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obtained to incorporate the Company, which still exists, and carries on
the concern under a governor, six baiUffs, twenty conservators, and a
commonalty, each of whom must possess one hundred acres of land in
the Level, and has a voice in the election of officers. The conservators
must each possess not less than 280 acres, the governor and
bailiffs each 400 acres. The original adventurers had allotments of land
according to their interest in the original 95,000 acres ; but Charles II.,
on granting the charter, took care to secure to the Crown a lot of 12,000
acres out of the 95,000, which, however, is held under the directors,
whereas the allotments are not held in common, though subject to the
laws of the Corporation. The Level was divided in 1697 into three parts,
called the North, South, and Middle Levels, comprising respectively the
tracts between the Welland and the None, the Nene and old Bedford
rivers, and the third between old Bedford river and the southern limit of
the level.

Since then, extensive works have been carried on at different times to
complete the drainage of the district, but the most effectual are the Acts
of 1827 and 1829, for " improving the outfall of the Nene,'' " the Navi-


gation of the Wisbeacli/' and the embanking of the Salt Marshes between
the canal called " Kinderley Cut and the Sea." Vessels of sixty tons
burthen can now come up to the town of Wisbeach at all tides^ and those
of 100 or 200 tons at spring tides. The drainage of the lower lands,
which are below low water mark, was carried on by windmills, but now by
steam power. In the North Level, the drainage is effected by sluices with-
out either windmills or steam engines. In August, 1844, an Act of Par-
liament was obtained for draining the Middle Level of the Fens, by means
of a new cut 100 feet broad and 12 miles long, extending in a direct Hne
from the upper end of the Eau Brink Cut southward to the sixteen feet
river. This work was finished in 1847, but it and all the other drains be-
longing to the Middle Level Commissioners were afterwards deepened, the
total cost of the works being about £650,000 ! As the result of these
extensive operations in the Fens, the Level now abounds in rich pasture
and com lands, which are of more value per annum than they originally
cost. No drainage works of such magnitude have ever been constructed
in any other part of England.

The Estuary of the Wash is an indentation on the north-eastern coast
of England, bounded by Hunstanton Point on the Norfolk coast^ and
Wainfleet Point on the Lincolnshire coast, being nearly seventeen miles
long and thirteen wide, and having a superficial area of about 220 square
miles. A little more than two-thirds of this extent is dry at low water
of spring tides, and the remainder varies from five to sixteen fathoms
deep. A very large portion is covered with comparatively still water,
and the shores for the most part consist of a soil that is easily abraded or
scoured away by the currents ; and this, combined with the alluvial
matter brought down by the rivers from the interior of the country, forms
together a mass held in mechanical suspension, varying in quantity from
1 to 150 to 1 in 600. This alluvial matter is only held in suspension so
long as it experiences a certain degree of motion, and as soon as a period
of still water occurs, it is precipitated to the bottom, the quantity, of
course, being greatest where the water is the most stagnant. Adjoining
the mouths of the Ouse and the Nene, at the upper end of the Estuary,
an extensive district of deposit has accumulated, comprising several
thousand acres, a very large portion of which is covered only for a few
feet at spring tides. No doubt the greater part of this waste land will be
ultimately enclosed.



w'HE maritime county of Norfolk is bounded on the nortli and east by
\^^ the German Ocean or North Sea; on the south by the county of
Suffolk^ from which it is divided by the river Waveney and the Lesser
Ouse ; on the west by Cambridgeshire and part of Lincolnshire, from
which it is separated by the Greater Ouse and Nene rivers. It extends
from 52 deg. 22 min. to 52 deg. 58 min. (north latitude), and from
deg. 10 min. to 1 deg. 44 min. (east longitude), and includes an area of
2092 square miles, or 1,338,880 statute acres, being precisely sixty-six
miles in extent from the meridian of Yarmouth to that of Wisbeach, and
about forty miles in breadth from the parallel of Billingford to that of
Wells. The county is in shape of an oval form, and so surrounded by
watei', that except a small meadow at Lopham it is an island of itself.
It contains numerous woods and plantations, which are computed to
occupy not less than 10,000 acres, for the preservation of game. The
principal rivers are the Greater Ouse, the Lesser Ouse, the Wensum,
the "Wavenej, the Yare, and Bure, which afford the means of inland

Norfolk and Suffolk, millions of ages ago, must have formed part of the
continent of Europe, as appears from the great similarity of the strata on the
opposite shores, and the recent discovery of the remains of extensive
forests and the bones of huge animals all along the coast for one hundred
miles. The present bed of the North Sea must have been dry land at
some far distant period, and by volcanic or other agency the waters of
the Atlantic broke through the Straits of Dover, and flowing northward
over the formerly dry land, submerged the forests and drowned the wild
animals which then ranged the woods. The great bulge which East
Angha makes towards the opposite shores begins to fall off at Winterton,
and at Eccles the coast line trends rapidly towards the north-west all the


way to Hunstanton. The great tidal wave sweeping down from the north
is so much checked by the shoals of sand along the Norfolk coast^ that its
speed is lessened by two-thirds^ and many currents are produced which
grind away the cliffs at Cromer, Trimingham, Eccles, and other places.

A great part of the coast consists of a low sandy beach, covered with
gravel and shingle, which by the force of the waves are frequently
thrown up in vast heaps, and by the constant accumulation of sand,
are formed into banks, held together by the matted roots of " sea reed
grass.^' Numerous banks of the same kind have been raised off the
coast, far out at sea, and being only discoverable at ebb or quarter tides,
are frequently fatal to coasting vessels. The most remarkable is the
large bank running parallel with the coast near Yarmouth, between
which and the shore there is a deep channel, named Yarmouth roads.

The forest bed commencing near Hunstanton, and stretching along the
Eastern coast for sixty miles, is the great feature in the natural history
of the whole eastern district, it being the unmistakable indication of a
terrestrial surface antecedent to the period of the vast accumulations of
the glacial drift. This old land surface near Cromer is exposed at the sea
level, but it extends inland, and has been met with at considerable depths
in the Offing. The arboreal vegetation buried in these beds comprises
the Norway spruce, the Scotch fir, yew, oak, and alder, all of them com-
mon European trees. This bed is to be seen at the foot of Cromer cliffs,
when a storm has cleared away part of the beach. Standing, with their
roots still embedded in the soil, are the stumps of firs, oaks, and other
trees, which millions of years ago flourished here ; and strangest of all,
we find buried with them the bones and the teeth of the monsters whose
feeding ground it was. The remains of the elephant, rhinoceros, and
hippopotamus have been found in it. Immense herds of ten different kinds
of deer must have sought the shelter of these ancient groves. Bears and
tigers and many other animals have left their bones or teeth in these beds
containing the remains of ar former world. Remains of trees and of the
bones of extinct animals have been discovered all along the Norfolk
coast; and as trees do not grow at the bottom of the sea, nor huge
animals run under the waters, it is clear that they must have walked
across the land befoi'e it was covered by the waves. This immense forest-
bed proves that for myriads of ages dry land must have existed all across
the space where the North Sea now rolls from shore to shore, and that
this little island, long before man appeared on the earth, was a part of
the great continent of Europe.



Sir Charles Lyell in his great work "Principles of Geology" (1853),
gives the following description of the coast : — '^ The decay of the cliffs of
Norfolk and Suffolk is incessant. At Hunstanton^ on the north, the
undermining of the lower arenaceous beds at the foot of the cliff causes
masses of red and white chalk to be precipitated from above. Between
Hunstanton and Weybourne, low hills or dunes of blown sand are formed
along the shore from fifty to sixty feet high. They are composed of dry
sand, bound in a compact mass by the long creeping roots of the plant
called Marram (Arundo arenaria.J

Such is the present set of the tides that the harbom-s of Cley, Wells,
and other places are securely defended by these barriers ; affording a clear
proof that it is not the strength of the material at particular points that
determines whether the sea shall be progressive or stationary, but the
general contour of the coast.

The waves constantly undermine the low chalk cliffs, covered with sand
and clay, between Weybourne and Sherringham, a certain portion of them
being annually removed. At the latter town, I ascertained, in 1829, some
facts which throw Light on the rate at which the sea gains upon the land.
It was computed, when the present inn was built, in 1805, that it would
require seventy years for the sea to reach the spot ; the mean loss of land
being calculated, from previous observations, to be somewhat less than one
yard annually. The distance between the house and the sea was fifty
yards ; but no allowance was made for the slope of the ground being from
the sea, in consequence of which the waste was naturally accelerated every
year, as the cliff grew lower, there being at each succeeding period less
matter to remove when portions of equal area fell down.

Between the years 1824 and 1829, no less than seventeen yards were
swept away, and only a small garden was then left between the building
and the sea. There was in 1829 a depth of twenty feet (sufficient to float
a frigate) at one time in the harbour of that part, where, only forty-eight
years before, there stood a cliff fifty feet high, with houses upon it ! If
once in half a century an equal amount of change was produced suddenly
by the momentary shock of an earthquake, history would be filled with
records of such wonderful revolutions of the earth^s surface ; but if the
conversion of high land into deep sea be gradual, it excites only local
attention. The flagstaff of the Preventive Service Station, on the south
side of this harbour, was thrice removed inland between the years 1814
and 1829, in consequence of the advance of the sea.


Further to the soutli we find cliffs composed,, like those of Holderness
before mentioned^ of alternating strata of blue clay, gravel, loam, and fine
sand. Although, they sometimes exceed three hundred feet in height, the
havoc made on the coast is most formidable. The whole site of ancient
Cromer now forms part of the German Ocean, the inhabitants having
gradually retreated inland to their present situation, from whence the sea
still threatens to dislodge them. In the winter of 1825, a fallen mass
was precipitated from near the lighthouse, which covered twelve acres,
extending far into the sea, the clifis being two hundred and fifty feet in
height. The undermining by springs has sometimes caused large portions
of the upper parts of the clifis, with houses still standing upon them, to
give way, so that it is impossible, by erecting breakwaters at the base of
the clifi's, permanently to ward off the danger.

M. E. de Beaumont has suggested that sand-dunes in Holland and other
countries may serve as material chronometers by which the date of the
existing continents may be ascertained. The sands, he says, are con-
tinually blown inland by the force of the winds, and by observing the rate
of their march we may calculate the period when the movement com-
menced. But the example just given will satisfy every geologist that we
cannot ascertain the starting point of dunes, all coasts being liable to
waste, and the shores of the Low Countries in particular being not only
exposed to inroads of the sea, but, as M. de Beaumont himself has well
shown, having even in historical times undergone a change of level. The
dunes may indeed, in some cases, be made use of as chronometers to
enable us to assign a minimum of antiquity to existing coast lines ; but
this test must be applied with great caution, so variable is the rate at
which the sands may advance into the interior.

Hills of blown sand, between Eccles and Winterton, have barred up
and excluded the tide for many hundred years from the mouths of several
small estuaries ; but there are records of nine breaches, from twenty to
one hundred and twenty yards wide, having been made through these, by
which immense damage was done to the low grounds in the interior.
A few miles south of Happisburgh also are hills of blown sands, which
extend to Yarmouth. These dunes afford a temporary protection to the
coast, and an inland cliff about a mile long, at Winterton, shows clearly
that at that point the sea must have penetrated formerly further than at

At Yarmouth the sea has not advanced upon the sands in the slightest
degree since the reign of Elizabeth. In the time of the Saxons a great
estuary extended as far as Norwich, which city is represented, even in
the 13th and 14th centuries, as '' situated on the banks of an arm of the
sea." The sands whereon Yarmouth is built first became firm and


habitable ground about tlie year 1008, from wliich time a line of dunes
has gradually increased in height and breadth, stretching across the whole
entrance of the ancient estuary and obstructing the ingress of the tides
so completely that they are only admitted by the narrow passage which
the river keeps open, and which has gradually shifted several miles to the
south. The ordinary tides at the river^s mouth rise, at present, only to
a height of three or four feet, the spring tides to about eight ornine. By
the exclusion of the sea thousands of acres in the interior have become
cultivated lands ; and, exclusive of smaller pools, upwards of sixty fresh
water lakes have been formed, varying in depth from fifteen to thirty
feet, and in extent from one acre to twelve hundred.

The Yare and other rivers frequently communicate with these sheets of
water; and thus they are liable to be filled up gradually with lacustrine
and fluviatile deposits, and to be converted into land covered with forests.
Yet it must not be imagined that the Acquisition of new land fit for culti-
vation in Norfolk and Sufiblk indicates any permanent growth of the
eastern limits of our island to compensate its reiterated losses. No delta
can form on such a shore.

Immediately ofi" Yarmouth, and parallel to the shore, is a great range of
sand banks, the shape of which varies slowly from year to year, and often
suddenly after great storms. Captain Hewitt, E.N., found in these banks,
in 1836, a broad channel 65 feet deep, where there was only a depth of
four feet during a prior survey in 1822. The sea had excavated to the
depth of sixty feet in the course of fourteen years, or perhaps a shorter
period. The new channel thus formed serves at present (1838) for the
entrance of ships into Yarmouth Roads, and the magnitude of this change
shows how easily a new set of the waves and currents might endanger the
submergence of the land gained within the ancient estuary of the Yare.

That great banks should be thrown across the mouths of estuaries on
our eastern coast, where there is not a large body of river water to main-
tain an open channel, is perfectly intelligible, when we bear in mind that
the marine current, sweeping along the coast, is charged with the
materials of wasting cliffs, and ready to form a bar anywhere the instant
its course is interrupted or checked by any opposing streams. The mouth
of the Yare has been, within the last five centuries, diverted about four
miles to the south. In like manner it is evident that, at some remote
period, the River Aide entered the sea at Aldborough, until its
ancient outlet was barred up, and at length transferred to a point
no less than ten miles distant to the south-west. In this case
ridges of sand and shingle, like those of Lowestoft Ness, which will
be described by-and-bye, have been thrown up between the river and the
sea ; and an ancient sea cliif is to be seen now inland. It may be asked


why the rivers on our east coast are always deflected southwards, although
the tidal current flows alternately from the south and north. The cause
is to be found in the superior force of what is commonly called *■ the flood
tide from the north/ a tidal wave derived from the Atlantic, a small part
of which passes eastward up the English Channel, and through the Straits
of Dover, and then northwards, while the principal body of water, moving
much more rapidly in a more open sea, on the western side of Britain,
first passes the Orkneys, and then turning, flows down between Norway
and Scotland, and sweeps with great velocity along our eastern coast. It
is well known that the highest tides on this coast are occasioned by a
powerful north-west wind, which raises the eastern part of the Atlantic,
and causes it to pour a greater volume of water into the German Ocean.
This circumstance of a violent ofi'-shore wind being attended with a rise of
the waters, instead of a general retreat of the sea, naturally excites the
wonder of the inhabitants of our coast. In many districts they look with
confidence for a rich harvest of that valuable manure, the sea-weed, when
the north-westerly gales prevail, and are rarely disappointed."

Mr. E. C. Taylor in his Geology of East Norfolk, page 32, says : " On
the same coast the ancient villages of Shipden, Whimpwell, and Eccles
have disappeared ; several manors and large portions of neighbouring
parishes having piece after piece been swallowed up ; nor has there been
any intermission from time immemorial in the ravages of the sea along a
line of coast, twenty miles in length, in which those places stood. Of
Eccles, however, a monument still remains in the ruined tower of the old
Church, which is half buried in the dunes of sand within a few paces of
the sea beach. So early as 1605 the inhabitants petitioned James I. for a
reduction of taxes, as 300 acres of land and all their houses save fourteen
had been destroyed by the sea.

"Not one-half of that number of acres now remain in the parish, and
hills of blown sand now occupy the site of the houses, which were still
extant in 1605. When I visited the spot in 1839 the sea was fast
encroaching on the sand hills, and on the beach had laid open the
foundations of a house fourteen yards square, the upper part of which
had evidently been pulled down before it had been buried under sand.
The body of the Church has also been lorg buried, but the tower still
remains visible." In 1871 the sea surrounded the tower, the sand banks
having been removed.

The surface of the county has, perhaps, less variety of features than
that of any other tract of land of equal extent in England, being for the
most part flat ; yet this uniformity of appearance is sometimes varied,
particularly in the northern part, where the ground rises in gentle
elevations, and the hills and valleys are adorned with woods and


plantations. On the south side of the county is a fine rich tract,
extending towards the north and north-east ; and these portions, being-
enclosed, well cultivated, and abounding in timber more than most
maritime districts, exhibit a variety of pleasing jDrospects.

Most of the rivers rise in marshy lands, and running through a level
district, have a slow current, so that they contribute to keep the adjacent
grounds in a swampy state, and to fill the atmosphere with noxious vapours.
When swelled by land floods, their estuaries being for the most part
choked with silt driven up by the influx of the tide, they often ovei -
flow the low lands, and in their course eastward to the sea form numerous
small shallow lakes or pools, provincially called " broads,^^ which are plen-
tifully stocked with fish and much frequented by aquatic birds.

Charles II., when he visited Norfolk, said it was only fit to be cut up
into roads for the rest of the country. It was then only half cultivated,
and consisted in some jDarts of open heaths and commons, or marshes. A
century and a-half since, the county was comparatively wild, bleak, and
unproductive, more than half of it being sheep walks and rabbit warrens.
Notwithstanding that so much has been effected towards bringing the
whole of the land into a state of cultivation, and although the commons
have been much enclosed, and few left, yet the waste lands are still of
great extent.

Norfolk is naturally a bleak sterile county, but superior cultivation
has rendered it one of the most productive counties in England. The
arahic lands now form about two-thirds of its surface ; and the usual
course of crops is — first year, turnips ; second, barley ; third, seeds for
hay ; fourth, seeds ; fifth, wheat or rye ; and sixth, barley ; the next
most frequently practised is the old four-shift system of turnips,
barley, seeds, and wheat in succession. A vast quantity of barley is
raised in the lighter soils, and made into malt, which is the staple
commodity in the county; and vast quantities are sent to London.
The quantity of upland meadow and pasturage has been estimated at
nearly 127,000 acres, and that of the marsh lands at upwards of 63,000.
One of the richest grazing tracts in Norfolk is the marshy district lying
to the south of Lynn and on the eastern side of the Ouse. These lands,
like all others in the county, are in general hired by the upland farmers
and not regularly stocked, but only when convenience requires it. The
exports of agricultural produce are greater coastwise than of any other
county. The average number of fat cattle sent from Norfolk to London
is estimated at 20,000 yearly, and the number of sheep fattened for
London and other markets is not less than 30,000.

According to the table of the soils furnished by Mr. Arthur Young to
the Board of Agriculture, before the end of last century there were


iu the county 220 square miles of light saud^ 420 of more valuable sand^
GO of marshland clay^ 900 of various loams, 148 of rich loam, 82 of peat
earth. The substrata, as fiir as had been then ascertained, consisted of
clunch or indurated chalk ; also chalk, in which flints were imbedded ;
gault, gravel, silt, and peat earth. Of late years the substrata has been
more explored.

Norfolk and Suffolk have been always celebrated for game, and there is
nowhere such partridge shooting to be found. But the over-presei-vation
of game has retarded agricultural progress. Wing game, especially
partridges, do the farmer very little harm, but hares and rabbits are very
destructive to all crops. Good farming and the excessive preservation of
foot game cannot exist together, and though this is not so common as it
was, still there are some estates in the county where the number of foot
game is still very large.

Norfolk and Suffolk enjoy a high reputation for breeding more turkeys
than all the rest of the kingdom, and prodigious numbers of geese. There
was one season in former days, not yet forgotten, when three hundred
flocks of turkeys, each comprising a few hundred, passed over Stratford
Bridge on their way from East Anglia to London. The geese were driven
up just after harvest, no that they might be fed in the stubble. Now the
occupation of the goose-herd is gone, for the birds are conveyed to the
metropolis by the Great Eastern liailway. In the Christmas week of 1871
about twenty thousand geese and as many turkeys arrived in hampers at
Bishopgate Station.

Norfolk is in the diocese of Norwich and province of Canterbury, and

Online LibraryA. D BayneRoyal illustrated history of eastern England, civil, military, political, and ecclesiastical .. (Volume 1) → online text (page 17 of 70)