The Great Cley Floods 11
The next speaker was a young boy, Geoffrey Sayers from Blakeney, who with the support of his parents in the audience, was keen to tell his view of the flood.
“On January 31st four other boys and me with home-made wooden swords and with dustbins as
shields, and gas masks, we pretended we had routed the enemy and were chasing them down the High Street. Reaching the bottom, where the buildings open out, we met the wind. It slowed our running, first to a walk, then to a stagger and eventually to just weaving from one side of the street to the other, holding onto the vans to stay upright.
“We struggled up onto Mariner’s Hill. When we took off our gas masks as we reached the top, the wind gusting into our eyes was so painful that we had to keep them closed or turn away. Without our masks, we could not see.
“One of us, struggling forward to the lip of the hill launched his dustbin lid out into the wind. Lifting towards the northeast, it hung just momentarily. Then as if no more than a leaf, it was snatched away until it became too small to see. Crouching, clutching handfuls of grass to avoid being blown over we knew that we were in the middle of something quite extraordinary.
“One of the boys lived near me in Westgate Street and we would usually go home together round the
quay. However, reaching Quay Corner we met its full fury. It was not possible to walk against it.
“Determined to try, we crawled across the road on our hands and knees. Reaching the wooden railings we pulled ourselves on to our feet, and then hanging on like wing walkers, we held on for dear life. So slowly, we lowered ourselves and on all fours retreated the way we had come.
“That evening my mother and me lugged coal up the road to the newly built Council Houses in Queen's Close. We were allocated a house and had been keeping fires going to air it out. Leaving my grandmother's yard we could see that the tide was into the bottom of Westgate Street. Twenty minutes later the tide was running into our own yard.
“Certain then that the water would come into our cottage, my mother and I began taking everything
we could lift upstairs. It was not long before the water was trickling under the front door and before long the water put the fire out. For quite some time we had no more than three or
four inches over the floor. Then there came a knock at the door. 'Are you all right Jane?' It was Stratton Long.
“'Yis my booty, we’re alright,' she replied but he opened the door. Outside the water was
three feet deep. He could not have known of the difference in level but the result was astonishing. The door, wrenched out of his hand by the wall of water, burst inwards and smashed hard against a chest of drawers, sending ornaments in all directions. The cottage floor was covered with linoleum and the great surge that came in went under this. In the centre of the room a pedestal table rose up on a small hill as if a great animal was rising under it, and toppled over. Everything in the room then began moving around. Stratton wading through it picked up my grandmother, no mean feat, and carried her across to the stairs. While Stratton was pushing my grandmother up the stairs I noticed a flotilla of saucepans coming out of the pantry like ducks.
“There was little more that could be done after Stratton left so we went to bed with the house beneath us full of the sea, hoping it would not come any higher.
“The morning brought great distress to my mother and grandmother. Almost all that my grandmother
possessed was ruined. The water having come in in such a deluge had left inches of mud over everything. I sensed somehow that I was not wanted there then. So I went out to inspect the damage elsewhere.
“The street was so choked full of tangle and other rubbish that I had to climb over our gate. A
group of us boys went around the quay. It was an amazing sight. So
much tangle. In places it was ridged up in great waves, splashed against the walls as if it were the sea itself, still there, frozen at the height of its fury.
“The road was covered with the detritus off the marsh but among it was all sorts of other stuff,
hundreds of packets of cigarettes and playing cards from the Blakeney hotel cellars. Under all this mess lay large numbers of dead fresh water fish. Treading on them was worse than banana skins.
“The big surprise awaited us beyond the East sea bank. We beheld a sheet of water stretching to
the horizon. The fresh marsh was one vast lake; just a few posts and bushes broke the surface. I have been told that Blakeney Haven lay before us, the huge refuge that had once held 120 ships during one great storm had been recreated for us by another.
“It was the most exciting experience of my life up till then. With the wind still blowing I was
really hoping there would be another flood the next night.”
Everyone clapped long and hard, and Geoffrey beamed as he returned to hisseat.
To end the evening’s entertainment, Buttercup Joe came back on stage and recited his poem:
THE NORTH SEA
The sea the sea the mighty North Sea
One January night it invaded our land,
It swept everything in its path
The sea the sea the mighty North Sea.
It killed all the birds the beasts and the trees,
It poisoned our land with its salt.
The sea the sea the mighty North Sea
Dawn broke early the following morn,
The people were tired, weary and worn
When the sea crept back to its bed.
Oh what a sea, the mighty North Sea
The most mightiest sea of them all.
On the way home Martin said to Mary, “You should really tell me the truth, you know. It was patently obvious that those people from Heron House couldn’t back up your story. Where were you really that
“I was there.”
“But they said you weren’t.”
“Well, I know you won’t believe me and you will think I am crazy, but I was there 100 years ago. I went into some sort of time warp during the storm. I got hit on the head, and the next thing I knew I was being taken in by this woman who had old fashioned clothes on. She thought my clothes were funny too, and thought I was wearing bloomers.”
“And this woman was?”
“I told you who she was, Mrs. Rebecca Jackson. She lived with her daughter and she told me about
her houseguests and about the people she had had round for whist that day. I asked her about all the people in the village, and they were of course all different. But I was there.”
“I expect you were concussed by the fall, and had a dream. I expect you have learnt all these
historical details about Cley before and somehow having the blow to your head brought them all up.”
“I knew you wouldn’t believe me.”
“I would like to believe you. It isn’t as if I haven’t had some weird experiences of my own and
I know what it is like to not be believed. But there is a difference between communicating between people long distances away by telepathy, and communicating with people long dead. And pregnant
women often have funny turns.”
“I didn’t ask for the experience. I have told you the truth. If you can’t or won’t believe me, so be it, but I can’t change my story to fit with your ideas of what might or might not be possible.”
So the argument went on, and neither of them slept much that night.
The next morning, Martin went to work as usual. Mary suddenly remembered that she had written a list with the names of Rebecca’s friends on it. She checked in the pocket of the trousers she was wearing that night, and it was still there. The ink was slightly smudged but she could read most of the names clearly. She wondered who would be best to ask about them, and remembered Miss Starr’s talk the previous night. Mary took the children with her and went across the road to have a chat with Miss Freda Starr.
“We certainly enjoyed hearing your tale last night, Freda,” she said.
“I understood you were missing also on the night. What happened to you Mary?”
“Oh, I just got hit on the head and somebody offered me shelter for the night. Nothing very
dramatic. I feel like I missed out on the most exciting thing to happen in Cley for a long time.”
“Well there are even more stories than those you heard last night. Vera Holman who works for us, she lives in Longhouse Yard and she was flooded out. You should hear the stories she tells. And Desmond Gibbons, from Forge House, he’s the blacksmith you know, well, his house was badly flooded and the family is still living in the upper room of one of the old inns. His house may never be liveable in again.”
The children were happily building castles from nearby tins, but Miss Starr just smiled at them
and didn’t seem to mind. Luckily the shop was not at all busy at the moment.
“Miss Starr, I wanted to ask you about who was in this shop before you were here. I seem to
remember the name Starling.”
“Of course I do. Nothing wrong with my memory, unlike Ivy who forgets things all the time. We bought the house from the Starlings. They called it 'The Goggles' and we changed it to 'Commerce House' and they ran it as a general grocery too. I can remember Mr. Stephen Starling’s funeral when I was just a slip of a lass. He was a prominent leader of the Methodist church, and the pulpit and rostrum were heavily draped with black curtains. I was very impressed.”
“Was Stephen Starling the grocer too?”
“It was Richard Starling who was the grocer, first at Blakeney and the father and son Joe together
bought this place when they decided to stop having the pub here.”
“Oh, you mean this building was once a pub? What was it called?”
“I seem to remember it was the Mariner’s Arms.”
“You don’t remember who ran it do you?”
“It was long before we lived here. Why are you interested in all these things all of a sudden?”
“Oh, nothing, I just enjoy local history and like to match up names that are odd. Did you ever
hear of the Baines? I heard that Mr. Baines was a draper and his daughter was a dressmaker.”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“Did you know of any Ramms in the area, perhaps one who had been a ship’s captain?”
“Well Mrs. Ramm was my favourite teacher, Miss Sheldrake as she was when she taught me. And
there are lots of Ramms around about, farmers and such like. But there were six retired Navy Captains who lived in Cley at the turn of the century and the houses still have the names of the ships they sailed in. One is called 'The Anchorage'. And didn’t Buttercup Joe mention a Ramm in his talk last night?”
“Do you know any stories about the other houses around here?”
“Well the little house next door to us, now known as 'Hambledon' possessed a ghost which was supposed to run up and downstairs, a little man who wore a high hat and cloak. We never saw him, but when we came to Cley two brothers were living there, and one night my father heard a horse
in the tiny yard adjoining ours. To get to it, the horse would have to be brought through the house, as there was no access otherwise. The two did a moonlight flit, and as far as I know, were never seen
or heard in Cley any more.”
“Talking about odd names, did you ever hear of any people called by the unfortunate name, the
Miss Starr pulled herself upright and said, “Well, I would certainly change the name if it were mine, but they didn’t. Didn’t seem to worry them at all.”
“Where did they live?”
“Across the road here. They had a bakery. I could tell you a tale about them.”
“Oh please do.”
“Well I can remember a big fire, he wore a large white apron and she a man’s cap. I didn’t see the fire but I heard people fetching water from our pumps and I can remember it being rebuilt with a
different shaped frontage. And then several years later, a plague of cockroaches came to the bakers, these insects love warmth and feed on flour and they came into the street in thousands, they hung on the bakery window sill like grapes and were crawling everywhere, over the street, up people’s walls, into our warehous, even some upon our house walls. Someone came to tell my father and we all went out armed with kettles of hot water, hammers and anything which would kill them. I’ve never seen such a sight. Made you wonder if it was really raisins in the scones or baked cockroaches,” she said with a laugh and Mary had a giggle too, but she remembered eating one of those buns, and even after all these months, she remembered that it had a rather strange taste to it.
Mary was so pleased that several of the names that Rebecca Jackson had mentioned to her who lived in Cley in 1853 seemed to still have been in the area when Miss Starr and her family arrived here in 1906, or at least their families. She collected her children, bought a card of green buttons, and said thank you and goodbye to Miss Starr.