A typical shipwreck at Lowestoft

Extract from a “Topographical Dictionary of England”
edited by Samuel Lewis and published in 1848

LOWESTOFT (St. Margaret), a sea-port, market town, and parish, in the incorporation and hundred of Mutford and Lothingland, E. division of Suffolk, 44 miles (N. E. by N.) from Ipswich, and 115 (N. E. by N.) from London; containing 4647 inhabitants. The name of this town, anciently Lothnwistoft or Laystoft, is derived either, as some suppose, from Lothbroch, a noble Dane, who obtained part of the kingdom of the East Angles, and resided here; or, according to others, from Low-toft, a market formerly held beneath the cliffs. In 1349, the great plague which devastated the continent of Europe, raged here with such fury that not more than one-tenth of the inhabitants escaped the contagion; and in 1547 and 1579 the malady again prevailed.

In 1605, Lowestoft suffered severely from fire; and during the usurpation of Cromwell, it was exposed to heavy exactions for its attachment to the royal cause: in 1643, Cromwell entered the town at the head of 1000 cavalry, and seizing several persons, sent them prisoners to Cambridge. In the war with the Dutch, two sanguinary engagements took place off the coast, in 1665 and 1666; two of the British admirals on that occasion being natives of Lowestoft.

In consequence of the repeated occurrence of shipwreck, two lighthouses were erected by the Trinity House; one on the cliff, built in 1676, and the other on the beach beneath. By steering in such a direction as to make the upper and lower lighthouses coincide, vessels are guided to a channel a quarter of a mile in breadth between the holme and Barnard sands. A life-boat, which is maintained by voluntary contribution, has been stationed here for some years, and has been instrumental in preserving numerous lives. There were formerly forts at the north and south ends of the beach, and at the Ness.

The town is situated on a lofty cliff bordering on the North Sea, and consists of one well-paved street, nearly a mile in length, and of several small ones, which diverge from it obliquely; the whole well lighted with gas. The houses, for the most part of brick, are neat and modern, and the inhabitants are supplied with water chiefly from wells; the air is salubrious, and the shore, gradually descending and having a firm bottom, is adapted for bathing.

There are a theatre, a spacious assemblyroom, and a subscription reading-room and library. A bathing-house, fitted up with hot and cold baths, was erected by subscription in 1824; it is a handsome building of pebble stones, with rusticated angles, situated at the south end of the High-street, on the beach.

The trade principally arises from the mackerel and herring fishery, in which about 80 boats are engaged, of from 40 to 50 tons' burthen each; employing about 800 men. Large quantities of mackerel are sent to London; and about 40,000 barrels of herrings, many of which are forwarded to the metropolis and other home markets, and to Italy, are cured and smoked in houses at the base of the cliff, extending the whole length of the town. There are breweries, and rope and twine manufactories; and shipbuilding is carried on.

Agreeably with the provisions of an act of parliament obtained in 1827, for forming a navigable communication between Lowestoft and Norwich, a cut was made from the sea to Lake Lothing near the town, which forms a harbour capable of receiving vessels of about 200 tons' burthen, opened by the admission of the sea, on the 18th of May, 1831. A company was formed in 1845 for improving the harbour, and constructing a railway to the Norwich and Yarmouth railway at Reedham; the line was opened July 1st, 1847, and is 11? miles long.

The market is on Wednesday, for grain and provisions; and toy-fairs are held on May 12th and October 10th. The county magistrates hold petty-sessions weekly, and manorial courts occasionally take place: the powers of the county debt-court of Lowestoft, established in 1847, extend over part of the registration-district of Mutford and Lothingland. The town having been part of the ancient demesnes of the crown, the inhabitants are exempted from serving on juries out of it. There are a commodious town-hall and a market-cross.

The parish comprises 1485 acres, of which 196 are common or waste land. The living is a discharged vicarage, endowed with the rectorial tithes, valued in the king's books at £10. 1. 0?., and in the gift of the Bishop of Norwich: the tithes have been commuted for £351, and the glebe comprises 4? acres. The church is a large and handsome structure in the later English style, with a tower surmounted by a wooden spire covered with lead, and a south porch; it contains a fine east window of stained glass, a large brass eagle, formerly used as a reading-desk, and a very ancient font. In 1698, a chapel of ease was rebuilt by subscription, near the centre of the town; but it is now used for parochial purposes, a new church having been erected by subscription in 1833, a handsome structure in the early English style, containing 1263 sittings, of which 939 are free.

Here are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Wesleyans. A free school was endowed in 1570, by Thomas Annot, with £16 per annum. Another school, on the east side of the High-street, was founded by Mr. John Wilde, in 1735; the bequests now produce £121 per annum, and the surplus, with other parish property, is applied to the augmentation of the salary of the master of Annot's school, and other charitable uses.

There are also a fishermen's hospital, a neat building below the cliff, erected in 1838, for six aged masters of fishing vessels; and a dispensary and infirmary, built in 1840. In the centre of the Highstreet are vestiges of a religious house, consisting of a curious arch, and cellars with groined arches, evidently part of an ancient crypt.

The cliffs abound with organic remains, such as the bones and teeth of the mammoth, and the horns and bones of the elk; with cornua ammonis; and with shells and fossils of various kinds. The celebrated William Whiston, professor of mathematics at Cambridge; and Mr. Potter, the learned translator of Æschylus and Euripides, were vicars of the parish; as was also, for the space of 51 years, John Tanner, brother of the author of the Notitia Monastica: he greatly embellished the church, and purchased the impropriate tithes for the benefit of his successors.