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When people think of the East of England, they tend to think of one place… Essex. For better or for worse, the eastern county of Essex was thrown into the country’s mainstream in 2010 due to the release of The Only Way Is Essex. Of course, as we all know what followed. Suddenly, this most ancient of counties became associated with orange skin, blonde hair, bizarre eyebrows, extensive cosmetic surgery and the infamous catchphrase of “shutaaapp” – which, you’ll be glad to know, are non-compulsory for people moving to Essex.

The East of England, constituted in 1994, includes the counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. Being the closest of these counties to London, it’s little wonder that Essex has the highest population (1.4 million). But the remainder of the region (with just over 4.5 million denizens at the time of writing) is becoming increasingly popular with London commuters. And this isn’t just because of proximity to the capital but also the mix of countryside, coastline and towns.

The East of England is famously flat. And its this flatness which, in part, made it vulnerable to invasions from Scandinavia and Northern Europe. In fact East Anglia was one of the first areas of England to become English, in the course of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Celtic Britain during the 5th century. Hence the names “England” (Angle-land) and East Anglia. And then, within this earliest Anglo-Saxon settlement, you soon had a division between the North Folk and the South Folk, giving us modern Norfolk and Suffolk.

Norfolk is abrim with natural beauty, has a decent city in the form of Norwich) and large numbers of pheasants. But it’s not all been rosy for the people of Norfolk, so often the butt of jokes about incestuous relationships and webbed feet. Then there’s the famous phrase ‘Normal for Norfolk’ (NFN), doctors’ shorthand for the intellectually challenged.

Such is the acceptance of these stereotypes, in 2006, Dr Ian Gibson, an MP for Norfolk North said of his own constituents:

I would imagine [high diabetes rates are] linked to the fact that people in Norfolk are quite inbred. If you look at the names in Norfolk, there’s a lot that are the same […] There is an in-breeding complex.

Despite the labels and jokes, people from the East of England are, statistically speaking, the least likely to migrate to other areas of the country. While some of this may be down to the chaotic nature of UK train lines – subjecting commuters and tourists to frequent delays and cancellations – a lot of it, we suspect, is because the East of England is actually one of the best places to live in the UK. Let’s have a deeper look at what this region has to offer.

East of England: Careers and Jobs

In terms of industry, the East of England is the fourth biggest exporting region in the UK after London, the South East and the West Midlands. Alongside an active manufacturing industry (in particular, automotive and pharmaceuticals) and a large ICT sector, we also find a booming financial sector.

There’s a growing tech presence as well. You’ve heard of Silicon Valley over in the USA. Well, get ready for the Silicon Fen – the growing cluster of high-tech businesses covering everything from software and electronics to biotechnology in and around the city of Cambridge. The city’s world-famous university, with its strong research heritage and world-class research facilities, and its ready access to the London talent pool (it’s only 45 minutes from Cambridge to King’s Cross on the fast train) have attracted multinationals and start-ups alike.

Unsurprisingly, this local tech boom has caused house prices in the Cambridge region to increase, and salaries also rank higher than the rest of the country. In fact, the region as a whole is becoming increasingly tagged to the London labour and housing markets.

Across the East of England, property prices have risen by 1.6% in the past year, with the average property setting you back £292,107 (£60,000 higher than the national average of £232,797). In terms of salaries, according to research by the National Housing Federation, the average salary in the East of England in 2014 stood at £28,574 (£2,000 higher than the UK average of £26,000). Moreover, the unemployment rate in 2017 stood at 3.9%, making the East of England one of the better places for employment in the UK (UK average unemployment is 4.4%).

East Anglia is also home to some slightly more unexpected industries. Take the Bacton Gas Terminal for example, 20 miles North East of Norwich, a power plant that’s been keeping the UK warm since 1968. Handling a third of the UK’s gas supply and covering over 180 acres, this seaside complex opened the door to North Sea gas, leading to the development of a UK-wide transmission network that’s been the backbone of our country’s energy system for half a century.

Alongside the tech and manufacturing industry, the East of England also has a historic agricultural sector, which continues to have a large influence on the region. Around three-quarters of the land in the region is agricultural, and farms across East Anglia achieved a sales output of nearly £3 billion in 2010. The region is justifiably known as ‘Britain’s breadbasket’, with its climate, landscape and soils being ideally suited for growing wheat, barley and other combinable crops.

East Anglia is not just a cereal-growing centre, it’s also the capital of Britain’s pig and poultry industry. East Anglian hens produce about 2.2 million eggs daily (over 1500 a second), and the region’s farmers supply a quarter of England’s table chicken. The farming sector employs more than 39,000 people directly – having remained a significant local employer right down to the present day. And it’s not all about the farmers themselves. The agricultural industry supports many other local jobs in engineering, livestock feed manufacture, transport, the veterinary profession and agricultural research and development.

The Sights and Sounds of the East of England

While the area has numerous, and growing, professions and industries, career prospects aren’t the only reason that people are relocating here.

East Anglia is an area of outstanding natural landscapes, with many incredible variations on flatness to marvel at. Whether it’s the Fens, Ely Cathedral, Norfolk Broads or Southend on Sea, the East of England has plenty of places to keep you entertained, whether you’re moving here long-term or just visiting.

The history of the Fens began around 10,000 years ago when melting glaciers caused sea levels to rise and Britain became an island. “Slit fens” arose when high sea levels caused extensive river flooding. The boggy areas that resulted from this provided perfect soils for the formation of the “Black Fens”. Nowadays, the Fens are a hugely popular weekend destination for local residents. They are is also popular with wildlife watchers hoping to catch a glimpse of an otter or a rare fenland bird.

If you’re not a fan of muddy walks, Essex’ Southend on Sea offers an alternative form of escape. This seaside haunt is popular with people from all across the region (and country), especially during the warmer, summer months. Southend, like so many seaside towns in the UK, can appear something of a time warp.

The town has all the old-fashioned attractions the ardent Scooby Doo fan could wish for: shady beachfront bars, run-down arcades and an old funfair. Not to mention numerous fish and chip shops. Not only that, but the town is home to the longest pier in the world.

The Southend Pier is a Grade II listed building and major local landmark, extending 1.34 miles (2.16 km) into the Thames Estuary. With a Royal Pavillion that hosts unique events throughout the year, the pier also has the Salt Café – somewhere to rest for your tired feet – and a covered terrace offering spectacular views over the Estuary.

No trip to the seaside would be complete without a bit of mini golf, and Southend allows you to channel your inner Tiger Woods while out at sea. Southend Pier Mini Golf boasts a 12-hole course that’s entertaining and fun for the whole family (especially if you can beat Olga the Octopus!).

Local Foods and Customs

For a region steeped in history, it’s unsurprising that East Anglia is chock-full of local traditions and delicacies.

God’s Kitchel is a dried-fruit-and-almond-filled pastry that, historically, was eaten all over Suffolk and Essex. A variation on the ever-popular pasty model, this sweet treat was once eaten, as a handy way of refueling, by East Anglia’s hard-working farmers during the lean periods from November to late March. Back then, England didn’t import fruit in the same way that it does now, so these pastries were a staple of families and workers alike.

If you’ve got more of a savoury tooth, then head down to Colchester, Essex, for some of its very own “native oysters”. Colchester Native Oysters are harvested in the shallow creeks off Mersea Island, north of the River Thames. The shell of the oyster is flat and the flesh is firm, suffused with that infamous (and somewhat acquired) taste of rich and salty freshness. It’s believed the Romans were the first people to have note the oyster-producing potential of the area, harvesting them in great quantities – and they remain a popular local delicacy to this day.

Finally, if you fancy channeling your inner Michael Jackson, why not try out a bit of Molly Dancing?

Molly Dances developed in East Anglia and are usually performed in January, as part of the “Plough Monday” celebrations. Traditionally, it was the custom for local farmhands to take a plough around the villages and, if payment (including beer and food) was not forthcoming, they would cut a furrow across that house holder’s front lawn.

The dances, performed in a vigorous style, might remind you of Morris Dancing, with flamboyant costumes incorporating outdoor work clothes and hobnailed boots. Historically, dancers would blacken their faces (or otherwise disguise themselves) to avoid recognition, though, if you’re moving to East Anglia in 2019, this is probably best avoided!

Looking to Move? Top East-of-England Locations

Bedford

Bedford is the county town capital of Bedfordshire, set amidst rolling countryside. Just outside the town you’ll find the Cardington Airship Hangars. These were used to shoot scenes in films such as The Dark Knight and Inception.

Cambridge

One of the world’s most famous university towns, Cambridge is also home to many of the UK’s highest-profile hi-tech industries.

Chelmsford

Chelmsford is the county town of Essex, currently popular with City and Docklands commuters into London.

Colchester

Another commuter town in Essex popular with London City workers, Colchester is one of the oldest towns in Britain, and was once the capital of Roman Britain.

Luton

Famous for its convenient yet grotty airport, each May Luton also plays host to Luton Carnival – the largest one-day carnival in Europe. The town is well located for commuting to London, Stevenage and Milton Keynes.

Norwich

The county town of Norfolk, Norwich is the UK’s first UNESCO City of Literature, thanks to the famous creative writing course at the University of East Anglia. Unemployment in the city is below the national average, with financial services being the largest economic sector.

Peterborough

A cathedral city located in northern Cambridgeshire, Peterborough’s railway station is a major stop on the east line rail line between London and Edinburgh. It’s a short trip out to the country, where the terrain is remarkably flat, being traditional wetlands in the Fens.

St Albans

Located 19 miles northwest of London, St Albans is a cathedral city in Hertfordshire. It’s a market town that’s a popular location in the London commuter belt.

Of course, no one expects you to become a Molly Dancer or a God’s Kichel aficionado. But local traditions and history are part of what makes East Anglia one of the best places to live in the UK. Whether you’re a London commuter hungry for a bit of traditional English countryside and chocolate-box housing, or you want to chance your hand more locally, the East of England is definitely worth a look. And, given its good salaries, decent house prices and close proximity to London, it’s only going to get more popular.

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