It is never the
intention of these articles to
pass on word-for-word everything our guest had to say.
When Professor Tom
Williamson is speaking there would be no point in even
beginning to try. It would
have filled the whole web site and more.
So here are a few snippets.
But first, the kind email he sent the following day:
“Next time the group
meet please tell them I
thought they were a lovely bunch. I didn't
particularly feel like coming
out on a wet Saturday night, to be honest, but
you all made me so welcome
and asked such interesting questions that I enjoyed
What is landscape
history? Thousands of
years ago ice sheets dumped piles of stony clay on top
of the underlying rock.
Rivers cut shallow valleys and laid down sand and silt.
Then the sea threw up
drifting sand and shingle ridges that blocked the rivers
so that salt marshes
developed behind the dunes and fens developed further up
the valleys. All that
is Geography, and that would have been it, if humans
hadn’t come along and
changed everything. What we have done is made use of
that landscape - changed
it - and that is Landscape History.
Ancient monuments in
the marshes: there was a
huge salt marsh inland of what became Great Yarmouth,
called Halvergate Marsh.
Like most land not much use for farming, the Lord of the
Manor generously left
it for the ordinary people to use, generally to graze
sheep from the
surrounding parishes during the summer. But why did
places miles away, such as
South Walsham, have rights to use parts of Halvergate
Marsh? Surely sheep
weren’t moved about to that extent. The Domesday Book
provided the answer.
South Walsham is recorded as having two salt-pans. Where
else could they have
been but in the salt marsh? Flooded by the sea every
winter the water was
ponded-up to evaporate in the summer, leaving a layer of
gritty but invaluable
salt. During the 11th Century the marshes were
drained and many of the
ditches dug are still there today, largely disregarded,
but actually ancient
monuments older than our Parish Churches.
Who dug out the
Broads? The Broads are in
the fens of the upper valleys where great depths of peat
thousands of years. We are generally given the
impression that great pits were
cut into the peat by the nearby monasteries, became
flooded, and so created the
Broads. But ordinary mediaeval folk needed peat as well
and they were allocated
strips of fenland just as they were in the open fields
of farming areas.
Under-water investigation has revealed a pattern of cut
strips separated by
ridges, ending neatly at parish boundaries. So it isn’t
only the monks we have
to thank for our unique watery landscape.
From 1702 onwards wind
pumps sprang up
throughout The Broads, draining the land and expanding
Peat cutting continued right into the early Twentieth
Century, when this
picture was taken, and the fens were still providing hay
for the horses in
London until the 1920s. But then demand fell and the
Norfolk Broads’ own particular
Industrial Revolution came to an end.