Cromer, Norfolk

Julia Bradbury relaxes at ‘poppyland’ one of the first seaside resorts to hit the big time – and now the crab capital of England

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Cromer. It’s difficult to say without thinking of crustaceans, but it wasn’t always about crabs when it came to Cromer. It’s hard to believe now, because everywhere you look these days, there are signs that this is a mecca for crab-lovers, and Cromer’s are thought to be some of the very best. This is a picture-postcard seaside town that lies on the very edge of the north Norfolk coast – it sits right on top a cliff, in fact.

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Summers of late have been more about rain and bracing sea breezes than sun-drenched sands, but visitors still flock here. Cromer wasn’t always a tourist hotspot though – back in the late 1870s it was nothing more than a sleepy fishing village.

10 years later, this quiet corner of rural England was thrust into the limelight and considered one of the most cosmopolitan and fashionable resorts in the country. And it was all down to one man – Clement Scott – travel writer, theatre critic and all-round London luvvie. In 1883, Scott was using the newly built railways to explore the east coast in his search for places of solitude, fine air, scenery and seclusion.

Red, green and gold
He soon became captivated with Cromer and wrote a series of rave reviews about the area he referred to as Poppyland. It’s the county flower and the fields used to be full of them. These days, they’re not as numerous but you still see the occasional red flower head poking through.

His influence was such that before long the Victorian glitterati came to see this idyllic seaside town that he’d written so fondly about in the London papers.

He said, “So great was the change from the bustle of fashion to this unbroken quiet that I could scarcely believe that I was only parted by a dip of coastline from music and laughter and seaside merriment; from bands and bathing machines.”

Fishermen milked the tourist shilling by offering boat excursions; lifeboat crews demonstrated their expertise – the beaches of north Norfolk buzzed with the excitement of seaside holidays.

The town became trendy and forward-thinking – it was one of the first places in the country to have mixed bathing. Imagine! It’s population more than doubled to 3,781 by 1901.

A Poppyland brand was born and before long everything was displaying the flower Scott had made synonymous with the area. The good times arrived for Cromer and it was transformed into a huge resort with lavish hotels.

By the end of the 19th century, the billboards of Liverpool Street Station in London were proclaiming the benefits of a visit to Poppyland. Entrepreneurs took advantage of this and started knocking out souvenirs – there was china, figurines and songs.

Local chemist Daniel Davison saw an opportunity and a blend of perfumes were mixed up and packaged under the name ‘Poppyland Bouquet’, sold worldwide until the 1930s.

If you’re hoping for a whiff of the aroma of Cromer these days, you’re out of luck. There is a bottle of the now-forgotten fragrance on display in Cromer museum alongside all the other Poppyland paraphernalia and posters, and if you wander down pretty Jetty Street you can see where Davison’s chemist shop once stood.  

These days, the Victorian seaside connection is going strong. The 64m (210ft)- long pier still attracts visitors – it is the home of  the Pavilion Theatre and the Cromer Lifeboat Station – referred to as the lifeblood of the town. So, with this rich legacy and so much to do, best get to Cromer!  

Useful Information

HOW TO GET THERE
By car, take the A11 to Norwich from the M11, and then the A140 to Cromer. By train, Cromer station is served by Norwich, which is in turn served by trains from most major cities.

FIND OUT MORE
This is Cromer
www.thisiscromer.co.uk

Visit Norfolk
www.visitnorfolk.co.uk /explore-norfolk/cromer.aspx

EAT
The Jetty café
11 High Street, NR27 0AB
01263 513814
Relax in a fresh modern environment and enjoy the
award-winning crab salad.

STAY
The Grove Guest House 
95 Overstrand Road, NR27 0DJ
01263 512412
www.thegrovecromer.co.uk
This stunning Georgian country house is not far from both the town centre and the beach.

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NEARBY
Felbrigg Hall
Felbrigg, Norwich, NR11 8PR
01263 837444
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/felbrigg-hall
Visit one of East Anglia’s most elegant country houses and its 520 acres of trails.