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Lowestoft, Suffolk

Historical Description

Lowestoft (popularly Laystoff), a municipal borough, seaport, bathing place, market-town, and parish in Suffolk. The town stands on the most easterly ground in England, on the summit and slopes of low cliffs, at the inlet of Lake Lothing from the sea, and at the terminus of two branches of the G.E.R. system, 113 miles by road and 116 by rail from London, 23½ SE from Norwich, 10½ E from Beccles, and 9¼ S by E from Yarmouth. It was known at Domesday as Lothu Wistoft, signifying the toft or cluster of houses ty the Loth or slow river. But the name is understood by some as a corruption of " Lothen's Gistoft," signifying " the guest-house of Lothen," and is presumed by those who so understand it to indicate that the site of the town was made a colony for Danes by Lothen and Irling after the conquest of Essex in 1047. A considerable seat of population was here before the close of the 16th century, was visited by plague in 1603, and suffered a loss by fire estimated at £10,297 in 1645. Cromwell entered it in 1643 at the head of 1000 cavalry, and seizing a few of the principal inhabitants sent them prisoners to Cambridge. A great sea-fight occurred adjacent to it in 1665 between an English fleet of 114 ships under the Duke of York and a Dutch fleet of 100 ships under Admiral Optam, was seen by the inhabitants from the cliffs, and terminated in the defeat of the Dutch with a loss of eighteen ships taken and fourteen burnt or sunk. George IL landed here in 1736, and was much imperilled through the unskilful driving of an inhabitant who volunteered to act as coachman, and J. Adams landed here in 1784 as the first ambassador from the United States. Captain Arnold, who took trophies from a Spanish man-of-war; Admiral Sir Thomas Alien, who captured the Smyrna fleet in the time of the Commonwealth; Sir Andrew Leake, who figured in the capture of Gibraltar; Sir John Ashby, Admiral Uther, Admiral Mighell, and Lord Chief-Justice Holt were natives; Baron Alderson and Dr Whewell were frequent residents; and William Whitson, professor of mathematics at Cambridge; John Tanner, the editor of his brother's " Notitia Monastica; " Robert Potter, the translator of ½Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides; T. Scrope, who became bishop of Dromore; and Hudson, who is epitaphed as " your painful minister," were incumbents.

In 1827-31 the dam of sands and shingle which had filled up the mouth of Lake Lothing was cut through by Mr (afterwards Sir William) Cubitt, and the harbour was reconstructed at a cost of about £80,000. By this means a direct outlet to the sea was restored to the river Waveney, and the town, which until then had continued to be a mere fishing village, began to increase in importance. In 1844 Sir Samuel Morton Peto, who was for some time owner of Somerleyton and lord of the manor of Lowestoft, purchased the harbour, and promoted the construction of a railway by which, in the course of a few years, the town was placed within easy reach of the metropolis and all parts of the United Kingdom. Since then its progress has been rapid, and in 1885 it was incorporated as a municipal borough by royal charter. The parishes of Lowestoft and Kirkley are included within the boundary of the borough, which is divided into north, south, east, and west wards, and is governed by a corporation consisting of a mayor, 8 aldermen, and 24 councillors, who act as the urban sanitary authority. It is a fashionable watering-place and a seat of thriving general trade. Its site is a gently curved promontory at the S extremity of a range of cliffs extending along the E side of Lothingland, and contests with Easton Ness the claim of having been the Roman Extensio Promontorium. The brow of the ridge is covered with houses, and commands an extensive view of the ocean; the seaward slope is disposed in hanging gardens or terraces, diversified with trees; a low tract, with a maximum width of 660 yards, and designated the Denes, intervenes between the slope and the sea, and is partly occupied by an extensive line of buildings for the curing of fish, and an expanse of water, known as the Model Yacht Pond, having a sailing surface of more than 2 acres, golf links, and cricket ground. Another line of cliffs rises on the S side of the inner harbour, within Kirkley parish, stretches away to the S, and is subtended seaward by a shoal about a quarter of a mile broad, called the Pakefield Flats, and believed to be the vestige of a submerged tract of land. . The High Street is about a mile long, extends from N to S, and is lined with brick houses and well paved. Smaller streets open into it on the W side, and several winding roads and flights of steps, called Scores, lead down from it on the E. South Lowestoft, situated partly in Kirkley parish, is a new town and the fashionable quarter. The Marine Terrace, with a row of handsome semi-detached houses, the Marine Parade, with neat villas, the Wellington Terrace, Denmark Road, Victoria Terrace, Kirkley Cliff, and London Road are the favourite residences. The Esplanade, a broad raised terrace with a fine sea view, and the South Pier, which joins the Esplanade, form a promenade of great beauty. The Marine Terrace adjoins the Battery Green and the Bath House, and neat villas front the South Battery. That battery is now a coastguard station, and the Lower Battery and the North Battery, once having respectively six and four guns, iiave long been dismounted.

The town has high attractions and fine capabilities as a seaside resort, and during the season, which commences in June and lasts until the end of September, it is frequented "by a large number of visitors. It has fine sands for bathing and riding, all the usual facilities for boating and fishing, and in addition good golfing links and excellent tennis grounds. The local yacht club holds an annual regatta during the month of August, and Lake Lothing forms a very good starting point for a trip through the Broad District. The South Pier, which runs seawards for some 1250 feet, forms a splendid promenade, and is furnished with a pavilion containing a concert-hall, where musical entertainments are provided during the season, and a good reading-room. Belle Vue Park, on the summit of the cliffs, a short distance beyond the Upper Lighthouse, is a picturesque recreation ground formed out of what was originally an open heath in 1874. It is provided with a band-stand and numerous sheltered seats, and commands magnificent sea views. The ornamental bridge spanning the ravine here was presented to the town by William Yonngman, Esq., first mayor of Lowestoft, in commemoration of the Queen's Jubilee. The local walks, in Spite of the presence of a fishery trade and commerce, are very fine. " From Marine Terrace, passing the railway sta-t'on and the Battery Green, and in view of the low lighthouse and Stanford Floating Beacon, and proceeding by the shore to the part beyond the high lighthouse, the visitor will observe the harbour and piers, the fish-houses, denes, and t"he picturesque quarter of the fishermen and pilots, and will reach the Ravine, a chasm in the cliffs which admits a fine view of the sea, with the ships in the offing, at this point ordinarily standing in close to the land to avoid the shoals and sands that beset this coast." The cliffs and the beach farther from the town offer excellent scope for the rambles of invalids, combine the attractions of good close views and extensive sea prospects, and form an interesting study to geologists. The effects of slow sea erosion may be largely observed, and fossils of elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotami, stags, molluscs, saurians, and other animals have been found. The very fine views from the town's own terraces and streets, perched as it is on and around the most easterly promontory of England, are not a little inspiriting.

Of the public buildings, the most important is the Town Hall, a building of very pleasing appearance in the Italian style, erected in 1857 and altered considerably in 1876. Itcontains a stained-glass window representing the " Field of the Cloth of Gold." Two smaller windows contain the arms of Sir Samuel Morton Peto and those of the town, and all three were presented by Sir S. M. Peto. At the SE corner of the hall there is a campanile, with illuminated clock. The Hospital, erected in 1881-82 at a cost of about £7000, is a building of red brick and stone in the Italian style; and there is a convalescent home near Belle Vue Park,which was established in 1877. The market and rights were taken over by the corporation in 1887. The marketplace is in High Street, and the market-day is Wednesday. Fairs are held on 13 May and 11 Oct. for smallwares. There is a cemetery of 11¼ acres, which was formed in 1885. The town has also a county police station, a custom-house, sailors' home, and a lifeboat station. There are two educational endowments, known as Wilde's and Annot's foundations, a number of small charities, and six almshonses, erected in 1838 for six of the poorest master fishermen. The town has a head post office, several good hotels, three banks, and pub-Eshes five newspapers.

The parish church of St Margaret stands apart from the town, about half a mile to the W, and is a fine ancient building of flint and stone in the Perpendicular style. It was built by the Prior of St Bartholomew's, in London; comprises chancel, nave, aisles, with a tower and spire (the latter being of wood) 120 feet high; was restored at a cost of £5000 in 1871; and contains a figured stone font, three brasses, and monuments of distinguished natives and incumbents. St Peter's Church, a chapel of ease to St Margaret, stands near the old market, and was built in 1833 at a cost of £3400. The living of St Margaret, with St Peter, is a rectory in the diocese of Norwich; gross yearly value, £528 with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Norwich. The ecclesiastical parish of St John the Evangelist was formed in 1854. The church, erected in 1853 at a cost of £5600 is a building of Kentish rag and Caen stone in the Decorated style. An aisle was added in 1883 at a cost of £900. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Norwich; gross yearly value, £433 with residence, in the gift of the Church Patronage Society. Christ Church is an ecclesiastical parish formed in 1866. The church, which stands on the beach, was erected in 1868 at a cost of £1460, and enlarged in 1879, and is a building of white brick in the Early English style. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Norwich; gross value, £270 with residence. Kirkley, or South Lowestoft, forms a separate parish. The church, situated on a hill, is a building of flint and stone in a quasi-Perpendicular style. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Norwich; gross value, £433 with residence. There are also in Lowestoft two Baptist, a Roman Catholic, a Congregational, three Primitive Methodist, a Swedenborgian, a United Methodist, andtwoWesleyan chapels, a Christian meeting-room, and two mission rooms for seamen.

The harbour at Lowestoft is the sole property of the Great Eastern Railway Company. It is formed by two massive piers, formed of blocks of masonry, filled in with cement, and cased with a framework of wood, which, running seaward about 1300 feet, enclose an area of 20 acres. On the North Pier, which is allotted to the fishing industry, is the trawl fishmarket. Adjoining this on the north is the Waveney Dock, which has a water area of 11 acres, and supplies market accommodation for the herring and mackerel fisheries. The general shipping interest is mostly served by the wharves and docks of the inner harbour; and at the west end of the South Pier there is a private yacht basin. The inner harbour consists of a piece of water 2 miles in length, from which there opens out a long line of inland navigation, up the Waveney to Beccles, up the Bure to Aylsham, and up the Tare to Norwich. There are lighthouses at the extremities of each of the piers, which show a red light from sundown to sunrise. The high lighthouse stands on a point of land about 120 feet above the sea, to the north of the harbour. It was originally built in 1676, was partly rebuilt in 1778, improved in 1825 and 1840,rebnilt by order of the Trinity Board in 1873-74, and enlarged in 1894. It shows a white revolving light, which is visible every half-minute, and throws a fixed red light on to a buoy at the edge of Corton Sand. The low lighthouse stands on the beach of the Denes, is built of iron, and its light is occulted every half-minute for the space of five seconds. Vessels entering the fairway bring the lights into line, and the light from the high lighthouse, which is visible for 20 miles, is the first light usually seen by vessels making for London from the northern ports of Europe.

The herring, mackerel, and trawl fisheries are a chief source of the commerce. The herring fishery begins about a fortnight before Michaelmas, and continues till Martinmas; and the mackerel fishery is carried on from May till the middle of July. The herring and mackerel fisheries have of late years assumed such immense proportions as to entail the transit of upwards of 21,000 tons of fish over the G.E.R. in a single season, while the weight of the trawled fish has reached a total of about 8000 tons. There are over 800 smacks belonging to the port, principally capacious and seaworthy vessels, and distinguished by the letters " LT." The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port in 1895 was 520 (24,000 tons). The entries and clearances each average 850 (110,000 tons) per annum. The preparation of Lowestoft bloaters is an important industry, and there are large manufactories of potted meats and fish. Other industries are boat and ship building, carriage making, oil and flour milling, and rope, twine, and sail making.

The area of the borough is 1991 acres; population, 23,347. Of the ecclesiastical parishes, that of Kirkley St Peter has a population of 4223; of St Margaret, with St Peter, 11,639; of St John the Evangelist, 5350, and of Christchurch, 2127.

Lowestoft Parliamentary Division, or Northern Suffolk, was formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act of 1885, and returns one member to the House of Commons. Population, 61,654 The division includes the following:-Beccles- Barsham, Beccles, Ellough, Henstead (part-Hulver), North Cove, Redisham, Ringsfield, Shadingfield, Shipmeadow, Sotterley, Willingham, Weston, Worlingham; Bungay-All-Saints-with-St Nicholas (Southelmham), Bungay (Holy Trinity), Bungay (St Mary), Flixton, Homersfield, Ilketshall (St Andrew), Ilketsball (St John), Ilketshall (St Lawrence), Ilketshall (St Margaret), Mettingham, Southelmham (St Cross), Southehnham (St James), Southelmham (St Margaret), Southelmham (St Michael), Southelmham (St Peter); Mutford and Lothingland or Lowestoft-Ashby, Bamby, Belton, Blundeston, Bradwell, Burgh Castle, Carlton Colville, Corton, Flixton, Fritton, Gisleham, Gunton, Herringfleet, Hopton, Kessingland, Kirtley, Lound, Lowestoft, Mutford, Oulton, Pakefield, Rushmere, Somerleyton; Blything (part of)-Benacre, Blyford, Brampton, Chediston, Covehithe, Easton Bavents, Frostenden, Halesworth, Henham, Henstead, Holton, Reydon, Rumburgh, Sotherton, South Cove, Spexhall, Stoven, Uggeshall, Wangford, Wissett, Wrentham, Westhall; Great Yarmouth, municipal borough (the part in Suffolk); Southwold, municipal borough.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountySuffolk 
Ecclesiastical parishLowestoft St. Margaret 
HundredMutford and Lothingland 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Lowestoft from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Suffolk is available to browse.


Online maps of Lowestoft are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Suffolk papers online:

Postal districtNR32
Post TownLowestoft