King Newbuchadnezzar II’s Hanging Gardens of Babylon from the 6th century BC looked natural, but they were man-made – just like our Broads.
In the Broads Man and Nature combined through many centuries, but it was only in the 1950s that a local girl, by now a lecturer at Southampton University, Dr Joyce Lambert, came up with the novel theory that this unique area, with its patchwork of lakes and rivers, wasn’t inundated valleys but was instead a man-made phenomenon.
Dr Lambert spent many years making hand-borings, by which she discovered that these mud and water filled hollows had vertical sides and mostly flat bottoms. Within the hollows were islands of solid peat, knocking forever on the head the idea that the Broads had originated naturally.
The only feasible explanation was that they represented deep excavations for peat which had become flooded. This was a time when the area had already been de-forested and fuel was scarce. From court rolls, deeds, account rolls, leases, surveys and other documents came formidable evidence, supporting the idea of an important peat industry in the Broads during the 12th to 14th centuries.
They revealed, for example, that in one year in the 14th century Norwich Cathedral Priory burnt 400,000 peat turves, most of it in the priory kitchens.
During the great days of turf cutting, drainage of the pits was essential, but over time the menace of flooding increased as sea levels rose. By about 1400 the industry was virtually at an end, and Nature took over.
The real oddity is that something which had lasted so long disappeared so quickly from memory and scientists have long been puzzled that there is no folklore about the Broads. It is a similar story with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Not until Queen Victoria’s time did it become the magnet which has attracted millions of people to enjoy its distinctive character, its visual beauty, wildlife and tranquillity.
And now it is Man who is sustaining the Broads and protecting the future of this unique corner of England, not least the restoration of peatland, as shown in these photos from Horsey and Barton Marshes.