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Eccles-on-Sea

What remains of Eccles lies on the Norfolk coast between Sea Palling and Happisburgh.

Today this is only the Bush Estate - a collection of pre-war bungalows and caravans tucked in behind the sand dunes. However, Eccles was once a complete village - although it has always been under the threat from the sea. In 1570 and 1571 the Norfolk coast was hit by four ferocious storms which seriously undermined the village. It was then hit by another damaging storm in 1604 which lead it to petition, in 1605, for a reduction in its taxes when only 14 houses and 300 acres of land remained.

The Bush Estate

The Bush Estate

On January 25th 1895 St. Mary's church at Eccles finally fell into the sea and the church tower was a familiar sight protruding from the beach.

Eccles Church Tower

Eccles Church Tower

In Norfolk Life, Lilias Rider Haggard (1892-1968) recalls visiting Eccles when she was a child and witnessing the gruesome sight of skeletons exposed in the sea-washed graveyard.
 

'One September day years ago, when the tower of Eccles Church still stood on the dunes, there came a north-easterly gale and a 'scour' which swept the sand from the old graveyard, leaving the long outlines of the graves washed clean by the sea. In one lay an almost perfect skeleton embedded in the clay, the hollow-eyed skull gazing up at the limitless sweep of the sky.'

As late as the 1980s, the foundations of the church used to appear at low tide but since the construction of an off shore rock reef by the Environment Agency the level of sand on the beach has been too high to see anything.  However, pieces of flint masonry from the tower can still be found along this section of coast.

The name 'Eccles' is derived from the Latin word for 'Church' (Ecclesia) and this connection helped Anthony Thwaite (see Low Tharston) - a Norfolk-based poet - to write the following poem about the village:
 

Cliffs sifting down, stiff grassblades bent,
Subdued, and shouldering off thick sand,
Boulders - compacted grout and flint -
Jut from a stranded beach, a land
Adhering lightly to the sea.
Tide-drenched, withdrawn, and drowned again,
Capsized, these buttresses still strain
Towards perpendicularity.

The place-name mimes the fallen church,
Abbreviated, shrunk to this
Truncated word, echo of speech,
A Latin ghost's thin obsequies
Carried by wind, answered by sea -
Ecclesia: the syllables
Curtailed, half heard, like tongueless bells
From empty steeples endlessly.


This stretch of coast is still notorious for its high rate of erosion and nearby Happisburgh is currently under great threat. The beautiful 12th century church of St Mary's may one day suffer the same fate as its name sake at Eccles.

Eccles Beach

Eccles Beach today

Fishermen used to say that you could still hear the bell of Eccles church ringing under the waves. Today Eccles-on-Sea is often referred to as 'Eccles-in-the-Sea'.
 

Links:

More photographs of Eccles and the Bush Estate

 

 

 
 

 

 

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