North Walsham & District Community Archive

Happisburgh 1875 - 1975

"North East Norfolk Country Churchman Centenery Magazine 1875-1975"


In 1875 the Rev. James Slater had completed half of his thirty-six year ministry in Happisburgh. The newly built vicarage standing in two acres of lawns, shrubbery and paddock to which he brought his family was in marked contrast to the Church. This he had found in a pitiful state, for the damage caused by a thunderstorm forty years earlier had never been repaired. The nave roof was partially destroyed and many windows had been bricked up, necessitating all services being held in the chancel.
Mr. Slater's first task was to organize a complete restoration, which included the replacement of the box pews by open seating for rich and poor alike, and paving the floor throughout with locally made tiles. On Thursday, June 9th, 1864 the Church was reopened for worship. Seventy guests from neighbouring parishes had luncheon in the School, the clergy processing to Church afterwards for Evening Prayer. The huge congregation overflowed into the churchyard, and at least two hundred were unable to gain admittance, for the day was observed as a half holiday by all the village. The Bishop of Norwich preached, taking his text from St. Luke, chapter 7, verse 5; "For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue".

Mr. Slater was much interested in the National School, having visited and taught there at least twice a week since its opening in 1861. He was always ready to deal with a difficult pupil or give help to the overworked school teacher, and his wife frequently supervised needlework classes. Eighty or more children were in the charge of one mistress assisted by a pupil teacher and a monitress. The large numbers coupled with the complete lack of understanding shown by Her Majesty's Inspectors at their yearly visit no doubt accounted for the headship changing hands six times during the first fourteen years. Epidemics of measles were common, smallpox was not unknown, and during 1875 three pupils died of scarlet fever. Truancy was common during haysel and at turnip thinning time, or when a wreck off the coast meant that coal or wood could be picked up on the beach.

Ships often met with disaster, in spite of the warning flashes from the two lighthouses, for the Low Light was still in use. The "Huddersfield", a ten-oared lifeboat provided by the R.N.L.I. in 1866, enabled fifty-two lives to be saved during her forty year stay in the village. But not all were rescued. In 1875 Mr. Slater took the funeral service for six men washed ashore from the barque "Young England". Two Swedes, two Englishmen, a Norwegian and a Dutchman were buried in one grave, in sight of the sea, and commemorated by a cross and anchor tombstone given by the people of Happisburgh.