The county is low-lying with very few hills, and is largely arable land with the wetlands of the Broads in the north. The Suffolk Coast and Heaths are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
By the fifth century, the Angles (after whom East Anglia and England are named) had established control of the region. The Angles later became the "north folk" and the "south folk", from which developed the names "Norfolk" and "Suffolk". Suffolk and several adjacent areas became the kingdom of East Anglia, which later merged with Mercia and then Wessex.
Suffolk was originally divided into four separate Quarter Sessions divisions. In 1860, the number of divisions was reduced to two. The eastern division was administered from Ipswich and the western from Bury St Edmunds. Under the Local Government Act 1888, the two divisions were made the separate administrative counties of East Suffolk and West Suffolk; Ipswich became a county borough. A few Essex parishes were also added to Suffolk: Ballingdon-with-Brundon and parts of Haverhill and Kedington.
On 1 April 1974, under the Local Government Act 1972, East Suffolk, West Suffolk, and Ipswich were merged to form the unified county of Suffolk. The county was divided into several local government districts: Babergh, Forest Heath, Ipswich, Mid Suffolk, St. Edmundsbury, Suffolk Coastal, and Waveney. This act also transferred some land near Great Yarmouth to Norfolk. As introduced in Parliament, the Local Government Act would have transferred Newmarket and Haverhill to Cambridgeshire and Colchester from Essex; such changes were not included when the act was passed into law.
In 2007, the Department for Communities and Local Government referred Ipswich Borough Council's bid to become a new unitary authority to the Boundary Committee. The Boundary Committee consulted local bodies and reported in favour of the proposal. It was not, however, approved by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
Beginning in February 2008, the Boundary Committee again reviewed local government in the county, with two possible options emerging. One was that of splitting Suffolk into two unitary authorities – Ipswich and Felixstowe and Rural Suffolk; and the other, that of creating a single county-wide controlling authority – the "One Suffolk" option. In February 2010, the then-Minister Rosie Winterton announced that no changes would be imposed on the structure of local government in the county as a result of the review, but that the government would be: "asking Suffolk councils and MPs to reach a consensus on what unitary solution they want through a countywide constitutional convention". Following the May 2010 general election, all further moves towards any of the suggested unitary solutions ceased on the instructions of the incoming Coalition government, and the administrative structures of the county are, therefore, unchanged.
West Suffolk, like nearby East Cambridgeshire, is renowned for archaeological finds from the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Iron Age. Bronze Age artefacts have been found in the area between Mildenhall and West Row, in Eriswell and in Lakenheath. Many bronze objects, such as swords, spearheads, arrows, axes, palstaves, knives, daggers, rapiers, armour, decorative equipment (in particular for horses), and fragments of sheet bronze, are entrusted to St. Edmundsbury heritage service, housed at West Stow just outside Bury St. Edmunds. Other finds include traces of cremations and barrows.
In the east of the county is Sutton Hoo, the site of one of England's most significant Anglo-Saxon archaeological finds, a ship burial containing a collection of treasures including a Sword of State, gold and silver bowls, and jewellery and a lyre.
The majority of agriculture in Suffolk is either arable or mixed. Farm sizes vary from anything around 80 acres (32 hectares) to over 8,000. Soil types vary from heavy clays to light sands. Crops grown include:winter wheat, winter barley, sugar beet, oilseed rape, winter and spring beans and linseed, although smaller areas of rye and oats can be found growing in areas with lighter soils along with a variety of vegetables.
The continuing importance of agriculture in the county is reflected in the Suffolk Show, which is held annually in May at Ipswich. Although latterly somewhat changed in nature, this remains primarily an agricultural show.
Below is a chart of regional gross value added of Suffolk at current basic prices published by Office for National Statistics with figures in millions of British Pounds Sterling.
Well-known companies in Suffolk include Greene King and Branston Pickle in Bury St Edmunds. Birds Eye has its largest UK factory in Lowestoft, where all its meat products and frozen vegetables are processed. Huntley & Palmers biscuit company has a base in Sudbury. The UK horse racing industry is based in Newmarket. There are two USAF bases in the west of the county close to the A11. Sizewell B nuclear power station is at Sizewell on the coast near Leiston. Bernard Matthews Farms have some processing units in the county, specifically Holton. Southwold is the home of Adnams Brewery. The Port of Felixstowe is the largest container port in the United Kingdom. Other ports are at Lowestoft and Ipswich, run by Associated British Ports. BT has its main research and development facility at Martlesham Heath.
There are several towns in the county with Ipswich being the largest and most populous. At the time of the 2011 census, a population of 730,000 lived in the county with 133,384 living in Ipswich. The table below shows all towns with over 20,000 inhabitants.
Located in the East of England, much of Suffolk is low-lying, founded on Pleistocene sand and clays. These rocks are relatively unresistant and the coast is eroding rapidly. Coastal defences have been used to protect several towns, but several cliff-top houses have been lost to coastal erosion and others are under threat. The continuing protection of the coastline and the estuaries, including the Blyth, Alde and Deben, has been, and remains, a matter of considerable discussion.
The coastal strip to the East contains an area of heathland known as "The Sandlings" which runs almost the full length of the coastline. Suffolk is also home to nature reserves, such as the RSPB site at Minsmere, and Trimley Marshes, a wetland under the protection of Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
The west of the county lies on more resistant Cretaceous chalk. This chalk is responsible for a sweeping tract of largely downland landscapes that stretches from Dorset in the south west to Dover in the south east and north through East Anglia to the Yorkshire Wolds. The chalk is less easily eroded so forms the only significant hills in the county. The highest point in the county is Great Wood Hill, the highest point of the Newmarket Ridge, near the village of Rede, which reaches 128 metres (420 ft).
The county flower is the oxlip.
According to estimates by the Office for National Statistics, the population of Suffolk in 2014 was 738,512, split almost evenly between males and females. Roughly 22% of the population was aged 65 or older, and 90.84% were "White British".
Historically, the county's population has mostly been employed as agricultural workers. An 1835 survey showed Suffolk to have 4,526 occupiers of land employing labourers, 1,121 occupiers not employing labourers, 33,040 labourers employed in agriculture, 676 employed in manufacture, 18,167 employed in retail trade or handicraft, 2,228 'capitalists, bankers etc.', 5,336 labourers (non-agricultural), 4,940 other males aged over 20, 2,032 male servants and 11,483 female servants. The same publication records the total population of the county at 296,304.
Most English counties have nicknames for people from that county, such as a Tyke from Yorkshire and a Yellowbelly from Lincolnshire; the traditional nickname for people from Suffolk is 'Suffolk Fair-Maids', or 'Silly Suffolk', referring respectively to the supposed beauty of its female inhabitants in the Middle Ages, and to the long history of Christianity in the county and its many fine churches (from Anglo-Saxon selige, originally meaning holy).For a full list of settlements see the list of places in Suffolk
In the arts, Suffolk is noted for having been the home to two of England's best regarded painters, Thomas Gainsborough and John Constable – the Stour Valley area is branded as "Constable Country" – and one of its most noted composers, Benjamin Britten. Other artists of note from Suffolk include the cartoonist Carl Giles (a bronze statue of his character "Grandma" to commemorate this is located in Ipswich town centre), poets George Crabbe and Robert Bloomfield, writer and Literary editor Ronald Blythe, actors Ralph Fiennes and the late Bob Hoskins, actress and singer Kerry Ellis, musician and record producer Brian Eno, singer Dani Filth, of the Suffolk-based extreme metal group, Cradle of Filth, and singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran. Hip-hop DJ Tim Westwood is originally from Suffolk and the influential DJ and radio presenter John Peel made the county his home. Contemporary painter, Maggi Hambling, was born, and resides, in Suffolk.
Suffolk's contributions to sport include Formula One magnate Bernie Ecclestone and former England footballers Terry Butcher, Kieron Dyer and Matthew Upson. Due to Newmarket being the centre of British horse racing many jockeys have settled in the county, including Lester Piggott and Frankie Dettori.
Significant ecclesiastical figures from Suffolk include Simon Sudbury, a former Archbishop of Canterbury; Tudor-era Catholic prelate Thomas Cardinal Wolsey; and author, poet and Benedictine monk John Lydgate.
Other significant persons from Suffolk include the suffragette Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett; the captain of HMS Beagle, Robert FitzRoy; Witch-finder General Matthew Hopkins; and Britain's first female physician and mayor, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Charity leader Sue Ryder settled in Suffolk and based her charity in Cavendish.
King of East Anglia and Christian martyr St Edmund (after whom the town of Bury St Edmunds is named) was killed by invading Danes in the year 869. St Edmund was the patron saint of England until he was replaced by St George in the 13th century. 2006 saw the failure of a campaign to have St Edmund named as the patron saint of England, but in 2007 he was named patron saint of Suffolk, with St Edmund's Day falling on 20 November. His flag is flown in Suffolk on that day.
Suffolk has a comprehensive education system with fourteen independent schools. Unusually for the UK, some of Suffolk has a 3-tier school system in place with primary schools (ages 5–9), middle schools (ages 9–13) and upper schools (ages 13–16). However, a 2006 Suffolk County Council study concluded that Suffolk should move to the 2-tier school system used in the majority of the UK. For the purpose of conversion to 2-tier, the 3-tier system has been divided into 4 geographical area groupings and corresponding phases. The first phase was the conversion of schools in Lowestoft and Haverhill in 2011, followed by schools in north and west Suffolk in 2012. The remainder of the changeovers to 2-tier will take place from 2013, for those schools that stay within Local government control, and not become Academies and/or free schools. The majority of schools thus now (2013) operate the more common primary to high school (11–16). Many of the county's upper schools have a sixth form and most further education colleges in the county offer A-level courses. In terms of school population, Suffolk's individual schools are large with the Ipswich district with the largest school population and Forest Heath the smallest, with just two schools. In 2013, a letter said that "...nearly a fifth of the schools inspected were judged inadequate. This is unacceptable and now means that Suffolk has a higher proportion of pupils educated in inadequate schools than both the regional and national averages."
The Royal Hospital School near Ipswich is the largest independent boarding school in Suffolk.
The Castle Partnership Academy Trust in Haverhill is the county's only All-through Academy Chain. Comprising Castle Manor Academy and Place Farm Primary Academy, the Academy Trust supports all-through education and provides opportunities for young people aged 3 to 18.
Sixth form colleges in the county include Lowestoft Sixth Form College and One in Ipswich. Suffolk is home to four further education colleges: Lowestoft College, Easton & Otley College, Suffolk New College (Ipswich) and West Suffolk College (Bury St Edmunds).
The county has one university, with branches spread across different towns. University of Suffolk was, prior to August 2016, known as University Campus Suffolk. Up until it became independent it was a collaboration between the University of Essex and the University of East Anglia which sponsored its formation and validated its degrees. UOS accepted its first students in September 2007. Until then Suffolk was one of only four counties in England which did not have a University campus. The University of Suffolk was granted Taught Degree Awarding Powers by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in November 2015, and in May 2016 it was awarded University status by the Privy Council and renamed The University of Suffolk on 1 August 2016.
The University operates at five sites with its central hub in Ipswich. Others include Lowestoft, Bury St. Edmunds, and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. The University operates two academic faculties and in 2015/16 had 5,030 students. Some 30% of the student body are classed as mature students and 68% of University students are female.
A new event known as Suffolk Day will be held on 21 June 2017 to celebrate and promote the county.
The Suffolk dialect is distinctive.
The county's sole professional football club is Ipswich Town. Formed in 1878, the club were Football League champions in 1961–62, FA Cup winners in 1977–78 and UEFA Cup winners in 1980–81. Ipswich Town currently play in the Football League Championship, the second tier of English football. The next highest ranked teams in Suffolk are Lowestoft Town and A.F.C. Sudbury, who both participate in the Isthmian League Premier Division, the seventh tier of English football.
The town of Newmarket is the headquarters of British horseracing – home to the largest cluster of training yards in the country and many key horse racing organisations including the National Stud, and Newmarket Racecourse. Tattersalls bloodstock auctioneers and the National Horseracing Museum are also in the town. Point to point racing takes place at Higham and Ampton.
Speedway racing has been staged in Suffolk since at least the 1950s, following the construction of the Foxhall Stadium, just outside Ipswich, home of the Ipswich Witches. The Witches are currently members of the Premier League, the UK's second division. National League team Mildenhall Fen Tigers are also from Suffolk. 'Casper' from the Edinburgh Monarchs speedway squad was also a native of Suffolk for a brief period in the 1970s.
Suffolk C.C.C. compete in the Eastern Division of the Minor Counties Championship. The club has won the championship three times outright and has shared the title one other time as well as winning the MCCA Knockout Trophy once. Home games are played in Bury St Edmunds, Copdock, Exning, Framlingham, Ipswich and Mildenhall.
Founded in 1948 by Benjamin Britten, the annual Aldeburgh Festival is one of the UK's major classical music festivals. Originating in Aldeburgh, it has been held at the nearby Snape Maltings since 1967. Since 2006, Henham Park, has been home to the annual Latitude Festival. This mainly open-air festival, which has grown considerably in size and scope, includes popular music, comedy, poetry and literary events. The FolkEast festival is held at Glemham Hall in August and attracts international acoustic, folk and roots musicians whilst also championing local businesses, heritage and crafts. In 2015 it was also home to the first instrumental festival of musical instruments and makers. More recently, LeeStock Music Festival has been held in Sudbury.
Novels set in Suffolk include parts of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, The Fourth Protocol, by Frederick Forsyth, Unnatural Causes by P.D. James, Dodie Smith's The Hundred and One Dalmatians, The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald, and among Arthur Ransome's children's books, We Didn't Mean to Go to Sea and Coot Club. Roald Dahl's short story The Mildenhall Treasure is set in Mildenhall.
A TV series about a British antiques dealer, Lovejoy, was filmed in various locations in Suffolk. The reality TV Series Space Cadets was filmed in Rendlesham Forest, although the producers fooled participants into believing that they were in Russia. Several towns and villages in the county have been used for location filming of other television programmes and cinema films. These include the BBC Four TV series Detectorists, an episode of Kavanagh QC, and the films Iris and Drowning by Numbers.
The Rendlesham Forest Incident is one of the most famous UFO events in England and is sometimes referred to as "Britain's Roswell".
The song "Castle on the Hill" by singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was referred to by him as "a love letter to Suffolk", with lyrical reference to his hometown of Framlingham and Framlingham Castle.