Lance Martin surveys the chaos around him, showing all the exhaustion and euphoria of a man who has just moved out of his home.
Except in his case, he did it in every sense of the word. The black wood paneling and floor-to-ceiling sea views he admires belong in the same “dream house” that Lance has lived in for nearly six years. He “only” moved the entire bungalow 22 feet back – to prevent it from falling into the sea.
Last Friday, he and a few other residents of The Marrams, a coastal strip of more than two dozen homes in the picturesque village of Hemsby on the Norfolk coast, were forced to evacuate after coastal erosion left their homes on a sandy ledge. cliff.
Such was the extent of the crisis that over the weekend forced Great Yarmouth Borough Council to demolish five homes.
Coastal erosion has long endangered Hemsby. In 2013 a storm surge destroyed seven homes, while the infamous Beast from the East storm in February 2018 demolished another seven cottages. Lance’s two-bedroom bungalow would have been among them that year, had he not been able to move it 32 feet from the edge of the cliff.
Lance Martin and his team moved his house off the edge of a cliff today and prevented it from falling into the sea
And so, a week before, instead of issuing him the papers, the council had given him a verbal ultimatum: withdraw the whole building back “a significantly appreciable distance”, so that, in a week, you would not be in “imminent danger”, or it would be demolished by a backhoe. (The land behind Lance is privately owned, but he has permission to move the house there.)
But how does one move a 12-ton, 32-foot-wide house away from a sea that threatens to swallow it whole, in just one week? With the help of three rigs, three telegraph poles, six chains, a long-suffering partner, the goodwill of a close-knit community, and the extraordinary determination of one man, I discovered while visiting Lance to follow his formidable efforts.
“There were weak moments,” says Lance, 65, “but we never lost faith that we can do it. The worst times bring out the best in people, and everyone rallied to help.”
A pragmatic grandfather who credits his can-do attitude to 22 years in the forces, Lance bought his house in November 2017 for £95,000, dreaming of a coastal retirement. He had spent the previous 17 years in a London flat, where he worked as director of security and spent most of his spare time indoors.
Lance, whose son Alex, 39, of Cardiff, a radio communications worker, gave him two grandchildren, knew the area was prone to coastal erosion and getting any construction insurance was out of the question. But at that point his house was 130 feet from the 30-foot cliff edge, so he figured that the house, allowing for 3 feet of erosion per year, would last his life.
Having enjoyed spotting birds in his retirement, he said, ‘I wanted to live on the coast. Being at the beach every day, surrounded by wildlife, has given me a new lease on life. I wasn’t worried. But then we got the beast from the east, which wiped out 40 meters [130ft] In two weeks.’
His response was to look for practical solutions. “There’s no point in getting your heart broken over things you have no control over. I’m not very good at talking about my feelings,” he says without apparent sarcasm.
Since then, he has been accustomed to shrinking his garden. Lance’s beating he’d been expecting from the sea this winter was never going to materialize, but “suddenly, a week ago, we got this raise.”
While he knew it would be wise to get out, it was his partner, Tracy, of 18 months, who pushed the decision, as sea levels rose.
“It exceeded the tidal forecast,” Lance said. . . Well, he buries his head in the sand. I say, I don’t want to know. What I don’t know won’t hurt me.
Huge tidal waves and 60 mph winds caused the sea to crash against the sandy cliffs on the coast, surprising everyone. Like many local properties, Lance’s home—built as a vacation home in the 1920s when building regulations weren’t as strict—didn’t have foundations.
He is believed to have been better protected by his neighbors because in 2018 he hired an excavator to haul 50 boulders, each the size of a small car, into a semi-circle in front of his house, to slow the tide. “You can’t stop the sea – but you can slow it down.”
Lance Martin moved the entire bungalow 22 feet back to prevent it from falling into the sea
Just a lot, however. On Thursday last week, a building inspector from the council visited to suggest that he and Tracy vacate the premises.
The couple – who had rented a chalet at a local holiday park for a month and stored their belongings in storage – returned on Friday to discover that their garden had shrunk from five meters to two metres, as the lost land fell onto the beach below.
“It was unsettling,” says Lance. Tracy, who works in healthcare, is more upset with him. ‘She worries.’ I was going to sleep through the storm, but Tracy was walking with a torch. She said she didn’t want to end up at sea. I stressed a lot about it. I admit, for our safety, moving out was a wise precaution, but she understands why I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.
When I arrived at the appropriately named Dune Falls at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday, Lance was in a buoyant mood, all things considered. He jokes about having the best infinity pool in Norfolk and points out a seal darting beneath a wave, one of 600 that live on the coast. What he lacked in home security he says he made up for in the charm of coastal life, watching the stars over the North Sea with a glass of wine in the garden.
At night you feel the waves crashing and the sound rushing across the sand. You think, “Oh my God I’m going.” But you get used to it. This was my dream home.
However, it can turn into a nightmare. As we stand by the windows in Lance’s living room, less than two meters from the precipice, the edge of a cliff collapses before our eyes.
‘Look, that log didn’t stick out before,’ says Lance, pointing to the newly created hole in his garden. The handcrafted wooden workbench that had been in his garden moments before was now bobbing in the sea, and Lance’s shed, which stands so proudly at my arrival, is swaying menacingly to one side.
‘You’re preparing for it, but it’s shocking to see it all go this way,’ he says calmly, and we both wonder if we also risk being dumped, before adding, ‘We’d better hold back, because it’s our own safety.
His plan to move the property was much the same as it had been in March 2018, when he was standing in the kitchen, trailing the beast coming from the east, and felt a roar under his feet. The floorboards moved, and he stood on the joists and saw the sea between his legs.
“There was a loud crack and the kitchen floor fell away,” he says. It was more disturbing than frightening. I knew the storm would stop at some point and was determined to save my possessions.
After cutting the 18-foot-by-12-foot galley apart with power tools and “virtually dropping it overboard,” he attached two telegraph poles at the bases of both the back and front of his bunk—no longer an L-shape—to chains and attached them to a winch attached to a tractor. , which moved the whole house forward. Subsequently, Lance spent £100,000 rebuilding the walls, installing new windows, and a new kitchen.
Everyone thought I was crazy but because everything was on the sand it slid forward. We’ll tape the windows this time so they won’t fall off if they crack. It sounds crazy but it’s easily done. However, last time, he only needed to move his house ten meters. This time – to move it across the road – you need to travel 65 feet. But he refuses to endorse his plan, which doesn’t work. It will, even if we have to cut the place in half and pull it more than half at a time. Nothing is impossible.
I let him drag giant yellow plant pots full of crocuses and daffodils from his front garden into the trunk of his car. He’ll spend the rest of the day taking apart his front steps and paving slabs. On Wednesday morning, Lance received chains and cable, lent by a farmer, to tie to the telegraph poles. He is expecting a digger and a driver who is hired.
Lost sleep due to stress is not noticeably a problem. I put my head on the pillow as if someone had turned off the light. Tracy is the one who has dreams. Things worry me, but I wouldn’t crash too much. There is no point in getting your heart broken over things you have no control over.
I think this has happened. I am still alive. Let’s make the most of a bad deal and stand up to it.
Then the council building inspector dropped a bombshell: because the corrosion seemed to be increasing rapidly, Lance had to move his house by the end of the day. A crowd of TV and radio crews joins staff from the council, and Coastal Protection East, the government body responsible for the Norfolk and Suffolk coast, creating a tense show-type atmosphere on steroids.
“We’re giving him until the end of the day to see if he can make progress on bringing him back from the edge,” Councilor Carl Smith, leader of Great Yarmouth Borough Council, told me.
This week has presented, he says, a “perpetually changing situation” for society, and it’s soul-destroying. Watching your home get destroyed is not pretty. There are tears. There is frustration. We are disappointed.
How does one move a 12-ton, 32-foot-wide house away from a sea that threatens to swallow it whole, in just one week?
By mid-afternoon, the digger has managed to pull the house forward 6 inches—but then, the 32-foot telegraph pole at the back of the house snaps in half. Lance’s shoulders drooped.
“I’m a little sad and obviously worried,” he says. As far as I’ve heard of defeat, he’s still far from throwing in the towel. “The building inspector is pleased that we have made some progress.”
Sure enough, it looks like the end of the day deadline has been waived. The next morning a local company, RD Groundworks and Civil Engineers Ltd, donated another excavator and a dump truck, so that they would have two vehicles to tow. Lance’s spirits are tested again, however, by another visit from the Council Building Inspector, in the middle of the morning.
The council gives him one hour to make substantial progress in moving his house—or he will serve him under Section 78 (which declares the building to be in such peril immediate action is necessary to remove the peril).
“Because my house is closer to the sea than the other two on the list, my house will be demolished first,” says Lance. This time his crew of ten friends and now volunteers decided to use a single digger to lift the side of the house while the backhoe in the front pulled it forward.
The relief is evident when – miraculously – the house moves. Within an hour, it’s 16 feet off the coast, and the building inspector has given us his blessing to go on, says Lance.
By Thursday evening, his house was about 22 feet from the cliff, and the ground behind him had cleared in preparation for pulling the dunes another 42 feet in the next few days. Water and power must be restored, and it will be two weeks before Lance and Tracy can return.
The warping of the wooden frame of his home, his windows bent, his floorboards cracking, do not detract from his sense of triumph. “I put my hand and heart into every piece of this house,” he says.
“That should give me a few more years.”
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