Dr Jon Gregory will be at the Norfolk Record Office on Friday 21st April 2017 to give a talk on the project we have been working on recently, looking at the changing landscape of the Brecks in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is free to attend and all are welcome. You can register a place by following this link: https://breckslandscape.eventbrite.co.uk
During a few days in Derbyshire at the start of September we took the opportunity to visit Calke Abbey, a few miles south of Derby. Sir George Crewe (b.1795-d.1844), former owner of Calke, went the opposite way in the early 19th century, visiting East Anglia in June 1816. In his journal  he recorded his thoughts on a journey, the purpose of which is not clear, made over several days from Fressingfield to Peterborough. This took him through Breckland and his observations show us something of the way the region was perceived at the time by those not familiar with it.
On leaving this place [Garboldisham] I entered on the commencement of that wild part of country which occupies so large a part of Norfolk. Cultivated only here and there in patches, and producing nothing that I could see but Rye, Oats and a small quantity of Wheat, which looked very yellow and bad. A fine country for game I should imagine. Passed at the back of a house standing isolated, as it were, in the midst of a Desert surrounded by plantations of gloomy Fir, which seemed to be the only tree this unkind soil would bear.
Monday 10th June 1816
After what he described as a ‘dreary’ ride Crewe’s spirits were raised slightly once he reached Thetford. The Bell inn had ‘Civil attendants and a tolerably good Larder’ and along the river he found ‘A beautiful walk, the bank being planted with Alders’. He continued his journey the next day, travelling from Thetford to Ely:
No sooner had I got out of the town that I found myself again in the same wild country with a road as straight as a line – neither hedge nor tree to be seen, excepting here and there patches of dark Fir. The cultivation appeared to be very irregular…what small quantity of Wheat I saw looked very wretched indeed.
The only village on this stage is that of Elvedon, which stands like a luxuriant garden in a vast waste…Round this place you turn twice, the only turns in the whole road of 12 miles.
Tuesday 11th June 1816
 An edited edition of Crewe’s journals was published in 2004 by Scarthin Books – C. Kitching (ed.) Squire of Calke Abbey: The Journals of Sir George Crewe 1815-1834.
During 2016 we are working on a project looking at the changing landscape of Breckland in the period 1700-1930. If you would like to find out more about the project and how you can get involved please contact us. Click here to email us.This project is part of the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership. You can find out more on the BNG website – www.breakingnewground.org.uk.
A brief look at the where the Breckland region starts and stops
It is, of course, easy to say where Breckland is: south west Norfolk and north west Suffolk; around Thetford and Brandon; either side of the A11 – all valid, if not particularly precise, answers.The characteristic landscapes of Breckland are highly distinctive and easy to recognise – forestry plantations, heathland, pine rows, farmland and irrigation frames. It is a landscape which is difficult to mistake for anywhere else. Yet where this region starts and stops has been the source of some disagreement. The map below, based on work carried out by David Addy, is not intended to be an exhaustive survey but provides a selection of boundaries which have been given for the Breckland region in various works.  Each is based on various criteria including soil type, distribution of plant species, parish boundaries, administrative convenience and landscape character.
The creation of the Breckland local government district in 1974 confuses the issue somewhat by incorporating a large chunk of central Norfolk which, in landscape terms, has little in common with the area to the south west. Trist’s boundary (from An Ecological Flora of Breckland) takes a pleasingly geometric approach, creating one of the largest definitions by following Ordnance Survey grid squares. Leaving these two aside Breckland acquires a slightly more uniform shape, stretching approximately from Swaffham in the north to Bury St Edmunds in the south and east to west from Hockwold to Harling. Exactly where the line should be drawn is a personal and subjective matter. The fenland landscape to the east and clayland landscape to the west are clearly very different propositions in terms of appearance and character, but the change from one to the other is not always abrupt and distinct.
This takes in a large area and extends much further to the north and to the south east than many definitions, marching north past Castle Acre and even nudging into Cambridgeshire. It is recognised in the NCA description however that the the region’s boundaries are ‘mingled’ and ‘blurred’.
The smallest version of Breckland is that defined by E. Pickworth Farrow in 1915 (‘On the ecology of the vegetation of Breckland’). The southern half reflects most definitions but to the north the boundary is placed at what is now the edge of the Stanford Training Area, leaving out places such as Methwold and Hilborough.
Schober (1937), Mosby (1938) and Postgate (1960)  all defined fairly similar areas, roughly the same shape as the modern NCA boundary but each making different decisions about precisely what to include and exclude. Postgate dealt with complexity of Breckland’s margins by making a further distinction between ‘core’ and ‘periphery’ areas (the map below shows only the ‘core’).
Taken together these maps are a reminder of the complex and at times arbitrary nature of regional boundaries, and the difficulty of subjectively defining where one landscape type begins and another ends.
The Middle of Breckland
Combining all of the maps above (excluding Breckland District Council and Trist’s map) and calculating the coordinates of the middle of this shape allows us to pinpoint the definitive centre of Breckland – appropriately enough an area of forestry plantation here, just of the B1107 near Santon Downham.
Grid Reference: TL 82993 86236
Lat/Long: 52.4434622 / 0.69102232
 A similar map can be found in K. Sussams, The Breckland Archaeological Survey (1996).
 E. Schober, Das “Breckland” : eine Charakterlandschaft Ost-Englands (1937); J.E.G. Mosby, Norfolk, Land Utilisation Survey of Great Britain (1938); M.R. Postgate, ‘Historical Geography of Breckland 1600-1850’.
During 2016 we are working on a project looking at the changing landscape of Breckland in the period 1700-1930. If you would like to find out more about the project and how you can get involved please contact us. Click here to email us. This project is part of the Breaking New Ground Landscape Partnership. You can find out more on the BNG website – www.breakingnewground.org.uk.
A new project for 2016 looking at the landscape of the Brecks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
During 2016 landscape historians at UEA are working on a project exploring the changing landscape of the Brecks in the period c.1700-1930. This was a time of dramatic change in parts of the region as heathland commons were replaced by enclosed fields and plantations. The project will seek to chart these changes and explore the stories behind them, drawing together existing research and presenting new findings through a new project website. A number of workshops and day schools are planned for this year which will provide opportunities to find out more about researching the changing post-medieval landscape, with a particular emphasis on contemporary maps and documents.
See below for dates and venues of forthcoming workshops. These are free to attend but places will need to be booked in advance – please click on the links for more details. The content of the four introductory workshops will be the same so it is not necessary to book on more than one.
In addition to the workshops there will also be opportunities for volunteers and local groups to get involved with the project through carrying out research, conducting fieldwork, sharing existing knowledge and contributing to the project website.
Our recent research has touched on many themes relating to the development of the Brecks in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, including (but not limited to) the enclosure of heathland, the impact of rabbit warrens, the planting of pine lines, the evolution of designed landscapes, the decline of landed estates, mapping the landscape, tree planting and forestry and changes in the road and footpath network. This project will provide opportunities to add to our knowledge of these topics and to bring together these various strands to present an accessible view of the changing landscape. For more information on the project and how you can get involved please contact Dr Jon Gregory – email@example.com
This is part of a wider HLF-funded project, Breaking New Ground, which encompasses a range of activities and events across the Brecks in Norfolk and Suffolk. You can find out more on the project website – http://www.breakingnewground.org.uk/
Prof. Tom Williamson – Lost country houses in Norfolk: history and archaeology
UEA, Lecture Theatre 1, 6.00pm (free to attend, all welcome).
Tom will be kicking off the current round of CEAS lectures on Tuesday 3rd March at 6.00pm, talking about the history and archaeology of demolished country houses in Norfolk. The lecture will be based on a wider project which Professor Williamson has been working on with Ivan Ringwood and Sarah Spooner, the results of which will be published in the near future.
Please see our Events page for the full programme of Spring 2015 lectures.
Jospeh Rykwert, notable architecture historian and critic will deliver the 2014 RIBA lecture at UEA.
Rkywert is the RIBA 2014 Gold Medallist and Paul Philippe Cret Emeritus Professor of Architecture (University of Pennsylvania). Throughout his career he has written many influential works on architecture, including The Idea of a Town (1963) and The Seduction of Place (2000).
The lecture will last for approximately 1 hr and will be followed by a complimentary reception in the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts.
In March we hosted a trip for the UEA History Society, taking them to Sutton Hoo in Suffolk. We explored the National Trust exhibitions, walked around the burial mounds and discussed the landscape context of the site. Hopefully those who have never studied landscape history before went away with a slightly clearer idea of what we do!
At the end of March we spent a wonderful day at Ickworth with our third-year students, untangling the history of the park, its buildings, earthworks and trees. In the course of the day we covered the building of the hall, the laying out of the gardens, the expansion of the park over former farms and roads, the demolition of the old manor house, the recent restoration of the parish church and finally the construction of the walled garden and summerhouse in the early eighteenth century (see photograph above).
A double-header for our second year students, spending the morning at Wayland Wood with Prof. Tom Williamson and the afternoon at Castle Acre with Dr Jon Gregory. Wayland provides an excellent site for studying ancient woodland, with some good boundary earthworks and an opportunity to see coppice rotation in action. Thankfully enough leaves were out to a) give the students a crash course in identifying key species and b) mitigate the effects of a severe Spring downpour.
At Castle Acre we admired the architecture of the Ostrich Inn from both inside and out before making our way to the Priory. Walking around the precinct provided some valuable early revision in advance of the exam. We then retraced our steps back through the village to the castle, discussing its complex development and its place in recent debates on the function and meaning of medieval castles.
The London field trip has become a firmly embedded part of our third year landscape module in recent year, though this year was more challenging than most due to the fact that most trains were terminating at Colchester and it was FA Cup Final day… We met part of the group at Liverpool Street and the rest at Westminster before making our way to St James’s Park, via Inigo Jones’ Banqueting House. After a tour around St James’s and Green Park we went to the V&A to see the excellent William Kent exhibition. A particular highlight was the rather large scale model of Kent’s design for a new palace at Richmond (which was never built).
Our first post-Christmas field trip was a short one – out to the north of Norwich to Catton Park, Humphry Repton’s first commission as a landscape designer. Catton is an excellent example of the type of small, semi-urban parks which proliferated around towns and cities such as Norwich in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, as can be seen here on Faden’s map of Norfolk. The lines of old oak trees in parts of the park provide hints of the former fields which were thrown together create it.
A return visit to Hockering, where we spent some time surveying the wood with our third-year fieldwork course in summer 2013. It all looked rather different on a cold January day as we followed the boundary of the wood and explored the remnants of a former deer park on the parish boundary between Hockering and East Tuddenham.
Our second year students began the spring semester with an introduction to medieval landscapes and buildings, including sessions on the architecture of the parish church. With Norwich on our doorstep it seemed a much better idea to spend time in the city rather than in the seminar room. Starting out under the impressive tower of St Giles we headed off on a miniature odyssey of Norwich churches – some open, some closed and some put to new uses. We looked at the churches of St Benedict (just a tower since 1942), St Swithin (now Norwich Arts Centre), St Margaret, St Lawrence, St Gregory (home to impressive medieval wall painitngs and an antiques market), St John Maddermarket, St Andrew, St Peter Hungate and finally St George Tombland where we were given an impromptu and very interesting tour by the verger.
As Spring started to spring our third years carried on their Grand Tour of East Anglian parks and gardens with a visit to Wolterton. Lying immediately to the north of Blickling, Wolterton Hall was designed by Thomas Ripley, with the design of the surrounding landscape attributed to Charles Bridgeman with later additions by William Sawrey Gilpin.
Reactions vary when we inform our second year students that we will be going to Thetford for a field trip. For students heading toward Norwich from various parts of the country Thetford is somewhere glimpsed from car or train windows, a name on road signs seen while contemplating whether or not the A11 does in fact go on forever. However, a sunny morning spent scaling the motte of the Norman castle, studying the ruins of the Cluniac Priory and exploring the timber-framed Ancient House meant that most went home with a more favourable perception. We also managed to catch the Lost Tudor Sculptures exhibition, part of the Representing Reformation project.