The river Waveney at Beccles, 1958

The river Waveney at Beccles on the county boundary.

THE county of Norfolk is defined by the North Sea and  three rivers, so that its borders would be etched in water, if such a fluid element were capable of being so marked. As far as the coastline is concerned there is little that human tampering can do about this. To the north, east and large parts of the west (that stretch along Wash), only the erosion of the beach and the accretion of sandbanks alter the outline of the county. The rivers Waveney and Little Ouse ought to define the southern boundary too, and to a large extent they do; but not entirely so, as will be explained in due course.

South of the Wash Norfolk reaches out beyond the Great Ouse towards the river Nene. At Sutton Bridge the county sign is located almost (but not quite) by the river bridge. As small chunk of Lincolnshire encroaches onto the Norfolk side. Along the A17 Terrington St Clement represents the furthest west Norfolk extends.  Further south the river Nene does indeed form the county boundary, and West Walton is about the furthest west you can go in Norfolk. It is over 75 miles from Great Yarmouth. (It is almost as far from South Norfolk to the outskirts of London, which gives you some idea of the size of the county.) Wisbech is only a mile or so distant from the centre of West Walton village, and Wisbech is now in Cambridgeshire. Historically, and until 1965, Wisbech formed part of the Isle of Ely which was one of the smallest counties in England. Although not a part of Norfolk, the Isle of Ely was always a part of East Anglia, while only the eastern edge of Cambridgeshire was so regarded.

The river Little Ouse forms the county border between Norfolk and Suffolk for most of its length. Only for the last few miles in the west to its confluence with the Great Ouse at Brandon Creek does it flow entirely through Cambridgeshire. This river dividing the two East Anglian counties has its complications; Brandon is in Suffolk, but Brandon Railway Station (being north of the river) is in Norfolk. The town of Thetford extends Norfolk onto both sides of the Little Ouse, rather as Sutton Bridge extends Lincolnshire onto the ‘Norfolk’ side of the Nene. The Little Ouse peters out somewhere beyond Kilverstone, but almost immediately a stream may be discerned running in the opposite direction. This is called the river Waveney, and that formed the country boundary until it joined the Yare at Breydon Water. This was true from time immemorial until 1974, when a ‘land-grab’ by Norfolk County Council extended the northern county to the south of the river. In that year all the parishes south east of the Waveney, from Burgh Castle to Fritton, were transferred from Suffolk to Norfolk. What the justification for this was I am not quite sure; certainly Gorleston (which was also included in this transfer) was integral to Yarmouth Southtown, but equally Hopton-on-Sea was clearly part of Lowestoft. Lowestoft remains in Suffolk, although all its economic connection are with Norwich rather than Ipswich.

Many unnecessary changes arose out of this 1974 Act, some of which have been undone subsequently. Most notably this has occurred with Rutland. This has re-emerged to be again England’s smallest county. However I don’t think there is much chance of restoring Burgh Castle to its rightful place in the county of Suffolk. In spite of this anomaly, on the whole the waterways still denote Norfolk. Water also defines Suffolk too, although to a lesser degree. Once more the North Sea marks its eastern boundary,  and to the north the border with Norfolk has already been examined. To the south the river Stour forms the county boundary until it is reduced a mere trickle near Haverhill,  and no geographical feature exists to take its place. Newmarket has no obvious boundary, and indeed this Suffolk town is almost entirely surrounded by Cambridgeshire. Unlike Burgh Castle it was a prime candidate for boundary realignment in 1974, but for some reason the status quo prevailed and Newmarket is still almost an island. Many of its residents would have preferred to live in Cambridgeshire, but I get the impression that places like Burgh Castle and Fritton felt happy to be in Suffolk.




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