Town fo­cus: Nine things to love about Wy­mond­ham

We all know how to pro­nounce it prop­erly. (Think win and you’re a win­ner, think why and you’re not.) But did you know all th­ese win­ning facts about Wy­mond­ham?

Norfolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Rowan Man­tell

TREA­SURES Wy­mond­ham’s twin-tow­ered Abbey is more than 900 years old. It was orig­i­nally two churches – one for the town and one for a monastery. A project to build into the ru­ins cre­ated when the monastery church was de­stroyed in the 16th cen­tury has cre­ated the Abbey Ex­pe­ri­ence – de­signed to bring his­tory alive and re­veal sto­ries and trea­sures. Th­ese in­clude hu­man-size an­gels high in the beams, the lav­ish Ninian Com­per al­tar screen, ded­i­cated as a war me­mo­rial in the 1920s, and a square of em­broi­dery, more than 700 years old and be­lieved to be one of the old­est pieces of

English em­broi­dery in ex­is­tence.


Wy­mond­ham prison, now the town mu­seum, was the first in the coun­try to be built with sep­a­rate cells for pris­on­ers. Pris­on­ers had been chained in com­mu­nal dun­geons and when prison re­former John Howard vis­ited in 1779 he called it ‘one of the vilest prisons in Eng­land.’ His rec­om­men­da­tions led to the new prison – which was soon copied across Bri­tain and the United States.


The Great Fire of Wy­mond­ham raged through the town in June 1615 – de­stroy­ing the Nor­man mar­ket cross, the town hall, vicarage, school and around 300 homes. Two men and two women were con­victed of arson and ex­e­cuted and a book de­tail­ing the losses suf­fered by fam­i­lies re­veals that the poor­est were paid in full, peo­ple on mid­dle in­comes tended to get be­tween a quar­ter and a half of their losses, and richer peo­ple less.


The most fa­mous Kett of Wy­mond­ham was the leader of the 16th cen­tury re­bel­lion against land be­ing stolen from com­mon own­er­ship and en­closed into big es­tates. But Robert Kett was not the only Kett to die for his prin­ci­ples and be­liefs.

Fran­cis Kett was just two years old when his un­cle Robert was ex­e­cuted. He was born in Wy­mond­ham and grew up to be­come both a pri­est and a doc­tor of medicine – but was burned for heresy at Nor­wich Cas­tle for sug­gest­ing Je­sus was a good man rather than God.

Robert Kett was a landowner who be­came out­raged by the hard­ship caused to his land­less neigh­bours by their en­clo­sure of com­mon land. His re­bel­lion be­gan with a riot in Wy­mond­ham in 1549 and by the time he reached Mouse­hold Heath, out­side Nor­wich, he was lead­ing 15,000 peo­ple. He re­fused an of­fer of amnesty, on the grounds that in­no­cent men needed no par­don. The rebels cap­tured the for­ti­fied city of Nor­wich but were even­tu­ally de­feated by an army of trained sol­diers at Dussin­dale. Robert and his brother Wil­liam were hanged for trea­son, Robert from the walls of Nor­wich Cas­tle and Wil­liam from the west tower of Wy­mond­ham Abbey.


Wy­mond­ham’s oc­tag­o­nal Mar­ket Cross was built on stilts in 1617, to pro­tect valu­able town doc­u­ments from flood and ver­min. It is said that rats were nailed by their tails to the side of the build­ing in a bid to de­ter other rats from ap­proach­ing – only ceas­ing in 1902 when a child was bit­ten and died of blood poi­son­ing.

To­day the beau­ti­ful build­ing is owned by the town coun­cil and used as a Tourist In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre. The stall-hold­ers and shop­pers who gather ev­ery Fri­day are the mod­ern-day suc­ces­sors of the mar­kets which have been held here for more than 900

years. Wy­mond­ham’s Farm­ers’ Mar­ket (the third Sat­ur­day of each month) was the first in the county in 2000 and Wy­mond­ham also has the county’s first egg vend­ing ma­chine at Cav­ick Farm.


Lon­don’s glo­ri­ously lav­ish Sam Wana­maker Playhouse has an in­trigu­ing Wy­mond­ham link.

The theatre, along­side the Globe, was planned and de­signed more than 350 years ago, but only com­pleted in 2014.

The project was led by ar­chi­tect Jon Green­field, of Sil­field, near Wy­mond­ham, who found out how to join the tim­bers to cre­ate the an­gles needed for the multi-sided stage and ceil­ing by study­ing the con­struc­tion of Wy­mond­ham Mar­ket Cross.

Where the Globe would have catered for the masses, with au­di­ences stand­ing in the open air, or seated on benches, the Sam Wana­maker is a re­con­struc­tion of a theatre for aris­to­crats. The ceil­ing is gilded with stars, chan­de­liers sparkle with lit can­dles and painted cherubs frolic through fluffy clouds – in­spired by the in­tri­cate wooden screen in St Mary’s church, At­tle­bor­ough.


The sketch of a long-lost win­dow, scratched in stone in­side Wy­mond­ham Abbey, could re­write the his­tory of church ar­chi­tec­ture. In a niche at the back of the monastery church, a de­signer sketched out a pat­tern for a great win­dow. The cir­cle of pe­tal-like shapes above arched pan­els has trac­ery reach­ing up­wards and di­vid­ing to al­low as much glass as pos­si­ble to be built into the win­dow. No such win­dow ex­ists in the mod­ern church – but 500 years ago a twin monastery church backed on to the par­ish church. The se­cret scale draw­ing might have been its grand east win­dow.

Ex­perts be­lieve it dates from the 13th cen­tury. Ear­lier win­dows were cut into ma­sonry but ar­chi­tects de­vised a way of shap­ing sep­a­rate pieces of stone to cre­ate more del­i­cate de­signs. The ear­li­est known ex­am­ple of this bar trac­ery is in Reims Cathe­dral, France. Here in Nor­folk the blocked west win­dow at Bin­ham Pri­ory, near Holt, might have been the ear­li­est English ex­am­ple – but the Wy­mond­ham win­dow could have been even older.


Wy­mond­ham Abbey has its own rail­way sta­tion, at the western end of the her­itage Mid Nor­folk Rail­way. The town rail­way sta­tion, a short dis­tance away, is on the main line be­tween Nor­wich and Cam­bridge. Wy­mond­ham also has two highly re­garded high schools: Wy­mond­ham High Academy in the cen­tre of the town, and Wy­mond­ham Col­lege, the largest state board­ing school in the coun­try. The col­lege was built on the site of a United States Air Force hos­pi­tal and its chapel is still in a Sec­ond World War Nis­sen hut. Fam­i­lies pay for ac­com­mo­da­tion, but not teach­ing, at the school orig­i­nally de­signed for bright chil­dren from re­mote ar­eas with no nearby gram­mar schools, or whose par­ents were based abroad.

In Jan­uary 1958 more than 800 An­glo Saxon coins were dis­cov­ered here as a drain was be­ing dug.


Wy­mond­ham holds an an­nual mu­sic fes­ti­val and a bi­en­nial lit­er­a­ture fes­ti­val. Wy­mond­ham Words 2018 will run from mid Oc­to­ber into the first week of Novem­ber.

Full de­tails of the pro­gramme at wym­words.word­


Photo: Si­mon Fin­lay Pic­ture: Bill Smith

ABOVE: Wy­mond­ham Her­itage Mu­seumRIGHT:Wy­mond­ham Mar­ket Cross.FAR RIGHT:New Wy­mond­ham town sign

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