Norfolk - the bootiful East

3 Conversations

Norfolk occupies the whole upper segment of the East Anglian "bulge" and is bordered by Suffolk to the south, Cambridgeshire to the south-west and west, and by Lincolnshire to the north-west.

The principal (and only) city is Norwich, and with the possible exception of King's Lynn1 all the larger towns in the county can be seen as satellites of the city. Large towns would include Cromer, Sheringham, Yarmouth, Bungay, North Walsham, Thetford, Diss and Dereham.

Then in the next "league", there are larger villages such as Holt, Acle, Fakenham, Swaffham, and Reepham.

After these smaller towns and villages, Norfolk is then fairly well peppered with hamlets of less than a thousand population.
This is testament to the fact that the county is primarily an agricultural economy, even in the opening years of the twenty-first century. The local structure tends to follow a predictably agrarian chain: farms feed into neighbouring small villages, which feed into the larger towns, which in their turn feed into Norwich.

The one thing everyone knows about the physical geography of Norfolk is that it's flat. This is true for 98% of the county, but the visitor should be advised that the top-right-hand corner has a LOT of hills. The area between Sheringham and Mundseley 2 is characterised by cliffs and crags, and any visitor to Sheringham is advised to take a stroll around the area the locals modestly, and correctly, call "Pretty Corner". This is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and (if you're on a bike) there is a pretty amazing downhill stretch where you can freewheel from two hundred feet up to just below sea level in a very exhilarating minute or so.

The North Norfolk Coast Road out from Sheringham is a delight to cycle: but if you're expecting a flat and easy ride, think again. This switchbacks all the way to Hunstanton and there are some pretty steep gradients as you pass through Weybourne out towards Cley-Next-The-Sea and Blakeney.

Weybourne, incidentally, has a military vehicle museum: this is hard not to miss, as there is a very large imposing tank parked at the roadside with its main gun angled threateningly towards travellers coming from Sheringham. This is an interesting thing to encounter on rounding a bend, and is worth a second glance, if only to impress the idea of how big and threatening these things are. The visitor is advised not to climb on or get inside this tank, as it has become an overnight stop for tramps and vagrants seeking shelter from the weather, and may either be occupied, or (worse) will smell - strongly - of its occupants.

Elsewhere on the coast road, the area between Blakeney and Cley is a designated wildlife protection zone, especially for seabirds, and seals may be seen in the waters off the coast. The whole district has "Area Of Outstanding Natural Beauty" status, and for once the description is accurate.

There is a disaster scenario concerning global warming which involves a combination of sea levels rising and the Earth's crust flexing, that might literally wipe the whole of East Anglia off the map (together with Holland and large bits of Belgium and North Germany). Even in this disaster scenario - which involves Grantham, Lincolnshire, having to rename itself Grantham-on-Sea - it is expected the hilly parts of North Norfolk will survive, possibly as the Sheringham and Blakeney Islands.

Two distinguished ladies

Before leaving North Norfolk, mention should be made of two eminent ladies who both have "home bases" in the area.

South of Hunstanton, the summer and autumn is filled with the scent of lavender, a principal cash crop. The dominant purple of the lavender clashes with the yellow of mustard, which is also grown in quantity here before being processed at the Colmans' factory in Norwich as a condiment for the dinner table.

Lavender is at its peak in the fields around Sandringham Palace, which flies the flag when the Royal Family, principally the Queen, are in residence. But be warned: it's advisable to stick to the roads in this area when Royalty are in Norfolk, or you are likely to be politely stopped by large serious-looking gentlemen who will want to ascertain who you are and why you are there. Not all of them will wear Norfolk Constabulary uniforms.

Nearby Walsingham also has a distinguished lady in residence: this town houses a shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is said to have made a personal appearance here, possibly in between gigs at Fatima and Lourdes and on the way out to Knock. The shrine is co-tended by the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, and the Russian Orthodox Chuch also maintains premises here which look out of place in the Norfolk countryside. Walsingham is a place of pilgrimage for all three faiths and represents the only attested Marian manifestation in the United Kingdom.

Around the county:-

In the West, the county is largely flat and dry and rarely gets much above sea level. In the East, in Broads country, the county is essentially flat and wet. Take the train out through Acle to Yarmouth or Lowestoft, and the farmland appears to be universally marshy and boggy.

Way down in the South of the County are the towns of Beccles and Bungay, straddling the Suffolk border. Nearby is the Otter Sanctuary, where otters are bred for release back into rivers all accross the UK. If you have a fondness for cute furry animals, a whole sanctuary full of otters (cute, furry, intelligent, but with teeth like you wouldn't believe, so don't get too close)is well worth a visit!

And then of course there are the Broads. Nobody can move to Norfolk and live there for any length of time without mucking about in boats at least once.

The Broads are said to be the relic of ancient and mediaeval peat diggings that naturally filled with water, although enough of an inland waterway system existed in the tenth century to make it feasible to import building stone from Northern France for Norwich castle and cathedral. This was quarried in Normandy and brought directly accross in ships which were then able to navigate directly inland and unload in central Norwich: this being the easiest and fastest method of getting the cut stone to where it was needed.(This is certainly the first practical use of what later became the Broads system)

Norwich Cathedral is also one of the first recorded examples of a prefab building, as so many of its stones were planned, cut and shaped by masons in France for later assembly on site in England.

Norfolk has no building stone of its own save for flints. While many old attractive churches are built of flints (at the top end of St Benedict's street in Norwich there is the tower of a flint-built church, all that remains of an eleventh century church, after a Baedeker Raid3 in 1942)the Normans wanted something better, and more familiar, for their signature buildings. This persisted: as late as the early nineteenth century, stone was still being imported from France and elsewhere and brought in by inland waterway for prestige buildings.

Indeed, there are many fine old flint-walled buildings of all kinds to be seen across the county: the coastal village of Cley is practically all built of flint!

But back to the Broads. These begin in Norwich, where the River Wensum becomes wide and deep enough to be navigable by boat. The Wensum actually rises further west, in the village of Costessey (the Researcher of this entry lived there in a property with waterfront access: this is fondly remembered as a pleasant and restful time in his life) but only becomes a Broad in the east of the city.

As the Wensum gathers pace on its way to the Coast, it links into a system of other minor rivers and of course those flooded former workings, and taken together, the extensive and complex system is not only of stunning natural beauty, it offers employment in the boat-building and leisure trade. The accepted "other end" of the Broads system is at Oulton Broad, straddling the county boundary with Suffolk, just by the seaport of Lowestoft.

Norfolk - the History

Passing over prehistory (although Norfolk has been inhabited for at least five thousand years: proof of this lies in the recent discovery of the "woodhenge" on the North Norfolk coast near Hunstanton, indicating that before the sea encroached, there were people living here who were sophisticated and organised enough to build what is presumed to be a place of religion4 ), a good starting point might be AD42 and the succesful Roman invasion.

At this time, the Iceni were firmly established as the dominant local tribe, whose tribal turf covered all of modern-day Norfolk, most of Suffolk, and parts of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. While the tribal seat of the Iceni is not known to archaeology (the Romans retaliated to the Boudiccan uprising with "atrocitas" and razed everything to the ground)it is suspected to be in Norfolk - somewhere...

At first, the Iceni responded to Roman successes against the tribes to their south by concluding a peace treaty and agreeing - as they thought - to continue being a free nation confederated to the Roman Empire. However, Roman breaches of the treaty and encroachments on Iceni rights are well documented as the triggers that led to the Boudiccan rising.

After Boudicca's defeat and full annexation of East Anglia, things settled down a bit.

While the Romans farmed here, the North Norfolk coast became important to the Empire for one highly prized commodity: salt. The salt flats of North Norfolk became a major producer of this valued commodity, and Rome kick-started an industry which persists to this day.

Saxon Norfolk - a note on the linguistics

After the Romans left, the Saxons arrived. East Anglia was one of the first parts of England to be settled by the newcomers, and their names remain: East Anglia is the "Land of the Eastern Angles" (Danes?)and the philological connection between "Anglia" and "England" needs no elaboration.

"Norfolk" and "Suffolk" do not quite mean "The Land of the Northern/Southern Folk":- in Sweden and Denmark, the word "fylk"5 " means a region or a land area, rather than the people resident in it. "Fylk", in modern Swedish, denotes an administrative area, on a par with an English county. So the names might be "The Northern Region" and "The Southern Region" respectively.

Two oddities:- having travelled in Europe, this Researcher once sat in a bar in Amsterdam listening to Dutch being spoken on nearby tables. Knowing no Dutch, he heard something oddly familiar in the speech rhythms and patterns and wondered what it was. Then he realised the rhythm and the intonation was absolutely identical with English as it is spoken in Suffolk6, with the same rising and falling cadences. Similarly, watching a Danish film with subtitles on Channel Four, the same sense of odd familiarity began to happen. Again, the same phenomena: it was like listening to two Norfolk people having a discussion in low voices, not being able to catch the words, but just being aware of the rise and fall and cadence of the speech. Any reader of this article can try this for themself: if you're already familiar with East Anglian accents, tune into a Dutch or Danish radio station and just let it wash over you. Ask yourself what the rise and fall of the language reminds you of!

Secondly, the Angles and Saxons who populated East Anglia brought a very distinctive physiology with them. The burial site at Sutton Hoo, and the treasures recovered from it, are well documented. Now look around, and notice how the helmet was designed for a particular kind of long, oval, face, almost a perfect oval shape. Now go to Woodbridge (Suffolk), the nearest large town to Sutton Hoo, and you will see that face today, on native East Anglians walking the streets 1500 years on. The same perfect oval shape, with delicate features, and large, but attractive, heavy-lidded eyes: this is the East Anglian face which you never see in any other part of the UK, and which is strikingly beautiful on local girls.

As a discursion, North Norfolk does not feel as if it was ever exclusively a Saxon area. It is known the displacement of Celtic people from England's heartland to the fringes was a slow and gradual one over the course of several centuries. While the general direction of drift was West, this displacement also happened Northward, as we know there was a Celtic kingdom in the North of England until its last remnants were extinguished by the Normans in the 11th century. While this is a proposition that could be hard to prove, the North Norfolk coast today feels more Celtic than English: the coast has an almost Welsh feel to it and even today is sparsely populated. It's not hard to speculate that this too could have been one of the last hold-outs, in what is modern England, of the older Celtic people.

Norfolk - 1066 - today

The next upheaval happened after 1066 with the Norman Conquest. Norfolk, or at least that part which backs onto the Lincolnshire fens, was a centre of resistance: Hereward the Wake is as much a Norfolk figure as he is a Lincolnshire one.

The Normans brought their own vision of civilisation with them and built castles and fortifications, the most striking remnant being the huge square keep of Norwich Castle. They also built cathedrals and churches, importing the stone from France for lack of any suitable local material (flint was left to the Saxon peasants)

Blakeney, today a sleepy village on the north coast of less than a thousand people, was in early mediaeval times a port to rival Yarmouth and even London. (Today, its harbour is still long and imposing, but accessible only to smaller boats and pleasure craft). The only survival of Blakeney's heyday as a port and trading centre is a partially ruined mediaeval croft house on the harbour front, built for a rich merchant on the principle of "goods in storage rooms underneath - family lives upstairs". What killed Blakeney as a port was the gradual silting up of the harbour, which also closed a chain of offshore islands, linking them up as one long sand-spit and further blocking harbour access to large trading ships. deprived of its income, the town faded to a village, and is still in a long sleep today.

Which brings us to Dunwich, a town that had exactly the opposite problem. (Blakeney ended up with less sea than it needed. Dunwich got way too much)

Dunwich is reportedly some way out to sea now, north and east of Yarmouth: the process of coastal erosion that drowned the town is still, slowly and remorselessly, going on, and time will tell what happens next. The moral appears to be: don't buy land on the East Norfolk coast, or sooner or later you end up with very expensive seawater.

Norfolk has largely been bypassed by wars, civil wars and revolutions: even the Industrial Revolution took a brief glance, and decided not to trouble the county with a visit.

The county has undeniably suffered in two world wars. The Norfolk Regiment (distinguished in British Army lore as the only soldiers allowed to take a woman into barracks - because of the Britannia on their cap badge) was decimated several times over in World War One, a manpower loss the county could ill-afford and which it has never really recovered from. In World War Two, the Norfolks were repeatedly in the wrong place at the wrong time, first being decimated in the retreat to Dunkirk and, once rebuilt, sent to fight the Japanese in Malaya, resulting in the entire Regiment going into Japanese captivity at Singapore. Even today, Japanese, or at least Oriental-looking, students from the UEA can be racially abused "because of what the Japs did to Norfolk boys on the Burma railway"7.

Finally, it's worth noting one salient fact that sets Norfolk apart from the rest of the UK - no motorways. Whether this is because Norfolk isn't thought important enough to have one, or whether the locals prefer not to have one, is a matter of debate. But it's certain that nothing is planned for the future!

Norfolk - Political, Economic and Social

Some brief and hopefully not too boring facts and figures.

(Source: the 2001 Census)

Population:- 796,728

Ethnicity:- 97.6% White Caucasian

This far and away makes Norfolk the most white county in England. In recent years, immigrant labour from Portugal has arrived to fill manpower gaps in the farming industry, but this does nothing to make Norfolk any less Caucasian. Racism can be a problem in Norwich - black or Asian students at the UEA have been targets for hate crimes, and the city council has found it necessary to take tough action on racist behaviour in the council estates.

Norfolk breaks down into seven administrative areas: Breckland, Broadland, Great Yarmouth, King's Lynn/West Norfolk, North Norfolk, South Norfolk, and City of Norwich.

Population density in Norfolk remains extremely low. The "average number of people per hectare" is 1.5 for the county, but North Norfolk records the lowest figure: 1.0 person per hectare. Compare this with 2.4pph as an average for the whole of England and Wales, or 34.0 for Manchester, or 45.6pph for London.

Currently unable to locate information for occupation, but this Researcher is willing to believe agriculture comes out on top, closely followed by service industries.

Political: Things have changed radically since the 1980's. Formerly a solid blue splodge on the map, Norfolk now appears to be half-and-half blue and yellow, with the Tories and LibDems sharing the county more-or-less equally, and formerly rock-solid Tory seats such as North Norfolk turning Liberal yellow.

Both Norwich constituencies (North8 and South)are now regained by New Labour, and while the city council is Labour, the County Council is Liberal.

The City of Norwich - "A Foine City"

Norwich is the principal city of Norfolk and one of the four main towns of East Anglia. (alongside Cambridge, Ipswich and Colchester). Norwich boasts two cathedrals and a university and the line that best sums up the city is the old saw that it has a church and a pub for every day of the year and one for leap years, just to make sure. Generations of UEA students have tried to count the pubs to make sure there really are 366 of them: but the experiment remains inconclusive, as most people who atempt this soon lose count. And there are certainly way over 300 churches in the city!

Norfolk - People and Places

A brief word on places and people of interest not mentioned anywhere above.

Famous Norfolk people:-

Delia Smith:-

The famed TV cook, co-owner of Norwich City Football Club, and ocassional lay preacher for the Catholic Church: she has also been a patron of the Catholic Chaplaincy at the University of East Anglia, and this Researcher was privileged to eat some of her food, prepared by her own hands, one night after Mass.

She really is a cracking cook, by the way.
Bernard Matthews:-

The turkey and poultry produce magnate. Based at Great Ditchingham, which is a location designed to turn people vegetarian overnight. For all those people who may have said "I would become a vegetarian, but I could never give up chicken or turkey!", this is especially for you: go to Great Ditchingham and sniff the air, or blag your way into the factory-farm and do a turn on the abbatoir lines. This researcher has seen UEA students desperate for a summer income come back ashen-white, (where they are not a sort of lime-green)looking like Vietnam vets who have just had a particularly harrowing time up against the VietCong. Working for Bernard, if you are of a sensitive disposition, makes overnight conversions not just to vegetarianism but to the Vegan lifestyle. People convert to Jainism after working a day for Bernard Matthews. Bernard is not a particularly bad employer - in fact, he is known to be generous with bonuses and overtime pay - but the job itself calls for a special personality. Perhaps that of a sociopath with a lifelong hatred for poultry.

Fortunately, Bernard is not a patron of the Catholic Chaplaincy at UEA and therefore has never felt obliged to bring along foodstuffs to be consumed after Mass. Let us all be truly thankful, amen.
Horatio, Lord Nelson. :-

Guide Entry no A659676 sums it up very nicely. For added colour try The Battle of Trafalgar. .

There is a thriving Nelson industry in and around Burnham Market.

Alan Partridge :-

Ah-ha. He apparently does the five am show on Radio Norfolk, although nobody, and certainly not students, is awake or together at that hour. It is understood that Mr Partridge once fronted a chat show on national BBC TV, until a series of mishaps involving the death on air of a member of the public, blatant product placement, and the live punching-out of a BBC comissioning editor, forced mr Partridge to accept a less taxing role within the BBC for the sake of his health.

Stephen Fry

A supremely gifted and cerebral comedian with a delightful talent for intellectual wordplay.

Albert Bouchard:- the drummer with American heavy rock band the Blue Öyster Cult. He was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. So what links him to Norwich? Well, in 1985 he had a major existential crisis during a British tour and just could not face going onstage at the University of East Anglia, Norwich. Effectively the original lineup of the Blue Öyster Cult broke up in Norwich. Bouchard went AWOL, was hastily replaced by a roadie who could drum, and was later discovered aimlessly wandering the beach at Great Yarmouth, having renounced touring (the B.Ö.C. had the heaviest tour schedule of any heavy rock band anywhere) and having got homesick for the beach near home in NY State.

What else has Norfolk contributed to the rock and pop world?

Well, there was the bloke in the sixties who operated under the title of the Singing Postman, who had a hit with Ev Yew Got a Loight, Boi?

And there is also the beauteous Cathy Dennis, whose parents Alan and Linda, up until fairly recently, ran a couple of well-reccomended eateries in the city centre.

Otherwise Norfolk is not a major centre of popular culture.
The Fashanu brothers

Justin and John both became professional footballers, but grew up as adopted children in a Norfolk village. Elsewhere it has been mentioned that Norfolk is a 98% white county and, to its detriment, has a tendency towards racism. Imagine what it must have felt like to be two adopted kids who were the only black faces for miles around. The Fashanu brothers both passed through Norwich City to other clubs and made sucessful professional careers, although Justin discovered to his cost that while black footballers can get a rough ride from the fans and the establishment, a black footballer who also comes out as gay is too far beyond the pale for professional sports to deal with. His career did not long outlast his decision to come out, and professional football was shown up to be an institutionally homophobic employer. His brother John, possibly in reflex action, developed a reputation as a player who was not just hard, but brutal and dirty. Following an incident where Fashanu's elbow smashed a player's cheekbone and jaw and Fashanu compounded the foul by boasting to a martial arts magazine that "I'm always looking for new ways to use my elbows...", John was quietly sidelined by his club, and also discovered his career had come to a premature end.

1King's Lynn, out on the north-west coast on the Wash, is so far away from Norwich that it escapes the city's grip, and is effectively a satellite of its larger and far nearer neighbour, Peterborough. 2 For an unforgettable experience, take any local bus going to Mundesley village on the coast. To reach the village, the driver has to pitch the nose of the bus down what apears to be an impossibly steep gradient in the road and drive down in very low gear with one hand on the brake. The drop to the village is about a hundred feet in very short order. The best view is gained from upstairs in the front seats. All this, for the price of a bus ticket.3 The Baedeker Raids in 1942 and 1943 were a Luftwaffe bombing blitz, ordered by Hitler as express retaliation for British bombing that had destroyed so many churches and historical buildings in Germany. The targets were not of great military or economic significance, as Hitler expressly wished British cities of cultural and historical significance to be bombed. Therefore, cathedral cities such as York, Lincoln, Exeter and Norwich were expressly targeted and heavily raided. The joke was that Goering had picked the targets out of a pre-war tourist's guide to Britain - hence "Baedeker raids", after the tourist's handbook.4 Reference one of the most interesting and eventful episodes of "Time Team" on Channel Four, where a bunch of motley travelling scruffy-haired hippies got involved in a barney over over the fate of the Henge. And arguing with Tony Robinson's hirsute archaeologists were local New Age mystics and alternate historians...5In the Swedish translation of Tolkein's "The Lord of the Rings", the homeland of the Hobbits is rendered as Fylk, as the nearest Swedish word equating to "the Shire". 6 This may be straying into the domain of whoever ends up doing the Suffolk entry, but "Ipswich" as a placename is a corruption of the Dutch "Gippeswykke", and celebrates the long association with Holland. 7 Although the downside of Norfolk being a 98% white county is that racist sentiments are rife, and racist attacks have occured with depressing frequency against the very few non-white faces - who are an easy and visible target. 8 In the 1980's, the very right-wing sitting Tory MP gained notoriety by saying he would willingly practice what he preached and personally execute any criminal found guilty of murder, be it by pulling the hangman's lever or flicking the switch to turn the chair on. During the electoral campaign of 1987, his electoral posters were frequently "improved" by manually adding the letters "ROCUTE" in between "ELECT" and "JOHN POWLEY".

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