A church has existed at Upper Sheringham since the
Doomsday survey of 1086. However the existing
building dates from about the middle or later part of
the fourteenth century. During the fifteenth century the
aisles were mostly rebuilt, and to this day many of the
fifteenth century bench ends still remain, together with
their carvings. One of the carvings is of Upper
Sheringhams legendary mermaid. The story goes as
The north door of the church of All Saints in Upper
Sheringham, or Siringeham as it used to be known,
creaked open and the face of a young girl peered into
the church's interior. Her face was the same colour as a
moonstone and was framed by abundantly flowing locks of
silver sea-green hair; long tresses in which were
tangled tendrils of green seaweed, tiny pearly shells
and small baby pink crabs. Slowly and awkwardly the
young girl began to enter the church. For she was no
ordinary mortal but an enchanted creature of the sea
with the head and body of a woman and in the place of
legs a long silvery fish's tail.
The church beadle who was in the middle of a service
spotted the young mermaid, for that is what she was, and
cried out "Git yew arn owt, we carn't hev noo marmeards
in 'are!" And rushing over slammed the door in the
mermaid's face. Perhaps his reason for doing this may
have been that it was believed that mermaids had no
souls and therefore, he thought, they should not be
allowed inside God's House.
Outside the door the young mermaid waited; for she had
swam a long way to see inside the Parish Church and was
not going to be deterred. After a suitable interval she
again pushed the door open and this time, unnoticed,
glided slowly inside on her silvery tail to the pew
nearest to the door. And there she sat and listened to
what the beadle had to say.
"What evidence is there of this event?" I hear you ask.
A natural enough question I grant you. Well if you go
into the church at Upper Sheringham through the north
door and look at the pew nearest the door you will find
on the end of the pew a carving of a 'Mermaid'; a
mermaid who perhaps had come to church to seek a soul.
The Mermaid is also commemorated on the village sign of
Upper Sheringham with two mermaids bracketing the name
of the village.
Mermaids and their male counterparts, mermen, have been
a part of maritime mythology since ancient Babylonian,
Semitic and Greek civilizations. In Elizabethan times
the image of a mermaid was the recognized symbol of
prostitution. Mary Queen of Scots herself was depicted
as a mermaid in a sketch of June 1567. This was after
her fall from grace in the eyes of the population when
she married the Earl of Bothwell who, it was widely
believed, had murdered her second husband, Lord Darnley.
Could this be the reason behind the legend that a
prostitute visited the church and offended the Beadle at