Mat­ter of fact:

Its coun­cil­lors meet in a for­mer royal palace, even the re­mains of its long-gone cas­tle are awe­some and it has been the fastest growing com­mu­nity in the land.

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell

Nine things about the town of Thetford

FASTEST, LARGEST, OLDEST, BIG­GEST, HIGH­EST – IF YOU ARE LOOK­ING FOR SU­PERLA­TIVES THEN THETFORD IS THE TOWN FOR YOU.

The enor­mous hill, once topped by a Nor­man cas­tle is the sec­ond high­est man­made mound in the coun­try, sur­rounded by what have been called the largest me­dieval earth­works in the coun­try.

Cen­turies later Thetford be­came the fastest growing town in the coun­try. In 1950 its pop­u­la­tion was around 5,000, by 1960 that had more than tre­bled to 17,000 as Thetford be­came an over­spill town for London and to­day’s pop­u­la­tion is more than 27,000. Just out­side is the largest low­land for­est in the coun­try, planted in the 1920s for tim­ber. To­day Thetford For­est is im­por­tant for leisure and wildlife as well as forestry. The long dis­tance foot­paths Ped­dars Way and An­gles Way be­gin (or end) here, there are chal­leng­ing moun­tain-bike routes and even husky dog rac­ing – plus a his­tory stretch­ing back to the 5,000 year-old flint mines at Grimes Graves and in­clud­ing the poignant de­serted vil­lages sur­rounded by vast tracts of land req­ui­si­tioned dur­ing the Sec­ond World War.

2 Thetford has its own unique pa­pier-mache

Pulp­ware was made in the town from 1879 to the 1950s. Early adopters of re­cy­cling, Thetford pulp­ware turned waste pa­per, in­clud­ing se­cret wartime doc­u­ments and jute sack­ing, into trays, bowls, helmets and even baby baths. It was based at Bishop’s Mill, now a home, but with a milling his­tory at the site stretch­ing back more than 1,000 years.

A Thetford man who was the last ruler of the Sikh em­pire will be hon­oured at a fes­ti­val from July 7-21

The Fes­ti­val of Thetford and the Pun­jab will mark the 125th an­niver­sary of the death of

Ma­hara­jah Duleep Singh, and merge with the an­nual River Fes­ti­val on July 21 for ac­tiv­i­ties along the river and a pro­ces­sion in­clud­ing both Bhangra and Mor­ris dancers.

The last ma­hara­jah was just five years old when he in­her­ited the throne of the Pun­jab em­pire across mod­ern-day Pak­istan, In­dia and Ti­bet. De­posed by the Bri­tish and sep­a­rated from his mother, he was ex­iled to Eng­land where he was be­friended by Queen Vic­to­ria. He even­tu­ally bought the Elve­den es­tate, near Thetford, and lived the life of an English aris­to­crat, but re­gret­ted his child­hood con­ver­sion to Chris­tian­ity and tried to re­claim his king­dom.

A gen­er­ous bene­fac­tor to Thetford, a life-size bronze statue of the ma­hara­jah on horse­back stands on Thetford’s But­ton Is­land. His eight chil­dren in­cluded Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, a suf­fragette, and the ex­tra­or­di­nary story of the fam­ily is ex­plored at a spe­cial event at Thetford’s An­cient House Mu­seum on July 7.

4 THREE MU­SE­UMS

The Charles Bur­rell Mu­seum, in the for­mer Charles Bur­rell fac­tory, is ded­i­cated to steam power and trans­port. The fac­tory once em­ployed hun­dreds of peo­ple mak­ing trac­tion en­gines which were sold around the world. thecharles­bur­rell­mu­seum.com The Dad’s Army Mu­seum, in the old fire sta­tion on Cage Lane, cel­e­brates the leg­endary TV show which was filmed in and around Thetford while the cast stayed at The Bell. On Satur­day, July 28, it will be hold­ing a spe­cial event to mark the 50th an­niver­sary of the com­edy. dad­sarmy­thet­ford.org.uk

The An­cient House Mu­seum on White Hart Street was once a Tu­dor home and was given to the town by the last ma­hara­jah’s son, Prince Fred­er­ick Duleep Singh. Dis­plays in­clude repli­cas of the Thetford trea­sure and ex­hi­bi­tions about flint knap­ping, Thomas Paine and the Ma­hara­jah Duleep Singh. mu­se­ums.nor­folk.gov.uk/an­cient-house

5 STATELY HOUSE OF FUN

It’s not un­usual to have huge out­door con­certs at stately homes – and this month Tom Jones will play at Eus­ton Hall, near Thetford, on Fri­day July 6. Then Mad­ness will be turn­ing the stage into a house of fun the fol­low­ing night. The three evenings of mu­sic be­gin on July 5 with clas­si­cal cross­over group Il Divo in con­cert with Michael Ball. eu­ston­hall.co.uk

6 RAB­BITS WERE FARMED FOR FOOD AND FUR IN ME­DIEVAL THETFORD.

Thetford War­ren Lodge was built in the 1400s and is now looked after by English Her­itage. Over the cen­turies it has col­lected ghost sto­ries – in­clud­ing one about a huge white rab­bit with flam­ing eyes which you re­ally don’t want to en­counter as it is not only ter­ri­fy­ing, but also an omen of death.

7 It has its own trea­sure hoard

An­cient trea­sure, in­clud­ing golden rings, bracelets and neck­laces, plus highly dec­o­rated sil­ver spoons, was un­earthed at Gallows Hill, Thetford, in 1979. It is one of the most im­por­tant Ro­mano-Bri­tish hoards ever found and is on dis­play at the Bri­tish Mu­seum in London.

8 The na­tional char­ity, The Bri­tish Trust for Or­nithol­ogy, is based in Thetford.

The char­ity’s head­quar­ters are in a for­mer me­dieval nun­nery be­side its na­ture re­serve along the Lit­tle Ouse river. From here it co-or­di­nates re­search and cit­i­zen science across the coun­try in­volv­ing more than 40,000 vol­un­teers plus pro­fes­sional sci­en­tists in­ves­ti­gat­ing bird num­bers, mi­gra­tion, con­ser­va­tion, nest­ing, breed­ing and more. bto.org

9 One of the found­ing fathers of the United States be­gan his work­ing life mak­ing ladies’ un­der­wear in Thetford.

Thomas Paine was born in Thetford in 1737 but swapped corsets for causes and em­i­grated to Amer­ica where he wrote hugely in­flu­en­tial pam­phlets ad­vo­cat­ing rev­o­lu­tion. He later trav­elled to France to be­come part of the French Rev­o­lu­tion (only es­cap­ing the guil­lo­tine by chance.) A philoso­pher and writer, he ar­gued for repub­li­can­ism, democ­racy, pro­gres­sive tax­a­tion and a min­i­mum wage, and against or­gan­ised re­li­gion, and also found time to de­sign bridges and help de­velop steam en­gines.

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