Lowestoft is the most easterly settlement in the United Kingdom and is home to Ness Point, the most easterly point in the British Isles – longitude 1º 45’ 53” E. It is one of the oldest known towns showing evidence of human habitation with a history going back over 700,000 years.
The name Lowestoft is of Viking origin, made up of the name Hlothver and the suffix toft, meaning homestead. By 1086, Lowestoft was known as Lothuwistoft and was described in the Domesday book as an agricultural village of just 16 households. It was a sub-manor under the manor of Gorleston, which formed part of the King’s holding within the Hundred of Lothingland. At that time there was no access to the sea from what are now Lake Lothing and Oulton Broad; all fishing was from the beach.
In the Middle Ages Lowestoft became an increasingly important fishing town. The industry grew quickly and the town grew to compete with Great Yarmouth. The trade, particularly fishing for herring, continued to act as the town’s main income source until the 20th century. Wealthy merchants lived on the cliff tops, whilst the functional support for the industry grew on the wide open areas of the beach, known as the Denes.
In 1847 Sir Morton Peto, often regarded as ‘the father of modern Lowestoft’, purchased the harbour at Lowestoft and built a railway line to the town, thus opening the whole of England as a market for the town’s fresh fish. He also provided mooring for 1000 fishing boats, further supporting what was now the area’s leading generator of income and jobs. One million herring was the record catch for one day between Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth, and approximately four hundred million herring were being landed each season.
These developments also had a profound impact on the town’s populace because they helped to assist other industries such as engineering and allowed others to take advantage of the port’s increased trade with the continent. Furthermore it began to establish Lowestoft as a flourishing seaside holiday resort.
They heyday of the fishing industry was between 1870 and the start of World War I. When Norway prohibited British fleets working in its waters this signaled the end of the large-scale fishing fleets operating from Lowestoft. Over the last one hundred years there has been a gradual decline in the industry with the last beam trawlers going out of business in 2002. However, as the town adapted many of these boats were transferred to service alongside the newly created North Sea oil rigs.
Today a population of over 70,000 makes Lowestoft the second largest town in Suffolk. The town itself is a harmonious combination of the old and the new, retaining its rich architectural inheritance, such as the Lowestoft Town Hall and Lighthouse, both Grade II listed buildings, while developing modern services and amenities. It has many ancient buildings, intriguing deep little lanes linking town and shore, scores, offers two theatres, Marina and The Seagull, and a range of museums including the Lowestoft War Memorial Museum, the Maritime Museum and the Royal Naval Patrol Service Museum.
It is also becoming a centre for the development of renewable energy. Ness Point is the site for the Orbis renewable energy development centre, and Britain’s previously tallest wind turbine Gulliver, standing 126 metres high. The recent revival of its old brewing tradition and its numerous businesses based on energy, old and new, and tourism, due to its picturesque southern beaches and proximity to the Broads and the River Waveney, are indicative of its popularity as both a community and a town.
With its rich and diverse history, and a seemingly innate ability to adapt over time to resources and demand, Lowestoft is firmly established as a town of substantial geographical and historical importance, an attractive tourist destination and a hub for future industries along the Norfolk and Suffolk coast.