Beeston Regis

Beeston Regis is a village and civil parish in the North Norfolk district of Norfolk, England. It is about a mile (2 km) east of Sheringham, Norfolk and near the coast. According to the 2001 census it had a population of 1,091. Beeston Regis is fortunate in having good public transport with a frequent bus service on the coast road A149 and a rail service from the nearby stations of Sheringham to the west and West Runton to the east, where the Bittern Line runs a frequent service between Norwich, Cromer and Sheringham. The nearest airport is Norwich International Airport. The North Sea is the northern boundary of the parish, and the wooded Beeston Heath rises up from the parish to form the southern boundary.


Evidence of early antiquity in Beeston Regis are few. However, evidence of Roman habitation was found on Beeston Regis Heath in 1859 when a complete set of quern-stones were found dating from Roman times. Quern-stones were used to grind materials, the most important of which was usually grain to make flour for bread.

Up on Beeston Regis Heath there can be found circular pits called 'Hills and Holes' (from the first edition of the Ordnance Survey map of the area). They are thought to date from prehistoric times. During the Saxon-Norman to Medieval periods these pits were dug to obtain iron ore, which was then smelted in a furnace to produce iron.

Domesday Book

Beeston Regis is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, and within this survey it is called Besetune and Besetuna/tune.. The main landholders of the parish were William d’Ecouis and Hugh de Montfort. The main tenant was Ingulf, The survey also lists ½ a mill. In the Domesday survey fractions were used to indicate that the entry, in this case a mill, was on an estate that lay within more than one parish.


Beeston Regis was once known as Beeston-next-the-Sea, but from the year 1399 when Henry Bolingbroke, Earl of Lancaster, became King Henry IV, the name became Beeston Regis. Regis (Regius) means owned or appointed by the Crown, and the living and manor of Beeston became part of the Crown and the Lancaster Inheritance.

Population from 1801 to 2001
Beeston Regis
Census year Beeston Regis Civil Parish Ecclesiastical Parish
1801 167 Same
1821 238
1831 246 Same
1841 265 Same
1851 236 Same
1861 196 Same
1871 206 Same
1881 193 Same
1891 183 Same
1901 338 Same
1901 after adjustment 69 Same
1911 85 Same
1921 120 1,293
1931 178 974
1931 after adjustment 151 Same
1951 353 1,281
1951 after adjustment 401 1,281
1961 472 1,365
1971 827 Unknown
1981 842 Unknown
1991 1,087 Unknown
2001 1,091 Unknown

St Mary's Priory and Beeston Common

Beeston Regis has the remains of an Augustinian priory known as Beeston Regis Priory (St. Mary's). Founded in 1216, in 1535 it had only a prior and four canons, who served as parish priests for nearby churches, six boys and seven servants. The boys were in effect the boarders at the canons' school, and their number was increased by day boys. The priory had 40 acres of land with rights to wrecks and flotsam and jetsam. Within the monastic precinct there were agricultural buildings and probably a smithy, a brewery, a guest-house, a wash-house, latrines and other buildings necessary for the running of the busy local community. The priory lasted until 1538 when King Henry VIII banned the Catholic religion and ordered the dissolution of the monasteries and priories. The ruins indicate that the church nave was about long, having a chancel later added. Beeston Priory was independent, unlike many small houses of the Augustinian Order. A tunnel is said to run to the Dunstable Arms Inn from the ruins of the priory, but if it ever existed its whereabouts is a long-forgotten secret. The suppression of the Priory and its school left a lack of any local provision for education. This is believed to have led Sir John Gresham to found Gresham's School at nearby Holt in 1555.

The Priory ruins today

The cloister, to the south of the nave of the priory church, is now part of the Priory Farm garden. To the east of the cloister, still standing, are part of the walls of the chapter house, and also some traces of the dormitory. The refectory and other domestic buildings probably are beneath or have been incorporated into the eighteenth century “Priory Farmhouse”, which itself was probably built from materials provided by the demolition of the early buildings. Of the main priory church, much remains. The nave, from the west wall to the transept, is long and wide. The north wall still stands practically to the roof level, although the divisions between the windows have long gone. The belfry tower has gone, although the first steps can be seen in a doorway in the south wall. The south wall is only as high as the window-sill level. The west wall is standing almost intact to gable height, although the lining of the original door has been replaced by modern brickwork. The north transept is long and wide. The east wall of the transept is entirely gone, except for traces of its junction with the north wall. At the south end of this wall once stood a pillar; the opposite pillar, west of the south door, is almost complete and in a good state of preservation. Also in the transept there is a doorway which leads to what is thought to be a sacristy, and is the only doorway remaining in its original form. The architrave is almost complete. West of the transept there is a small chapel long and wide. Most of the chapel's window mouldings survive. The chancel at the eastern end of the ruin remains to roof height on the north and south side. The original eastern wall has been demolished, but a flint wall has been built up to window-sill level. The north-east corner still has most of its window mouldings.

Priors of Saint Mary's Beeston Regis

  • Roger, occurs 1267
  • Thomas, occurs 1297
  • William de Beston, elected 1314
  • Geoffrey de Hoton, elected 1325
  • Simon de Calthorpe, elected 1390
  • Laurence de Beeston, elected 1409
  • Geoffrey de Runton, elected 1416 & 1435
  • John Catteson, 1461
  • John Wykmer, 1468
  • John Poty, 1444
  • Simon Robyns, 1531
  • Richard Hudson, 1532

The last Prior and his four canons all subscribed to the Act of Supremacy 1534 and were granted pensions. Richard Hudson became Rector of Newton Flotman, Norfolk.

The Priory Maze

Near to the priory is the Priory Maze, now a popular tourist attraction that includes a cafe/restaurant and a garden centre. The unique microclimate in this part of Norfolk enables the owners to grow a collection of rare and exotic plants.

The Common

Also nearby is Beeston Common, consisting of 24.7 hectares/61 acres of grassland, heath, marsh, fen and secondary woodland. The common was made a 'Site of Special Scientific Interest/SA6' in the year 2000 and is habitat for a wide range of mammals, birds, and insects. There are some forty species of rare flowering plants, and fourteen species of British orchids have been recorded on the common due to its special soil conditions. With such a variety of flowers the site is attractive to butterflies. Twenty-six species have been regularly recorded, including green hairstreak, brown argus and Essex skipper. Kingfisher and heron are also visitors to the pond, and no fewer than 19 species of dragonfly/damselfly have been observed. The bird life of the common includes varieties such as chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, common whitethroat, lesser whitethroat, reed warbler and occasionally sedge and grasshopper warblers. Nightjars are occasionally heard. Foxes and muntjac deer along with smaller mammals such as water shrew, field voles, and harvest mice are present. Adders, slow-worms and common lizards can also be found on the common.

The Dew Pond and the Back and Top common

In November 2007 the Dew pond was reinstated on the top common by Sheringham Town Council. Many years ago there were shallow ponds on this part of the common and in 1939 Natterjack Toads have been recorded on Beeston Common in and around the ponds along with Common and Great Crested Newts. The reinstatement is an attempt to attract more wildlife back to this part of the common. Upon till the second world war, goats, ponies and geese were a common site grazing in and around the ponds. The Back common, although not as species-rich as the Site of Special Scientific Interest to the south of the Cromer Road (AI49) is home to a great many plants and insects. Around the damper fringes Spotted Orchids can be found and in some years Bee Orchids are present along with the occasionally appearance of the Southern Marsh Orchid. In the late spring and early summer the common is as mass of buttercups. Along the edges of Beeston Beck and Sheringham Loke, Monkey Musk grows in abundance and up until to a few years ago Dittander a rare plant was present, although this may now have been lost due to the mowing regime. On the drier areas of the common, trefoils and clovers are present which attract Common Blue butterflies and the longer grass areas and buttercups are frequented by Meadow Brown and Ringlet butterflies.

The strange story of Farmer Reynolds' stone

Within the churchyard is a large stone being used to cover a grave. It is approximately long x x high, being a rectangular block of granite, with circular depressions on the uppermost surface. On each side is inscribed the names of the grave's occupants. This is originally one of a pair which stood at either side of a pathway in the yard of the farmhouse, in the grounds of the ruined Beeston Priory. The path itself led to what is now known as the Abbot's Freshwater Spring Pond.

A local tale says that about 1938-41, when both boulders were in place, a farmer named James Reynolds often drove his horse and cart along this pathway. Several times, a hooded grey ghost would hide behind two boulders and would leap out from behind one of the stones at sunset, and try to grab the horse's reins before vanishing. This, although terrifying the animals, seems not to have perturbed the man unduly. However, he ordered that the stone in question be laid upon his grave after his death, in an attempt at 'laying' the apparition. James Reynolds died in 1941 and, in accordance with his wishes, the boulder now lies atop his grave, his wife Ann Elizabeth also being interred there in 1967. There is no record as to whether or not the 'exorcism' was successful, and indeed, a local woman who knew the Reynolds could not confirm the story. The other stone of the pair can now be seen lying against the north wall of the churchyard. Who moved the second stone, and when, is unknown.

All Saints Church and other features

Other features of the village are the cliff-top Parish Church of All Saints, dating from the latter part of the 11th century or early in the 12th. The tower arch opening into the nave is 13th century, as are much of the chancel and nave walls. Probably towards the end of the 13th century or early 14th century the church was reconstructed. The existing arcades were inserted into the nave walls onto the aisles, which were constructed at this time, and the nave walls raised to provide for the clerestory, the window arches of which are decorated on the outside with squared flints. The inventory of 1552 makes it clear that there were three bells in the tower, a fourth being added in 1610. The latter is the only one remaining, the others being sold to defray the cost of repairs in 1765.

Orben Beck is a tiny pond of half an acre located in a cliff-top caravan park and only yards from the sea. Depths range from six to twelve feet. The pond is popular with anglers and holds a variety of coarse fish.

Village Facilities

The village has a shop which is located on the coast road near the junction with Britons lane. Next to the shop is a unisex hairdressers. Also on the coast road there is a motor repair shop. Close to the remains of the priory, on the coast road there is a garden nursery and a very popular tea rooms along with ornamental gardens and a maze. At the top of Britons lane there is a quarry owned and operated by Carter Concrete. Across the lane from the quarry there is a lawn-mower sales and repair business called Anglia Mowers.

Beeston Hall School

Within the parish is Beeston Hall School, which is the largest boarding preparatory school in East Anglia. Beeston Regis Hall was once one of the family homes of the Wyndham Ketton-Cremers on the Beeston Regis Estate, part of the much larger Felbrigg Estate, the family seat. In 1940 a German bomb hit the school, causing slight damage. The Hall was leased to Mr Thomas Tapping and his wife Bessie, who opened the private Beeston Hall School in 1948. In 1967 the school became an Incorporated Trust, and in 1970, following the death of Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, the last Squire of Felbrigg, the school acquired the freehold and approximately 14 acres of land. The school has an excellent reputation and attracts pupils throughout Norfolk and beyond. Over the years the school has prospered and expanded and is the biggest employer in the parish and has a seat on the Parish Council. It has also acquired other surrounding land including Beeston Hall Common, which it purchased from the parish of Beeston Regis.

Beeston Bump

Beeston Bump, a cliff-top hill which overlooks the sea and the village and is 63 metres high, is the dominating feature of the parish. Local folklore tells of the southern slopes of the ’Bump’ being festooned with grapevines tended by the monks of the priory. The Bump can be climbed using the 'Peddars Way and North Norfolk Coastal Path' from either the east or west and is well worth the climb. From the top wonderful views of the surrounding land and sea can be seen. Each Easter the combined churches in the area make a pilgrimage carrying a cross to the top of Beeston Bump, and an open-air service is performed.

Beeston Bump Y-Station

During the World War II Beeston Bump was the location for one of the network of Signals Intelligence collection sites: Y-stations. These stations collected material to be passed to the War Office’s Government Code & Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

The concrete remains of part of this facility can still be seen on the summit of the hill. They consist of an octagonal concrete base that measures 3,850 mm across with a channel running west to east across the middle; on the southern edge of the octagon is a raised area of concrete which is 225 mm higher than the rest of the base. Around the edge of the octagon are the remnants of what was one a reinforced parapet which has long been removed. There are also sign of a Fletton brick wall running westward away from the raised area. During an episode of BBC 1’s series “Coast” a lady named Joy Hale was interviewed by the presenter, Hermione Cockburn. Joy Hale had been a WREN during the war and had been an operator at the Y-station on the summit of Beeston Bump.

The Legend of Black Shuck

There is a legend told in East Anglia about a ghostly black hound from hell that is said to roam the coast and lonely lanes of Norfolk. The hound is said to be the size of a small horse and appear from the depths of Beeston Bump with malevolent flaming red eyes. Anyone who is confronted with the Doom Dog it is said will be dead within one year of their encounter. Sometimes Black Shuck has appeared headless, and at other times he appears to float on a carpet of mist rather than running. More often than not, the Black Shuck terrifies his victims out of their wits, although the apparition is said not to harm his victims. The legend was the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the book The Hound of the Baskervilles. Conan Doyle had been on a golfing Holiday at the nearby Links Hotel in West Runton, and it was in the sitting room of the hotel that his friend, Bertram Fletcher Robinson, recounted the legend of the Black Hound from the Bump.


See also

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