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History of the Norfolk Broads

The Norfolk Broads has a rich history and has been home to boating holidays for over a hundred years. Learn more about the history of the Norfolk Broads.

The Need for Resources

Fuel and building supplies were important for the dense population

In 12th Century Britain, the East of Norfolk was documented as having one of the densest populations across the country. Woodlands were cleared in the area as man looked for sources of fuel and timber for building. This was a tough task in times with no electricity and machinery to help remove the trees from the ground. It was an extremely difficult time and when the timber supplies began to run low, a new fuel source needed to be found. It was at this time that peat digging, also known as ‘turbary’, was tapped into and this provided a suitable fuel alternative.

Peat Digging

The extraction of the new resource led to the creation of The Norfolk Broads

The extraction of peat would have been a difficult and unpleasant task, requiring great physical effort. Yet it was a prosperous industry and provided fuel for both individual families and manors, with a greater proportion being sold. Digging took place throughout all the east Norfolk settlements until the 14th Century, when finally nature overcame man’s force. The massive holes that had been created gradually began to fill with water as the sea levels rose. Flooding was taking place on a regular basis and peat extraction was simply no longer possible. As these ‘holes’ began to fill the now popular tourist destination of the Norfolk Broads was starting to form.

Communication and Commerce

Channels to major port allowed exports and trade

Over 200 km of navigable Broads and rivers were created by the peat digging, providing essential channels for communication and commerce throughout the 16th Century. At this time Norwich was the second largest city in England after London and Great Yarmouth was used as a port, exporting its popular trading goods of wool, weaving and agricultural produce. All of this was enabled by the Norfolk Wherry, one of the earliest forms of transport across the Broads. It could carry around 25 tonnes of goods and was in service up and down the Broads for around 200 years.


The arrival of the railway encouraged new visitors

While the Norfolk Broads have always been used for recreation, tourism in the area ultimately began with the arrival of the railway in the mid 1800s. This allowed more visitors to come to the region and sparked the introduction of the boat hiring businesses we still see on the Broads today.

Norfolk Broads History

There is more to see and learn at the Museum of the Broads

Today the Norfolk Broads can still evoke a sense of disbelief in new visitors. For those wishing to discover more about the fascinating history of the Norfolk Broads, visit the Museum of the Broads in Stalham where you can see how the mystery was solved and the tools used in the traditional trades including thatching.

Faircraft Loynes

Our holiday cruisers

Faircraft Loynes have operated a fleet of holiday cruisers on the Norfolk Broads at Wroxham since 1878, read more about our boating holiday history.