Lost town of Shipden - Cromer Norfolk

This article has been kindly donated by Sarah Woodhouse, the church warden of Wiveton Church.  The article was written by Janet Gordon who sadly passed away in the year 2000 but at the ripe old age of 92.

"It is fun to try to look back in time, and Wiveton churchyard is a splendid place to have a go.  Here we have a beautiful church, built from an earlier one, on what may well be a really ancient site with plenty still to discover.

The position is magnificent, high above the old harbour where once lay the ships which brought the riches in.  What a legacy from those old seafarers and merchants. 

Blessings on John Hakon for that bequest in 1437 for "ye makyng of a newe chyrche in Wyveton" - 200 marks if done completely, but only 60 if patched up.  So to him we owe the unspoiled version of the " Perpendicular" style we have today.

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How Wiveton church may have looked in 1580

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Groves worn on the churchyard wall  by ships throwing their ropes over into the churchyard for extra anchorage.

The richness and beauty of whose ashlar facings and mouldings, pillars, arches and arcades are of rare quality and, if we dare say it, a 15th century cut above our more famous neighbours!

For Wiveton, with "Snitterley, Clays, Salthous, Sheringham and Crowmere" was one of the ports of the Haven, later known as Blakeney Haven, and there was a time when it could send more mariners and bigger ships to sea than any of the rest of them.

The shore, channels and ways to the sea, indeed the whole coastline, have altered greatly since in Roman times all were under the Count of the Saxon Shore, but even the Romans, whose traces keep turning up in this village, would probably have known some sort of harbour here.  

From the late twelve hundreds on, the trade, both coastal and foreign, grew, not only in the fish so much in demand for feeding the forces of the Crown, but in timber, salt, corn, coal, wool and general merchandise.  The voyages could be long and arduous and piracy in these waters played no little part.

An old documents runs: "There is a custom that the lord of Wiveton Ducis, or Stafford's Manor, here, hath a bushel of coals, salt or any measurable ting, of every ship that doth unload within the precinct of the Manor, and the same ship was to be unladden by the lord's bushel and no other for no other was to keep  a bushel, and the bailiff had 2 pence every weigh of salt.

There was paid for every English ship, other than those of the same port, 4d for anchorage, and for every alien ship 8d.  The lord was to have of every island (ie iceland) ship a warp of fish of his own choice, that is to say one ling and one cod, if the ship was stored with both, if but one, then a warp of that it was stored with.  The lord is to have for every ship's loading of fish dried upon his ground, a warp of fish for composition (ie curing)."

Wiveton church today

We know the names of many of ships.  There was the Gyles, because in 1482 Robert Paston of Wiveton left his part share in her to his wife Margaret in his will, with all the ship's gear that he possessed.  And out of Wiveton port have sailed the Boore, the Marie Anne, the Susan, the Gifte of God, the Mary James, the Matthew, the Trinity and the Confidence, to name just a few.  What did they look like, these "doggers and lodeships", hoys, merchantmen and men-of-war?

There is a splendid map of 1586 of Blakeney Haen which shows three, all sailing east downwind.  There is one 3-master at sea, one 2-master at sea and another 2-master in the Haven bound for Clery or Salthouse.  The 2-masters are lateen rigged on the mizzen with 2 square sails on the main.  The nearer shows 2 lines of planking built up aft, 2 below, pyramid rigging, a square flag on the main and a burgee on the mizzen; the further shows rigging at a different angle and 1 square flag at the masthead.  The 3-master has lateen shaped sails on the mizzen, no sail set on the main (2 yards, square flag) and the fore has 2 square sails.  The map-maker or artist seems to have known his subject pretty well.  Pictures of ships of this period are not very common.

A year or so ago in Wiveton a close search of the pillars and stonework for masons' marks yielded some ships which seem to have gone unnoticed.  There is a fine 3-master of the hoy type in the chancel, and near the lectern, the remains of a lovely little merchantman or man-or-war so expertly scribed that it suggests the hand of a real craftsman, a ship's architect or builder.

How nice if we could know for certain that here we have the famous Susan of Wiveton, the "good ship of burthen", which was "pressed in Queen Elizabeth's service in 1589 for service into Portugal, of which Thomas Coe of Claye went as Quartermaster...He affirmith... that they have 19 other good ships some of 140 and one of 160 tons belonging to the same towne, six being built at Wiveton near unto the main channel..."

No wonder we have been left with such a beautiful church"

Janet Gordon 1908-2000