Archive for March, 2011

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Ah yes, the blog. Knew there was something I had to do. I’ve been down the river, and for that matter, up the river and across the river , indeed rivers. Take the Alde and the Ore, one and the same thing in different parts and branches, flowing at leisurely pace (like all East Anglian rivers) out of mid-Suffolk.

Two things stand out about it/them these days. One is that the river almost reaches the sea near Aldeburgh but then veers south alongside Orford Ness, the longest sand spit in Europe. Ok, long shore drift is the obvious cause, the pushing of sediments southwards by the rising tide, in this case now for ten miles or so, with the flow finally issuing into the North Sea as if from a loose hosepipe among the rattling shingle of Shingle Street, one of the special places on the whole of the East Anglian coast. 

The other thing concerns Framlingham up at the top of the left hand tributary, which is the Ore, because Framlingham has a huge, 12th century, Norman castle and much of the stone for the castle came from Caen in Normandy. The reason for that is the Normans stuck with their domestic source because there is no limestone in East Anglia and, with ships running back and forth all the time, it was a supply line more easily defended and a source almost as close as the nearest alternative at Barnack in what is now north-west Cambridgeshire. But the thing that stands out is the all the stone went up the river – there were no roads worth the name – and these days, that river at the town is not much more than a ditch. Read all about it in the March/April issue of Anglia Afloat

In there, you’ll also find a bit about what the Romans did for us and what the Vikings did for themselves and to poor old Ealdorman Brythnoth at the battle of Maldon in 991. Brythnoth, sent to confront them, found a few thousand camped on Northey Island in the Blackwater estuary which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. As they came across in a necessarily narrow file, Brythnoth’s troops were cutting them down nicely, at which point they asked to be allowed to cross unmolested so that they could have a fair fight. Brythnoth, with a misplaced sense of fair play, agreed. Bad move. The reduction of him and his troops to cuts of meat obliged King Aethelred to start buying off the invaders with the Danegeld and that went on until well into the next century. Sounds a bit like the European Union, really.    

Meanwhile and much later, down – or rather up –  the River Yare, there was a 19th century attempt to make Norwich a port. It was all politics and commerce when the Port of Great Yarmouth (as in Yare mouth) got greedy with its tolls on cargoes travelling up river. So Norwich tried to by-pass Yarmouth with, among other things, a long canal over the marshes, but it was too contrived and just a bit too late, although it did create the modern port of Lowestoft. Read all about it – if  you’re quick – in the March issue of Suffolk/Norfolk Life and watch out for the Clerk of Words who wrote a pome.  

Watch out too for more on the Yare – it was always a busy river – in the next issue of Anglia Afloat, including the mention of Billy Bluelight who used to run against the pleasure steamers that went from Norwich down to Bramerton in the 1920s and ’30s in a sort of second job to get a bit of loose change from the passengers if he made it. There is a statue of him today at Bramerton and a picture of it on the Portrait Gallery page here. In the same issue, due out at the end of April, you’ll find more about the Normans (whose building of Norwich castle flattened 98 Saxon dwellings and a couple of churches, and we think supermarket development these days is a bit rapacious). The river and its bigger tributary, the Wensum which curls around the city centre, carried French stone to build the castle and cathedral. More recently – relatively speaking, St George’s bridge, the second oldest in the city, was built in 1783 of Portland stone. There’s a picture of it on the Landscape Gallery page, and also one of Cantley Sugar mill a few miles downstream which has been the river’s biggest landmark outside the city since it was built in 1912. Industy isn’t always pretty but this mill looks less than dark and satanic on a crisp winter’s day.

And then there was the Hanseatic League, a trading cartel from northern Germany whose success was based on the development of the Hanse cog, a big step forward in ship design which could carry abour four times as much cargo as most of its predecessors. But it wasn’t that advanced because it still had an outside toilet, of which you will also see a picture on the Portrait Gallery page.