The History of Caley Hall

The History of Caley Hall Hotel

The first ‘Caley’ family members settled in England during the Norman Conquest in AD 1066. They came from the French village of Cailly in Normandy. Twenty years later when the Domesday Survey was completed in 1086, the area in which today’s hotel stands was recorded as ‘Hecham – a Ham by the water’ – within the Smithdon Hundred. Originally a medieval farmhouse, Caley Hall now offers rest and relaxation. But you’ll soon discover how the premises have at different times had other purposes, including a prison and once, even a mortuary and more!  

Records indicate William de Caley (also variously spelt Cailli, Cailly, Kailley, Kailli and Kaly), held lands here during the reign of Henry I (1069-1135) and again during that of Henry III (1207–1272). For many years, the family lived at Oby, between Acle and Thurne then in the Flegg Hundred. Apart from Norfolk, they also acquired lands in Cambridgeshire, Suffolk and Sussex. When the Black Death swept through Britain in 1348/9, Hunstanton unavoidably suffered with everyone else, losing 172 people within eight months. So many people died that the hamlet of Little Ringstead 3 miles distant, was totally abandoned. 

Then in 1530 during the reign of Henry VIII, Sir Thomas L’Estrange (1493-1545) of Hunstanton inherited the Manor using the name Caley’s Hall. Knighted by Henry Vlll at Whitehall in 1529, he was High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1532. The Le Stranges were originally Franco-Celts (or Norman-Celts) from Breton (Brittany) in France.  At the time of his inheritance, the property was described as located in Hicham-Juxta-Mare and remained in the family until the death of Sir Henry L’Estrange, Bart., on 2nd Sept 1760 after which, it passed on to the Stylemans. Bryant’s Map of Norfolk in 1826 shows the current road to Holme-next-the Sea as just a ‘footway’, where the main road ran eastwards along the coast. Then it turned sharp right near the Church and continued left across the River Hun, passing the front of Hunstanton Hall.  

The original Manor House at Caley Hall dates back to 1648 and from 1842 to 1857, was home to the Le Strange Farm Steward, the equivalent of today’s Farm Manager. Built of flint and brick with two storeys and attics, it also has a 17th century wing to the east and to the west, two 19th century wings. The Service Wing to the North bears the marks and masonry of the 17th century and by 1784, it was known as William Clare’s Farmhouse. A stone set near the top of the outer wall dates it at 1649, no doubt because the final stages of construction overlapped into the early part of the following year.

Kelly’s Directory tells us that in both 1889 and 1908, Dodman William Chadwick was the resident farmer. On 6th June 1951, Caley Hall Farmhouse became a Grade II Listed property.  In 1976 the property changed hands and became a B&B as the “Caley Hall Motel” with chalet-style rooms.  Subsequently, the old barns, stables and farm outbuildings were converted and extended to offer 40 en-suite bedrooms, as well as the restaurant, bar and lounge.

For centuries, a regular activity along Norfolk’s coastline and around the UK, has been smuggling, particularly in the 17th and 18th centuries. This often included violence and one notable event in 1784 involved Caley Hall, then known as William Clare’s farmhouse. Smuggling barons were ruthless violent men who became rich from their criminal activities and certainly wouldn’t hesitate to deal with anyone standing in their way.  Frequently and also illegally-landed goods on the beaches between Old Hunstanton and Thornham often included Genever (gin), rum, and brandy, sometimes in quantities of up to 2,000 gallons. These were hidden in unsuspecting places, including agricultural barns, hay ricks, outbuildings, pig sties, cattle sheds, windmills, alehouse cellars, church towers and vestries, or even in churchyard burial vaults. Confiscated goods were sometimes auctioned off but on Christmas Eve 1782, a large quantity of tea and spirits was discovered hidden in the tower of St. Mary’s church in Old Hunstanton and seized. Records indicate these were removed while most of the local villagers attended the annual Yuletide service!  Nearly two years later on Sunday 26 Sept, 1784, smugglers were waiting off shore for the all clear signal from Old Hunstanton cliffs, unaware of customs officers and a troop of Dragoons waiting in the darkness.  As the contraband came ashore the Dragoons charged across the sands at full gallop with sabres drawn. Upwards of fifty smugglers scattered in all directions. Abandoned carts and ponies left on the beach, were commandeered by the excise men and the smuggled goods were taken to nearby Clare’s Farm. Reinforcements of Dragoons soon arrived at Old Hunstanton and were sent to the beach, should another attempt be made to land further goods. The gang leader of the smugglers was enraged when some of the landing party returned to the lugger and gave him news of the customs seizure. Without hesitation he armed the remainder of his crew with pistols, muskets and sabres, the long-boat was launched and the smugglers set off to recover the seized contraband. 

While leaving the dunes, the smugglers spotted the advancing dragoons and hid in a ditch. As the column passed at close range, they opened fire. Private William Webb at the head of the column was hit four times and fell from his horse. A second volley fatally wounded customs officer William Green who died hours later at Clare’s farmhouse. By the time the Dragoons had regrouped the smugglers had fled, but gang leader William Kemball and most of his accomplices were later apprehended and held at the farmhouse. Kemball was held in Norwich prison until the Thetford assizes seven months after his arrest.  Ironically the wealth accumulated from smuggling activities afforded him first class legal representation which allowed him to escape the death penalty and resume his smuggling career. 

Meanwhile, Contra-banded goods seized by customs men were stored in the barns of William Clare’s farmhouse – part of today’s Caley Hall complex. In that era and when necessary due to smuggling activity, the property also served as a Headquarters for Customs, Excise and Army personnel. At different times, it also served as an interrogation centre, a barracks (accommodating Dragoons), a prison (detaining smugglers), a hospital and even a mortuary, guarded by 15 Dragoons. Inn-keepers were forced by the War Office to accommodate Dragoons and to stable their horses for which they were paid 4d a day to include food, hay and a small beer. They considered this a subsidy of unwanted guests.  The name ‘Hunstanton’ is believed to derive either from Honeystone, the old name for the local red Carr stone or more likely from the River Hun. The latter originates in the grounds of Old Hunstanton Hall, ancestral home of the Le Strange family.