BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014
Banner graphicBBC Norfolk.

BBC Homepage

Junior Football
Message Board
Video Nation
Sense of Place
In Pictures
Site Contents


Contact Us

You are in: Norfolk » A Sense Of Place

11 May 2004 1038 BST
Take a tour of Thetford's history
Pic: Thetford Grammar School.
Thetford Grammar School, which dates back to the 12th century, is one of the town's oldest buildings.
Most people's experience of Thetford involves driving along the A11 past the forest.

But if you venture into the town on our tour with historian David Osborne, you will find it is a fascinating place to visit.


Go on Thetford's heritage trail with David Osborne (11'49")

Please be patient - this tour may take a few seconds to download.

Use the BBC Webwise guide to downloading realplayer

Visit Norfolk - Breckland
Ancient House Museum

US History: Thomas Paine biography
BBC History

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites


Have you got something to tell us about Thetford's history?

Have your say on our message board.


BBC News: Dad's Army trail

BBC News: Reformer may be captured on film

Thetford's tough image challenged by ex-resident

Great Yarmouth heritage tour

Watton town tour

Thetford Forest wallpaper

Grimes Graves wallpaper

Dad's Army Museum wallpaper

360 view: Dad's Army

bullet point. Thomas Paine (1737-1809) is one of Thetford's most famous sons.

After attending Thetford Grammar School, he went to America and wrote the pamphlets Rights Of Man and Age Of Reason.

He was active in the American and French revolutions. The statue outside King's House was given to the town by the Thomas Paine Foundation of America in the 1960s.
bullet point.   The Indian prince Duleep Singh (1838-93) was the last Sikh Maharajah of the Punjab. He lived at Elveden Hall, near Thetford. He gave up his rights to the Punjab in exchange for a British pension.

His son, Prince Frederick, was a keen local historian and bought the Ancient House to turn it into a town museum.
bullet point.   If you would like to book to go on the Heritage Trail call Thetford Town Council's Tourism Office on 01842 820 689.
print friendly version of this page.View print friendly version of this page

Thetford was home to the Iceni titian-haired warrior Queen Boudicca. This 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 it was a prosperous place to live, which led to it having its own mint in the 10th century.

Pic: David Osborne.
Join local historian David Osborne on his Thetford tour
This tour requires RealPlayer

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.

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.

Take our tour of Thetford
The Thetford Tour requires RealPlayer

Please be patient - the tour will take a few moments to load.

On our tour 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.


jump to homepage.
jump to a sense of place index.
send an e-mail to the BBC website for Norfolk.
jump to top of page.

In Sense Of Place »
Picture: Time And Tide Museum: link.

Time And Tide Museum

Dad's Army day out

RAF Falcons drop into Norfolk

Also in this section

Discover people and places around Norfolk or try our walks and cycle rides.

In Entertainment »
Get into going out in Norfolk: link
Discover a world of entertainment in Norfolk.

In Kids »
Graphic: Kids' astronomy: link
Reach for the stars and explore space with our local astronomer.

In Nature

Graphic: British Isles: A Natural History: link
Take a Walk Through Time at Whitlingham Country Park.

In Fun Stuff »

View Broads webcam: link

Take a virtual trip on the Broads with our mobile webcam.

In Local News »
Graphic: BBC News: link

Trains cancelled as works over-run

Garden digs to reveal Roman secrets

Man arrested over attempted robbery


BBC Norfolk website
The Forum
Millennium Plain

Telephone: 01603 617411
Fax: 01603

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy