6 Reasons to love historic Norfolk

Bordered by almost 100 miles of coastline and home to hundreds of historic churches, Norfolk is rich in English history and the vast, flat landscape has inspired artists, writers and poets for centuries.

The proximity of Norfolk 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.

To celebrate Norfolk Day, 27 July, we take a tour of six historic sites across Nelson’s County.

1. The great Norfolk coast

An ancient wood formation on a beach at sun rise
Sunrise at seahenge, Kings Lynn, Norfolk © Historic England Archive BB99_0628

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. 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).

S tructure eroding into the sea on the Norfolk coastline
Coastal erosion at Happisburgh.© Historic England MF99_0652_00024

2. A jolly holiday

An old postcard image of the lido at Caister Holiday camp with children and parents sunbathing and swimming
Caister Holiday Camp, Norfolk © Flickr: @trainsandstuff

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

3. A plate glass university

A row of terraced buildings
Norfolk Terrace Halls of Residence, University of East Anglia. Norwich © Historic England 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.

General view of centre, lit at twilight.
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk © Historic England DP162463

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

4. An early gateway to Europe

A row of historic buildings seen across a river
Custon House, Purfleet Quay, King’s Lynn, Norfolk © Historic England Archive 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 and Hanseatic warehouses – reminiscent of the Hanseatic League, a trading alliance in northern Europe – still stand in the town, dating from the 15th century.

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

5. The longest strike in history

A school frontage that reads 'Burston Strike School'
Burston Strike School © Historic England 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.

6. A church for all seasons

A landscape view of The Minister Church of St Nicholas
The Minster Church of St Nicholas Great Yarmouth © Historic England 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 spire, 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.

Written by Charlotte Goodhart

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