“Crabs, the RNLI, fish and chips and ice creams.” So one born-and-bred Cromer resident sums up the seaside town. To that quaint litany of descriptions of the birthplace of James Dyson a surprising new item has been added: lockdown.
As Cromer welcomed visitors to its annual carnival over the weekend, the picturesque town found itself subjected to a night of disorder that captured national headlines. According to local residents, the trouble started when large groups came to the town and began refusing to pay for drinks and food they had ordered. Others walked into local businesses and simply started looting alcohol.
The police response, it is almost universally agreed, was woefully inadequate and many businesses decided to shut up shop on their busiest weekend rather than take any further risks.
It was a tumultuous, not to mention costly, weekend for a north Norfolk town that sees itself as quiet, peaceful and welcoming to the families who come on summer holidays from all over the UK and abroad. It was also out of character, residents say.
The weekend’s trouble has been blamed by some on a group of Irish Travellers who are said to have moved to a site near the town at the end of last week. They were quickly served with an eviction notice and were gone by the time this week came around. But, in the meantime, they are accused of causing havoc in the town.
Some businesses have described being “ambushed” by large numbers of people who quickly became rowdy, leaving people feeling threatened. Frightened business owners called police and threw them out. Three pubs and a restaurant were said to have been hit particularly hard.
There was one report that a group of Travellers had been refused service in a bar near the town early on Saturday evening. Candy Sheridan, a former North Norfolk councillor and advocate of the Traveller community, said the group was often exposed to similar discrimination.
“It’s just old-fashioned racism, unless people can come up with facts that lead to a prosecution. There’s never a link between the arrival of Gypsy and Travellers and criminality. If it was proven, the police would be on everyone’s cases all the time. The police have the power to move people on,” she said.
“Why are these people allowed to turn people away because of their accent or ethnicity? The police wouldn’t allow them to do it with another group.”
Norfolk police’s deputy chief constable, Nick Dean, said it would be “totally disproportionate” to blame the disorder at a seaside town on the whole Traveller community.
Whoever caused the trouble, it is perhaps not surprising that Cromer’s normal ease could come under pressure during the carnival. For nearly half a century, the town has held an annual week-long celebration, during which it welcomes about 250,000 people – 32 times its population. For comparison, the Notting Hill carnival attracts only about 13 times the population of the greater London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, where it is held.
“We are a traditional seaside town. We rely on our summer trade,” said Nick Copeman, the manager of the Wellington pub. He said he had to close his doors on Saturday night for the safety of his staff, and he hit out at Norfolk police’s description of the trouble as “low-level disorder”. What happened, he said, was on a level the town had never witnessed before.
“We expect families to come; it is slow, it is relaxed and leisurely paced here,” he said. There was a “quirkiness” about Cromer. He said the town was probably the biggest draw in the area for tourists. To locals – as far as dialect was concerned at least – even Norwich, 30 miles south, could seem a world away.
Danny Hickling, who runs a shop in Cromer, said: “It is a nice place that we are very much proud of and it is in the news for the wrong reasons.”
Andy Rising, who runs a farm shop in the town centre, said there were two Cromers: the old Victorian fishing village, and the newer, more vibrant town that is benefiting from an increased number of visitors from London and Oxfordshire.
“It is a tale of two cities. It is going through a transitional phase and you can feel it,” he said. He suggested the older Cromer was uncomfortable with the change, which he said had come about quite quickly.
Many things may be coming together to change the feel of the town. But, according to Rising at least, the weekend’s trouble will not. The carnival will go on as normal next year, just as it has for the 48 before it.