Norfolk - Encyclopedia

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See Norfolk (disambiguation) for articles sharing the titleNorfolk.

NORFOLK, an eastern county of England, bounded N. and E. by the North Sea, S.E. and S. by Suffolk and W. by Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. The area is 2044.4 sq. m., the county being the fourth in size in England. The surface falls into two divisions. The eastern and central portions consist of an undulating plain with rising ground skirting the river valleys and low chalk downs in the north. For the most part this section is fertile and well wooded, but there are some expanses of heath land. The principal rivers are the Yare and its tributaries the Wensum, Bure and Waveney, the last forming a large part of the boundary with Suffolk. In the west the county includes part of the Fen country (q.v.), where the principal rivers are the Great Ouse and its tributaries the Little Ouse or Brandon river, which also forms part of the Suffolk boundary, the Wissey and the Nar. The flat fens are crossed by innumerable drainage channels. They are comprised within that portion of the whole district known as the Bedford Level, and extend from Welney and Hilgay Fens near the junction of the Great and Little Ouse northward to the Wash.

The watershed is nearly in the centre of the county. The middle eastern portion is a low-lying flat area lifted slightly towards the coast in such a way that some of the tributary streams of the Bure rise very near the sea but flow at first inland or parallel to the coast. Here occur the well-known Norfolk Broads, shallow meres, having their low banks massed with luxuriant reeds and other water-plants, and possessing much quiet beauty of an individual character. Most of them abound with pike, bream and other coarse fish, and harbour innumerable waterfowl, including the water-hen, heron, bittern, king-fisher, mallard, teal and snipe. They are thus frequented by sportsmen, but still more by boating parties, and at Yarmouth, Wroxham Bridge, Acle and elsewhere sailing boats with cabins, and other boats, are hired in large numbers. Annual regattas are held on several Broads. The Broads are generally not widenings of the main river, but are connected with it by short channels. Their formation is probably due to a slight uprising of the land, whereupon the depressions in the undulated surface continued to carry water. The average depth of the Broads is only some eight feet, and their tendency is to become choked with sedges and bulrushes and to decrease in size. The Bure joins the Yare at Yarmouth, at the seaward end of Breydon Water, which does not rank among the Broads. Following the Bure upwards, a small stream is found uniting it with Filby, Rollesby and Ormsby Broads to the north, which form one sheet of water of irregular shape. The Thurne stream then enters from the same direction, draining Heigham Sound, Hickli,g Broad, Horsey Mere and Martham Broad. The second of these is the largest of all, measuring some 3 m. in length by one at its widest part. The next tributary, the Ant, drains Barton and Stalham Broads. Closely adjoining the upper Bure itself, there are Ranworth Broad, Horning Broad, and Salhouse, Hoveton and Wroxham Broads almost adjoining. South of Ranworth, on a tributary, is South Walsham Broad. Adjacent to the Yare towards Norwich is Rockland Broad. Between the Waveney and Lowestoft Oulton Broad is formed (in Suffolk; see Lowestoft).

Nearly two-thirds of the boundary of the county is formed by tidal water. There are few bays or inlets, and on the northern coast no river mouths. For the most part the coast-line is flat and low, and has been greatly encroached on. by the sea, several villages having been engulfed since the Conquest. From the mouth of the Yare to Happisburgh the shore is skirted by sandbanks. Thence for 20 m. it is formed of cliffs consisting of clay and masses of embedded rocks, the average height being about 50 ft., although in some cases an altitude of 200 ft. is reached. These cliffs are succeeded by a low shingly or sandy coast stretching as far as St Edmund's Point. The shores of the Wash are formed of mudbanks, which are left dry at low water. West of Lynn a considerable extent of land has been reclaimed from the sea in modern times, and farther south an old Roman embankment stretches into Lincolnshire. At various points off the coast there are submarine forests, especially in Brancaster Bay and in the neighbourhood of Cromer and Happisburgh. Fossilized remains of large mammals are sometimes dragged up by the nets of fishermen, and mammoth tusks measuring from 6 to 9 ft. have been found at Knole Sand off Happisburgh. The fine sandy beaches and healthy climate have contributed to the growth of such popular watering-places as Cromer, Yarmouth and Hunstanton, while Mundesley and Wells-nextthe-Sea are lesser resorts.

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The prevailing rock formation in Norfolk is the Chalk, which occupies a broad tract in the central and western portions of the county and underlies the Tertiary deposits in the eastern part, the general dip of the rocks being towards that direction. Pliocene beds predominate in the eastern third of the county; while a narrow belt of Lower Cretaceous and Jurassic rocks lies along the western border. Oxford Clay and Corallian beds have been proved by boring at Lynn,. but the oldest formation to appear at the surface is the Kimeridge Clay, which stretches along the coast of the Wash from Hunstanton to King's Lynn and south to Downham, where it has been dug for bricks and tiles. The Lower Greensand, which forms the picturesque escarpment overlooking the Fen-land and the Wash, is represented in its upper part by the brown, iron-stained sandstone, the Carstone (up to 40 ft.), locally known as the "Gingerbread stone," which is quarried at Snettisham and elsewhere as a building stone. Below the Carstone are the Snettisham Clay beds, dug for brickmaking at that village and at Dersingham and Heacham; these pass southwards into sandstones and ironstones. The lowest division of the Greensand, the Sandringham beds, highly-coloured sands and sandstones, are exposed at Sandringham Warren, Downham Market and Grimston Common. Overlying the Lower Greensand is the Gault Clay which extends from Shouldham northwards to Dersingham, where it begins to change in character and finally passes into the Red Chalk (4 ft.), so conspicuous in the cliffs at Hunstanton. In the same cliffs the Lower Chalk is exposed resting on the Red Chalk (which does not belong to the Chalk proper but the Gault); it is a hard grey or white limestone; at Marham and other places it is quarried for building and for lime. The Middle Chalk (about 300 ft.), with flints in the upper part and occasional marl beds, is exposed at Docking, Hillington and Methwold. The Upper Chalk (about Boo ft.) is much softer, with many flints, including the peculiar forms known as "paramoudras"; it has been largely exploited for lime and whiting, and the flints have been worked from prehistoric times. Dressed flints are still used for facing walls in churches and other buildings. At Trimingham occurs the highest horizon of the Chalk known in England. Eocene strata, Reading Beds (46 ft.) and London Clay (310 ft.) have been proved to lie beneath younger deposits at Yarmouth. Pliocene deposits, sands, gravels and cla y s are exposed along the coast from Weybourne and Cromer to Happisburg and in the river valleys over most of the eastern part of the country. The lower subdivision, the Norwich Crag Series (25-100 ft.), exhibits numerous local peculiarities to which distinctive names have been applied, as the "Fluvio-Marine beds" of Bramerton and Thorpe, the "mammaliferous crag," the "Weybourne Crag" and the "Chillesford Clays," &c. The upper subdivision, the Cromer ForestBed (10-30 ft.), contains the bones of the mammoth, rhinoceros, giant beaver, sabre-toothed tiger and many others, as well as the transported stumps of trees. Next in order come the glacial clays, sands and gravels, which cover and obscure so much of the older stratified rocks of the county and hence greatly influence the scenery. There is a lower "till" with boulders and an upper chalky boulder clay, sometimes with sands and gravels between; glacial gravels overlie the clays in large sheets as at Norwich, Mousehold Heath, Dereham, Fakenham. The drift is thicker in the east than in the west - very interesting exposures occur on the cliffs about Cromer. Later valley gravels occupy some of the stream courses, and among the more recent deposits are the Fen beds and blown sands.

Climate and Agriculture

On account of the exposed position of the coast to east and north-east winds, the climate, especially in winter and early spring, is much colder than in the adjacent counties. The air is, however, generally dry, and unhealthy fogs are not common, except in the marshy districts. The cynd is a characteristic mist which sometimes rolls up like smoke from the sea over the eastern parts. Norfolk contains a greater variety of soil than any other county in England. In the north and west the soil is generally chalky; towards the southeast it is a light sand, assuming occasionally the form of blowing sand, but elsewhere capable of cultivation and of average fertility. In the centre and east the prevailing soil is loam, chiefly light and workable, but sometimes composed of stiff chalky boulder clay. Alluvial clays and loams occur on the borders of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, and stretch along the river valleys. The marsh lands along the coast are subject to inundation, but afford capital pasturage. Farming is in an advanced condition, and, by means of draining, subsoil ploughing, &c., excellent crops are raised. The farms are for the most part large and the farm buildings superior. About four-fifths of the total area is under cultivation. Of this area corn crops occupy some two-fifths and consist mainly of wheat and barley, but in the production of oats also Norfolk is one of the first counties in England. As much attention is paid to the grazing of cattle and to the rearing and fattening of sheep, turnips and swedes are extensively grown. Large numbers of lean cattle, principally Irish shorthorns, are brought into the county mainly for winter grazing. The old Norfolk polled stock is recognized as a distinct breed. Good pasture lands are found in many districts of the county, especially along the river-beds and near the fens. A large acreage is under beans and a fair quantity of small fruit is grown.

Other Industries

At an early period Norfolk was one of the principal seats of the cloth trade in England, worsted deriving its name from having been first manufactured at Worstead. The weaving of silk and wool is still carried on at Norwich and also shawl weaving, although the staple trade of the town is now boots and shoes. Silk is also manufactured at Yarmouth, Wymondham and North Walsham. Flour-mills are numerous all over the county, and there are agricultural implement works at Norwich, Lynn, Thetford, East Harling, North Walsham, Walsingham, and East Dereham. Lime-burning, brick-making, tanning, malting and brewing are carried on in various districts. There are extensive mustard and st .rch works at Norwich. One of the chief hindrances to commercial progress is the dangerous nature of the sea-coast, and the lack of harbours. A large trade, however, is carried on at Yarmouth. The other principal port is Lynn, and there is a small trade at Cromer and Wells.

Railway communication is provided principally by the Great Eastern railway, the principal lines of which are those from London and Ipswich to Norwich and Yarmouth, from Ely to Norwich and Yarmouth, Ely to Lynn, Lynn to Swaffham and Dereham, Norwich to Dereham and Wells and Norwich to Cromer. There are numerous branch lines. The Midland & Great Northern joint line, from Lynn, serves Cromer, Norwich, North Walsham and Yarmouth. The eastern rivers afford water communication with the port of Yarmouth and the Great and Little Ouse, with many of the drainagecuts which are navigable, with Lynn.

Population and Administration

The area of the ancient county is 1,308,439 acres, with a population in 1891 of 454,516, and in 1901 of 460,120. The area of the administrative county is 1,314,612. The county contains 33 hundreds. The municipal boroughs are - King's Lynn (pop. 20,288); Norwich, a city and county borough and the county town (111,733); Thetford (4613); and Yarmouth, properly Great Yarmouth, a county borough (51,316). The urban districts are Cromer (3781), Diss (3745), Downham Market (2472), East Dereham (5545), Hunstanton (1893), North Walsham (3981), Sheringham (2359), Swaffham (3371), Walsoken (3250), Wells-next-the-Sea (2494). Among other towns may be mentioned Fakenham (2907), Holt (1844), Wymondham (4733)The county is in the southeastern circuit, and assizes are held at Norwich. There are two courts of quarter sessions, and 25 petty sessional divisions. Each of the four municipal boroughs has a separate commission of the peace and a separate court of quarter sessions. The total number of civil parishes is 700. Norfolk is mainly in the diocese of Norwich, with small parts in those of Ely and Lincoln; it contains 607 ecclesiastical parishes or districts, wholly or in part. For parliamentary purposes the county is divided into six divisions (North-Western, South-Western, Northern, Eastern, Mid, and Southern), and also includes the parliamentary boroughs of King's Lynn and Norwich, and part of the parliamentary borough of Great Yarmouth; each returning one member, except the city of Norwich, which returns two members.


The district which is now Norfolk was invaded in the second half of the 5th century by Angle tribes from north Germany, who, having secured the coast districts, worked their way inland along the river valleys. In the 7th century the land of the North-folk formed the northern half of East Anglia which at the time owned the supremacy of Kent, and later appears successively as a dependency of Mercia and Northumbria, until in 827 the whole land was united under the rule of Ecgbert. In 867 the Danes under Inguar and Ubba defeated and killed King Edmund at Thetford, but, although it formed an integral part of the Danelaw, Norfolk remained thickly settled by an almost exclusively Teutonic population. In the renewed Danish attacks of the 11th century Norwich and Thetford were destroyed. At the time of the Norman invasion Norfolk formed part of Harold's earldom, but it offered no active resistance to the Conqueror, who built a castle at Norwich, and bestowed the earldom of East Anglia on Ralf Guader. The forfeited estates of Earl Ralf had passed at the time of the Domesday Survey to Roger Bigod, ancestor of the earls of Norfolk, whose line expired in 1306. The Norfolk fief of Count Alan later formed part of the honour of Richmond; Robert Malet's fief became the honour of Eye; Hermer de Ferriere's fief became the barony of Wormegay, afterwards held by the Bardolfs; Hugh de Montfort's fee, as the honour of Haughley, was afterwards attached to the office of constable of Dover. The Howards were settled in the county from the 13th century, Thomas Howard being created duke of Norfolk for his services at Flodden. Castle Acre was a seat of the earls of Warenne; Paston of the Pastons; Attleborough of the Mortimers; Caister of the Fastolfs.

The shire-system was not definitely established in East Anglia before the Conquest, but the Domesday boundaries of Norfolk were practically those of the present day. The thirty-six Domesday hundreds were subdivided into leets, of which no trace remains, and the boroughs of Norwich and Thetford ranked as separate hundreds, while Yarmouth was the chief town of three hundreds. The Domesday hundred of Emneth is now included in Freebridge, and Docking in that of Smithdon, and the boundary between Brothercross and Gallow hundred has been considerably changed. Norfolk and Suffolk were united under one sheriff until the reign of Elizabeth, the shire court for the former being held at Norwich. The hundred court of Humbleyard hundred was held in the parish of Swardeston; that of Clackclose at Clackclose hill on Stradsett common; Taverham at Frettenham Hill; Grimeshoe at a tumulus between Brandon and Norwich; Forehoe in the parish of Carleton Forehoe; Greenhoe by the tumuli on the London road to Swaffham; Smithdon in the parish of Bircham Magna; Freebridge at Flitcham Burgh, afterwards at an oak at Gaywood and still later at an oak at Wiggenhall St German's; Gallow in the 15th century at Fakenham; in the 16th century at Longfield Stone; Brothercross, at the cross by the ford over the Burnham; Eynsford at Reepham; Depwade, at the Deep ford over the Tas; Mitford, in 1639, at "Brokpit"; North Erpingham, at Guneby Gate, near Gunton; South Erpingham, at Cawston Park Gate; Launditch, at the crossing of the Norwich road with the long ditch between Longham and Beeston; Earsham, at an encampment near the church.

Norfolk formed part of the diocese of East Anglia from its foundation in 630, and in 1075 the bishop's see was placed at Thetford, whence it was transferred to Norwich in 1093. In 1121 the Norfolk portion of the diocese included the 12 deaneries of Norwich (or Taverham), Blofield, Ingworth, Sparham, Holt, Walsingham, Toftrees, Brisley, Breckles, Lynn, Thetford and Flegg - all in the archdeaconry of Norwich, and the 12 deaneries of Repps, Humbleyard, Depwade, Waxham, Brooke, Redenhall, Rockland, Cranwich, Fencham, Hitcham, Burnham and Hengham - in the archdeaconry of Norfolk. From this date the deaneries underwent little change, until the creation of the archdeaconry of Lynn in 1894, when they were entirely reconstituted.

In the wars between John and his barons Roger Bigod garrisoned Norwich castle against the king, who in 1216 on his retreat from Lynn lost his baggage in the Wash. In the rising of 1381 Norwich was plundered by the insurgents under Sir Roger Bacon of Baconsthorpe, and in the rising of 1549 against enclosures Norwich was again captured by the rebels under Ket. In the Civil War of the 17th century Norfolk as a whole adhered to the parliamentary cause, forming one of the six counties of the Eastern Association. Lynn, however, was held for the king by Sir Hamon Lestrange, and Norwich was one of the first cities to welcome back Charles II.

At the time of the Domesday Survey sheep-farming flourished almost throughout Norfolk, a flock of 1300 being mentioned at Walton, and horses were extensively bred; numerous bee- hives, nearly 600 water-mills and valuable river-fisheries are mentioned; and salt was made in the hundreds of Freebridge and East Flegg. The worsted trade was introduced by Flemish immigrants as early as the 12th century, and the woollen trade became especially prosperous in the hundreds adjoining the Wash. Linen was manufactured at Aylsham in the 14th century. Fuller, writing in the 17th century, describes Norfolk as abounding in all good things, and especially rabbits, herrings and worsteds. The leather industry flourished in Norman times.

Norfolk returned members to parliament in 1290, and in 1298 the county and the boroughs of Lynn, Norwich and Yarmouth returned each two members. Thetford acquired representation in 1529, and Castle Rising in 1558. Under the Reform Act of 1832 the county returned four members in two divisions, and Castle Rising was disfranchised. Under the act of 1868 the county returned six members in three divisions, and Thetford and Yarmouth were disfranchised, the latter for notorious corruption.


There are few traces of Saxon architecture in the county, unless the towers of Dunham-Magna and Newtonby-Castleacre be assigned to this period. The round towers which are specially characteristic of the district are probably Norman. Although there are several fine specimens of Norman architecture in the county in addition to Norwich cathedral, and a few good examples of Early English, the majority of the churches are Decorated or Perpendicular, or a mixture of both styles. The most notable features of the churches are the flint and stone panels, the fine rood screens and the numerous brasses. The churches of the marshes in the N.W. are noteworthy, especially those of Tilney All Saints and Walsoken (Norman) and West Walton (Early English); the rich Norman church of Castle Rising should also be mentioned. At Northwold remains one of the rare Easter sepulchres. Apart from the churches in the towns, those of Worstead, Hingham, Cawston and Terrington St Clement may be quoted as typical examples of the numerous fine later Gothic village churches. Norfolk possessed an unusually large number of monastic foundations, but of these the remains are few and comparatively unimportant. The cathedral church of Norwich was originally connected with a very richly endowed Benedictine monastery. A foundation of almost equal importance was that of Augustinian canons at Walsingham, where there are 'remains of an Early English and Decorated church, a Decorated refectory and a Perpendicular gateway. The shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham was the resort of great numbers of pilgrims. Other monastic remains are Bromholm Priory near North Walsham; slight Early English fragments of Beeston Augustinian priory, W. of Cromer; good Norman and later remains at Binham (Benedictine) N.E. of Walsingham; the Benedictine nunnery of Carrow near Norwich; the fine church (Norman and later) of the Benedictine priory at Wymondham; and the remains at Castle Acre and Thetford.

Of Norman keeps there are remains of the building at Castle Acre; there is a magnificent ruin at Castle Rising N.E. of Lynn; and Norwich Castle is kept in restoration. There are several old mansions of interest, such as the Jacobean brick building of Blickling Hall, Barningham Hall (1612), Hunstanton, the moated Oxburgh Hall, and Cressingham Manor, both of the 15th century. The larger mansions, however, such as Sandringham (a seat of King Edward VII.), Holkham, Rainham, Costessey, Gunton, Houghton and Shadwell, are of more modern date. The Holkham estate was the scene of the agricultural work of Thomas William Coke, earl of Leicester (d. 1842), who successfully proved that wheat could be profitably grown in this part of the county, and also made great improvements in live stock. Among sites of other various interests are Burnham Thorpe, the birthplace of Nelson; Paston and Oxnead, successive seats of the Paston family whose Letters are famous; and Ket's Oak near Hethersett, W. of Norwich, where Robert Ket took oath as leader of the agrarian rebellion of 1549.

See Victoria County History; Norfolk; F. Blomefield, Essay towards a Topographical History of. .. Norfolk (London, 1 7391775 and 1805-1810); W. Rye, History of Norfolk (London, 1885); P. H. Emerson, Pictures of East Anglian Life (London, 1888), and other works; Rev. A. Jessopp, Arcady (London, 1887), and other works; Quarterly Review (London, 1897), where other literature is cited; G. C. Davies, Norfolk Broads and Rivers (Edinburgh, 1884).

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