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Norfolk has a varied and volatile history. Once upon a time, this part of the world was dominated by the tribe of the Iceni, their most famous leader being Boadicea. She led her people into bloody battles against the Romans in AD61. Vikings landed on the Norfolk shores and the Saxons have left burial grounds which are still coming to light. The Romans also left their mark with fortifications and long straight roads. The Dutch, also paid a visit, and showed the Angles how to reclaim land from the sea and turn it into rich farming land. They also built houses with lovely double curve side walls which can still be seen today, and are unique in the UK. Some of Norfolk's villages have gone forever, having been swallowed up by the sea. The coastline is constantly changing, and after particularly high tides, these cliffs give up their secrets. Fossils can be found dating back from when elephants, rhinos and giant moose roamed the land. In some cases entire skeletonís come to light, as in the case of "The West Runton Elephant".
The engine of trade was wool from Norfolk's sheepwalks. Wool made England rich, and the staple port of Norwich "in her state doth stand With towns of high'st regard the fourth of all the land", as Michael Drayton noted in Poly-Olbion (1612). Wool made England rich, and the staple port of Norwich "in her state doth stand With towns of high'st regard the fourth of all the land", as Michael Drayton noted in Poly-Olbion (1612). The wealth generated by the wool trade throughout the Middle Ages financed the construction of many fine churches; consequently, Norwich still has more medieval churches than any other city in Western Europe north of the Alps. Throughout this period Norwich established wide-ranging trading links with other parts of Europe, its markets stretching from Scandinavia to Spain. To organize and control its export to the Low Countries Great Yarmouth, as the port for Norwich, was designated one of the staple ports under terms of the 1353 Statute of the Staple. To organize and control its export to the Low Countries Great Yarmouth, as the port for Norwich, was designated one of the staple ports under terms of the 1353 Statute of the Staple.
By the middle of the 14th century the city walls, about two and a half miles (4 km) long, had been completed. These, along with the river, enclosed a larger area than that of the City of London. However, when the city walls were constructed it was made illegal to build outside them, inhibiting expansion of the city.
Around this time, the city was made a county corporate and became capital of one of the most densely populated and prosperous counties of England.
In 1144, the Jews of Norwich were accused of ritual murder after a boy (William of Norwich) was found dead with stab wounds. This was the first incidence of blood libel against Jews in England. The story was turned into a cult, William acquiring the status of martyr and subsequently being canonized. The cult of St. William attracted large numbers of pilgrims, bringing wealth to the local church. On 6 February 1190, all the Jews of Norwich were massacred except for a few who found refuge in the castle.
The great immigration of 1567 brought a substantial Flemish and Walloon community of Protestant weavers to Norwich, where they were known locally as 'Strangers', but made welcome.
Norwich has been the home of various dissident minorities, notably the French Huguenot and the Belgian Walloon communities in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The merchant's house now a museum, which was their earliest base in the city is still known as 'Strangers' Hall'. It seems that the Strangers were integrated into the local community without a great deal of animosity, at least among the business fraternity who had the most to gain from their skills.