by John | Jul 15, 2016 |

Life on the Edge: A Brief History of Shingle Street by Tim Miller

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Tucked inside this book, meticulously researched and eloquently written, is local resident Tim Miller’s charting and celebration of the history of Shingle Street, the magical and mysterious hamlet on the Suffolk edge of the North Sea.


“Shingle Street is on the edge of the Sandlings, the ten mile border of marine Suffolk, where we East Anglians expected Napoleon and Hitler to arrive. So, in 1808, we took Captain Ford’s advice, and built Martello towers and, in 1938, no end of pillboxes. But no one came.” Ronald Blythe

Instead, the ceaseless enemy has been the sea.

Generations of pilots and coastguards put out in their boats to rescue those wrecked on the shoals. Storms claimed many vessels and lives. But the sea also provided their livelihood. Ships needed pilots, wrecks were salvaged and fish and coal came from the sea.


Opening with words from Ronald Blythe and one of John Northcote Nash’s beautiful ink drawings of the coast, Miller proceeds to plot the founding and development of Shingle Street from 1800 to the present day. Coastguards, pilots, smugglers (of Geneva gin, tobacco and tea), the military, fishermen, sea bathers, architects, surveyors and many families have come and gone from Shingle Street amidst the threats of invasion from Napoleon which led to the design and construction of the Martello towers, the Germans in the world wars - and still the mystery of a German landing remains unsolved - and that of the very sea itself. Accompanied by photographs, maps and charts, Miller weaves together the history that has awarded Shingle Street a very special character.


A thin volume, available at local bookstores, this book is best bought and slipped into your rucksack to take to the very place at which this publication is set. Come, sit and read on the shingle shore in this hamlet by the sea like no other. Seemingly bleak and desolate, yet so mystical, where you can see and hear the starlings and skylarks and watch the orange August moon rise from the sea. Shingle Street continues to draw those seeking peace and connection with nature and the elements. Blake Morrison’s latest poetry collection is set here (Shingle Street, 2015) and prize winning author, academic and cultural environmentalist Dr Robert Macfarlane has visited and written extensively on Suffolk’s ‘vast, shingle peninsulas’ (The Wild Places, 2007, p. 241).


Twenty cottages remain here and four Martello towers. You can stay in one of the original coastguard cottages with Suffolk Cottage Holidays. An introduction to the hamlet can be found here.


Funded by the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Sustainable Development Fund and The Scarfe Charitable Trust, this publication belongs to the body of work by the Shingle Street Biodiversity Survey. Their purpose is to ‘produce a comprehensive survey of the flora and fauna of the Shingle Street area. This is an locality of great natural diversity and abundance, which already contains within it an area designated as a conservation site of special importance and also has close to it other wildlife reserves and protected areas.’ Along with Miller’s Life on the Edge, do look out for Jeremy Mynott’s Knowing Your Place (2016), a publication on the wildlife of Shingle Street.


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