Wymondham is a historic market town in Norfolk. It lies 9 ½ miles southwest of the city of Norwich, on the A11 road between London and Norwich, on the long, straight stretch through Suffolk and Norfolk first laid down by the Romans, though Wymondham is a somewhat more recent of foundation; nor more than 15 centuries old or so.
A practical town, home to local engineering and all the enterprise of small-town Norfolk, it is a mixture of the calm and the industrious. It is also where the Norfolk Constabulary have their headquarters.
The parish church is Wymondham Abbey, a beautiful mediæval church.
The church was founded as the church of a Benedictine priory, founded in 1107 by William d'Aubigny, Chief Butler to King Henry I. William was a prominent Norfolk landowner, with estates in Wymondham and nearby New Buckenham whose grandfather had fought for William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. Later, the founder's son, William d'Aubigny, 1st Earl of Arundel, in 1174 founded Becket's Chapel close by in the town, to be served by two monks from the Priory.
Caen stone from Normandy was shipped to Norfolk to face the walls of the original building. The central tower was rebuilt in about 1376 by a tall octagonal tower (now ruined), which held the monks' bells. In 1447, work on a much taller single west tower began. This replaced the original Norman towers and held the townspeople's bells. From the start, the church had been divided between monks' and townspeople's areas, with the nave and north aisle serving as parish church for the town (as it still is). This, too, was from time to time the cause of disputes which occasionally erupted into lawlessness, though the Vicar of Wymondham was appointed by the Abbot.
Under King Henry VIII, the abbey was dissolved; the monks signed the Oath of Supremacy and the last Abbot became Vicar of Wymondham. Over the following years monastic buildings were gradually taken down and the stone re-used elesewhere. The eastern end of the church was demolished, leaving the present church only about half its original length, but it is still a sizable church.
The church has twin towers which form a landmark for miles around, the original Norman nave, and in the roof a splendid 15th century display of carved angels. The west tower houses a peal of 10 bells, re-cast and re-hung in 1967. Hung in the bell tower are six well-preserved 18th century hatchments.
Before The Great Fire
Wymondham's most famous inhabitant was Robert Kett (or Ket), who in 1549 led a rebellion of peasants and small farmers who were protesting the enclosure of common land. He took a force of almost unarmed men, and fought for and held the City of Norwich for six weeks until defeated by the King's forces. He was hanged from Norwich Castle. Kett's Oak, said to be the rallying point for the rebellion, may still be seen today on the B1172 road between Wymondham and Hethersett.
The Great Fire of 1615
The Great Fire of Wymondham broke out on Sunday 11 June 1615. Two areas of the town were affected implying there were two separate fires. One area was in Vicar Street and Middleton Street and the other in the Market Place, including Bridewell Street and Fairland Street. About 300 properties were destroyed in the fire. Important buildings destroyed included the Market Cross, dating from 1286; the vicarage in Vicar Street; the 'Town Hall' on the corner of Middleton Street and Vicar Street; and the schoolhouse. However, many buildings such as the Green Dragon pub did survive and many of the houses in Damgate Street date back to 1400, although this is now masked by later brickwork.
The fire was started by three Gypsies, William Flodder, John Flodder and Ellen Pendleton (Flodder) and a local person, Margaret Bix (Elvyn). The register of St Andrew's Church in Norwich records that John Flodder and others were executed on 2 December 1615 for the burning of Wymondham. Rebuilding of the destroyed buildings was quick in some cases and slower in others. A new Market Cross, the one we see today, was started and completed by 1617. However, by 1621 there were still about 15 properties not yet rebuilt. Economic conditions in the 1620s could have been a contributory factor to the delay in rebuilding.
After the Great Fire
Kett's Rebellion was evidence of an undercurrent of ferment in sixteenth century Wymondham. Comparable discontent manifested itself in the seventeenth century when a number of Wymondham citizens, including Thomas Lincoln, John Beal and others emigrated to Hingham, Norfolk in the wave of religious dissent that swept England in the years preceding Cromwell's Commonwealth.
In 1785 a prison was built using the ideas of John Howard, the prison reformer. It was the first prison to be built in this country with separate cells for the prisoners, and was widely copied both in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The collapse of the woollen industry in the mid-nineteenth century led to great poverty in Wymondham. In 1836 there were 600 hand looms, but by 1845 only 60. During the Victorian era the town was a backwater, escaping large-scale development, and the town centre remains very much as it must have been in the mid-seventeenth century, when the houses were rebuilt after a great fire. These newer houses, and those which survived the Great Fire, still surround shoppers and visitors as they pass through Wymondham's narrow mediæval streets.
In the town centre there is a market cross, which is now used as a Tourist Information Centre and is owned by the Town Council. The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of Wymondham in 1615; the present building was rebuilt between 1617-18 at a cost of £25-7-0d with funds loaned by local man, Philip Cullyer. The stilted building was like many others designed to protect valuable documents from both flood and vermin. According to T.F. Thistleton Dyer's "English Folklore" [London, 1878], live rats were nailed by their tails to the side of the building by way of a deterrent. This bizarre superstition ended in 1902 after a child was bitten, later to die of blood-poisoning.
The former town gaol or bridewell now houses the Wymondham Heritage Museum.
Railways come and go
The Wymondham railway station (voted Best Small Station in the 2006 National Rail Awards) possesses a piano showroom and a locally famous themed Brief Encounter restaurant. The whole site has been sympathetically restored by owner David Turner and also houses a small railway museum. The station was featured, along with Weybourne station on the North Norfolk Railway, as the "Walmington-on-Sea" station in the popular BBC comedy series "Dad's Army". Wymondham station is the junction for the Mid-Norfolk Railway, although their trains, running 11½ miles north to Dereham operate from the separate Wymondham Abbey station.
The town once had another station Spinks Lane but this closed only a short time after opening in the 19th century.
| ("Wikimedia Commons" has material|
- Wymondham Website
- Wymondham Music Festival
- Information from Genuki Norfolk on Wymondham.
- Wymondham Forum – Discussion Forum about Wymondham, Norfolk