Suffolk History


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

Description and History from 1868 Gazetteer


SUFFOLK, a maritime county on the E. coast of England, is bounded N. by Norfolk, E. by the German Ocean, S. by Essex, and W. by Cambridge. It lies between 51° 56' and 52° 37' N. lat., 0° 23' and 1° 46' E. long. Its greatest length from Southtown, a suburb of Great Yarmouth, on the N.E., to the south-western border, is 68 miles, and the extreme breadth 52 miles. The area is 1,481 square miles, or 947,681 acres, of which about 820,000 acres are arable land, meadow, and pasture. The population in 1801 was 214,404; in 1851, 337,215; and in 1861, 337,070.

In the earliest times of which we have any record, it was inhabited by the Iceni, a British tribe, and subsequently formed part of the Roman province of Flavia Cæsariensis. It was afterwards occupied by the Angles, and formed part of the kingdom of East Anglia. In 654, Penda, king of Mercia, attacked the East Anglians, and in a battle fought near Blytheburgh, slew their king. The Danes early commenced their ravages along this coast, and in 871 defeated and took prisoner Edmund, king of East Anglia, whom they put to death for refusing to renounce Christianity. His body was removed from Hoxne to Bury, which received in consequence the name of Bury St. Edmund's, and a monastery was erected to his honour. In the division of the kingdom under Alfred the county was included within the Danelagh, and at the time of the Norman conquest was held by Gurth, brother of Harold II.

The surface of this county is generally flat, or gently undulating, there being no eminence in the whole county worthy of notice. The highest ground lies towards the W., through which, some miles to the W. of Bury, and thence to Thetford, runs a chalk dyke, which crosses this part of England in a north-easterly direction. This ridge separates the watershed of the N. from that of the S. of the county, the streams on the upper side flowing into the Little Ouse and Waveney, while those on the lower side fall into the Stour and Orwell, or directly into the German Ocean. The north western districts bordering on Cambridgeshire partake of its marshy, fenny nature, and in some places the land is secured from overflow of the rivers by large embankments along their course. The coast line, 52 miles in length, is for the most part regular, and convex to the sea. The bays are generally shallow, and the headlands have little prominence. The principal harbours are formed by the estuaries of the Orwell and Stour on the S.E., and of the other rivers which flow into the German Ocean. The shore is in most places low and sandy, and occasionally marshy; but low cliffs, composed of alternations of clay, sand, and gravel, are found on both sides of the estuary of the Deben, and at some other points. These are being slowly undermined by the sea, while at some places the reverse occurs, and accessions of land are being formed by the accumulation of marine deposits. Lowestoft, Southwold, and Felixstow are much resorted to as watering-places.

The rivers of the county are not very important. The Waveney rises at Sopham, a swampy tract, and forms the boundary with Norfolk, falling into the German Ocean at Yarmouth. It is navigable to Bungay, and communicates with the sea at Lowestoft, by means of a canal cut through Lake Lothing. The Little Ouse has its source within a few yards of the Waveney, and is a border river for some distance before joining the Great Ouse in Norfolk. It is navigable as far as Thetford. The Blythe, rising near Laxfield hills on the N.E. of the county, passes near Halesworth, and is navigable thence to Southwold, where it falls into the sea. The Alde, which rises at Framlingham, is only navigable from Aldborough, where it widens considerably, and flows nearly parallel to the coast, about half a mile inland, for 7 miles, reaching the sea below Orford. The Deben rises near Aspal, and flows past Debenham to the sea about 4 miles N. of Landguard fort and the efflux of the Orwell and Stour. It is navigable to Woodbridge, 8 miles from its mouth. The Orwell, which is the most central river in the county, rises near Felsham, where it is called the Gipping, and afterwards the Stowmarket canal. At Ipswich it assumes the name of Orwell, and is navigable thence to the sea. The Stour rises in the S.W. corner, and flows into the Harwich estuary along with the Orwell; it is navigable for barges to Sudbury. The Lark, a tributary of the Great Ouse, rises in the S.W., and flows past Bury, to which point it was made navigable in 1700. The only other inland navigation in the county is by the Stowmarket canal, 16 miles long, on the Gipping river, and the Lowestoft and Norwich navigation, by which vessels of 200 tons can pass to Beccles, 15 miles distant from Lowestoft, and communicating by canal with Norwich. The Great Eastern railway enters from Essex by crossing the Stour near Stratford, and runs N. past Ipswich, Claydon, Needham Market, Stowmarket, and Haughley. A branch line from above Stowmarket runs to Cambridge, passing Bury St. Edmund's, and the East Suffolk line, connects Ipswich and Yarmouth, with branches to Lowestoft, Framlingham, and Aldborough. The principal road from London crosses the Stour at Stratford, and at Ipswich branches off to Lowestoft, Yarmouth, and Norwich. Another road to Norwich enters the county at Sudbury, and runs due N. to Thetford, passing Bury, from which a road communicates with Newmarket. Other roads are numerous and well laid off, and are kept in excellent order.

The geological formation of the county presents little variety. The south-eastern corner is occupied by crag and London clay, the crag in some places resting on a substratum of London clay, and in others on chalk. It is referred by Lyell to the older Pliocene period, and is generally formed of thin layers of quartzose, sand, and powdered shells. Upwards of 400 different species of fossil testacea are found in the crag, which is divided into the red and the coralline, some species being common to both, and some peculiar to each. The remains of monsters of an early geological period have been found all along the coast. The south-western corner consists principally of chalk formation, which does not in any place rise into hills. Along the border of Cambridge it sinks under the fens which prevail there, and towards its eastern edge it is covered by diluvial beds, occupying the central parts. The soil is various, and is divided into three districts. The land lying along the coast, and for some distance inwards, is generally sandy loam and sand, covered in some places with heath, on which large quantities of sheep are fed. Marshy tracts are also found where cattle are reared. At Bardsley and other places the coprolites deposited by extinct animals are burned for manure. In the centre and S.W. a rich sandy loam is found on a retentive marl-clay bottom, generally interspersed with light, easy soil. Drainage is there extensively practised, and most improved systems of husbandry are adopted.

The land is fertile, the average yield on heavy grounds being 32 bushels of wheat, 44 bushels of barley, or 36 bushels of beans. The four-course system is most followed. Farms are for the most part of 100 to 300 acres in extent, and held from year to year. There are many large farmers who hold under short leases. In the N.W. district, towards Newmarket, the soil is comparatively poor, being partly of sand, on the substratum of chalk, and partly of peat, or open heath, upon which sheep are grazed. Considerable tracts have here been lately reclaimed. Of the entire county it is estimated that about 46,000 acres consist of a rich loam, 80,000 acres of marshes and fens, 450,000 acres of heavy loam and clay, and 250,000 acres of sandy tracts. Tillage husbandry is generally adopted, and is carefully and skilfully conducted. The climate is one of the driest in England, but being exposed from the N. and E., the frost in winter is often very severe, and in spring a hard north-easterly wind generally prevails, which renders vegetation late. The crops most grown are, wheat, barley, oats, beans, peas, turnips, carrots, cabbage, and potatoes. Hops and hemp are cultivated to a small extent. The pasture lands and meadows are rich, and cattle of various breeds are grazed during winter in the valleys of the Waveney and other rivers, and sold in spring, but much of these pastures has been ploughed up, and is now tilled, and the number of dairy farms is consequently reduced. Large quantities of butter, however, are still made for the London market, the yearly supply being estimated at 50,000 firkins. Cheese of an inferior quality is made. Sheep, chiefly of the Norfolk and South Down breeds, are fed in large numbers. The stock is estimated at 500,000, yielding about 9,000 wool packs. Suffolk is famous for its breed of horses. The pigs are small, white, and straight-eared, and of a hardy and fruitful nature. They fatten well, and are made into excellent hams and bacon. Geese and turkeys are as extensively reared in some places as in Norfolk, and poultry of all kinds is abundant. Large numbers of pigeons are bred in the open fields in the W. Rabbit warrens were formerly numerous in the N.W. district, but their number is considerably reduced. The rivers and streams supply trout in large numbers, and Lowestoft and other ports share in the herring fishery for which Yarmouth is celebrated.

Manufactures, particularly of woollens, were formerly much carried on, having been established in the reign of Edward III. by some Flemings whom Queen Philippa induced to settle here, but are now much discontinued. They principally consist of the combing and spinning of wool, and the manufacture of mixed woollen and silk fabrics at Sudbury, Gainsford, and other places. Stays are made at Ipswich; hemp drablets and fustians at Haverhill; sacking at Stowmarket; malt at Woodbridge and Stowmarket; and velvets, straw-plait, gloves, bricks, and tiles, at various places. There are extensive manufactories of agricultural implements at Ipswich, Leiston, and Peasenhall, near Saxmundham.

Suffolk belongs chiefly to the diocese of Norwich, in which it constitutes two archdeaconries, Suffolk and Sudbury, besides the deaneries of Fordham, Clare, and Thingoe, now subject to the diocese of Ely. It comprises 21 hundreds, containing 438 whole parishes, parts of 4 others, and 11 extra-parochial places. The county is further divided for electoral purposes into East and West Suffolk. It returns nine members to parliament, two for the eastern division, constituency 6,769 in 1865; two for the western, constituency 4,269; two each for Bury St. Edmund's and Ipswich, constituencies respectively 711 and 1,985; and one for Eye, constituency 331. Bury is the place of election for the E. division, and Ipswich for the western. The civil government is entrusted to a lord lieutenant and custos rotulorum, high sheriff, and about 213 deputy lieutenants and magistrates. It is in the Home military district, and in the Norfolk circuit. The spring assizes are held at Ipswich, and those in summer at Bury St. Edmund's. Quarter sessions for the Gueldable division are held at Beccles and Ipswich, and those for the franchises of St. Ethelred and St. Edmund at Woodbridge and Bury respectively. There are county gaols and houses of correction at Bury and Ipswich, and houses of correction and borough prisons at other places. The county lunatic asylum is at Melton Woodbridge, and the general hospital, established in 1825, at Bury. The county contains 18 market towns, and upwards of 560 smaller towns and villages, besides numerous seats of the nobility and gentry.

Traces of camps are observable at Stow Langtoft, Ixworth, and at Haughley, near Stowmarket. A tesselated pavement was dug up at Packenham, near Ixworth; and coins and foundations have been discovered at Bury, Blythburgh, Dunwich, Ixworth, and other places. In the neighbourhood of Hoxne, near Eye, where Edmund the Martyr was shot by the Danes, several arrow-heads and curious flint weapons were found. There are traces of abbeys at Bury, where the abbey church and gate are yet standing, and at Leiston, where portions of the abbey walls are used for the out-offices of a farm; of friaries at Eye and Ipswich, of churches at Blythburgh, Dunwich, Framlingham, Lavenham, Melford, Southwold, and elsewhere; and of castles at Bungay, Clare, Framlingham, Preston, Orford, and Wingfield. The title of earl of Suffolk was conferred in 1603 on the Howards, of Charlton Park in Wiltshire, and is still enjoyed by their descendants. Ipswich was the birth-place of Cardinal Wolsey; Sudbury, of Gainsborough; Framlingham, of the great Earl of Surrey; Honington, of Bloomfield the poet; Aldborough, of Crabbe; and Ashfield, of Thurlow.

Description from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)