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Town Bridge, Thetford - - 634898.jpg
The bridge over the Little Ouse
Grid reference: TL8783
Location: 52°24’36"N, 0°44’24"E
Population: 21,588  (2001)
Post town: Thetford
Postcode: IP24 - 26
Dialling code: 01842
Local Government
Council: Breckland
South West Norfolk

Thetford is a market town on the border of Norfolk with Suffolk, for while the town centre stands squarely on the north bank of the River Little Ouse, which is the county boundary, the river is bridged here and Thetford spills over onto the Suffolk side, and long has done so.

The town is on the A11 road between Norwich and London, now mercifully bypassed, and stands amidst the forests, in particular the adjacent Thetford Forest.


In 1979, a hoard of Romano-British metalwork, known as the Thetford treasure was located just outside of Thetford. Dating from the mid-4th Century AD, this hoard is a collection of thirty three inscribed spoons, twenty gold finger rings, four pendants, several necklaces and a 2" gold buckle depicting a dancing satyr. They are currently on display and under curation at the British Museum.

Thetford, an important crossing of the Little Ouse River, draws its name from the Old English þeod ford or "people ford". The nearby River Thet was later named after the town. In the Anglo-Saxon period, Thetford was an important town, believed to have been one of the seats of the Kings of the East Angles.

The Domesday Book lists William of Bello Fargo as the Bishop of Thetford[1] in 1085.

The motte

Castle Hill]], to the southeast of the town centre, is the highest Norman motte in East Anglia though no trace remains of the castle which once surmounted it. The mound (motte) is open to the public, and provides excellent views of the town from its summit and extensive earthworks. It is in a public park, near the Three Nuns Bridges and close to the town centre overlooking the rivers. Idle local legend has it that a network of chalk tunnels runs deep within Castle Hill, which once acted as an escape route for monks during a time of civil strife, or perhaps to let them out to sample the fleshy temptations of the town. One of the entrances to the tunnels is rumoured to be found in the basement of a house on Old Market Street, though the idea should be treated with the scepticism due to most "secret tunnel" legends.

Priory ruins

Thetford also contains the ruins of a 12th-century Cluniac priory. The Priory, open to the public, was closed during the Reformation. The British Trust for Ornithology moved its headquarters into the former Nunnery, south of the town centre, in 1991.

Thetford was the birthplace of Thomas Paine and his statue stands on King Street, holding a quill and his book Rights of Man, upside down. Paine attended Thetford Grammar School. Born in Thetford on 9 February 1737, Paine emigrated to the British American colonies in 1774 in time to participate in the American Revolution. His principal contributions were the powerful, widely read pamphlet Common Sense [2] (1776), advocating colonial America's independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain, and The American Crisis [3] (1776–1783), a pro-revolutionary pamphlet series. He is said to have drafted much of the Declaration of Independence though his work is uncredited. His Rights of Man formed an intellectual basis for the French Revolution of 1789.

Statue of Thomas Paine

Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns, born in Inagua in the Bahamas, was Mayor of Thetford in 1904 and was the first black man to become a mayor in Britain.[4]

Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and other early Tudor dynasty officials were once buried in Thetford before removal to Framlingham.

The surrounding Breckland has been largely replaced by the Thetford Forest, though Thetford Chase remains. The town has become known for its Portuguese and East European shops and cafés.

Thetford Grammar School

"Old School" at Thetford Grammar School

Thetford Grammar School is an independent co-educational school in Thetford, on the Suffolk bank of the Little Ouse. The school in its original form dates back to the 7th century, making it among the oldest schools in the United Kingdom.

The school traces its origins back to 631,[5] and through its Roll of Headmasters to 1114, though it appears to have ceased from around 1496 until its refoundation from the will of Sir Richard Fulmerston in 1566.[6] The refoundation was confirmed by an Act of Parliament in 1610.[6] Part of the school is built on the site of a thirteenth-century Dominican Friary, which was built on, and incorporated parts of, the Norman cathedral.[7] This building, now known as "Old School", comprised the entire school for about 300 years, and is where Roger North and Thomas Paine were educated.

The school developed rapidly in the 1880s, and in 1888 Thetford Grammar School for Girls was built alongside the existing Grammar School. The school became a Voluntary controlled school in 1944, and remained in the state sector until 1981 when it regained its independent status. The original boys' school and the girls' grammar school merged in 1975 to form a new coeducational school.[5]


Thetford was home to Tulip International, large-scale manufacturers of bacon, beef and pork. The factory opened its doors in 1966 and was one of the biggest bacon production factories in the United Kingdom. In 2007 the factory ceased production of fresh bacon, beef and pork with the loss of 350 jobs, although cooked bacon and fried products continued to be made until all production ceased in February 2009. In February 2012 an application was submitted to the council for the redevelopment of the former Tulip factory to provide a new 56,000 sq ft food store.


East Harling near Thetford hosts an annual Autumn Equinox Festival for astronomy. The festival has featured the late Patrick Moore of The Sky at Night. Thetford is also the site for the UK's Star Party, as it is centrally located in a rural area with dark night skies.

An annual concert, STORM open air festival used to take place at the Castle Green in Thetford it had been stopped due to a lot of anti-social behaviour in the town.

Dad's Army

Statue of Captain Mainwaring

The outside scenes for the BBC comedy series Dad's Army were filmed in and around the town with Thetford's flint buildings doubling for the fictional Walmington-on-Sea.[8]

In December 2007 it was announced that a statue of Arthur Lowe who played the leading character Captain George Mainwaring would be erected in the town.[9][10] The statue was unveiled next to the Little Ouse river in the town at 12:00pm. The statue depicts Captain Mainwaring sitting on a park bench. This was preceded by a stage show re-enacting several Dad's Army episodes which was shown over the course of several nights, including The Godiva Affair.


  • Football: Thetford Town FC
  • Swimming: Thetford Dolphins

High Lodge Forest Centre in Thetford Forest attracts thousands of visitors every year. Events are held throughout the year including summer concerts.

Thetford town sign

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Thetford)


  1. The Domesday Book Online - Landowners A-C
  2. Common Sense
  3. The American Crisis
  4. Norfolk Black History Month
  5. 5.0 5.1 Thetford Grammar School - History, accessed 17 Aug 2009
  6. 6.0 6.1 'Thetford, chapter 23: Of the school and hospital' - An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: volume 2 (1805), pp. 128-131
  7. Channel 4, Time Team: Thetford, Norfolk, 17 January 1999, accessed 18 Aug 2009
  8. The Complete A-Z of Dad's Army Webber,R London, Orion, 2000 ISBN 0-7528-1838-4
  9. Article by Jan Moir in The Daily Telegraph issue 47,433 dated 5th December 2007
  10. "Dad's Army tribute statue planned". BBC News. 2007-12-01. Retrieved 2010-05-25.