The name is but slightly altered in orthography and pronunciation from the Saxon compound, North-folc, signifying "the northern people," which term was used in the early Saxon kingdom of East Anglia, to distinguish the inhabitants of the northern part from those of the southern, who were called Suth-folc. At the period of the Roman Conquest the county was inhabited by the Cenomanni, or Cenimagni, a tribe of the Iceni, who, according to Whitaker, were descended from the Cenomanni of Gaul, and had their chief city at Caistor, near Norwich. Within the limits of the county, or contiguous to it, were established five principal, besides several subordinate, Roman stations, which, with other fortifications, were placed under the command of an officer whose title, according to some authors, was Comes tractûs maritimi, "Count of the maritime district;" or, according to others, Comes litoris Saxonici, "Count of the Saxon shore." During the Anglo-Saxon dynasty, it formed an important part of the kingdom of East Anglia, until the union of all the kingdoms of the heptarchy under Egbert, about 400 years after the first landing of the Saxons; and on the division of the kingdom between King Canute and Edmund Ironside, it was included in the Denelege, or Danish jurisdiction.
Norfolk is in the diocese of Norwich, and province of Canterbury. It comprises the two archdeaconries of Norfolk and Norwich, in the former of which are the deaneries of Brooke, Burnham, Cranwick, Depwade, Fincham, Hingham, Hitcham, Humbleyard, Reddenhall, Repps, Rockland, and Wacton; and in the latter, those of Blofield, Breckles, Brisley, Flegg, Holt, Ingworth, Lynn, Norwich, Sparham, Taverham, Toft-Trees, Walsingham, and part of Thetford. The number of parishes is 756. For the purposes of civil government it is divided into the hundreds of Blofield, Brothercross, Clackclose, Clavering, Depwade, Diss, Earsham, North and South Erpingham, Eynsford, East and West Flegg, Forehoe, Freebridge-Lynn, Freebridge-Marshland, Gallow, North and South Greenhoe, Grimshoe, Guilt-Cross, Happing, Henstead, Holt, Humbleyard, Launditch, Loddon, Mitford, Shropham, Smithdon, Taverham, Tunstead, Walsham, and Wayland. It contains the city of Norwich; the borough, market, and sea-port towns of Lynn and Yarmouth; the borough and market town of Thetford; the market-towns of Aylsham, East Dereham, Diss, Downham-Market, Fakenham, Foulsham, Harleston, East Harling, Hingham, Holt, Loddon, Reepham, Swaffham, North Walsham, Watton, and Wymondham; and the sea-port towns of Blakeney, Cley, and Wells, which have no markets. Under the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., cap. 45, the county was divided into the eastern and western divisions, each to send two representatives to parliament; two members are returned for the city of Norwich, and two for each of the boroughs. The county is included in the Norfolk circuit; the assizes and quarter-sessions are held at Norwich, and the latter also by adjournment at Walsingham, and, for the Midsummer quarter only, at Swaffham.
The surface has, perhaps, less variety of features than any other tract in the kingdom of equal extent, being for the most part flat; yet this uniformity of appearance is sometimes interrupted, particularly in the northern part, where the ground is broken by gentle elevations, and the hills and valleys are adorned with woods. On the south side of the county is a fine rich tract, extending towards the north and north-east; and these latter portions being inclosed, well cultivated, and containing more timber than most maritime districts, exhibit a variety of pleasing and cheerful prospects. Most of the rivers rise in marshy lands, and, running through a comparatively level country, have a slow current; so that they contribute to keep the adjacent grounds in a swampy state, and to fill the atmosphere with dense and noxious vapours. Their estuaries being for the most part choked with silt driven up by the influx of the tide, they often overflow the low-lands, and in their course form numerous small shallow lakes or pools, provincially termed "broads" or "meres," which are plentifully stocked with fish, and much frequented by aquatic birds. A great part of the coast consists of a low sandy beach, covered with gravel and shingles, which by the force of the waves, are frequently thrown up in vast heaps, and by the constant accumulation of sand, are formed into banks, held together by the matted roots of "sea-reed grass." Numerous banks of the same kind have been raised off the coast, far out at sea, and these, being only discoverable at ebb or quarter tides, are frequently fatal to coasting-vessels: the most remarkable is the large bank running parallel with the coast near Yarmouth, between which and the shore is a deep channel known by the name of Yarmouth roads, where ships ride securely in all states of the weather. The ranges of sand-hills on this, as on the opposite coast of Holland, preserve a valuable portion of the lands from inundation.
According to the table of the soils furnished by the late Arthur Young, secretary to the Board of Agriculture, there are in the county, of light sand, 220 square miles; of more valuable sand, 420; of marshland clay, 60; of various loams, 900; of rich loam, 148; and of peat-earth, 82. The substrata, as far as has yet been discovered, consist of clunch or indurated chalk; chalk in which flints are imbedded; gault, gravel, sand, silt, and peatearth. Although by nature sterile, superior cultivation has rendered Norfolk one of the most productive counties in the kingdom. The arable lands form about twothirds of its surface, and the usual course of crops is, first year, turnips; second, barley; third, seeds for hay; fourth, seeds; fifth, wheat or rye; and sixth, barley: the next most frequently practised is the old four-shift system of turnips, barley, seeds, and wheat, in succession. A vast quantity of barley is raised on the lighter soils, made into malt, and then shipped; malt, indeed, may be considered the staple commodity of the county. On a great portion of the land between March and Wisbech, and around the latter place, mustard is cultivated. Saffron is grown in the south-western district, and in the parts adjacent to Cambridgeshire. Flax is produced in the vicinities of Wisbech, Downham, and Outwell; and hemp near Downham, Old Buckenham, Diss, Harleston, &c. Some of the marshes are peculiarly favourable for corn; but their liability to inundation has induced the inhabitants to prefer the dairy system, and in these parts large quantities of butter are made and exported, under the name of "Cambridge." The quantity of upland meadow and pasturage has been estimated at nearly 127,000 acres, and that of marsh land at upwards of 63,000. One of the richest grazing tracts in Norfolk is, the marshy district lying to the south of Lynn and on the eastern side of the Ouse: the lands here, like others in the county, are in general hired by the upland farmers, and not stocked regularly, but only when convenience requires.
The agricultural produce of Norfolk amounting to twice as much as is consumed by its inhabitants, the exports are great; and it has been stated that, during the late war, as much corn was shipped from the ports of this county, including the quantity brought down the rivers from Suffolk and other counties, as from all the other ports of England collectively. The average number of fat-cattle annually sent from the county to the markets at Smithfield, St. Ives, and other places, is estimated at not less than 20,000; and the number of sheep fattened for distant markets is supposed to be about 30,000. In the sandy and loamy districts, owing to the dryness of the soil and the range afforded by the uninclosed parts, turkeys are extremely numerous; besides affording a supply to several of the neighbouring counties, vast numbers are sent to London and other distant places. Large supplies of geese are also bred in the fenny parts, and annually driven on foot to London from the neighbourhoods of Downham, Wisbech, and Lynn; turkey-poults, goslings, chickens, &c., are sent hence to the same market. A great part of the county, a century and a half since, was comparatively wild, bleak, and unproductive, more than half of it being rabbit-warrens and sheep-walks; and notwithstanding that so much has been effected towards bringing the whole of the land into a state of cultivation, and although the commons have been very much diminished since the middle of the last century, the open and waste lands are still of great extent. Norfolk contains numerous woods and plantations, which have been computed to occupy not less than 10,000 acres.
The Manufactures, except for home consumption, consist chiefly of woven goods, which, in a variety of branches, still constitute the staple trade. The small village of Worsted is remarkable as having given name to a kind of goods made of wool differently dressed from that of which woollen-cloths are made; the yarn of the former being spun from combed, and that of the latter from carded, wool. Dormics, cambrics, calicoes, &c., which in like manner took their names from the places where they were first made, formerly constituted the principal articles of manufacture; and these were followed by druggets, serges, shalloons, duffields, &c., which in their turn have been superseded by bombasins, worsted-damasks, flowered-satins, camlets, crapes, stuffs, tabinets, poplins, shawls, and a great variety of fancy articles, most of which are formed of wool, mohair, and silk, by different intermixtures and curious combinations. In this trade Norwich takes the lead. The articles which have usually been considered as the manufacture of that city only, were formerly produced by the joint labour of several towns and villages in the county; since the introduction of machinery, however, the trade has been concentrated, and is now almost confined to Norwich. Having a great extent of coast, and abounding with rivers and streams, together with numerous broads or meres, Norfolk is well supplied both with fresh and salt water fish. The chief fisheries are the herring and mackerel fisheries, the former of which is by far the more important.
The principal rivers are, the Greater Ouse, the Lesser Ouse, the Waveney, the Bure, the Wensum, the Yare, and the Nar. The Greater Ouse receives the tide up to the vicinity of Denver, where its further influx is checked by sluices erected for the purposes of drainage and navigation: at the period of the equinoxes the tide rushes up with great fury, and is called by the inhabitants "the Eagre." Besides admitting merchant vessels of considerable burthen as high as Lynn, the river is navigable for barges in the whole of its course through the county; and by means of it, and of the rivers and canals with which it is connected, Norfolk supplies the central parts of the kingdom with coal, wine, timber, grocery, and other articles previously brought into its ports; and in its turn receives large quantities of cheese, corn, and malt. The Lesser Ouse is navigable up to Thetford; the Waveney for barges as high as Bungay Bridge. The Bure becomes navigable at Aylsham, and joins the Yare on the north side of Yarmouth. The Wensum begins to be navigable at Norwich, and eventually joins the Waveney. The Yare joins the Wensum to the east of Norwich, and in this latter river its name is lost until the junction of the Wensum and the Waveney, at the head of Bredon water, between which and Yarmouth the united waters again assume the name of Yare: in the Yare, or Wensum, is found a singular species of perch, called a ruffe, which is smaller and of a more slender form than the common perch. The Nar, called also Sechy or Seechy river, falls into the Greater Ouse near Lynn, whence it is navigable up to Narburgh, a distance of about fifteen miles. The navigable river Nene forms part of the western boundary of Norfolk, which it separates from Lincolnshire. In addition to the Eau-brink Cut, there is a canal from Wisbech, in Cambridgeshire, to Outwell Creek and Salter's Lode, in this county, about six miles in extent, for the purpose of improving the navigation of the Nene; and different private estates have small cuts to the navigable rivers, for the conveyance of corn, &c. A navigable communication with the sea at Lowestoft, in the county of Suffolk, has been lately completed. There are, a railway from Norwich to Yarmouth, passing along the valley of the Yare or Wensum, and having a line branching from it, at Reedham, to Lowestoft, in Suffolk; a second line, from Norwich, by Wymondham, Attleburgh, and East Harling, to Thetford and Brandon, on the borders of the counties of Norfolk and Suffolk, with a branch from Wymondham to East Dereham; a third line, from East Dereham to Swaffham and Lynn; and a fourth, from Lynn to Downham-Market and the county of Cambridge.
The principal Roman stations established in or contiguous to the county, were, Brannodunum, Garianonum, Venta-Icenorum, Sitomagus, and Ad Tuam. Different remains of the Roman people, such as coins, urns, &c., have been discovered, particularly at Brampton, Buckenham, and Thetford. The great Roman road which crossed the island from east to west, from the Norfolk coast to St. David's Head, in Pembrokeshire, is supposed to have commenced at Burgh, near Yarmouth, and is still conspicuous near Downham-Market, whence, crossing the river Ouse, it passes through the fens into Cambridgeshire. Some traces of vicinal ways are also discernible; Pedder's way, running from Thetford to the sea near Brancaster, appears to be one of these; the road leading by Long Stratton to Tasburgh was probably another; and a third branched from this to the northwest, through Marshland, Upwell, and Elm, to Wisbech. What is called the "Milky Way" has been considered Roman, but is more likely of later date, and was probably made for the convenience of the pilgrims to the chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham; it is traceable in several places, and is tolerably perfect in the vicinity of the tumuli called Grimes Graves. Other tumuli may be seen in different parts of the county, but they are not very numerous. On Mousehold Heath, near Norwich, are many excavations in the earth, which King and other antiquaries have considered to be hiding-pits, or British caves. The religious houses, at the time of the Dissolution, amounted to 123, of all orders; the principal remains are those of the abbeys of Creake and St. Bene't-at-Holme, and of the priories of Binham, Bromeholme, Old Buckenham, Castle-Acre, Flitcham, Pentney, Thetford, Walsingham, and Weybourne. Of ancient castles there are considerable remains at Norwich, Castle-Acre, and Castle-Rising. The most remarkable ancient mansions are, Caistor Hall, Oxborough Hall, Winwall House, Stiffkey Hall, and Beaconsthorpe Hall. Norfolk gives the title of Duke to the illustrious family of Howard, the representative of which is earl-marshal and hereditary marshal of England, and premier duke and earl, immediately after the princes of the blood royal.
Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.