The East of England is known for its rich medieval history, agricultural innovation; most of all it has been known as the battleground of England throughout the centuries. The home of Cambridge University, it also has seen the Boudiccan Revolt, the defiance of Hereward the Wake, the Peasants' Revolt, Kett's Rebellion, and was the home of Oliver Cromwell. However, it is much more than that with a rich and varied historic environment and challenging housing and economic growth plans.
Geography and population
The East of England covers approximately 19,400 sq km and is the second largest region. It contains one national park (the Broads, designated by a separate act of Parliament) and three areas of outstanding natural beauty (Dedham Vale, Norfolk Coast, Suffolk Coast and Heaths). It encompasses the six traditional counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Suffolk, and Norfolk and its boundaries range from Burghley House to Tilbury and Cromer to Watford.
The East of England has a population of over 5.7 million making up 11% of the population of England (2008 figures). The population is dispersed across small cities, market towns and rural villages. The main towns and cities by population size are Basildon, Bedford, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Colchester, Great Yarmouth, Harlow, Ipswich, Luton, Norwich, Peterborough, Southend-on-Sea, Stevenage, Thurrock and Watford.
The East of England is known for its rural nature and network of smaller settlements based around towns, villages and hamlets. It is the arable agricultural mainstay of the country; this aspect dominates the rural landscape. The growth of farming in the 20th century had placed a pressure on old hedgerows and ancient field boundaries. Rural areas are predominantly connected by road following the Beeching cuts of rural rail lines. The reliance on the car, and the movement of freight by road to the region’s ports, create further pressures on the historic environment.
The rural areas are not immune from growth with significant village settlements being identified for growth and expansion to meet the challenging housing targets set in the Regional Spatial Strategy. The region has 1,727 scheduled monuments, 57,711 listed buildings, 210 registered parks and gardens, one registered battlefield, one protected wreck, and 1,191 conservation areas.
The East of England is third in the country in numbers of listed buildings, conservation areas and registered parks and gardens after the South West and South East. It is fourth in the country for numbers of scheduled monuments. The East of England has over 2,300 places of worship (Norfolk alone has over 700) and the largest number of Grade I and Grade A churches. This leads to the region having the largest number of places of worship grant applications.
A brief history
The East of England ranges from the Chilterns in the West, the Fens in the North West, saltmarshes and the Broads in the North East and the estuaries of Essex in the South. Crossed by the prehistoric route, the Icknield Way and covered with evidence of occupation from the Neolithic flint mine at Grime's Graves to Seahenge, the East has a long history of settlement.
It is from here that Boudicca fought the Roman occupation and raized Colchester and Hereward the Wake resisted the Norman invasion. A rare example of a Norman planned settlement can be seen at Castle Acre. The medieval period saw the flourishing of religious building and the region is known for its churches, including the early Isleham Priory Church, and cathedrals (Bury St Edmunds, Ely, Norwich, Peterborough and St Albans) as well as monastic settlements such as Bury St Edmunds Abbey.
Castles also dominated this untamed land at Castle Rising (where Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II, retired after her coup failed), Framlingham (where Queen Mary mustered her forces to take the crown in 1553), and Orford (where Henry II hoped to control the East Anglian barons). And, famously, Queen Elizabeth rallied the troops near Tilbury Fort.
From the age of Enlightenment there emerged a former Royal Palace at Audley End, and there are formal gardens which escaped the natural landscaping of 'Capability' Brown at Wrest Park. The Industrial Revolution may have appeared to have passed the East of England by but the collection at Denny Abbey and the rich mercantile past at the Great Yarmouth Row Houses reflect the emerging industrial base of the area.
People in the East of England have made great contributions to the furtherance of human knowledge, not least due to the influence of Cambridge University which has produced some of the country's finest minds. The country's first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole; the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, and Admiral Lord Nelson all came from the East of England.
Other notable contributors to public life include artists Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable, abolitionist Thomas Clarkson, revolutionary Thomas Paine, statesmen Cardinal Thomas Wolsley and Robert Cecil, nurse Edith Cavell, social reformer Octavia Hill, suffragist Dame Millicent Fawcett, prison reformer Elizabeth Fry, poet Rupert Brooke and composer Benjamin Britten.
Natural processes have been taking and redistributing land over millennia. Happisburgh and Dunwich are most noted for their continuing loss of land but most of the East Anglian coastline is under threat. Great Yarmouth has been subjected to longshore drift. The Dengie Flats in Essex are being investigated to better understand why they in turn receive accretions. A further change in climatic conditions may have exacerbated this natural process.