Mousehold Heath

A view of Norwich Cathedral from St. James' Hill
Heathland
Woodland at the southern tip of the heath
Mousehold Heath, Norwich

Mousehold Heath is a freely accessible area of heathland and woodland which lies to the north-east of the medieval city boundary of Norwich, in eastern England.

The name also refers to the much larger area of open heath that once extended from Norwich almost to the Broads, and which was kept free of trees by both human activity and the action of animals grazing on saplings. The landscape was transformed by enclosure during the nineteenth century and has now largely disappeared, as almost all of it has since been converted into farmland or landscaped parks, reverted to woodland, or has been absorbed by the rapid expansion of Norwich and its surrounding villages, where new roads, shops, houses and light industrial units have been built. The present Mousehold Heath consists of mostly broad-leaf woodland, with isolated areas of heath that are actively managed. It is home to a number of rare insects, birds and other vertebrates.

A chapel dedicated to William of Norwich (a local child who was murdered in 1114) was erected on the heath, of which little remains today. In 1549, Robert Kett camped on the heath with his followers, days before their uprising was suppressed by the authorities. The heath was in the past used by the local population to collect fuel, food and housing materials, as well as to extract sand, clay and gravel. Parts of it have previously been used as a cavalry training ground, a race course, a United States Army Air Forces base, an aerodrome and a prisoner-of-war camp. Nowadays the last remnant of the original Mousehold Heath, managed by Norwich City Council, is surrounded on all sides by housing and light industry.

Geology

Mousehold Heath is a 184-acre (74 ha) public area of heathland, woodland and recreational open space to be found to the north of Norwich city centre. It is the largest of the nature reserves managed by Norwich City Council. It was once an extensive area of heathland that stretched for several miles to the north and east of Norwich, but has since been largely converted to woods and farmland.[1]

St. James' Pit, Mousehold Heath

The landscape of Mousehold Heath (as it was before enclosure occurred at the beginning of the nineteenth century) is part of a outwash plain created by fluvial processes. The geology of the area is complex, consisting of a set of vertical layers of glacial deposits from the Anglian Stage resting on a bedrock of Cretaceous chalk and the Norwich Crag Formation.[2]

Chalk was deposited 75 million years ago, when the area was part of a warm, tropical sea. The chalk is now exposed near the southern tip of the heath at St James' Pit, which is an 8.6-acre (3.5 ha) geological Site of Special Scientific Interest[3][4] and Geological Conservation Review site.[5] About two million years ago sands, gravels, quartz pebbles and clays were deposited across the area of Norfolk that now includes the heath. Similar materials were deposited during a glacial period that occurred more than 475,000 years ago. Clay, sand and gravel was laid over Mousehold Heath about 425,000 years ago, caused by the movement of melted ice. The heath's present landscape was more recently formed as a result of erosion, caused by streams cutting through the soft rocks. It later became altered when silts were blown over the topsoil, when the ground churned as a result of temperature variations and when sludge layers moved downhill during warmer seasons.[6]

Detailed information about the geological history of the present Mousehold Heath, in the form of a ‘Heritage Trail’ leaflet and accompanying notes for points around the trail, has been produced by Norwich City Council.[7]

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