Norfolk, a maritime county in the E of England, bounded on the NW by the Wash, which divides it from Lincolnshire; on the N and the NE by the North Sea; on the SE by Breydon Water and the river Waveney, which divide it from Suffolk; on the S by the river Waveney, a short artificial line, and the river Little Ouse, which divide it from Suffolk; on the SW and W by the rivers Old Welney and Nen, and a short artificial line, which divide it from Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire. It is so nearly surrounded by its marine and river boundaries as to be almost an island. Its outline is somewhat ellipsoidal, but suffers indentation by the Wash. Its greatest length from E to W is 60 miles; its greatest breadth from N to S is 40 miles; its mean breadth is about 29 miles; and its circuit is about 200 miles. The area of the ancient county is 1,308,440 statute acres, and the population 454,516. The administrative county includes parts of Great Yarmouth and Thetford, in Suffolk, and has an area of 1,315,092 statute acres, and a population of 468,287. Only three English counties-York, Lincoln, and Devon- exceed it in size. The coast has an aggregate length of about 80 miles; presents over the most part a strictly continuous line, either straight or very slightly curved; has no deep bays, no sinuous creeks, no salient headlands; is everywhere monotonous and tame; lies for the most part so low as to be visible at but a remarkably brief distance at sea; has no greater diversities than some lumpish banks only a few feet high, some diluvial cliffs with a maximum of about 55 feet in height, and the cliff of Hunstanton nearly 80 feet in height; consists largely of continuous belts of sand, slenderly tumulated with pebbles and gravel thrown up by the violence of the waves; and is suffering abrasion by the sea on the N, but making advances on it in the E. The entire seaboard, at a very recent geological period, appears to have been merely a group of low islets; the tracts in the E, around Yarmouth, so late as the time of Edward the Confessor, were probably the basin of an estuary; the valleys of the Bure and the Yare, traversing the NE from above Aylsham, and the E from above Norwich, at even a later date, were extensively arms of the sea or shallow estuaries, and still retain "meres" or "broads" and marshy flats; and the greater portion of all the southern border, from the sea on the E up the valley of the Waveney, and down the valleys of the Little Ouse and the Nen, to the head of the Wash in the W, was also occupied at recent periods either by actual sea or by deep spongy marsh. The aggregate surface of the county is lower, flatter, and less diversified in feature than any other tract of country of equal extent in the kingdom. It has no mountains, no hills, no bold breaks except the few cliffs on the coast, not even considerable undulations except in parts of the N and NE; it boasts nothing better in the way of picturesqueness, in even the undulated portions, than series of green hills and fertile valleys, adorned with hedgerows, coppices, and woods, and worked by culture into forms of garden-beauty; and it may be summarily described as a great plain, not long ago a compound of estuary, marsh, sandy waste, and green common, now brought by geognostic changes and georgic operations into a condition of ornate fertility.
A narrow belt along the lower part of the Ouse and the upper and middle parts of the Wash, consists of oolitic rocks; another belt, immediately E of the former and extending southward to Downham Market and northward to Hunstanton, consists of upper green sand; vastly the greater portion of the county, eastward and south-eastward of the green sand belt, all the way to the eastern and the southern boundaries, consists of chalk; a large belt, from the neighbourhood of Gresham down both sides of the river Bure to a point below Acle, and a lesser belt parallel with the right side of the Yare below Norwich, south-eastward thence to the Waveney at the boundary with Suffolk, and up the Waveney to a point above Bungay, consist of crag or the lowest of the upper tertiary rocks; and a narrow belt of the N seaboard from Hunstanton to Salthouse, and all the tract W of the oolite, the green sand, and a line drawn southward from Stoke Ferry to the southern boundary, consist of alluvium or reclaimed marsh. The green sand, despite its name, is commonly of a dingy brown or whitish colour, and it abounds, in some places, with fossil shells which are used for manure. The chalk in some places is so hard and compact as to be fit for masonry, it yields in other places great quantities of black flints, which have been used for building and for exportation, and it is manufactured in many places into excellent manurial lime. A forest bed near Cromer has produced fossil teeth of elephants, and fossil remains of the walrus, the hippopotamus, the rhinoceros, the bear, the beaver, and the elk. Marl occurs in the valley of the Bure; phosphate of lime, possessing high manurial value, is found in the crag; excellent brick clay abounds in various places, some potters' clay is found; finely-pulverized sea-sand, suitable for glass-making, is obtained between Snettisham and Castle Rising; and peat, both for manure and for fuel, is plentiful in the fens. The principal rivers, besides those on the boundaries, are the Ouse, going northward to the Wash at Kings Lynn; the Wissey and the Nar, going westward to the Ouse; the Wensum, going south-eastward to the Yare at Norwich; the Yare, going eastward from Shipdam, past Norwich, to the boundary at the confluence with the Waveney, 4 miles WSW of Yarmouth; and the Bure, going south-eastward to the sea at Yarmouth. The principal "meres" or "broads " are Breydon Water, from the confluence of the Yare and the Waveney to Yarmouth; Hickling and Horsey Broads, near the E coast; Ormesby and Bollesby Broads, 5 miles NW of Yarmouth; Stalham, Barton, Filby, and Rockland Broads, near the places whence they are named; and Wroxham, Hoveton, Woodbastwick, Ranworth, and South Walsham Broads, in the valley of the Bure.
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Archives and Libraries
We have a database containing transcripts of marriage records for some parishes in Norfolk.
Ancestry.co.uk, in association with Norfolk Record Office, have images of the Parish Registers for Norfolk online.
For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.
List of Registration Districts in Norfolk from 1837 to 1974.
Directories & Gazetteers
The Historical Directories web site have a number of directories relating to Norfolk online, including:
Kelly's, Pigot, Slater, etc.
Old map of Norfolk circa 1848 (Samuel Lewis)
Old map of Norfolk circa 1895 (Gazetteer of England and Wales)
Newspapers and Periodicals
The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Norfolk newspapers online:
- Norwich Mercury
- Norfolk Chronicle
- Diss Express
- Thetford & Watton Times and People's Weekly Journal
- Norfolk News
Parishes and places
The towns and parishes have now been moved to a separate page.
The population of Norfolk was in 1801, 273,479; in 1811, 291,947; in 1821, 344,368; in 1831, 390,654; in 1841, 412,664; in 1851, 442,714; in 1861, 434,798; in 1871, 438,656; in 1881, 444,749; in 1891, 468,287; and in 1901, 476,553, of which the males were 228,429, females, 248,124.
The population in 1911 of the county and county boroughs of Norwich and Great Yarmouth was 499,116, viz.:-Males, 241,159; females, 257,957.
The Visitations of Norfolk 1563, 1589, and 1613 is available on the Heraldry page.