The Dutch influence in Norfolk

Charles Lewis, our zoom speaker on 6 July, enlightened and entertained us with his account of how Dutch settlers have influenced the social and cultural history of Norfolk since the 16th century.

Starting with weavers, when in 1554 the city fathers of Norwich invited 12 Dutch weavers to bring new weaving methods into use here, and a further 30 weaving households were invited in 1565 to make new cloths and materials, the presence and influence of the Dutch extended into many aspects of Norfolk life.


It is estimated from Norwich records that by the 1570’s perhaps 25-30% of the population of Norwich were Dutch or Flemish. Over time, the new skills that the Dutch brough here included printing (from 1575), landscape gardening (in 1662 there were recorded 9 Dutch gardeners in Norwich) - and canaries. Yes, the Dutch passion for caged birds is believed to have provided the basis for the local name of our favourite football club.  

It was fascinating to learn that the Dutch herring fleet became notorious because of their intensive fishing methods all along the east coast of England, plundering local fish stocks, without landing any of their catch in England. How history repeats itself! English brewers did well because when the fleet anchored off Gt Yarmouth for rest and relaxation as many as 10,000 fishermen came ashore to have their needs met by 40 brewers.


Trade between England the Holland was vigorous in the 17th century. One innovation was the introduction of Dutch pantiles to re-roof Stiffkey Old Hall, which led to the growth of a huge new tiling industry that saw the replacement of thatched roofs by tiled roofs across Norfolk. Other Dutch building materials were brought in such as bricks and floor tiles that became widely used features of Norfolk construction. As well, of course, as the introduction of Dutch and Arras Gables into our architectural styles of the time, such as at Blickling Hall.

The Norfolk landscape was also transformed by Dutch know-how. Reclamation of salt marshes such as at Salthouse were carried out by Dutch engineers. Perhaps the most prominent of those was Cornelis Vermuyden, responsible for reclaiming the sea front at Dagenham, then Canvey Island, and then from 1639 onwards he led the reclamation of the Fens under contract to the King.

Charles rounded off his talk with reflections on the possible influence of the Dutch language on Norfolk dialect (for example the long “uu”), and on the prevalence of Dutch family names and street names. And those glorious tulips.

David Riddle