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Suffolk


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Is one of the largest and most beautiful of shires and its greater distance from London has saved it from some of the ravages inflicted on its southern neighbour Essex. The ‘south folk’, from whom the county took its name, formed part of the kingdom of the East Angles. The twin pivots of the county are Bury St Edmunds, described by Leland as ‘a city more neatly seated the sun never saw’, and Ipswich, in Camden's words ‘the eye of the county’. The division between east and west is of long standing and in 1888 the two sections were given separate county councils. They were reunited in 1972.

In Roman times, Suffolk was part of the territory of the Iceni. By the 7th cent. the kingdom of East Anglia was of importance. The Sutton Hoo ship‐burial, near Woodbridge, dating from c.630, is almost certainly the grave of one of their kings, probably Rædwald, who died c.625.

By the 8th cent. East Anglia was experiencing difficulty in fending off Mercia and Wessex. The area suffered severely from Danish raids from 861 onwards. In 870 King Edmund was martyred, allegedly transfixed with arrows, and his body taken eventually to Beodricsworthe, to be known in future as Bury St Edmunds. The region fell under Danish rule from 878, but was recovered by Edward the Elder in the 920s. Dunwich (founded c.630) lost its episcopal status to Thetford, and then Norwich.

Throughout the Middle Ages, Suffolk was dominated by the many religious houses. Strife between the abbot of Bury and the townsfolk was fierce. In 1327 the town rioted and burned much of the abbey: in 1381, during the Peasants' Revolt, the lord chief justice and the abbot were beheaded. At the dissolution of the monasteries, the abbey was ransacked.

Suffolk's prosperity was built on sheep, corn, and fish. The cloth trade, in the later Middle Ages, produced the profits for the fine churches at Long Melford, Framlingham, Lavenham, Eye, and Bury. In the absence of mineral resources or heavy industry, population grew slowly. Dunwich's decline, due to erosion, was evident by the 14th cent., but Ipswich remained a busy port and Lowestoft became a major fishing harbour. Felixstowe developed as a seaside resort in the 19th cent. and after 1945 became a substantial container‐port, dealing with Europe.

Subjects: British History.


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