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  • 4DHeritage team

How the sea shaped Aldeburgh's history

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

Half of Aldeburgh has already been lost to the sea, and more may be lost to storms, floods and changing fortunes. The Moot hall, once in the centre of the town, now overlooks the sea.

But the sea also gave Aldeburgh its raison d'être, its prosperity and its identity. Aldeburgh’s fortunes have always been shaped by its river and coastline.

The estuary provided a place for early settlements from Romans to Vikings.

The sea not only was the source of its early wealth, but also its currency. Catching herring had been part of East Anglian life before the arrival of the Normans and at the time of Domesday, fish were still being used as currency. For example, Kessingland paid Hugh de Montfort a manorial rent of 22,000 herring. Fish sustained communities. In Southwold the fishermen caught 25,000 herring each year to feed the monks of St Edmund’s monastery. Aldeburgh’s economy was founded on herring, together with trade with the Continent. Red sprats were caught, dried and exported to Holland.

A crucial local expertise was boatbuilding which underpinned the fishing and trade. Sir Francis Drake’s ships, the Greyhound and Pelican (later renamed the Golden Hind) were both built in Aldeburgh.

On April 10, 1606, James I established the Virginia Company to establish settlements on the coast of America. The company’s flagship, the Sea Venture is thought to have been built in Aldeburgh in 1608.

Then the river silted up and the town’s fortunes changed. Where the rivers do meet the sea, ever shifting shingle bars create hazards for all but the smallest boats seeking to go out to sea.

Today the fishing boats on the beach are a reminder of that fishing heritage, with a handful still being launched from the beach most days and then selling their catch of sole and lobsters from huts on the shore.

This Immersive tour brings that local history alive with immersive views of the sea front leading south to Orfordness, of what remains of the port at Slaughden Quay, the watch house and lifeboat; and of course, the remaining fishing boats and huts.

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