David Stannard: “Wild Horsey”


Tuesday January 15 2019, talk in Martham Methodist Church, 7.30 to 9.15 p.m.

‘Wild Horsee’ – the Saxon name for this understated area, once an island - brought alive by David Stannard. So much to tell but only space for a few highlights!


The sea has influenced land, people and wildlife through the ages.  Water flowed out to sea laying down peat and making the land unstable, whilst storms at sea were constantly breaking through and flooding the land.  By 1601 requests for state funding to repair defences had come to nothing.  Six years later flooding forced an act of parliament. ‘Sea Breach Juries’ were created and over the course of the next forty years kept watch over this vulnerable area.


In 1651 the sea defence wall was raised to 20ft with sand and marram grass, and is largely in place today from Horsey to Winterton.  But even so, Faden’s 1797 map showed nine sea breaches between Waxham and Horsey. The battle against the sea continues to this day.

One character stands out - Sir Berney Brograve, whose ghost is said to haunt the marshes, the Devil having chased him into Brograve Mill. 




(left) Brograve Mill






Sir Berney inherited much land and property, including Waxham Hall and the manors of Horsey and Sea Palling. Educated at Cambridge, widowed twice, only four of his seventeen children survived.  He was a troubled, fearsome man despised by local folk - his pack of hunting dogs as fierce as he.  His kennel keeper, on visiting a local pub, was told that he would come to a violent end and would never be buried.  A few days later, whilst cleaning the kennels the dogs turned on the keeper – only his coat buttons remained!

Sir Berney was affected by the demon drink, which left him vulnerable. Sleep often eluded him, and at night smugglers fired cannonballs at his house.  Each time the sea breached his lands his world closed in a little more until, his inheritance squandered, he died a broken man.  Sir Berney did do some good though, turning marshes into grazing and into arable farmland.  He built Brograve Mill in 1771 to drain Brograve levels.  Sir George Berney the 2nd Baronet continued to improve land for agriculture.


Horsey Mill, seen here

on a misty morning, is

the last wind pump to

be built, in 1910. Now

owned by the National

Trust, with recent

extensive renovations,

it is well worth a look.

Horsey Mere is the

only mere among the

Norfolk Broads, so

called as it is

surrounded by a high

clay bank.  Mere is

Dutch for ‘artificial lake’.

Horsey wildlife is burgeoning. The seals have just completed rearing the next generation, with over 2,000 pups born this season.  Even before Great Yarmouth appeared from a sand spit, around the year 900, herring have arrived in this area from September, more recently nourishing the seals in their endeavours.  Pink footed geese, flying hundreds of miles, over-winter here feeding on the sugar beet tops. Bitterns boom in spring, rarely seen.  Marsh Harriers fly over the marshes keeping watch for their next meal.  Snow Bunting and Goldcrests visit.  Muntjac and other deer multiply.


I have often driven around this area. I feel its isolation, its wildness, defining its own identity as it has done for hundreds of years. Sometimes I stop and listen to the silence, to the reeds gently swaying. I have yet to see Sir Berney riding across the marshes on his fire-snorting horse, but I like to feel he is perhaps keeping watch over this very special place.                

Janet Edwards

  • White Instagram Icon

Contact Us

© Copyright 2018 by MLHG.

Proudly created with Wix.com

Tel Pat (Secretary) on 

01493 749775

or email: 



We meet at the Methodist Church, Martham