‘For the traveller in search of the English Heritage, the county is a paradise. It has great cliffs and chalk downs, a history far older than any written documents, delightful rivers, unique still waters, low-lying fens, captivating towns, a historic roll of famous folk and a group of Saxon, Norman, and medieval churches crammed with beauty that makes England the matchless country in the world.’
Arthur Mee, British Writer, Journalist and Educator.
This fabulous quote by Arthur Mee sums up Norfolk to a tee, and made me think that I really don’t know that much about Norfolk’s history. So I decided to do a bit of research, and uncovered some amazing facts about this county, which I’d like to share with you now. Did you know that since the last Ice Age communities have existed in Norfolk? What’s even more impressive is that they appeared to be very industrious, with coins and tools being discovered at places such as Snettisham. There is evidence to indicate that all of Norfolk had been settled by 800AD, with the first towns emerging. Norwich became the central hub under the Normans. Industries such as wool, peat and agriculture helped Norfolk prosper as a county during Mediaeval times, including its abundance of parish churches and monasteries, that we can still see today.
The Creation of the Norfolk Broads
How many of you are unaware that the Norfolk Broads are not actually a natural landscape, but are man-made? Can you believe it! They emerged due to the large extraction of peat and clay, and were originally large excavation pits, which then transformed into the Broads over time, due to extensive flooding, as sea levels rose. This fact wasn’t discovered until the 1950s. During the 16th Century, these waterways were used extensively to transport Norwich’s tradeable goods down to Great Yarmouth’s port, and then worldwide. Today we should be proud to acknowledge the fact that the Broads provide host to some of England’s most rare wildlife, including the Swallowtail butterfly, and are now included in Europe’s most special nature reserves. I have travelled the Broads many times, both on foot and by boat, and for me, I still find them one of the most peaceful and beautiful places in Norfolk.
Who has frequented the Robert Kett pub in Wymondham, or Kett’s Tavern in Norwich? If you don’t already know, then let me enlighten you as to why they are so named. Robert Kett was wealthy farmer from Wymondham, who like many local landowners was enraged by the enclosure of land by the government. So in July 1549 he decided to lead a revolt on Norwich, which became famously known as Kett’s Rebellion. Unfortunately the rebellion wasn’t a success, and Kett was eventually captured and hanged at Norwich Castle. Although initially classed as a traitor, he eventually became a local hero, with his rebellion being kept alive through pubs, schools and streets that we see today, in both Wymondham and Norwich.
The ‘Great Blow’
If you venture to St Stephen’s church in Norwich, and have a close look at the east window, you will see that the lower half of the window is all that is left of the original panes from 1533. The rest of the original window, along with much of Norwich was destroyed by an explosion on the 24th April 1648, which became known as “The Great Blow”.
John Utting who was the mayor of Norwich at the time, and a devoted Royalist, rejected all changes that the government and church wanted to impose, which didn’t go down too well with Parliament. He was arrested, and as a result his supporters rioted and went looking for firearms at the Committee House on Bethel Street. Instead of finding guns they found 98 barrels of gunpowder, which unfortunately they accidentally ignited. The explosion that took place ranks among the largest of the century, and instantly killed 40 of the rioters, injuring 120 others. It is said that pieces of plaster, timber and human remains were scattered for several miles. This monumentous explosion marked the abrupt end of the riots.
The First World War
The impact on Norfolk, of the First World War was significant. Many of the villages paid tribute to the men who lost their lives, by erecting war memorials portraying their names. The importance of aviation saw the construction of many landing areas and aerodromes throughout the county, with Pulham Market stationing the airships. The county is also well known for Edith Cavell, a British nurse who was born in Swardeston, near Norwich in 1865, who helped many wounded British soldiers escape from occupied Belgium, into The Netherlands. She was found guilty of violating German Military Law, and executed on 12th Oct 1915 by firing squad. This received worldwide condemnation, and the construction of many memorials in her name, her body being reburied outside Norwich Cathedral.
And there you have it. A tiny snippit of Norfolk’s intriguing history.