An early Norfolk map by Faden (1797) shows Beeston and Sheringham Commons to be more extensive, ranging from an early Sheringham to Cromer road in the south to approximately the Cliff Road/Beach Road junction in the north and from Beeston Road in the west to the Abbey field (Priory Maze) in the east, thus forming a roughly triangular section of land.
In 1885 a book was published entitled Flowers & Ferns of Cromer & its Neighbourhood by B.A.F. Pigott. On page 14, Chapter II - Beeston Bog, the following is written regarding what is now known as the Top Common:
“Leaving the Abbey to the right as you walk from Cromer to Sheringham, there is a flat piece of grass kept closely cropped by donkeys, ponies, geese, and goslings.
At first site it looks as if nothing grows there. But here we find quantities of a most interesting plant, the smallest of our orchids, Lady’s Tresses, not more than four inches high, with small white, highly-fragrant flowers and twisted spike, all the flowers of which turn the same way.”
The plant, which is found only in short grassland, was also collected from the Commons between 1847 and 1856 by Henry Ramey Upcher (of Sheringham Hall) and is in his botanical collection at the Sheringham Museum. There are also records of the orchid at Beeston Regis, possibly from the Commons, at the beginning of the 20th centuary in 1907 and 1915, however, it is presently only known in Norfolk from one, possibly two localities.
The Commons are therefore not static – when close grazed by ponies and geese the conditions were right for this diminutive orchid. Certainly between the wars and possibly earlier goats had a free run of the Commons and maybe their browsing was what finished the orchid off. Photographs taken by a local lady, Meriel Danvers, show the open nature of the Commons in1939/40. At some time after the second world war and certainly during the late fifties/early sixties some of the Commons were mown in July for hay.
Since the early 1980s it has been necessary to intervene to manage the Commons. This is generally done through mowing and in 2006 Sheringham Town Council undertook the management of the Top and Beeston Back Commons, whilst Natural England supervised the main management for the SSSI.
View north over Back Bog - 1939 (M. Danvers)
View southwest over central mire - 1939 (M. Danvers)