Hunstanton has pre-historic origins, with evidence unearthed in 1970 of a late Neolithic or early Bronze Age settlement dating back to 1500 – 2000BC.
Another indication of the area’s past can be seen on the top of the cliffs near the Lighthouse, where you will find the ruins of St Edmund’s Chapel, which dates back to 1272 and celebrates the apparent visit by St. Edmund in 855 (download the Wolf Trail leaflet or listen to the audio version by Darren Deans to trace the story of St. Edmund’s visit and grisly fate). The site of the Lighthouse itself is also noteworthy. Beacons or lantern lights have been warning shipping of dangerous sandbanks in the Wash for many hundreds of years, and the first Lighthouse was built here in 1666. The current building dates back to 1844.
Hunstanton’s more recent history revolves around the vision of Henry Styleman Le Strange. But for his imagination, the town may never have existed in its present form. In 1840, there was very little to be found between Old Hunstanton and Heacham. Sea bathing had, however, become the latest fashion and Le Strange issued a prospectus in 1845 for a coastal holiday village on a hitherto undeveloped part of his estate. The focal point was to be a triangular green sloping down to the sea.
The Golden Lion Hotel was the first building (1846), but he made little further progress in constructing the 78 dwellings planned. Development remained slow until the Great Eastern Counties Railway decided to build the line from King’s Lynn to Hunstanton at a cost of £80,000. This opened in 1862 – the same year Le Strange died.
Under the patronage of his son Hamon Le Strange, and spurred on by the investment boom between 1850 and 1870, Hunstanton soon expanded beyond the original planned coastal village to become a fully fledged Victorian seaside resort. The pier was built in 1870 and, by 1881, the town had two hotels, a pier and many handsome terraces.
The town continued to develop proving to be a highly popular resort with famous visitors including H G Wells and P G Wodehouse. In 1927 the Blue Lagoon swimming pool was built, followed in 1932 by the Capital Cinema (currently the site of the Princess Theatre) and the Boating Lake (now the site of the Sea Life Aquarium). 1936 saw the beginning of Searle’s Holiday Centre as a small caravan and camping ground.
Development of the resort continued on into the early 1960’s and beyond, such developments including the re-opening of the Princess Theatre in 1981, the Oasis (1984 – now Alive Oasis), and the Sea Life Centre (1989).
In the Millennium year, the town had the addition of the Boston Square Sensory Garden which saw the conversion of a derelict space into a beautiful landscape providing a small park which stimulates the senses of sight, smell, hearing and touch. Designed with disabled users in mind, Boston Square offers a pleasant green oasis for all visitors to Hunstanton.
For fascinating information and displays about Hunstanton’s rich and colourful history, visit the Hunstanton Heritage Centre situated within the town.