1953 Flood: Cley Letter by Nancy Gull

This letter was written by Nancy Gull who ran the Corner Cafe in Cley about her experience of the 1953 flood in Cley-next-the-Sea.

The letter was sent to Elizabeth (Betty) Barnard (deceased) the Aunt of Sheelagh Barnard who presented this copy to the Blakeney Area Historical Society by email on 1st June 2020. The original is being given to the Norfolk Record Office.

The letter was post marked February 6th.


The Barnard family came every year from Cambridge to Salthouse, with their horses and Sheelagh’s uncles and cousins sailed from Burnham Overy Staithe – both Sheelagh’s grandparents were from Norfolk families.

Two photographs of the Barnard family riding on Holkham beach are shown in the gallery plus a photo of Nancy Gull.

The photos of the horses are taken on Holkham beach in 1938. It is Sheelagh Barnard’s grandmother Violet Barnard (nee Gover) and her Mother with two unknown companions. Betty Barnard was not interested in horses!


The Corner Cafe
Nr. Holt.

Dear Betty,

Very many thanks for your this morning, I will write a few lines before settling for the night. It has been very grim experience, but I am very thankful for so very much, for there are many who have fared far far worse. It was all so sudden and the village people who have been used to high tides made no preparation whatever so that their losses are terrific. My boss arrived just as the water was forcing the doors & I was already on the stairs, his car which was left in the road was quickly completely covered & before long the water was nearly up to the ceilings, our back door jammed & whilst that worried us as the water rose more quickly, it certainly saved us from losing articles large & small from the downstairs rooms.

We made preparations to climb into the roof if need be, it all sounds awful but at the time you don’t somehow realise or feel the danger. The worst part to me was hearing people being washed away & crying for help & being powerless to help them. We were very lucky as I made a huge fire in the sitting room and as I had brought oil, stoves, coal etc up we were warm & able to have hot drinks, I also had plenty of candles (being me with my love for them) & these were wonderful when the lights went out. My Whiskers went out just before it all happened & I felt terrible about that for I did not expect to see her again but she turned up next morning, very worried & very hoarse but she has quite recovered & spends her days & nights by the sitting room fire just going out for a few minutes when she has to. Last evening we were told not to stay whilst the tide was up as wind was high, so I washed & dried the meat safe which I had found & took Whiskers with me to the school where we were told to go, the head says she is going to mention Whiskers in the meat safe in the school log book, never mind she was as good & quiet as could be, completely happy so long as she was with me.

The relief work is wonderful!!! We go to the school for three meals a day as we have nothing to use at present & have had no water until today, now we feel that we can get moving with the endless cleaning, it took me all Monday shovelling mud out of the office & large cafe, it will take weeks to put right but as we are being warned about high tides on the 14th we feel it best just to clear the mud for the time being & still keep everything poss. upstairs. We are supplied with wood & coal every day & today men arrived to put windows in, doors on & tiles & chimneys, so I feel a little more secure tonight. I sleep on two chairs by the fire, our nerves don’t somehow stretch to going to bed properly, but otherwise we keep finding plenty to laugh about. My sisters place was far worse than this & whilst they are managing in one bedroom there is much that has to be rebuilt, but even so we have not had the terrible time that lots of people have been through & we are very thankful. Salthouse is far worse, many of the houses completely gone. Now I must settle for tonight as I get up early & make tea some of the folk nearest & then go round & light a few fires in some of the dampest houses before we go for breakfast at 8.

I will write you again.

Much love to you both Nancy