Lowestoft is the most easterly town in the UK, and home to the most easterly point of the UK at Lowestoft Ness, generally referred to as Ness Point. If you were unaware of the geographical uniqueness of the town before arriving, a short exposure to the surrounding marketing will leave you in no doubt; the local media make much of the 'most easterly' aspect and within the boundaries of a short walk you will discover the Most Easterly Church, Most Easterly Post Office and even the Most Easterly Doctors' Surgery, all proudly displaying their 'easterliness' on hoardings.
The town may have a population somewhere in the region of 70,000 although it is hard to tell. In the last few years since the official census, the population has expanded so rapidly that even official estimates are unreliable. New housing estates have sprung up where the town once met the surrounding countryside and this rapid expansion continues at a furious rate, which is rather curious in a town where there is little employment, few prospects of early recovery and an overall feeling of weariness with the world.
There have been settlements in the area for as far back as anyone can go. Sadly, until a relatively recent change in the law, it was possible for housing developers to build on potentially important archaeological sites. Happily, developers must now permit archaeological excavations, some of which have uncovered extensive settlements dating from around 500 - 800 AD. The origins of the town's name are also lost in the mists of time, and theories abound that it was the home (toft) of Lothu, hence Lothu's Toft, which became Lothuwistoft and, through further variations and changes in spelling, Lowestoft.
Being a small and rather isolated place, centuries passed without the major upheavals that characterise larger and more socially active communities. In other words, a great deal happened but not much of it was (or is) worth reporting. The major incidents in early history seem to have revolved around the feud between the town and its arch-rival, Great Yarmouth, which lies about a dozen miles to the north, that culminated in the fishermen from both towns striving to sink one another's boats. Lowestoft was briefly almost involved in the war against the Dutch at the end of the 18th Century, when the Dutch boats appeared just off the beach. However, it was discovered that the Lowestoft battery of cannons had no carriages or ammunition at the time and one presumes that the gun crews merely ran up and down on the top of the cliffs hurling Monty Pythonesque insults at their Dutch enemies. In a similarly unwise militaristic venture, the town sided with the Royalists during the Civil War, possibly because Great Yarmouth was solidly Republican. Unfortunately, Oliver Cromwell happened to be in Norwich at the time and took a side trip to Yarmouth to collect a small army before coming down to Lowestoft to quell the rebellion. On arrival he found the town defended by a chain across the High Street (which he simply removed) and a cannon, whose crew immediately ran away. Cromwell stayed overnight and left with the cannon, either to be on the safe side or, more probably, to prevent the locals from accidentally hurting themselves.
Although the main source of income and economic well-being has, for centuries, been fishing, the town had no harbour until the closing years of the 19th Century and no connection with the inland waterways known as the Norfolk Broads. It was the potential profit to be had from a harbour that encouraged Norwich businessmen, tired of Yarmouth's monopoly of the trade, to seek an alternative route for their goods. Thanks to this, Lowestoft today has both a harbour and a link via Mutford Lock into the Broads.
|Changing Faces of the Town|
The man who began the modernisation of Lowestoft was Samuel Morton Peto, who purchased land to the south for a pittance at the end of the 19th Century and proceeded to build a complete Victorian seaside resort thereon. A great deal of the Lowestoft that visitors see today is entirely Peto's work and many visitors arrive on the railway line that also wouldn't be there without him. Modern Lowestoft extends from Gunton in the morth, across Lake Lothing and as far as Pakefield in the south, more than three miles in all. Prior to Peto, the town existed entirely to the north of what is now the harbour.
During the Second World War, the town was bombed extensively by the Germans. Subsequently it has been rebuilt although the standing joke is that the town planners have done more damage than the Germans ever did. Floods have also been responsible for major changes, notably the demolition of the old beach fishing village, commonly known as 'The Beach', following a major flood in 1953 which sealed the doom of this close community. The site is now occupied by the Birds Eye frozen food plant, and sadly no effort was made to save any of the beach village for posterity.
In recent years, although the town has been broke (the current budget deficit at the time of writing stands at £800,000), it has seen an influx of money from European funds and sources such as the National Lottery and English Heritage. A great effort is being made to regenerate, or at the very least give the appearance of regeneration. At the time of writing a new private development is set to bring £32 million in investment into the town in the form of a new shopping and leisure complex and a new relief road is also in the offing.
In discussing the face of Lowestoft one cannot overlook that the town is divided in two by the harbour. The division is spanned by a bascule bridge1, which opens and closes to allow ships to pass through, and since the bridge spans the only main road 2 it brings all traffic to a standstill every time it opens. On the thankfully rare occasions that it breaks down, the town comes to a virtual standstill. While there is a second crossing at Oulton Broad, it is out of the way and a traffic bottleneck at the best of times, and all attempts to persuade the authorities to hand over some cash for a third crossing have fallen on deaf ears. The division seems to extend psychologically and economically, too; south of the bridge is an area of economic degeneration and poverty, while all the economic growth has, up to now, taken place north of the bridge.
In post-war years, Lowestoft has suffered the collapse of its fishing industry and seen the fleet reduced from around 700 boats to around 7. The saviour of the town, the North Sea gas and oil industry, has kept many employed but is now saturated and no new rigs are being built. The likelihood is that the fields themselves will be worked out by the middle of the 21st Century. With poor road and rail links to the outside world, the main industry in the town has become tourism and every effort is made to attract as many visitors as possible and extract as much cash from them as possible before they leave to go back to less hospitable climes. The town is now home to a major air festival, quite an achievement since it has no airfield, and a wide range of other tourist attractions throughout the summer season. It strives to maintain as much of its Victorian aspect as possible, not falling prey to the gross consumerism of Yarmouth's Pleasure Beach with its entertainments, arcades and nightclubs but settling instead for a small family golf course and the Victorian-style East Point Pavilion. There are two piers, the Claremont Pier and the South Pier, the latter being at the north end of the beach. This area is an extensive and well-maintained stretch of beach, which occasionally wins the European Blue Flag to signify high water quality (by European standards).
The end of Lowestoft's dependence on the North Sea and herring fishing has created a town often perceived to be unsure of where it is going in the future. It has poor communications, a high unemployment rate and, in one part of the town, one of the highest rates of child pregnancy in the country - something that is always associated with poverty. The people, famously described by a reporter some years back as the 'white trash' of England are a pretty resilient bunch by and large and accept their town's difficulties with stoicism. The Lowestoft Local is widely described by outsiders as being insular, keeping himself to himself and putting off until next week things that could be done today.
The local organ is The Lowestoft Journal, a weekly newspaper published on Fridays and is owned by the Eastern Counties Press group, which controls virtually all newspapers in this part of the world. The Lowestoft Journal is a pretty typical local newspaper except that it has possibly fewer misspellings and misplaced ads than some. The position of Editor is a post held in local esteem and the current incumbent is well known and praised for support of the local community while willing to criticise or at least question the activities of local authorities. The Lowestoft Journal will happily give front page space to the birth of quadruplets to a local zoo's prize camel, while placing the story about the outbreak of World War Three on page five. In this respect it is no different from any local newspaper anywhere.
Local radio is supplied by the imaginatively named station 'The Beach', which churns out a continual stream of bland popular music and local advertising, and in so doing, has rapidly become the most popular radio station around. The most local BBC stations are BBC Radios Suffolk and Norfolk, catering for a more elderly audience, and the nearest mainstream commercial station is Radio Broadland, which is similar to The Beach only a lot bigger.
Lowestoft's sole claim to fame is Ness Point. Avoid it. It is home to the UK's Most Easterly Rubbish Tip, Gasometer and Sewage Works and the local council fervently wishes that it were not there at all, because foolish tourists come to see the Most Easterly Point and go away laughing or crying or both. It is also home to the Euroscope, a large concrete and metal wheel showing the approximate bearings and distances to places in the civilised world, but few tourists ever see it because it is not signposted at all.