SuffolkGenWeb Project

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This is a fairly large county of about 1500 sq. miles, almost a million acres, on eastern side of England (East Anglia), its southern boundary (with Essex) being a mere 50 miles from central London. Its northern and western neighbours are Norfolk & Cambridgeshire respectively. The remaining boundary, over 50 miles of coastline, faces the North Sea, Lowestoft Ness representing England's most easterly point.

About 60% of the land surface in the county is a chalky boulder clay and this has long been associated with good agricultural productivity. To the northwest lies Breckland with its light sandy soil stretching towards the Fens. There is another region of light land or Sandlings to the south east. The margins of the principal rivers, Waveney, Deben, Gipping(Orwell) and Stour which flow eastwards into the North Sea are mostly loam with some marshland. Very little of the county apart from its south western corner is more than 300 feet above sea level but it is by no means flat and devoid of relief.

It was settled very early with some sporadic evidence from the Palaeolithic period onwards but by the Bronze age there was significant activity in both Breckland and Sandling areas. This was extended during the Iron Age and by the time of the Roman occupation virtually the whole county showed obvious signs of civilisation in terms of villas and farmlands. The establishment of roads by the Romans was a major step in establishing the local infrastructure subsequently developed by the Saxons and later the Normans. This featured towns, markets, churches monasteries and castles.

There were at least 500 ecclesiastical parishes dating from this medieval period. Although the first local Bishop was based at Dunwich, the administrative structure did not crystallise until late 11th century when Suffolk became part of the Diocese of Norwich, a situation lasting until comparatively recent times. Initially the Suffolk portion of the Diocese was a single Archdeaconry but this was divided into eastern and western parts in 1125. There was further sub-division into Rural Deaneries which more or less corresponded with the 20 or so secular Hundreds.

Agricultural outputs in the form of flax, barley, sheep and cattle led to thriving local industries producing linen, malt for brewing, wool for cloth and leather. The proximity of the sea made fishing an important resource. The absence of stone, apart from flint, brought about the exploitation of the local clay for the very widespread manufacture of bricks for building materials.

Ipswich, the county's largest town, seems to have been established on the North bank of the River Orwell during the 7th century. It soon became an important industrial and trading centre with a reputation for pottery manufacture which extended well beyond Suffolk. Much later on it embraced new crafts and skills associated with shipping, the building of dock facilities, engineering and fertiliser manufacture. In the west the Principal town is Bury St.Edmunds, site of what was., before the Reformation, probably the most influential monastery in the region. Other significant towns in the county include Lowestoft, Stowmarket and Sudbury.

Derek Palgrave - Suffolk FHS

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This webpage was last updated Thursday, 09-Oct-2014 11:07:51 MDT