There is hardly a county in England which surpasses Suffolk in simplicity of form and boundary. Save for a considerable deflexion in the north-east, now containing three hundreds, the form of the county is an irregular oblong, about sixty miles by thirty, diversified in most parts by gentle undulations, and containing many varieties of soil. Along the east side it is washed by the German Ocean, and there is but little of the artificial element in the boundaries which divide it from Norfolk on the north, Essex on the south, and Cambridgeshire on the west; for Nature has supplied as limits the Waveney and Little Ouse on the north, and the Stour on the south; while even on the west the Lark and its tributary the Kennet divide Suffolk from Cambridgeshire for some miles. In the ancient morass at the northwest comer of the county, and along the south-west border, the demarcations are of man’s making, and there are occasional small deviations from the line of the rivers. The coast line has suffered, and still suffers, from the constant undergnaw of the German Ocean, but boasts yet of the most eastern point of Great Britain – Lowestoft Ness.
Of the rainfall, about three-fourths finds its way quietly into the German Ocean by the Waveney, the Blyth, the Alde, the Deben, the Orwell, and the Stour, to which catalogue may be added a few small independent streams. The remaining fourth trickles more gently still to Lynn and the Wash, by the channels of the Little Ouse and the Lark. The inconspicuous watershed which divides these two main portions runs generally south through the western part of the hundred of Hartismere, turns west ward for some six miles, then south-westward to Lawshall, hnd curves north-westerly and westerly in the upper part of Risbridge Hundred to the Cambridgeshire border. Slow as is the current of most of these rivers and rivulets, they are by no means destitute of a sleepy, home-like beauty of their own. As they deliver their tribute waves to the great ocean-beds of the globe, they ‘slip and slide and gloom and glance’, like their little Lincolnshire sisters immortalized by Tennyson, by the same ‘fairy forelands’, through the same thorpes, though not always enjoying that special termination, and little towns, under the same one-arched bridges, through which, as of old, the swallow darts, swift dipping her dappled wing in the merry April weather. The banks often fall sharp to the water edge, pleasantly bushed and flowered. Old locks, and mills, as well as reed-beds and fords, have given words to the poet and drawn colour from the palette.
The Waveney, or Wanney, and the Little Ouse, or Dune1 rise, if it may be called a rise, at the same spot between South Lopham and Redgrave, where the high road from Kenninghall to Botesdale crosses the valley. The motion is hardly, if at all, perceptible; but as both counties continue to pour in surface-water, the volume augments, and a stream is generated. As we work eastward, we find a brook coming down from Burgate, and reaching the Waveney between Palgrave and Stuston, then just above Hoxne another which has united in itself two, one coming through Eye, and said to bear that name1, and the other, called the Dove, from Worlingworth. The fall from Hoxne Mill to Yarmouth Harbour is only 8o feet, a fact which speaks for itself. In Weybread parish enters another brook, bringing a supply from Upper Linstead, Laxfield, and Stradbroke, through Fressingfield and Wingfield. The Elmham district next sends its quotum by Middleton Hall. Hitherto there have been occasional little rippling rapids, as at Shotford Bridge and Homersfield Bridge; but all in front of lovely Flixton Park, the Waveney, if not majestic, is certainly slow. Here there is actually no fall. At Bungay the river turns sharp to the north, with a slight drop in level, nearly enclosing a large extent of alluvial gravel, called Outney Common; then, resuming its easterly course, it crosses an ancient road – whereof more anon – at ‘Wanneyford’
hodie Wainford Bridge, first feels the pulse of the North Sea at spring-tide about Shipmeadow Lock, takes in a brook from Ilketshall St. Andrew’s, winds along the scarp at Beccles, half embraces that common, at Oulton receives, or ought to receive, some supply from that Broad, afterwards unquestionably receives that from Fritton Broad, and works mainly north and north-east, till opposite the Roman castle at Burgh Castle it joins the Wensum from Norwich. Then the two enter the rough Garw or Hierus, are reinforced by the waters of the Bure and Ant from north-east Norfolk, and finally enter the North Sea, leaving behind them the quay and fish-wharf of Yarmouth. With regard to the fall from Oulton Broad, which, though slight, is important, it may be remarked that there was some controversy as to whether the Waveney ever entered the sea by Lowestoft. The arguments adduced by the late Mr. George Edwards of Carlton Colville, in a valuable pamphlet2 from previous writers, silting of the estuary, motion of the beach, existing boundaries, and sea breaches, have conclusively negatived the Lowestoft theory. It will be necessary hereafter to refer to them.
Passing over a little direct ocean-flow, we come to the basin of the Blyth, which drains, roughly speaking, a circle of which Halesworth is the centre. One brook by Westhall and Wangford meets at Walberswick Quay the main stream, which runs by Lower or Little Linstead, Chediston, Halesworth, Blythford, where it is crossed by an important road, and Blythburgh.
The width of this valley as compared with the insignificance of the stream, though not a solitary instance, is to be specially remarked. The Alde is a trifurcated stream. The middle and largest branch comes from Brandish by Bruisyard and Rendham to Stratford St. Andrew’s, on the road just mentioned. There are two minor affluents, one by Kelsale and Saxmundham3 the other by Framlingham and Marlesford. These, after passing through the land-locked water at the back of Aldeburgh, are turned southward by the accumulation of shingle along the great straggling spit of beach, and terminate their course at Hollesley Bay. Many will doubt whether this stream is rightly named.
Aldeburgh certainly suggests another derivation, and there is no priority of antiquity in this instance.
The Deben4 claims a higher importance, giving its name to the little town which stands near its source, as we find elsewhere. It flows by stately homes and pretty houses, Brandeston and Hoo, Letheringham, once the seat of the Wingfields, the ducal hall at Easton, Glevering and Ufford, past Woodbridge town. On the right bank enter two small tributaries joined in one, from Clopton and Ashbocking respectively. Then in a wider channel it splits the heath-covered shingly soil, and forms a little haven between Bawdsey and Felixstowe.
Although the river on which the present county town stands has, in this respect, a certain priority, it does not drain a very large extent of ground, being rather contracted on each side by the basins of the Deben and the Stour, in this way, on a small scale, resembling the mighty Volga.
In Speed’s map (1610) the right-hand stream, rising near Rattlesden, is called the Orwell5 the left-hand stream clearly being identical in name with the village of Gipping, near its head. After the junction of the two, both names are found in Morden’s map, though Gippesvic comes from the latter. A small stream enters on the right side below Ipswich, and then the water gradually expands into a beautiful estuary, which is too well known to need a line of description here.
But the Stour is the queen of these Suffolk waters, both in respect of scenery, and area drained, which is chiefly on the Suffolk side, the basin being closely hemmed in by the Coln on the south. The upper supply comes principally from the line of chalk. More soon comes in from the Bradleys, then a bifurcated stream at Clare6 another brook starting from about Rede, by way of Boxstead, and a rivulet from above Groton. Then appears the considerable reinforcement of the Bret, or Breton, a three-headed stream, the middle tributary rising near Brettenham, all joining below Chelsworth7 and meandering down its pleasantly diversified valley past Hadleigh. Thus, at Stratford St. Mary there is a respectable body of water, widening out before Catawade Bridge is reached, soon after which place the estuary assumes good dimensions, joining the Orwell opposite Harwich.
These are the eastward-flowing streams. The Little Ouse, of which mention has been made, soon reaches the light-land country, and its banks often have the charming peculiarity of that district, the dark-green of fir plantations and the brightness of furze-bloom being never distant from that part of its course. At Euston it is met by an affluent from Hepworth, which ornaments the Duke of Grafton’s park. Below Thetford the arid sands add little or nothing, but the fall is noticeable for some distance. The banks then gradually retire and the bed deepens, the last contribution being from Lakenheath New Lode, whence, by ‘Brand Creek’, the river goes as of old to Lynn, the present lines of the Great Ouse being a modem invention.
Lastly, the Lark, or Burn, and the Linnet, uniting near Bury, flow north-westerly, by Lackford, Icklingham, Barton Mills, and Mildenhall, to join the ancient Cam and Great Ouse at Prickwillow, whence the company passes on to ‘Brand Creek’, But in old days their course was by Upwell and Wisbech into the Wash, near the Walpoles in Marshland. No right-bank supply reaches this channel; but on the left bank one stream rising near Barrow, and another already mentioned, called the Kennet8 accord their help to a strong line of county demarcation.
From a careful survey of the land to the east of Mildenhall, I am inclined to think that some at least of this body of water used to find its way into the Little Ouse by the low ground of Lakenheath Fen.
This analysis of the hydrography of the county will be found to have some value in relation to the settlements of earlier races which we shall have to consider. Access to a river-bounded district is often over bars which have been formed just below the discharge of the smaller channels into the larger, but still more frequently over gravel-beds, formed by post-glacial action, more especially should these positions happen to coincide with a narrower valley, so that marsh may not neutralize the advantage gained by shallowness. Stratford St. Mary, on the Stour, is an instance of the former, Shotford, over the Waveney, of the latter.
On the north side the chief entrances would be by Brandon, Thetford, Rushford, Lopham Fen, Scole (the Shoal), Shotford, and Wainford (Wanneyford in old maps); on the south by Wixoe, Clare, Sudbury, Bures, Nayland, and Stratford St. Mary. Kentford and Beck Bridge, near Freckenham, directed the north-west tracks. Then southward stretched a free country, till about Moulton began the thickets of the Suffolk Woodlands, through which there were tracks into Cambridgeshire, some, no doubt, well known at the time of the Roman invasion. As to the east, the rovers of the sea could beach their boats where they pleased.
Generally speaking, there are three varieties of soil in Suffolk. Along the east coast lies a stretch of light heathy land, purple with that lovely blossom in August, all ablaze with furze-blossom at times, and never without a sparkle of it, according to the well-known saying, that ‘when furze is out of blossom, kissing is out of fashion’. Then some two-thirds and more is clay, sometimes of a very stiff character, extending through ‘High’ Suffolk and the Woodlands to the western border. Forming a band near the north-west corner, and turning south to the Essex border, comes the great line of chalk, running from the Yorkshire Wolds to Dorset. It reaches no great elevation, 352 feet above the sea-level, near Haverhill, being its greatest altitude, and is in many places well strewn with sand and gravel. The north-west portion is called the ‘breck’ country, terminating in the turf producing fens at the back of Mildenhall and Lakenheath.
Below the surface our investigations will not go beyond the chalk, the exposures whereof do not occur in the south-east corner of the county, being limited by a line from Sudbury through Ipswich to Dunwich. This great cretaceous bed is probably at least 800 feet thick on the average. The boring close to the Great Eastern Hotel at Harwich gave 890 feet of chalk and chalk marl; another at Combs, near Stowmarket, 817 feet of chalk.
This is the highest of the formations termed Secondary by the geologist. Next in order come those Tertiary strata which place us more in touch with the world as it now is. These were distinguished by Sir Charles Lyell into Eocene, Meiocene, and Pleiocene (the Dawn of the New, Less-New, and More-New), each in its turn further subdivided. Of the Eocene, we have a distinct exposure of the Thanet greensand round Sudbury, with further traces north of Hadleigh and near Ipswich ; the mottled clays and sands of the Reading bed appear at the brick yards of St. Helen’s, Ipswich, as also at Higham, Bramford, Copdock, Great Cornard, and elsewhere between Ipswich and Sudbury; the London Clay is found in the south of the hundreds of Babergh, Cosford, and Sampford, between the valleys of the Orwell and the Stour. Sometimes it may be seen in the sections of cliffs and deep-cut valleys, as in the Deben estuary and the cliffs near Orford Ness. In it such molluscs as the Voluta and Nautilus, teeth of various kinds of sharks, and the carapaces of turtles are found; but the huge saurians have no remains in the Eocene strata.
No beds of any higher Eocene or of Meiocene formation occur in the county. Where there is no London Clay the Pleiocene strata rest on the chalk.
On the London Clay, however, lies a thin stratum, not exceeding a yard in depth, containing remains of the rhinoceros, hyaena, and other creatures, including some kind of marine monster, to which the appropriate name of ‘halitherium’ has been given. This is called the ‘Bone bed’ or ‘Box-bone’ Deposit, from the lumps of dark sandstone which occasionally, when broken, are found to enclose shells or organic remains. The theory is that this bed may have been formed by the break-up of earlier deposits. It lies between the estuaries of the Orwell and the Deben.
The Coralline or White Crag of the warm-temperate Old Pleiocene period, abounding in shells, some of the Mediterranean species, occupies about ten square miles round Orford. There are small outliers at Ramsholt, Sutton, and Tattingstone. Working upwards through the cold-temperate Later Pleiocene period, we have the Lower Red Crag, near Felixstowe, and the Butley Crag, which seem closely allied; the Norwich Crag, at Thorpe Ness and Bulcamp; and the Chillesford Crag.
The Lower Red Crag, of which the layers lie much aslant, as though they had been piled around islands of older coral formation, contains at its base, in addition to shells, certain lumps of phosphatic nature called coprolites – the dried-up remains of the great lizard-like creatures of these periods. Their commercial value as manure was first pointed out by the late Professor Henslow. In 1877 the amount of 10,000 tons of coprolites, at about £3 a ton, came from Suffolk alone.
As we rise from stratum to stratum, observation tells us of decrease, general though not uniform, both in temperature and sea-depth. The German Ocean dwindled till England became part of the Continent. A notable monument of this epoch is the Forest Bed, exposed along the foreshore from Kessingland by Corton and Hopton, and appearing again off the Norfolk coast. It yields a grand supply of animal fossils, as some of our summer visitors know – remains of mammoth, especially teeth; also of rhinoceros, stag, Irish elk, and other smaller creatures; fish-scales, fruit, seeds and stumps of trees.
Then came a subsidence and a shallow sea, of which we have trace in the heath-covered shingle south of the Blyth. The cold became more intense. The Lower Boulder Clay was formed, and afterwards covered by thin layers of loams, often strongly impregnated with iron. In some intervals of relaxation there was a further sheeting of interglacial beds of sand and gravel, which occupy a large area along the coast, and in the peninsulas of the south-east.
The Great Boulder Clay, which so largely predominates in High Suffolk, and is the principal element in the surface-soil of the whole county, is the outcome of the utmost rigour of cold. It is crammed with proofs of its glacial origin, jumbled together in a fashion which seems confused, but yet is in accordance with forces working according to law: iron pyrites, ammonites, and belemnites, both ordinary and pestle-formed, echini and shells of many sorts, mingled with lumps of hard stone and chalk, flints of fine blue, red, and purple tints.
Having thus endeavoured to deal with the geology of the county, we turn to the first vestiges of humanity, in the shape of those tools made of stone, while as yet the metals were slumbering in their ores. These are distinguished generally into the palseolithic, or earlier, and the neolithic, or later, implements.
Those of the palseolithic period abound on the lighter soils of Suffolk, especially in the north-west, some of which may have come from the great flint works at Grimes Graves, in the parish of Weeting, just over the border. The parishes of Mildenhall, Icklingham., Lakenheath, and Santon Downham are eminent in this respect.
In the fluvio-glacial gravel in the parish of Hoxne, overlying the Norwich Crag, which lies, as it were, banked against the chalk (possibly an old shore-line), flint weapons used commonly to be found by labourers, who called them ‘fighting stones’, and used them in mending the roads. A paper, additionally interesting from its early date, was read by Mr. John Frere, F.R.S., F.S.A., before the Society of Antiquaries in 1797, on these prehistoric relics; and the discovery has been further treated of by Professor Prestwich9 and Sir John Evans10.
The primitive implements called ‘celts’, whether used as axes, adzes, chisels, or what not, are the most notable of these objects. Among other places, they have been found at Belton, Grundisburgh, Botesdale and Kesgrave11.
I have a scraper, piercer and lance-head found at Corton some years ago by Mr. William West, of Great Yarmouth. It is impossible to be definite, save at the expense of truth, in distinguishing these handiworks into different epochs of time, though generally the advance in skill from the mere chipped and unground work of the old stone period to that of the neolithic, new or surface stone, work, cannot fail to impress the observer. The older men worked on stone by means of stone only, generally flint. Later on other substances than flint were used as tools, and the edges and surfaces were ground. In no particular is progress more observable than in arrow-heads. They seem to have been treasured up, used as personal souvenirs or as charms, and sometimes may show themselves among fragments of Roman pottery in an unearthed dust-heap.
Though forming part of the slender personalty of earlier tribes, these objects and the like were also precious in the eyes of the first people in the district of whom written record exists. Their name, according to coins, is the Eceni, according to a doubtful place in Caesar’s ‘Commentaries’ the Cenimagni, according to general acceptation the Iceni.
Of the barrows now existing, most are of the round character, and may be assigned without much risk to this tribe. On Barnham Common may be found the imperfect remains of an important exception, a group of three long barrows, generally referred to the dolichocephalous or long-headed men, of a race earlier than these Britons.
In this neighbourhood are many of the round character on both sides of the Little Ouse, as well as further west. They occur generally near the existing main roads, the high antiquity of which as trackways is suggested by this fact. Gough records the cutting through one of these barrows, and the exposure of human bones, in making the turnpike road from Bury to Newmarket12. Thus also ‘Seven Hills’ is on the Thetford side of Ingham, on the road to Bury; ‘Jennet’s Hill’, not far from North Stow, between Bury and Brandon; another fine barrow is near by, between West Stow and Ingham; another, where I am informed beads have been found, is between Mildenhall and Brandon, on the left just as you pass from the open heath into the plantations ; two occupy conspicuous positions in the parishes of Lakenheath and Barton Mills. Of this pair, the first is on ‘Maid’s Cross’ Hill, and bears still the remains of a medieval cross. A little group of ragged old fir-trees marks it in that dreary neighbourhood. The other takes the highest point on the chalk, and, though very little elevated, may be seen many a mile across the Cambridgeshire country. It is easily discernible from the tower of Ely Cathedral.
Little excavation has been attempted, but one instance I feel bound to record.
In the parish of Mildenhall, near the Icklingham border, there is a group of mounds, called the Three Hills, formed in part from an excavated pit amongst them, a place where by tradition ‘Oliver Cromwell’ is reported to have hidden some chests of silver.
Here in the spring of 1866 some labourers, digging gravel, came upon a skeleton with horns, probably of the Bos longifrons, laid across his chest, a preservation from soil pressure. I was at Mildenhall at the time, and these remains were shown to me.
At Nacton, in Colneis Hundred, is a place called the ‘Seven Hills’, and there appear to have been other barrows in that neighbourhood.
- So called in Mr. G. Josselyn’s MS., of which the original is stated to have been in the possession of John Anstis, Esq., Garter.
- ‘The River Waveney : Did it ever reach the sea at Lowestoft?’ by George Edwards. Lowestoft, 1879.
- This in the Anstis MS. i3 called the Frontus.
- Called the Deave in the Anstis MS.
- Ure in the Anstis MS.
- ‘The stream through Poslinkford was called Ceuxis, but more truly Glarus.’ – Anstis MS.
- ‘The stream at Chelsworth is called Walsam’s river.’ – Anstis MS.
- The Dale in Anstis MS. Dalham is said to be named from it.
- Philosophical Transactions,’ part ii., 1860.
- ‘Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain,’ p. 516, etc.
- 'Ancient Stone Implements of Great Britain,’ p91 note.
- 'In the parish of Barrow.’ – ‘ Suffolk Traveller,’ P. 200.