North Norfolk’s links with Winston Churchill and Southern RhodesiaPosted by Ellee on Apr 1, 2013 in Blog | 1 comment
We have just returned from a short Easter break to a fabulous North Norfolk hotel, somewhere I always wanted to stay after first setting sight on it back in 2009 when I joined Conservative European parliamentary candidates on a fact finding coastal erosion visit to Overstrand.
We stumbled across the hotel as we walked back to our cars and stopped to admire its Elizabethan style exterior with its immaculate gardens. Our local guide told us about its links with Winston Churchill, who enjoyed many visits to North Norfolk and used to stay at Pear Tree Cottage close by.
It took four years for me to make that return visit. Not only does The Sea Marge Hotel have fabulous sea views – which are becoming perilously closer and closer – but also a welcoming log fire to warm up in front of on these chilly days. Framed faded newspaper cuttings hang on the walls describing how Churchill was once a regular visitor to Sea Marge which was built for a German banker, Sir Edgar Speyer, and commissioned in 1908. A lover of the arts, Sir Edgar friendship with the Kaiser led to his downfall and he was stripped of both his knighthood and British nationality in 1921 on the grounds of disloyalty to the king after being accused of unlawful communications with the enemy.
There were many wild and unproven rumours about Sir Edgar and he was branded as a spy as tales spread about how the Sea Marge was used as a signalling point for German submarines. Sir Edgar, who helped found the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London, was deported and it is suggested that Winston Churchill was the instigator of the deportation order.
It is reported that Churchill used the telephone at Sea Marge (I assume with the full consent of Sir Edgar at the time who he probably shared tea or a whiskey with in peace time) to call the Admiralty to discuss the mounting crisis before the onset of the First World War, and again to mobilise the fleet when the Second World War broke out. Before the First World War, Churchill served as First Lord of the Admiralty as part of the Asquith Liberal government. During WWI, he continued as First Lord of the Admiralty until the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign caused his departure from government. On the outbreak of the WW2, he was again appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, so no wonder he loved his coastal retreat.
After being used as a residential home, abandoned and looted, it was lovingly renovated as a hotel which we can enjoy today, but for how much longer remains uncertain. According to this video I recorded during my first visit, the Sea Marge may only remain for another century before it is lost to the crashing waves.
Sir Edgar was a very entrepreneurial figure. He was chairman of the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL, forerunner of the London Underground) from 1906 to 1915, a period during which the company opened three underground railway lines, electrified a fourth and took over two more.
Interestingly, Wikipedia states that his charitable activities included being honorary treasurer of the fund for Captain Scott’s Antarctic expedition. During our stay at the hotel, the guests included an historian from the Scott Polar Institute in Cambridge. Could it have simply been a coincidence, or did he realise this?
And, I wonder, should Sir Edgar be given a posthumous apology if there is no evidence that he plotted against Britain, if his downfall was simply the result of unproved rumours, scaremongering and propoganda. Who can say for sure that this philanthropist who did so much for Britain was really a traitor?
*A walk with friend took us to the nearby village of Southrepps where we were reminded about another another period in our history, one long forgotten, Southern Rhodesia. Our leafy lane suddenly passed Memorial Avenue, with a raised union jack and a plaque and grave stones explaining the link to the nearby house, Southrepps Hall, once the home of Charles Lawrence Sladden, 1889-1965, a protagonist of of emigration to southern Rhodesia, and Evelyn Mary Sladden, 1922-2012, lady of the manor of Southrepps, a gentle lady of Devon and Southern Rhodesia WAAF.
The plaque states:
The British flag was raised in Salisbury (capital of Rhodeisa) by the pioneer column on 13 September 1890. Souterhn Rhodesia was made a self governing crown colony in 1923. Rhodesians loyally and proudly supported the British Empire and our monarch. Many served and fell in the Boer War and the World Wars of 1914 and 1939 for their king and country. Britain dissolved the country and lowered the flat in 1980.
This is what is said about Memorial Avenue’s extraordinary North Norfolk presence:
The wooden notice-board is made from the wood of a 1,000-year-old oak-tree that grew on this estate. The trees, Tilia Cordata, a small-leaf lime, are grown as a Living Memory of those who helped to make up the Colony of Southern Rhodesia. The plaque on the flagpole tells the story of the flag. The British Flag was raised in Salisbury by the Pioneer column on 13th September 1890. Southern Rhodesia was made a Self Governing Crown Colony in 1923. Rhodesians loyally and proudly supported the British Empire and our monarchy. Many served and fell in the Boer War and the World Wars of 1914 and 1939 for their King and Country. Britain dissolved the country and lowered the Flag in 1980.
Each tree has an identification marker showing the Southern Rhodesia Avenue tree reference number. The planting records are kept in the Tree Archives at Southrepps Hall. The trees that have South African granite plaques bedded under them are a memorial to those who are remembered by that tree. Those that carry a cross on the plaque mark where their ashes were buried with due ceremony under the tree that carries their name. The plaque on the steps of Southrepps Hall reads: The Southern Rhodesia Memorial Avenue was laid out in 1990 to the memory of that loyal Self Governing Crown Colony. The trees were planted in recognisance of those who Loved and Made Southern Rhodesia.
There’s clearly much more to Norfolk than Lord Nelson!