The first brick lighthouse in England was built at Lowestoft Ness in 1676, guiding ships between Lowestoft and Winterton. The closeness of the lighthouses at Orford, Southwold and Lowestoft within just a few miles of each other are testament to the treacherous nature of that area of the coast. Perhaps not surprisingly, Lowestoft was the first place in Suffolk to have a specially designated lifeboat in 1801. A special ‘Norfolk and Suffolk’ lifeboat design was developed over the years, with an almost flat bottom, so it could operate among the moving sandbanks which are common along the coast.
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Henry Blogg (1876-1954), was a lifeboat man for fifty-three years and coxswain of the Cromer lifeboat in Norfolk for thirty-eight, becoming the most decorated lifeboatman in England. During this time the Cromer boats saved 873 lives. Among the many awards he received were the Royal National Lifeboat Institution gold medal three times, the silver medal four times, as well as the George Cross and the British Empire Medal.
Despite its lack of coastline Cambridgeshire does have a strong maritime connection because of its proximity to the Wash and the River Ouse. Wisbech was a port in medieval times and renowned for boatbuilding for several centuries. Although the port has declined in importance it still enjoys a shipping trade with Europe. All the rivers in Cambridgeshire were famous for their fish, especially pike and eels, and there has been a long history of trade along the River Cam because of the lack of roads and inaccessibility of many Fenland villages. Goods were transported in Fenland lighters which could carry twenty to twenty-five tons of cargo. These were about forty-three feet (thirteen metres) long with a beam measuring around ten feet (three metres), with two central compartments, a cockpit at bow and stern connected by narrow side decks. By the end of the seventeenth century they were linked together in ‘gangs’ by ropes, chains or beams, as this increased the amount of cargo which could be carried.
Sails were sometimes used, but they mostly relied on horsepower. In Cambridge, horses had to walk along a raised causeway in the middle of the river between Quayside and Newnham, as there was no towpath. The new canals of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries helped fuel the Industrial Revolution as an essential component of the transport network before the development of steam traction and the railway network system. Many canals which criss-cross the county were constructed for inland navigation through extending natural waterways, former Roman irrigation systems and as part of draining the fens to reclaim the land (see Agriculture section). The New Bedford Canal was the main my blog for barges passing from one end of the Ouse to the other. Other well-used canals were the Outwell to Wisbech route and the canal running from Peterborough through Whittlesea Dyke to the old Nene River just below Benwick, then on to March. Barges on the river at Outwell in the early twentieth century.
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