The most easterly part of England and Britain, made up of the counties of (indisputably) Norfolk and Suffolk, which occupy a large cape sticking out into the North Sea to the northeast of London. It is sometimes taken to include Cambridgeshire as well, which borders both counties to their west, and is occasionally regarded as including northern parts of Essex that lie adjacent to Suffolk.note Sometimes (especially on the internet) the region is confused with the east of England as a whole.
Whether Essex belongs in East Anglia - as it undeniably does, geographically - or should be considered one of the Home Counties, or as a post-War expansion of Greater London, is an ongoing debate. More details about Essex will be found on the Home Counties page.
East Anglia covers a sizeable area, yet does not occupy a large niche in British popular imagination or culture — summed up by, if nothing else, Noël Coward's memorable epithet "Very flat, Norfolk". The region is indeed known for its big skies and wide horizons, unimpeded by much in the way of either dramatic terrain or urban development; the western and northern parts of Norfolk in particular are very low-lying and the county's highest point is just 103m (338ft) above sea level. East Anglia is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the tornado capital of the British Isles. In character it is more akin in many ways to The Netherlands, directly across from it on the other side of the North Sea, than it is to most of the rest of England. Immediately inland from the great bay of The Wash the land is particularly flat, low-lying and often marshy; these are the Fens of Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, which historically — before centuries of drainage and reclamation — helped cut East Anglia off from the rest of Britain still further.
It is even today a mostly rural part of the country and relatively sparsely-populated: Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire rank respectively 5th, 8th and 15th among England's 48 ceremonial counties by size, but only 25th, 32nd and 28th in population. The exceptions are the cities of Norwich, Cambridge and Peterborough, plus several towns such as Ipswich, King's Lynn, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds. The local accents form part of what might be called (cruelly) a "Yokel Belt" stretching across southern England from Cornwall to Norfolk, featuring a generally common sort of drawl — meaning the uninitiated (or even experienced actors) attempting to do an East Anglian accent will tend to fall into West Country dialect, despite the fact that they really don't sound similar.
The joint isolation that Norfolk and Suffolk occupy from the rest of the country breeds something like a close sibling relationship, with a sometimes friendly, sometimes simmering rivalry between two counties more similar than they'd perhaps like to admit. Notably this is mirrored on the Association Football pitch, where unusually for English counties of such size they have just one professional team apiecenote and thus although 40 miles/64 km apart Norwich City FC and Ipswich Town FC engage in what is surely the longest-distance 'local' rivalry in England — each club to a substantial degree representing their whole county as much as merely their town.
East Anglia derives its name from its status in the Dark Ages, when it was the eastern major kingdomnote of the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that invaded Britain after the Romans withdrew in the fifth century and who also ultimately gave their name to England (Angle-land) as a whole. Archaeological evidence suggests that East Anglia experienced the earliest settlement by these people, meaning that the area actually has a fairly strong claim to being the first place in the world where [Old] 'English' was spoken. Oh, and back when it was a kingdom, the East Angles living there were divided into the "north folk" and "south folk." Guess what those names became?
Notes on pronunciation:
- Norfolk and Suffolk are pronounced to rhyme with 'book' not with 'yolk', i.e. "NORfook" and "SUHfook".
- The first 'o' in Norfolk is long, as in the word 'nor'; the 'o' in Norwich however is short, as in 'not'.
- Ipswich is pronounced as it looks ("IPswitch") but the 'w' in Norwich is dropped: "NORRitch" or, locally, "NAHHRidge".
- Cambridge is pronounced "CAMEbridge", but it sits on the River Cam... which is said just as it looks.
- Cambridgeshire, in common with other British counties ending in -shire, has its last syllable pronounced "-shuh" or "-sheer", never actually "shire".
- Peterborough, in common with other British places with similar endings, has '-borough' said as "-burruh", never "burrow" or "borrow".
There is a certain feel to Norfolk of a place 'out of time'. Although it is within easy striking distance of London, there are no 'M'-class motorways in the county and it mostly remains off the beaten track — its liminal location in the great flat bulge of East Anglia, surrounded on two sides by the North Sea and additionally separated at its northwestern corner from The Midlands by a roughly square-shaped bay of about 15 miles (25km) per side known as The Wash, means you can't go through it on the way to anywhere else. It does carry a palpable sense of history: there are for instance over 650 churches built in The Middle Ages still standing in the county, by far the highest tally in England and the greatest such concentration in the world.
The flip side of this is that, although home to two large shopping centres, several live music venues and one of the largest universities in England, Norfolk's county town Norwich and the county in general are often (rather unfairly) stereotyped as being at best remote, agricultural, unsophisticated and out of step with national trends, even by East Anglian standards. At worst, the portrait is of somewhere incestuous and almost medievalnote — the closest American Cultural Translation might be the more exaggerated depictions of the Deep South.note This 'otherness' is humorously acknowledged by the inhabitants, who have an old and self-deprecating saying that someone or something a little 'off' is "normal for Norfolk".note
Norfolk's main towns include:
- Norwich — With a population of about 200,000, Norwich is the largest settlement in both Norfolk and East Anglia by some margin, and is the only city in Norfolk and Suffolk combined. Rather marooned in the middle of East Anglia today, it is hard to believe that until the 18th century it was England's second-largest city after London, having benefitted from the wool trade throughout the Middle Ages. As Norfolk's county town it shares many of the wider region's stereotypes, though it's obviously not quite so rustic — it also bucks a lot of these stereotypes, not being the backwater it's often shown as but in reality being a bustling 'rural capital' and a vibrant cultural hub with a large young population due to the presence of the University of East Anglia, and quite a few large employers such as Aviva, Marsh, the BBC, ITV and Naked Wines. The roadsigns when you enter the urban area say "Welcome to Norwich: A Fine City", which nicely suggests a slightly old-fashioned air but one of quiet confidence and vaguely genteel aspiration. Still England's most complete medieval city, it was once so crammed with ancient sites of worship and beer-houses it was famously said to have "a pub for every day of the year and a church for every week" — a line that in fact undersells the number of pubs historically, which peaked at over 780 in the late 19th century. Its magnificent cathedral has the second-tallest spire in Britain at 96m (315ft). Norwich is perhaps still most famous, however, for being the fictional home of Alan Partridge.
- King's Lynnnote — A medium-sized port and market town in the west of the county, slightly outside the Fens. Once known as Bishop's Lynn while under the temporal and spiritual jurisdiction of the Bishop of Norwich, but in the reign of Henry VIII it was surrendered to the crown and took its current name — though it is commonly known as just Lynn. Situated just south of The Wash, a large shallow indentation of the North Sea fed by several rivers, it was historically one of the biggest and most important towns in the country thanks largely to the port. In the Middle Ages when trade with Europe was dominated by the Hanseatic League of ports it was considered as vital to England as Liverpool was during the Industrial Revolution.
- Great Yarmouth — Norfolk's most significant seaside resort, situated on the east coast slightly north of its 'twin' Lowestoft the other side of the Suffolk county boundary. Commonly referred to as just Yarmouth (the "Great" is to distinguish it from another Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight), it is known for its 'Golden Mile' of seafront and sandy beaches, amusement arcades and two piers. Alas now somewhat run-down in common with many other such British seaside destinations whose heyday was the mid-20th century. Much of the historic town survives despite it suffering serious damage from the Luftwaffe during World War II as the last significant place Germans could drop bombs before returning home.
- Thetford — A small market town near Thetford Forest, one of England's largest forests. It is the main settlement in Breckland, a region whose unusual habitat of gorse-covered sandy heathland is home to many rare flora and fauna and which is one of the driest areas in England. Thetford is the birthplace of Thomas Paine, and also the spiritual home of the eternally popular Dad's Army, the location filming for which was done in and around the town — a life-size sculpture of Captain Mainwaring can be found sitting on a bench in the town today.
One of the few English counties without a motorway or a city (Ipswich lacks city status). The county also used to lack a university until the opening of University Campus Suffolk in 2007. The county has four main towns:
- Ipswich — The largest settlement, historic county town and the traditional rival of Norwich (which is slightly larger and has city status) — not least in footballing terms. Both the England national football team's most successful managers Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson formerly managed Ipswich Townnote , winning respectively the Football League (Ramsey) and the FA Cup and UEFA Cup (Robson) during their remarkable spells in charge of an otherwise modest provincial club. Various surveys suggest Ipswich is one of England's cleanest, happiest and most desirable places to live.
- Lowestoft — Britain's most easterly settlement, and Suffolk's second-largest town, an old seaside resort situated on the coast slightly south of Great Yarmouth and some 110 miles NE of London. Like Yarmouth it possesses wide sandy beaches and is a tourism hotspot, but similarly it is also one of the county's most deprived areas. Bombarded in both World Wars by respectively the German Navy and the Luftwaffe, it is sometimes claimed as one of the UK's most heavily-bombed towns per head of population. Lowestoft Ness (Ness Point) on its seafront is the easternmost point of England, Great Britain, the United Kingdom and the British Isles.
- Bury St Edmunds — A medium-sized historic market town named after St Edmund, a.k.a. the East Anglian 9th-century king Edmund the Martyr, who was slain fighting the Danes after he refused to renounce Christ. Colloquially known locally as just Bury, the name comes from the same Germanic root as burg (fortress) and borough — but fittingly St Edmund's relics were actually buried in the abbey whose ruins still lie in the heart of the town.
- Felixstowe — A small coastal town that also happens to boast Britain's largest container port, one of the busiest in Europe, which deals with nearly half of the country's containerised shipping trade. Three years before the first terminal opened in 1967, however, the sea off Felixstowe was notable in a different way as at Easter 1964 Buccaneer Broadcaster Radio Caroline became the first 'pirate radio' ship in the North Sea to go on air in an attempt to break The BBC's monopoly.
- Huntingdonshire — One of England's smallest counties and now a district in Cambridgeshire. The county town of Huntingdon is where Oliver Cromwell was from. Former Prime Minister of the UK John Major was Member of Parliament for here from 1979-2001.
- Peterborough — In Cambridgeshire but previously Northamptonshire, where East Anglia shades into The Midlands. Supposedly the gateway to East Anglia (depending which direction you're coming from, obviously). The city has been important since the Middle Ages (having gained city status in 1541) and has a fine cathedral whose low towers make it seem to 'crouch' against the Fenland winds in its flat landscape. The population expanded greatly in the 1960s after being designated a New Town; it remains one of the country's fastest growing cities.
- Cambridge — Home to one of the world's oldest and most famous universities, which is equally famous for its long-standing rivalry with Oxford; nonetheless, the two are frequently conflated into one big 'Oxbridge' whole by outsiders.
- Fenland or The Fens is a an area which crosses the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire boundary. It was previously marshland but was drained with a great network of dykes and pumps, starting in antiquity but in earnest in the mid-1600s and then again (after the newly exposed land dried, shrank down further and... re-flooded) in the late 1700s and early 1800s and is now some of the most fertile farmland in the country. Exceptionally flat, it includes the lowest land in the United Kingdom — Holme Fen in Cambridgeshire holds the record at around 9 feet below sea level. Most of the area's towns are built on high land which formed 'islands' in the marsh, the most notable of these being Wisbech and the cathedral city (one of the UK's smallest cities, pop. c.20,000) of Ely. The area is also home to a large Eastern European population who immigrated there to work on the land after a number of Eastern European countries joined The European Union. As a result the area is more pro-UKIP (the populist right-wing party) than the majority of the UK, and the Fenland town of Ramsey became the first town council to be run by UKIP. The district council of Fenland was one of the top ten councils in the entire United Kingdom to vote to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.
- The Broads is a national park which crosses the boundary of Norfolk and Suffolk, though commonly known as 'the Norfolk Broads'. The area, a network of navigable lakes and rivers that have become both a haven for wildlife and a popular tourist destination for boating holidays, was long thought to be a natural feature of the landscape but in the 1960s it was proved that in origin it is artificial — from where the local monasteries during the Middle Ages excavated for peat which was used as fuel. Sea levels rose and the diggings flooded, forming what is now known as the Broads.
In fiction and the media
- Lovejoy was set in the heart of rural southern East Anglia, and was filmed largely in the vicinity of Bury St Edmunds and scattered locations across Suffolk and north Essex.
- Detectorists takes place in the fictional town of Danebury, northern Essex, which some consider to be part of East Anglia. Even more so because it's actually filmed in Suffolk.
- Kingdom (2007) was set in the fictional Norfolk seaside town of Market Shipborough. It was also actually filmed in various locations across the county — thus the extensive Norfolk Scenery Porn. It's also one of the few series to at least try to get the Norfolk accent right, although not everyone can quite manage it.
- Given this, it's hardly surprising that star Stephen Fry is from Norfolk — raised in a village outside Reephamnote .
- Dinosaur Planet is also set in Norfolk.
- Surprisingly little rock or pop music of note comes out of East Anglia. The Singing Postmannote and some members of Pink Floyd including Syd Barrettnote in the 1960s, Brian Eno note , Olivia Newton-Johnnote and Space Rock band Underground Zeronote in the 1970s, Nik Kershawnote and Andy Bellnote in the 1980s, Cathy Dennisnote in the 1990s, spoof folkies The Kipper Family, Beth Orton note , 2000s retro glam-rockers The Darknessnote , Ed Sheerannote .... and that's pretty much it. Oh, and, hilariously enough, Suffolk is the home of gothic metallers Cradle of Filth, with Dani Filth himself being based in Ipswich. This is a fact that seems to embarrass the local tourism boards, which want absolutely nothing to do with them.
- The UK version of Sale of the Century, produced by the local ITV company Anglia Television, used to open each show with the expansive but underwhelming pronouncement "Live from Norwich, it's the Quiz Of The Week!"note The intro was spoofed in the radio comedy show The Burkiss Way for its provincialism:
And now from Anglia TV! Live, from our studios at an incompletely converted abbatoir in Norwich!
Anglia TV. Serving the East of England right.
Anglia TV. Sponsored by the miracle fertiliser Dung-K.
- In His Dark Materials, the Fens were never drained and the Gyptians (alternate universe Romani, who travel in barges instead of caravans) took over the land to be their capital city.
- Dr Malcolm Bradbury's novel The History Man is a thinly autobiographical account where a character stalks the campus of what in the 1970s would have been a "new" university. It's a VERY thinly disguised depiction of Norwich's University of East Anglia and some of its teaching staff — characters who could easily be identified by anyone who was around UEA in the time period 1970-86. In fact, the BBC got to film part of their TV adaptation at UEA.
- Alan Partridge not only comes from Norwich, as noted above, but tends to retreat there during his career's down-slumps.
- The East Anglia arc of Assassin's Creed: Valhalla has Eivor head there to court Thegn Oswald into making an alliance with their town of Ravensthorpe while also having to deal with a mutual enemy in Jarl Rued, a viking warlord who's been pillaging towns left and right, but also went and sent his men to the wrong town, earning a very pissed off Eivor to deal with the problem personally.