Timber circle on a sandy beach
Archaeology Architecture Listed places

6 Reasons to Love Historic Norfolk

Norfolk is steeped in history and its vast, flat landscape has inspired artists, writers and poets for centuries.

Bordered by almost 100 miles of coastline and home to hundreds of historic churches, Norfolk is rich in English history.

The vast, flat landscape has inspired artists, writers and poets for centuries and the proximity to mainland Europe has made the county a natural choice for those seeking refuge from persecution, which in turn prompted a culture of Nonconformism, radicalism and dissent.

Here we take a tour of 6 historic sites across the county.

The great Norfolk coast

The early Bronze Age Timber Circle, also known as 'Sea Henge', at Homle-next-the-sea, Norfolk © Historic England Archive PLBN990007
The early Bronze Age ‘Timber Circle’ (also known as ‘Seahenge’) at Homle-next-the-sea, Norfolk. © Historic England Archive. PLB_N990007.

Wide skies, vast sandy beaches and extensive nature reserves fill the coastline around Norfolk, with much of it designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The North Norfolk Coast also plays a vital part in the history of England: archaeologists have found evidence of the earliest human activity in Britain at Happisburgh, a village ravaged by erosion.

A concrete structure sunk on a beach with a cliff in the background. Evidence of coastal erosion at Happisburgh.
The visible results of the Second World War plus coastal erosion at Happisburgh. © Historic England Archive MF99_0652_00024.

Along the coast, the mysterious Seahenge was discovered at Holme, and the discovery of the most complete mammoth skeleton in the UK was made at West Runton, together with three Roman forts on the Saxon Shore at Brancaster, Caistor and Burgh Castle.

Further south are the remains of a Roman town at Venta Icenorum (now Caistor St Edmunds).

A jolly holiday

Caister Holiday Camp. Image via Flickr © All rights reserved trainsandstuff
Caister Holiday Camp. © trainsandstuff via Flickr.

Fast forward a few centuries and Norfolk has become a popular place to holiday.

The Caister Holiday Camp at Caister-on-Sea was one of the earliest holiday camps to use hut or chalet-based accommodation that holiday camps became famous for.

Initially a socialist holiday camp, the site was established in 1906 by John Fletcher Dodd, a tee-totalling grocer who was also a member of the Independent Labour Party.

A plate glass university

General view of Norfolk Terrace ziggurats at the University of East Anglia
Norfolk Terrace Halls of Residence, University of East Anglia. Norwich, Norfolk. © Historic England Archive. View image DP101923.

In the early 1960s, a report commissioned by the British government, the Robbins Report, encouraged the immediate expansion of universities across the country. Seven were constructed quickly, including the University of East Anglia in Norwich.

Nicknamed the ‘plate glass universities’, these new buildings featured steel, concrete, and glass in abundance. Adhering to modernist traditions, their appearance was in stark contrast to the Victorian red-brick universities.

The architect Denys Lasdun was instructed to design the new campus in Norwich. His strikingly bold student accommodation, Suffolk Terrace, is now Grade II* listed.

Exterior view of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts from the north-west lit up at dusk
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk © Historic England Archive. View image DP162463.

In 1977, the Sainsbury Centre was added to the campus: designed by Foster Associates it is also Grade II* for its innovative Hi-Tech design.

An early gateway to Europe

General view of Purfleet Quay and the custom house in King's Lynn, Norfolk from the south-west
Custom House, Purfleet Quay, King’s Lynn, Norfolk © Historic England Archive. View image DP217310.

King’s Lynn was England’s most important port during the 14th century.

Before the emergence of transatlantic trading, links to Europe were vital. Hanseatic warehouses dating from the 15th century (reminiscent of the Hanseatic League, a trading alliance in northern Europe) still stand in the town.

More recently, King’s Lynn has been selected as a Heritage Action Zone, with Historic England collaborating with the council to reinforce the economic, social, and environmental vitality of this modern medieval town.

The longest strike in history

Exterior view of the former Burston Strike School in Norfolk (now a museum) from the west
First World War Burston Strike School, Diss Road, Burston, Norfolk. © Historic England Archive. View image DP217149.

The Burston Strike School stands ‘as a living monument to working-class education and the struggle against rural tyranny’.

In 1914, Annie and Tom Higdon were sacked from their roles as headmistress and assistant teacher. The couple had applied their Christian and Socialist ideals to their work teaching the children of poor farm labourers.

The children were incensed and promptly went on strike. From then on, they were taught in a variety of temporary structures until 1917 when a new purpose-built school was constructed with donations from labour groups and trade unions across the country. In total, the boycott of the Council school lasted 25 years, and each year a rally commemorates the students and their teachers.

A church for all seasons

Exterior view from the south-west of St Nicholas' Church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Church of St. Nicholas, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. © Historic England Archive. View image DP160152.

Despite Norwich being England’s least religious city according to the 2012 census, there are more than 650 historic churches across the county.

Some people say there isn’t a single horizon in the county that doesn’t include a church tower, and Norwich is believed to have once had a church for every weekend of the year.

Norfolk has the highest count of round tower churches of any county, most of which date from the 10th and 11th centuries and demonstrate historic links to the Baltic. Meanwhile, Great Yarmouth Minster is believed to be England’s largest parish church.


Further reading

1 comment on “6 Reasons to Love Historic Norfolk

  1. Walsingham,England & Europe’s third largest pilgrimage destination until ‘Brexited’ by Henry VIII 1538.

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