Click to see a larger map of the county
My maternal grandfather's mother and her parents were born in west Norfolk, hence my interest.
As the map above shows, Norfolk is situated on the east coast of Britain, with the North Sea to the east and north and that remarkable inlet The Wash forming the northern half of its boundary to the west. Adjacent counties are Suffolk to the south, Cambridgeshire (that part formerly the Isle of Ely) to the south west and Lincolnshire to the west and facing it across The Wash.
Norfolk has the reputation of being flat, but anyone cycling in the county will tell you that depends very much on which part of the county you are talking about. The western part south of The Wash is certainly very flat, being a part of the fens, and so is the south east section, known as the Broads. While the county contains no great heights, the city of Norwich and the north of the county especially are quite hilly.
The fens are now rich, peaty arable land, formed by the drainage of the huge alkaline marshland which formerly occupied the area. East of the fens is the Breckland, an infertile sandy area shared with neighbouring Suffolk; much of it is used for forestry, but it also contains large areas of open heath. The hills in the north of the county are again rather sandy, but more fertile, while the north coast is almost entirely lined with extensive salt marshes, used for cattle grazing and with many large nature reserves, making this area probably the most popular in Britain with ornithologists. The Broads in the south east are a series of large shallow lakes formed centuries ago by peat digging; the lakes are mostly linked with the various rivers of the area, adding leisure boating to wildlife watching as a major tourist attraction; this area is very rich pasture land for both sheep and cattle.
Norfolk is well served with rivers, though none are very big. The most important are the lower reaches of the Great Ouse, which forms the main drainage of the fens and meets The Wash at Kings Lynn, the Yare, running diagonally across the centre of the county to meet the sea at Great Yarmouth, and its major tributary the Waveney which forms much of the border with Suffolk. Others are the Bure, running almost parallel with the coast in the north-east, and the Little Ouse, forming much of the remainder of the Suffolk and Cambridgeshire boundaries on its way to join the Great Ouse south of Downham Market.
Observant readers may also notice on the larger scale map a pair of parallel lines in the south west, just west of the Great Ouse. These are huge drainage channels, constructed to prevent flooding by the river and linked to it by sluices further south. The land between them is deliberately flooded every winter to protect the surrounding land (some of which is below sea level). The flooded area attracts large numbers of migrant wild swans every winter, as well as ducks and other water-loving birds, and during summer is used for pasture. These two channels, and much of the main river, are in places well above the level of the fields around them, being retained by huge earthen banks.
The main towns in Norfolk are Norwich, towards the east, Kings Lynn in the west, Great Yarmouth on the east coast and Thetford on the southern boundary. Norwich is the main industrial city, although less important now than it was a few centuries ago, when it was a major centre of the woollen industry. Kings Lynn was one of Britain's main ports, but silting up of the river mouth and the difficulty in navigating the shallow Wash with large vessels led to its decline. Great Yarmouth was one of the main fishing ports in the country, but the reduction in herrings in the North Sea have caused it to switch function, it now being a popular holiday resort with sandy beaches and easy access to the Broads. Other smaller holiday resorts are found round most of the coast, especially at Cromer, Sheringham, Wells and Hunstanton.
The earliest sign of man in the area that I am aware of is the group of filled-in pits in the south-west known as Grimes' Graves. Despite the name, they were not a burial ground but a Neolithic mining area, where high quality flint was dug from considerable depths. Two ancient roads run nearby, which were probably used to export the flint to other areas. The Icknield Way runs south-west, following the line of chalk hills to Wiltshire and then on to Wales. The shorter Peddars Way runs northwards through the west-centre of Norfolk itself.
Later the area was settled, like most of Britain, by Celtic tribes, in particular those known to the Romans as Iceni, whose queen, Boadicea led the great rebellion against Roman rule, including the burning of the major Roman cities of Colchester and London.
The name of the county, as described above, comes from the later settlement by Angles, who largely ignored the existing towns to create their own hamlets and villages, one of which became the city of Norwich. There followed a troubled period when East Anglia was conquered in succession by Danes and Normans, then it was the seat of a major rebellion against the crown, before eventually settling down in the later part of the 11th century to several centuries of almost continuous prosperity, based initially on the export of wool to which was later added the manufacture of leather and weaving of the wool before its export as cloth.
This latter development was brought about mainly by the immigration of thousands of settlers from Netherlands, who went on to use their skills in draining much of the fens and reforming many aspects of agriculture.
This prosperity reached its peak in the 18th century, when Norfolk was one of the wealthiest and most densely populated counties in Britain. It then contained over 700 rural parishes, more than 1,500 manors, one of the largest cities in England (Norwich) and two other substantial boroughs (Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn).
In the early 19th century, competition from the textile industries of Lancashire and Yorkshire, brought economic collapse in a county unable to compete with the cheap local energy sources (coal and fast streams) of its northern rivals. This period coincided with the agricultural slump affecting the whole country at this time, leading to a major depopulation of the countryside as people migrated to the growing slums of Norwich. In 1848 20% of the city's population were classed as paupers, and Norwich had one of the highest mortality rates in Britain.
The 20th century has seen some revival in Norfolk's fortunes as industries have diversified, but especially important has been the growth of tourism, which is now the county's main occupation.
Norfolk On-Line is a tourist information site.
The Old City site gives information about Norfolk and Suffolk, including some details of and links to many town and village sites.
I have not yet looked at:
Norfolk and Suffolk Place Names.
East Anglia Net gives maps, travel information, descriptions of places, etc for Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and Cambridgeshire.
As with other counties, the first port of call for on-line genealogists should be the Norfolk Lookup Exchange is a list of volunteers willing to do free lookups, as and when they have time, in resources they happen to have available to them.
There is a mailing list for people with an interest in Norfolk genealogy. Joining instructions are available on Mark Howells's (list owner) web site. Incidentally, Mark's wife Cyndi runs the famous Cyndi's List of Genealogical Sites on the Internet web site.
The Norfolk Family History Society also has a web site.
The County Record Office can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
The FREECEN and FREEREG projects are preparing transcripts of censuses and parish registers to give free access via the web to this invaluable data for various parts of the country. However, more volunteers are always needed to help by transcribing or checking transcriptions. The following message was sent by the Norfolk coordinator, Bev Howlett on 25th March 2006:
If anyone is interested in helping either FreeCen or FreeReg for Norfolk please contact me Bev Howlett at firstname.lastname@example.org. We currently have over 40,000 Norfolk parish register transcripts checked and uploaded to the FreeReg database, this database is not yet live but I am hoping that it will be sometime this year.
There are also 36,939 1861 census records and 80,527 1891 census records for Norfolk live and available to search for free on the FreeCen website. There would be more as I have currently nearly 70,000 1861 census records and nearly 100,000 1891 census records that have been transcribed but need to be checked just waiting for some extra volunteers to assist. If anyone has any spare time and would like to help make more information available please get in touch. If there are sufficient volunteers out there I might also consider taking on the 1841 and or 1871 census for Norfolk in the future but it all depends on the support that is out there. There are currently about 70 volunteers working on the various Norfolk projects but there is plenty more to be done, but without these volunteers none of this information would be available free of charge. So my thanks go out to all those assisting the projects. If anyone has any questions please get in touch on my email. I would appreciate all offers of assistance. Many thanks.
Norfolk 1891 & 1861
Find Out How You Can Help
Francis Blomefield: An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk is the only major history of the county. Only two of his intended five volumes had been published by his death. The remainder were written "less thoroughly" by Rev. Charles Parkin, and the work was published in 1810. The best known edition was published in eleven volumes in 1811.Other important books for the student of Norfolk history are:
Other major sources are:
Norfolk Archaeology, the journal of the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society;
County records published by Norfolk Record Society (56 volumes by 1994);
A large collection of works in the Local Studies Department of Norwich Central Library;
Collections of papers in the British Museum in London and in the Norfolk and Norwich Record Office.
However, for completeness sake, if the place meets the first criterion but fails on one or more of the others, then it will at least appear here as a heading, so the reader will have some idea which places may "get the treatment" at some time in the future.
Flitcham has a web site which is well worth a look for anyone interested in the village.
Can anyone help Craig Whitby of Australia, who writes:"John Whitby and Constance Moore married 02 Oct 1744 Flitcham Norfolk, children Elizabeth Whitby Christening 07 Apr 1746 Flitcham and Carter Whitby Christening 26 Apr 1756 Flitcham. I am trying to find out Johns dob etc and to see if my grandfathers go back to Whitby in Yorkshire. Any help at all would be greatly appreciated."
If you can help, please click on his name above to send him a message.
King's Lynn Online is an excellent site for learning about the town, very strong on its history and including maps.
The Lynn News (local newspaper) site is also worth a visit.
Web sites about King's Lynn I have not yet visited include:
Brian Howling's Tour of King's Lynn.
King's Lynn Borough Council.
King's Lynn Borough Archives.
Knowhere Guide to King's Lynn.
C.R.J Currie and C.P.Lewis A Guide to English County Histories (Sutton Publishing Ltd., 1994), ISBN 0-7509-1505-6.
A. Room: Dictionary of British Place Names (1988), ISBN 1 85605 1775.
A.D. Mills: A Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford University Press, 1991, revised 1995), ISBN 0-19-869156-4.
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