Hunstanton is a 19th century resort town, initially known as New Hunstanton so distinguished from the adjacent old village from which it took its name. The new town long ago eclipsed the village in scale and population.
The original settlement of Hunstanton is now known as Old Hunstanton, probably taking its name from the River Hun which runs to the coast just to the east of Old Hunstanton. It is also said that the name Hunstanton originated from the word "Honeystone", a reference to the local red Carr stone. The river begins in the grounds of Old Hunstanton Park which surrounds the old moated hall, the ancestral home of the Le Strange family. Old Hunstanton village is of prehistoric origin and is situated near to the head of Peddars Way. In 1970, evidence of Neolithic settlement was found. The quiet character of Old Hunstanton remains distinct from and complements that of its busy sibling, with clifftop walks past a privately owned redundant lighthouse and the ruins of St. Edmund's Chapel, built in 1272.
In 1846, Henry Styleman Le Strange (1815–1862), decided to develop the area south of Old Hunstanton as a sea bathing resort. He persuaded a group of like-minded investors to fund the construction of a railway line from King's Lynn to the town: the railway would bring tourists and visitors to Hunstanton. It was a great success (the Lynn & Hunstanton Railway became one of the most consistently profitable railway companies in the country). In 1861, Le Strange, as the principal landowner, became a director of the railway company and by 1862 the line had been built. Hunstanton was ready to take off commercially. In the same year Le Strange died at the age of forty seven, and it was left to his son Hamon to reap the rewards of his efforts.
As a mark of his intentions, in 1846 Le Strange had moved the ancient village cross from Old Hunstanton to the new site and in 1848 the first building was erected. This was the Royal Hotel (now the Golden Lion), the work of the renowned Victorian architect, William Butterfield, a friend of Le Strange. Overlooking a sloping green and the sea, and for several years standing alone, it earned the nickname "Le Strange's Folly". In 1850 Le Strange, an amateur architect and painter, appointed a land agent to survey the site and prepare a layout, while he himself drew and painted a map and a perspective of the scheme, showing shops, a station and a church. He consulted William Butterfield on the design of the development plan. Their shared passion was for the "Old English" style of architecture for domestic buildings. This owed much to medieval precedent and to the earnestness of the Victorian Gothic Revival. Hunstanton is the exemplar of a model 19th century estate seaside town and most of the fabric and character of that original development survives.
Hunstanton railway station used to offer services to King's Lynn but was closed along with the branch line it was on in 1969.
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