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You are in: Norfolk > History > Local History > Tour Thetford's history

Thetford Grammar School.

Thetford Grammar dates back to the 1100s

Tour Thetford's history

Most people's experiences of Thetford involve driving along the A11 past the forest. But if you venture into the town on our tour with historian David Osborne, you are sure to unearth a few historical surprises.

Thetford Walks

Discover more about Thetford's past with a number of walks.

  • The Ancient House Museum organises private group tours and is running two public walks: Thetford 100 Years Ago on 8 May, 2008 and Thomas Paine on 5 June, 2008. More tours will be announced later in the year.

    Booking is essential - call 01842 752 599.
  • Thetford Tourist Information has put together three Dad's Army Public Walking Tours this year on 29 June, 31 August and 19 October, 2008.

    Again, booking is essential. Call 01842 751 975.
  • A selection of trail leaflets are available from the tourist information centre in Market Square. Take your pick from the Duleep Singh, haunted, heritage and Thomas Paine walks.

As a town lining the A11, Thetford in south Norfolk is easy enough to pass by, but it's home to a long and compelling history, with Queen Boudicca its first and most notable figure.

Thetford was the base of the Iceni titian-haired warrior and is where she put together her battle plan to try to overthrow the Romans - killing 70,000 in the process.

In Saxon times, Thetford was the capital of East Anglia and a prosperous place to live, which led to it having its own mint in the 10th century.

By 1086, the Domesday Survey estimated Thetford's population had grown to between 4,000 and 4,500 people, making it the country's sixth biggest town.

David Osborne.

David Osborne takes us around the town he loves

Religious centre

Shortly after this time, Thetford became an important religious centre. The foundation stone of the Cluniac Priory was laid in the 12th century and 22 churches were dotted about the town.

However, in the 1500s King Henry VIII decided to seize the wealthy monasteries to boost the royal coffers. The dissolution of the monasteries meant the Cluniac Priory was left to fall to ruin, along with the rest of the town's religious houses.

The priory site soon became a source of cheap building material and stones from many fallen religious buildings can be found today around the town including King's House, the town council's offices.

Charles Burrell

Afterwards the town's population and fortune dwindled until Thetford became a manufacturing centre for Charles Burrell's steam traction engines in the 1800s.

The foundry turned out machinery widely regarded as the Rolls Royces of the steam industry. The works attracted engineers from London, the Midlands and Yorkshire until it closed in 1928.

Population boost

With no major employer, the number of people living in Thetford fell to around 5,000 until the 1950s when the borough council approached London County Council to bring businesses to the town.

A plan was drawn up for 5,000 Londoners to settle here and their county council built homes in Norfolk, after a number of city firms relocated.

Today around 22,000 people live in Thetford, many of them descendants of those who moved from London and those who relocated to work at Charles Burrell.

The tour

Take our slideshow tour to discover how Thetford got its name, find out about its royal residents and visit the Ancient House Museum, Castle Hill, Cluniac Priory, the Charles Burrell engineering works' site, the Grammar School, King's House, the Little Ouse river, the Town Bridge and old theatre.

Please be patient though as the tour may take a few moments to download.

The Thetford town tour was originally published in 2004.

last updated: 15/04/2008 at 10:30
created: 14/04/2008

You are in: Norfolk > History > Local History > Tour Thetford's history

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