, occurs 1267
- Thomas, occurs 1297
- William de Beston, elected 1314
- Geoffrey de Hoton, elected 1325
- Simon de Calthorpe, elected 1390
- Laurence de Beeston, elected 1409
- Geoffrey de Runton, elected 1416 & 1435
- John Catteson, 1461
- John Wykmer, 1468
- John Poty, 1444
- Simon Robyns, 1531
- Richard Hudson, 1532
- The last Prior and his four canons all subscribed to the Act of Supremacy 1534 and were granted pensions. Richard Hudson became Rector of Newton Flotman, Norfolk.
Gallery of St Mary's Priory
Beeston Beck marks the border of the parishes of Sheringham and Beeston Regis.
Click on Image to enlarge
The Priory Maze
Near to the priory is the Priory Maze, now a popular tourist attraction that includes a cafe/restaurant and a garden centre. Because of the unique microclimate in this part of Norfolk, the weather enables the owners to grow a collection of rare and exotic plants.
Also near-by is Beeston Common, consisting of 24.7 hectares/61 acres of grassland, heath, marsh, fen and secondary woodland. The common was made a 'Site of Special Scientific Interest/SA6' in the year 2000 and is habitat for a wide range of mammals, birds, and insects. There are some forty species of rare flowering plants, and fourteen species of British orchids have been recorded on the common due to its special soil conditions. With such a variety of flowers the site is attractive to butterflies. 26 species have been regularly recorded, including green hairstreak, brown argus and Essex skipper. Kingfisher and heron are also visitors to the pond, and no fewer than 19 species of dragonfly/damselfly have been observed.The bird life of the common includes varieties such as chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, common whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, reed warbler and occasionally sedge and grasshopper warblers. Nightjars are occasionally heard. Foxes and muntjac deer along with smaller mammals such as water shrew, field vole, and harvest mouse are present. Adders, slow-worm and common lizards can also be found on the common.
All Saints Church and other features
The cliff top church at Beeston RegisOther features of the village are the cliff-top Parish Church of All Saints, dating from the latter part of the 11th century or early in the 12th. The tower arch opening into the nave is 13th century, as are much of the chancel and nave walls. Probably towards the end of the 13th century or early 14th century the church was reconstructed. The existing arcades were inserted into the nave walls onto the aisles, which were constructed at this time, and the nave walls raised to provide for the clerestory, the window arches of which are decorated on the outside with squared flints. The inventory of 1552 makes it clear that there were three bells in the tower, a fourth being added in 1610. The latter is the only one remaining, the others being sold to defray the cost of repairs in 1765.
The strange story of Farmer Renolds' stone
Farmer James Renolds' headstone in Beeston Regis churchyard. Within the churchyard is a large stone being used to cover a grave. It is approximately 4 feet long x 2 feet x 18 inches high, being a rectangular block of granite, with circular depressions on the uppermost surface. On each side is inscribed the names of the grave's occupants. This is originally one of a pair which stood at either side of a pathway in the yard of the farmhouse, in the grounds of the ruined Beeston Priory. The path itself led to what is now known as the Abbot's Freshwater Spring Pond. The other boulder gatepost against the north wall of the churchyard. A local tale says that about 1938-41, when both boulders were in situation, the farmer (whose name was James Reynolds) often drove his horse and cart along this pathway. Several times, a hooded grey ghost would hide behind two boulders and would leap out from behind one of the stones at sunset, and try to grab the horse's reins before vanishing. This, although terrifying the animals, seems not to have perturbed the man unduly. However, he ordered that the stone in question be laid upon his grave after his death, in an attempt at 'laying' the apparition. James Reynolds died in 1941, and in accordance with his wishes, the boulder now lies atop his grave, his wife Ann Elizabeth also being interred there in 1967. There is no record as to whether or not the 'exorcism' was successful, and indeed, a local woman who knew the Reynolds could not confirm the story. The other stone of the pair can now be seen lying against the north wall of the churchyard. When and who moved the second stone is unknown.
Beeston Hall School
Also within the parish is Beeston Hall School, which is the largest boarding preparatory school in East Anglia. Beeston Regis Hall was once one of the family homes of the Wyndham Ketton-Cremers on the Beeston Regis Estate, part of the much larger Felbrigg Estate, the family seat. In 1940 a German bomb hit the school, causing slight damage. The Hall was leased to Mr Thomas Tapping and his wife Bessie, who opened the private Beeston Hall School in 1948. In 1967 the school became an Incorporated Trust, and in 1970, following the death of Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, the last Squire of Felbrigg, the school acquired the freehold and approximately 14 acres of land. The school has an excellent reputation and attracts pupils throughout Norfolk and beyond. Over the years the school has prospered and expanded and is the biggest employer in the Parish and has occupied a seat on the Parish Council. It has also acquired other surrounding land including Beeston Hall Common, which it purchased from the Parish of Beeston Regis.
Beeston Bump is a cliff-top hill which overlooks the sea and the village and is 63 metres high, is the dominating feature of the parish. Local folklore tells of the southern slopes of the ’Bump’ being festooned with grapevines tended to by the monks of the priory. The Bump can be climbed using the 'Peddars Way and North Norfolk Coastal Path' from either the east or west and is well worth the climb. From the top wonderful views of the surrounding land and sea can be seen. Each Easter the combined churches in the area make a pilgrimage carrying a cross to the top of Beeston Bump, and an open air service is performed.
Beeston Bump Y Station
During the Second World War Beeston Bump was the location for a top secret listening station. These stations were called Y stations and were the ears of the War Office’s Bletchley Park, code name station X. Bletchley Park was the location of the United Kingdom's main code breaking establishment. Codes and ciphers of several Axis countries were deciphered there, most famously the German Enigma. The high-level intelligence produced by Bletchley Park, codenamed Ultra, is frequently credited with aiding the Allied war effort and shortening the war. The “Y” station on Beeston Bump was operated by the Royal Navy and had two functions. The first was direction finding to locate the source of enemy radio transmissions. This part would have been located in a small hut on the concrete base shown in the photograph. The second was the interception of VHF radio signals, which were used by German "E"boats (fast surface vessels) for short range voice communication. A control room was located 500 yards from the direction finding station. It formed part of a chain of such stations around the country that gathered raw signals (usually in Morse code) for processing at the X-station at Bletchley Park. Coded messages were taken down by hand and sent to Bletchley on paper by motorcycle couriers or, later, by teleprinter.
The concrete remains of this top secrete facility can still be seen on the summit of the hill. The remains consist of an octagonal concrete base that measure 3850mm across with a channel running west to east across the middle on the southern edge of the octagon is a raised area of concrete which is 225mm higher than the rest of the base. Around the edge of the octagon are the remnants of what was one a reinforced parapet which has long been removed. There are also sign of a fletton brick wall running westward away from the raised area. During an episode of BBC 1’s series “Coast” a lady by the name of Joy Hale was interviewed by the presenter Hermione Cockburn. Joy Hale had been a WREN during the war and had been an operator at the “Y” station on the summit of Beeston Bump.
The Legend of Black Shuck
There is a legend told in East Anglia about a ghostly black hound from hell that is said to roam the coast and lonely lanes of Norfolk. The hound is said to be the size of a small Horse and appear from the depths of Beeston Bump with malevolent flaming red eyes. Anyone who is confronted with the Doom Dog it is said will be dead with-in one year of there encounter. Sometimes Black Shuck has appeared headless, and at other times he appears to float on a carpet of mist rather than running. More often than not, the Black Shuck terrifies his victims out of their wits, although the apparition is said not to harm his victims. The legend was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the book The Hound of the Baskervilles. Conan Doyal had been on a Golfing Holiday at the near-by Links Hotel in West Runton, and it was in the sitting room of the Hotel that his friend, Bertram Fletcher Robinson recounted the legend of the Black Hound from the Bump.