Horsey; a landscape shaped by man

a black, white and turquoise map from 1797 showing Horsey estate and the coastline of east norfolk

In 1797 Horsey was a wild and desolate place, known locally as Devils’s Country due to it’s wild and lawless nature. The Enclosures Act paved the way for the land to be drained and changed this area forever

It was effectively still an island, surrounded by marshes with just one road in and out of the village that was often flooded for most of the year. Indeed the vicar of the parish reported that he nearly drowned on three occasions whilst travelling to the church to give his sermon! The name Horsey means ‘Horse Island’ and it is believed that Horsey was originally a stud or grazing area for horses. Mortality was high with insects carrying Fen Plague, also known as Marsh Malaria. With only seven cottages and a small farm house, Horsey was not somewhere people wanted to live.

Enclosure and drainage in the eighteenth century was to do away with this unmanaged wildness and the landscape full of animals and plants, many of which we now consider rare. The land was drained and improved but it spelt the end of a way of life for local people who lived here and made their living from the marshes. Farming became easier and livestock introduced, the sea however was always a threat. The sea has broken through the narrow strip of dunes on a number of occasions when exceptionally high tides and storms have coincided. These storm surges caused flooding most recently in 1938. Only in the nineteenth century did the sea defences and land drainage become sufficiently effective to allow for the construction of roads to neighbouring villages. With climate change predicting more frequent storms and sea level rises, this increases the flood risk to this low-lying area.

Horsey Windpump surrounded by flood water, 1938
black and white image of Horsey Windpump surrounded by flood water.
Horsey Windpump surrounded by flood water, 1938

Horsey today has significantly changed having grown in size and becoming a tourist destination. With the land drained and a proper access road built, many tens of thousands of visitors flock to the area each year. The Norfolk Broads is now an attractive destination, a far cry from 200 years ago. Horsey Windpump continues to stand watch over the village and mere as she and her predecessors have done for more than 300 years.