Christmas Day was ushered in with snowstorms and hailstorms, thunder and lightning. On the 26th the roads were almost impassable by the drifting snow which, in some localities, was from ten to twelve feet deep.
The Ipswich mail coach, which should have arrived in Norwich on Christmas Day, did not reach the city until eleven o’clock on the night of the 29th. One of the passengers, Captain Petre, walked to Norwich from Thwaite, a distance of 28 miles; he arrived in the city on the 28th.
The Newmarket mail could get no further than Bury St Edmunds. The eventual thaw came in January – and led to widespread flooding.
A cricket match was played on the ice at Scoulton Mere, between two selected elevens from the parish of Hingham.
“Mr W Waller’s side went in first, and after some fine play, and still finer falls, were out for 66 runs. Mr W Roberts’ side then took the bat, and scored 170 runs in the most slashing style, hitting the ball quite off the ice in all directions. Some of the players wore skates, and others their stump shoes to prevent falling.”
The Black Death reached Norwich. According to the 18th century historian Francis Blomfield, the first recorded outbreak of what we now call bubonic plague occurred in the city on this date.
Plague had already struck on England’s south coast the previous summer, and was by now rampant throughout the country. Bubonic plague got its name from the painful lymph nodes, culled buboes, which appeared on sufferers’ bodies. Dried blood under the skin turned black. After its onset, an awful death came in seven out of 10 cases within two or three days.
We can never be certain how many people died of the plague in Norwich. Recent estimates indicate that out of a population of about 25,000 in 1348, as few as 6,000 survived, or were living in the city, 20 years later. Of course, many people may have fled to the countryside, where there was a better chance of survival.
The dead were piled high in carts and buried in communal pits in Cathedral Close. In Lynn almost half the population died, while Yarmouth’s densely populated Rows were decimated.
Eventually the country recovered, but plague kept on returning to Norwich, to devastating effect in 1578, 1603 and 1625. East Anglia managed to evade the worst effects of the Great Plague of London in 1665, which was largely confined to the metropolis.
A huge storm devastated the port of Dunwich. The Suffolk town had been among the foremost in the country until a long process of erosion, punctuated by dramatic storms and flooding, wiped it out.
In the winter of 1328 ferocious winds whipped up the sea. In subsequent flooding about 400 houses were destroyed and the market place inundated. The harbour was blocked and coastal trade switched to nearby Walberswick. It was a far cry from the days, less than a century earlier, when Dunwich proudly launched 80 ships to go to war with the French.
After 1328 people began to abandon Dunwich. The form of erosion known as longshore drift had an irreversible effect, and churches and houses were washed away over subsequent centuries. The Franciscan Greyfriars monastery was rebuilt further inland, but today the cliffs are just feet away from the surviving ruins.
Despite having just eight inhabitants the historic borough of Dunwich returned two Members of Parliament until it was abolished in the 1832 Reform Act.
Thomas Paine was born in Thetford. His father was a Quaker who worked as a corset-maker and smallholder. Although educated in the town, the young Paine left Norfolk at an early age. Already he was smarting at the unfairness of the hierarchical, undemocratic society of his time.
He tried a number of jobs, including working as an excise collector, schoolteacher and sailor, before finding his true calling. A meeting with American Benjamin Franklin led him to emigrate to the colonies. There he lent his considerable intellectual skills to the cause of American independence. His best known line – “these are the times that try men’s souls” – helped raise the morale of George Washington’s army at a crucial time.
Back in England he wrote his best-known work The Rights of Man, in 1791. It was a defence of the French Revolution, and an early call for democracy. With Britain thrust into a war against revolutionary France, his words got him into trouble and he fled to the continent to avoid arrest.
In France he got mixed up with dangerous revolutionary politics, and was lucky not to be guillotined during the Terror. Despite this, he wrote The Age of Reason, stressing his demands for religious freedom.
Eventually, he returned to America, where he died in 1809. In 1964 a statue of Paine was erected in Thetford, where it stands outside the historic King’s House.