From about 1360 onwards our descendants have mainly lived in Norfolk, so I thought it interesting to know something of the area, and its towns and villages, where Bassingthwaighte's roamed.
Norfolk, fourth largest of the English counties, occupies the northern half of the great peninsula which is called East Anglia. Many volumes have been written about its history, and only the briefest outline can be attempted here. Primitive man has left traces of his occupation, especially in the south of the county, where prehistoric flint-mines, known as `Grime's Graves', can be investigated. The Romans established a town at Caistor St Edmunds, just south of Norwich, but it was the Angles who gave their name to the area and, together with Saxons and Jutes, settled here in large numbers. The Vikings made frequent raids on the coasts and some came to stay, especially in the east where many place-names are of Danish origin, but it was the Normans who provided the most stabilising influence, and it is to them that Norfolk owes her great cathedral and several of her finest churches. In the fourteenth century Flemish weavers brought a new craft to Norfolk, but apart from the industries which were set up in the towns, the principal occupations have always been associated with the land. All forms of farming and horticulture are the lifeblood of Norfolk, but of special importance are the raising of cattle, and the growing of sugar-beet and fruit.
Although most of the land is low, in the north-east there are chalk hills which attain a height of 300 feet, and nowhere does the landscape present a uniformly level appearance. From the fenland in the east to broadland in the west, from the salt marshes of the north coast to breckland in the south, the scenery of Norfolk is varied and attractive. The fens are the result of extensive schemes of reclamation and drainage which began in the Middle Ages and which have resulted in the winning of rich arable land, but continual shrinking presents problems almost as great as those facing the engineers who carried out the great reclamation projects. Broadland is a very different region; there are some 200 miles of navigable rivers and shallow lakes which are collectively known as The Broads. Breckland was once all open heath, but a vast scheme of afforestation has transformed it, so that coniferous forest now alternates with heather and scrub. The coastline is nearly 100 miles in length; in the north there are salt marshes where there was once the sea, but farther east there are cliffs which in places are gradually crumbling away, and nearer to Great Yarmouth an extensive sea wall has had to be constructed.
Norwich, the largest town in the country and one of the oldest and most fascinating cities in England, has many new buildings and modern streets, but still preserves much that is old. Elm Hill has been preserved as it was four hundred or more years ago, and the beautiful seventeenth-century Assembly House has been restored and converted into an artistic and cultural centre. But the glory of Norwich is its magnificent twelfth-century cathedral. Visitors should not miss the age-old Bishop's Throne, the only one of its kind in northern Europe, nor the fine cloisters. The main cathedral gateway is known as the Erpinqham Gate, after its donor, Sir Thomas Erpingham, who fought with Henry V at Agincourt.
The River Yare, which rises near East Dereham in Central Norfolk, is navigable for sea-going vessels from its estuary at Great Yarmouth as far as Norwich, a distance by water of some 30 miles. Its principal tributaries are the Wensum, which at Norwich is the larger river, the Bure, and the Waveney. The last named has two links with the Yare; the natural confluence at the landward end of Breydon Water, and an artificial channel, called the New Cut, which leaves the Yare near Reedham. The Bure has its source near Melton Constable, in the north of the county, and flows through the loveliest part of Broadland to join the Yare very near its mouth at Yarmouth. In summer all these rivers are thronged with pleasure craft motor-launches, specially built for the shallow waters, and yachts and sailing dinghies. More serious sailing takes place throughout most of the year at Whitlingham and at Coldham Hall, opposite Brundall.
Great Yarmouth has been compared with Blackpool as `the resort which caters for everybody'. Indeed there is every possible amusement and diversion, unrivalled golden sands, an extensive promenade, and two piers. From October to December Yarmouth is the focal point of the East Anglian Herring Voyage. Then numbers of Scottish drifters join the modest Yarmouth fleet and seek the sometimes elusive herring. A feature of Great Yarmouth is the `Rows', narrow passages at right-angle to parallel streets. Many of the original 145 rows have disappeared, but some of the wider ones have shops along them. Yarmouth's Church of St Nicholas, reputedly the largest Parish Church in England, was severely damaged during the Second World War but has now been restored. Across the river lies Gorleston, an admirable complement to Yarmouth.
Thetford is an excellent base from which to explore the interior of Norfolk. To the north-east lie Wretham and Hockham; in the eighteenth century East Wretham had a rector who became a highwayman and met an inglorious end at Newgate. Still farther to the north we come to Hingham, which has close links with the early history of the United States. One of its rectors, a Puritan sympathiser called Robert Peck, fled to America and founded Hingham, Massachusetts, and shortly before this one of his parishioners, Samuel Lincoln, had also emigrated; his descendant, Abraham Lincoln, became President of the United States in 1861. There is so much of interest in Thetford that it deserves more than a short visit. Thetford once had a castle, probably of wood, on a huge earthwork, and no less than five monastic establish-ments, of which the most interesting is the Cluniac Priory.
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