Happisburgh (/ˈhzbʌrə, -bərə/ (listen)) is a village civil parish in the English county of Norfolk. The village is on the coast, to the east of a north–south road, the B1159 from Bacton on the coast to Stalham. It is a nucleated village. The nearest substantial town is North Walsham 6 miles (10 km) to the west.[3]

Happisburgh Village Sign cropped.png
Happisburgh village sign
Happisburgh is located in Norfolk
Location within Norfolk
Area9.63 km2 (3.72 sq mi)
Population889 ONS and Norfolk CC 2011 census[1][2]
• Density92/km2 (240/sq mi)
OS grid referenceTG 39 31
• London137 miles (220 km)
Civil parish
  • Happisburgh
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townNORWICH
Postcode districtNR12
Dialling code01692
AmbulanceEast of England
UK Parliament
List of places
52°49′27″N 1°31′51″E / 52.8242°N 1.5309°E / 52.8242; 1.5309Coordinates: 52°49′27″N 1°31′51″E / 52.8242°N 1.5309°E / 52.8242; 1.5309

The place-name 'Happisburgh' is first attested in the Domesday Book of 1086, where it appears as Hapesburc. The name means 'Hæp's fort or fortified place'.[4]

Happisburgh became a site of national archaeological importance in 2010 when flint tools over 800,000 years old were unearthed. This is the oldest evidence of human occupation anywhere in the UK.[5] In May 2013, a series of early human footprints were discovered on the beach at the site, providing direct evidence of early human activity at the site.[6]

The civil parish shrank by over 0.2 km2 (50 acres) in the 20th century by the erosion of its beaches and low cliffs. In 1968, groynes were constructed along the shore to try to slow the erosion. In the 2001 census, before the separation of Walcott parish to the north-west, the parish (which also includes the settlements of Happisburgh Common and Whimpwell Green) had a population of 1,372 in 607 households. For the purposes of local government, the parish is in the district of North Norfolk.[7]


Happisburgh electoral ward includes the parishes of Happisburgh, Lessingham, East Ruston, Ingham, Honing and Brunstead. The ward boundaries were altered for the 2019 elections. The previous ward had a population of 2,386 in 1,085 households.[8]

Local featuresEdit

St Mary's ChurchEdit

In 1086 the incoming Norman aristocracy had a simple church built on the site of the current tall stone one. It was demolished and rebuilt in the 15th century. The tall tower of St Mary's church is an important landmark to mariners as it warns of the position of the treacherous nearby sandbanks. A new staircase was added to the top of the tower in 2001, in memory of the Happisburgh schoolboy Thomas Marshall, who was murdered in nearby Eccles on Sea in 1997. There is also a plaque to his memory.

In 1940 a German bomber released a trapped bomb from its bays during its return to Germany, and the shrapnel from the bomb can still be seen embedded in the aisle pillars of the church. The church's octagonal font, also of the 15th century, is carved with figures of lions and satyrs.[9][10]


The red-and-white striped lighthouse, 0.5 miles (800 m) to the south of the church is the only independently operated lighthouse in Great Britain and is the oldest working lighthouse in East Anglia having been constructed in 1790. It is open to the public on occasional Sundays during the summer.[11]

Lifeboat stationEdit

In 1866 the first lifeboat house was built, by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI), on the cliffs above Old Cart Gap at a cost of £189. Its building here was prompted by its proximity to the treacherous Haisborough Sands. It closed in 1926 and the lifeboat was withdrawn.[12]

A small boathouse was built in a similar site (52°49′28″N 1°32′10″E / 52.824326°N 1.536101°E / 52.824326; 1.536101) in 1965 to house a D-class inshore lifeboat that went into service in June of that year. In 1987 the boathouse was replaced by a new, more modern building with better facilities for crews. This was further extended in 1998. A new D-class lifeboat, Colin Martin, was placed on service on 13 September 1994.[12]

In December 2002 the lifeboat launching ramp was washed away due to massive erosion. A temporary station was opened within three months at Old Cart Gap. The original station is now used for training and souvenir sales.[12][13]

On 22 October 2003 a new D-class lifeboat D-607 Spirit of Berkhamsted was placed on service.[12][13] The station has been honoured with an RNLI Silver Medal, awarded in 1886 to Coxswain John Cannon in acknowledgment of his long and valuable service.[12]

Happisburgh Manor or St Mary'sEdit

The main land use is a private garden to the homes here, forming an ornate 19th-century estate on the site of fields until the middle of that century. The estate is central and towards the coast from the kinked village street. The main house which was thatched from local reeds was worked up by Detmar Blow from an initial detailed design by Ernest Gimson with whom Blow had collaborated at Stoneywell. Blow was responsible for practical architectural changes to the initial design and overall architectural management of the build during the period 1900–1902 with his 'leading man' Frank Green from East Knowle supervising on the spot. It is pretty certain that Gimson supplied the interior timber fittings and in particular the complicated timber roof structure. It is mainly a grade II listed (starting category) listed park and garden, having been designed as an Arts and Crafts movement garden by Detmar Blow to accompany the butterfly-plan summer home for wealthy landowner Albemarle Cator, seated at Woodbastwick Hall, Woodbastwick, who decided to build homes or gatehouses for his family. The north end of the largest, his home, was destroyed by a bomb, and was restored by Christobel Tabor (née Cator) after the war. The Cators sold the site in 1969, at which time the three houses of St John's, St Anne's and St Mary's came into separate ownership.[14] The restored main home is Grade II* listed, which is the middle category.[15]

Coastal erosionEdit

Road in Happisburgh that was washed away by coastal erosion.

The coastal part of the village is subject to frequent coastal erosion: houses that in 1998[16] had been over 20 feet (6 m) from the sea now sit at the edge of a cliff and are expected to fall into the sea. Sea defences were built in 1959 to slow the erosion. Changes in government policy mean that coastal protection in Happisburgh is no longer fundable from central government. Beach Road that leads into the sea is being constantly eroded, and the houses nearest the sea were demolished in 2012 as a part of a coast management scheme.[17]


In 2010, Simon Parfitt and colleagues from University College London discovered flint tools near Happisburgh.[5] The tools were dated to "somewhere between 866,000 to 814,000 years ago or 970,000 to 936,000 years ago",[18] around 100,000 years earlier than the finds at Pakefield. The flints were probably left by hunter-gatherers of the human species Homo antecessor who inhabited the flood plains and marshlands that bordered an ancient course of the river Thames. The flints were then washed downriver and came to rest at the Happisburgh site.[19]

Photographs of Area A at Happisburgh, showing: (a) view of Happisburgh footprints surface looking north; and (b) view of footprint surface looking south, also showing underlying horizontally bedded laminated silts

In May 2013 the Happisburgh footprints, the oldest human footprints found outside of Africa, being more than 800,000 years old, were reported to have been discovered on the beach.[6]


There is a local legend dating from the 16th century that Happisburgh is haunted by the ghost of a murdered smuggler. The ghost was reported as having no legs, and its head hanging behind its back by a thin strip of flesh. The legend says that the smuggler's mutilated body was found in a well.[20]

Notable residentsEdit

See alsoEdit

Local offshore sandbanks dangerous to shipping:



  1. ^ Census population and household counts for unparished urban areas and all parishes. Office for National Statistics & Norfolk County Council (2001). Retrieved 20 June 2009.
  2. ^ Key Statistics: Population. Archived 11 February 2003 at the Wayback Machine (2011 census) Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  3. ^ Ordnance Survey (2002). OS Explorer Map 252 - Norfolk Coast East. ISBN 0-319-21888-0.
  4. ^ Eilert Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-names, p.217.
  5. ^ a b Miriam Frankel. "Early Britons could cope with cold : Nature News". Nature.com. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  6. ^ a b Pallab Ghosh, science correspondent (7 February 2014). "Earliest footprints outside Africa discovered in Norfolk; BBC News". BBC. Retrieved 7 February 2014.
  7. ^ Office for National Statistics & Norfolk County Council (2001). Census population and household counts for unparished urban areas and all parishes. Retrieved 2 December 2005.
  8. ^ "Happisburgh (North Norfolk)". Norfolk Insight. Norfolk County Council. Retrieved 12 September 2020.
  9. ^ AA Illustrated Guide to Britain, London, 5th edition, 1983, p. 285.
  10. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1169843)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 October 2016. Retrieved 2016-04-13.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ a b c d e "Happisburgh Lifeboat Station". Archived from the original on 7 May 2014. Retrieved 7 February 2021.
  13. ^ a b "Happisburgh gets set for new lifeboat". North Norfolk News. happisburgh.org. 4 September 2008. Archived from the original on 24 October 2016.
  14. ^ Happisburgh 'Manor' Park / GardenHistoric England. "Details from listed building database (1001460)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  15. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1306318)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  16. ^ "Norfolk surge: Happisburgh house owner's 'stiff upper lip'". BBC News. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  17. ^ "Happisburgh homes on Norfolk coast to be demolished". BBC News. Retrieved 21 October 2019.
  18. ^ EU SCI First Northern Europeans[dead link] hosted.ap.org
  19. ^ Ian Sample, science correspondent (7 July 2010). "First humans arrived in Britain 250,000 years earlier than thought | Science". London: Guardian. Retrieved 13 November 2012.
  20. ^ Briggs, Stacia; Connor, Siofra (20 July 2019). "Weird Norfolk: The terrifying tale of the hump-backed Happisburgh Torso, the ghost whose head trailed behind it". Eastern Daily Press. Retrieved 12 September 2020.

External linksEdit