Little is known regarding the early history of Cromer, or Crowmere as it was then called, other than that it was a small village or hamlet known as Shipden or 'Shipdene, a prosperous seaport which is mentioned in the Norwich Doomsday Book. (There is an ancient book in the Parish Chest which has a heading 'Cromere known in the county as Shipdene'. The first mention of Cromer occurs in the will of Sir John de Repps in conjunction with Shipden in the Hundred Rolls of 1274.
Two churches were known to be in the area; one at Shipden and the other at Cromer, and it appears, from the records, that the same Parson held both Livings. In 1317 Shipden churchyard was being encroached by the sea, and in 1337 the name of Cromer appeared in the King's Rolls, when the Rector, John de Lodbrok, and parishioners petitioned King Edward III (1327-1376) for permission to build a larger church, as their Parish Church was in danger from the sea. The request was granted and extra ground was obtained to extend the churchyard.
Some years later Shipden, with its church, disappeared into the sea. The site of this church is thought to be about 400 yards out beyond the end of the Pier and was known to the fishermen as "Church Rock". In 1888 a pleasure steamer, the Victoria, from Yarmouth, fouled this so-called Church Rock and eventually sunk. On the advice of Trinity House, as a safety precaution, the rock was blown up.
The earlier church is believed to have been known as Shipden-Juxta-Felbrigg, but apart from the little documentary evidence to be found in ancient Wills, little has been passed on to posterity regarding this church. A closer examination of the present structure will, however, reveal indications of a previous one. Inside the two pillars of the present chancel arch can be seen the bases of two other pillars of an earlier structure. They are standing about two-and-a-half inches above the floor. Some of the pillars in the nave have bases which have obviously been incorporated with older stonework.
When the church was re-floored in 1863-64 an older floor, with the foundations of a smaller square tower, was discovered about two-and-a-half feet below the surface. At the same time traces of an earlier chancel wall, consisting of rough flint work was uncovered and, during the installation of the heating system in 1911, a long outer wall was also exposed. An inspection of the tower staircase will show that about 70 feet up, at the level of the present bell-ringing chamber, are signs that this could have been the height of the previous tower.
It is a well known fact that, when rebuilding a church, builders incorporate parts of the existing fabric, where possible, in a new structure and much can be detected in our church which obviously owes its origin to the past. The features mentioned, and many others that can be seen, should be sufficient for us to assume that the present building was erected on the site of an earlier but smaller church and that elements of the old building have been incorporated, by the builders, into the new.
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