The Norweigan barque Nornen was built in 1876 by shipbuilder Rot T la Roque, Bordeaux for the important French sailing ship owners A.D.Bordes & Fils.
During early March 1897 the seas around the British Isles were subject to heavy gales. Bridgwater Bay did not escape. The steamer Bulldog of Bridgwater and the schooner Richard Cobdon drove ashore at Dunball Sands on the night of Tuesday March 2nd. The outward bound steamers Collier, Devonia and Ethel put back into the River Parret for shelter. Further up the coast the driving snow and sleet was reported at Portishead as being of hurricane force. The Raf from Norway succeeded in obtaining a pilot for Bridgwater but came ashore at Burnham in a damaged state. The ketches Magnet and Good Templar were stranded also but without damage.
All these vessels were subsequently refloated but the wooden Barque Nornen was not so lucky. She was listed in the Port of Bristol Bills of Entry on 7th January 1897 as bringing resin and turpentine from Brunswick, Georgia, U.S.A. On 1st February she was cleared out for foreign parts and sailed for Brunswick on the 8th February. What happened between then and the 2nd March is a mystery but it is possible that the Nornen had tried out to ride out a storm in the lee of the Lundy Roads but lost all her sails and was driven towards Berrow mud flats. About 9 am Wednesday March 3rd, when the mist had cleared, she was observed in the bay apparently ashore at the tail of the gore sands,
The John Godfrey Morris lifeboat with 10 oar and 13 crew, was launched under coxswain Mr Alfred Hunt. A rather tedious and circuitous route had to be followed and before the lifeboat could approach the stranded vessel she had been grounded in shallow water. Her captain went over the side and waded ashore but the crew of 10 and their dog could not be persuaded to follow suit so it was up to the lifeboat to land them in very difficult conditions owing to the gale and proximity to the shore.
The rescue is recorded on the honours board of rescues made by the three lifeboats at Burnham during the period from 1867 to 1930 and which today stands in the entrance to the Burnham RNLI Station.
It is a tradition with at least two local families that comforts were provided for the ship-wrecked crew. The late Mrs. Lily Paler of Mount Pleasant, Berrow took tea with her father across the dunes to the men. Likewise the Anderson family took them into their home to dry out. As a reward they were given the figurehead which is now on display in Berrow village Hall.
Attempts were made to lighten the Nornen and refloat her but without success and she was driven higher up the sands by a second gale. She was sold as a wreck on 2nd April 1897. The remains can still be seen today.
An anchor was found in October 2009, in the mud, close by the wreck. The Bristol Industrial Museum concluded it was too small to have been her main anchor but may have been one of two side anchors used to try and keep her stern on to the tide and thus minimise further sea damage.
The information about the wreck is taken from the booklet ‘The Berrow Wreck’ by Christopher Jordan and published by Thornbury Press in 1978. Following several requests , asking for more information about of this wreck I have tried to contact both the author and publisher to obtain permission to use this material but without success. So please should anyone feel use of this is not entirely for education purposes please contact me via this website.
WORLD WAR II
U.S. B17 Flying Fortress of the 351st Bomb Group at Polebrook crash landed on Burnham beach on 31st December 1943 after being damaged during a bombing raid on german held targets in France. There were no fatalities. For further information see http://www.burnham-on-sea.com/news/2013/walter-skinner-dies-28-11-13.php
VAMPIRE JET FROM RAF CHIVENOR 1952
Vampire Jet EEFB5VV698 Engine blew up so forced to land on beach at Burnham 11.10.1952 (http://www.airhistory.org.uk/dh/_DH100%20prodn%20list.txt)
Thanks to Pete Pengelly and Alan Wheway for identifying this event as 1970 or after and providing other details. Thanks also to Iain Howe for the information that the vessel is coastal tanker the m/t Burgundy, owned by Bowker & King London. See comments below for details .
A study of shipwrecks in Bridgwater Bay can be found in the journal ‘Archaeology in the Severn Estuary’ 22 (2013), 93-103:
WRECKS OF BRIDGWATER BAY: A REVIEW OF THEIR STATUS, HISTORY AND SIGNIFICANCE
by Justin K. Dix, Fraser Sturt, Michael J. Grant and Sean Steadman
The map below is from that study
An interesting story of the proceeds of a wreck can be found in ‘Lympsham – A Scrapbook of Victorian Times’ by Peter Hopkins (1989):
In January 1900 there is a reference to the ‘Hicks Charity’, £300 bequeathed to the parish by Edmund Hicks which provided for the poor to receive 3 shillings worth of coal each on New Year’s Day. Hicks, a local farmer, lived close to Brean Down. One day when walking on the sands after a heavy storm he found wreckage, and amongst it a package containing Bank of England notes which he appropriated and bequeathed upon his death.