Thursday, 9 January 2014

The Thetford Trail

The Ancient House, built about 1500, is now a museum. It was bought and given to the town by Prince Duleep Singh.

St Peter's Church has stood on this site at least since the twelfth century, but was largely rebuilt in 1789.

The corner of Guildhall Street with some houses of varying dates and styles.

And the Guildhall itself. This building dates from 1902 but the previous building had been on the site since 1337 - and there was another one before that! Various criminal courts used to sit there. Nowadays it seems to be an art gallery and a cafe. Round the back is the Dad's Army Museum.

Thetford has many attractive flint cottages. Flint is extremely hard and durable but just about impossible to persuade to split into convenient shapes for building - if you want a stone-age axe it's just the job! But with no other local source of building stone flint has been pressed into service. Even then brick or imported stone has to be used for building corners.

Because Thetford lies at the point where the Icknield Way crosses the river it has always had stategic importance. Which is why the Normans were keen to erect a defensive site. And what a castle mound they built! It's over 80 feet high and 1000 feet around at the base. As you can see there were also other earthworks associated with it. There would originally have been a wooden fort on top.

 And that's the view from the top! Yes, boyish enthusiasm soon had me on top of the thing. About a quarter of the way down my legs remembered how old they were.

The Dolphin Pub which claims to have been here since 1624, or is that 1694?

The Old Gaolhouse which is now a residential property but used to be the town jail. The stone showing the manacles is still to be seen above the door. The plaque beside the door tells that Henry Cabell and Susannah Holmes were held in the jail prior to their deportation to Australia. Their tale was the subject of a ballad opera composed by the English folksinger Peter Bellamy.

Down to the river at Nuns' Bridges where three bridges cross the various streams. It gets its name from the nearby Nunnery and I would guess that a toll was charged for the upkeep of the bridges and any surplus went to the religious house.

And now an attractive riverside path with all the birds you'd expect to find - Mallards, Swans, Canada Geese and plenty of Gulls.

And a pair of Egyptian Geese too. These birds have escaped from wildfowl collections and now live and breed wild in the English countryside. They're a bit of a Norfolk speciality.

This is called Spring Walk. Although it undoubtedly is very pleasant in spring that's not the reason for the name. It leads to a spring whose waters were supposed to be good for your health. The gravel path was laid to make a suitable approach to what was to be a fashionable spa. However it all closed down after ten years.

Are you still with me? I told you there was a lot to see!

We're soon passing a mill pool.

These almshouses were provided by Sir Richard Fulmerston to be "habitations of four poor people, whereof two be men and two be women, for ever".

The Grammar School where Thomas Paine was a pupil. It's one of the oldest schools in the country; the building you see is seventeenth century but the list of headmasters goes back to 1174 and the school was founded almost 500 years before that!

We're back to the river again and The Town Bridge. There's just one more thing to show you and it probably deserves a post of its own.

So take care
 - and Don't panic, Mr Mainwaring!

This post owes a great deal to the Thetford Heritage Trail, a leaflet published by the Thetford Heritage And Tourism Partnership. Anyone wishing to visit the town can download the leaflet as a pdf at the link given below.     


  1. The flint cottages look like they are made out of bouclé yarn . The stonework on the pub looks very different. Now, who wouldn't want to go to school if you went to a school like the Grammar School. Makes you want to cry when you compare it to the horrible boxes they put kids in over here. Looks like the water fowl were enjoying the good weather.

  2. You're quite right - there are plenty of interesting things to see in Thetford. I think it's very impressive that you were a quarter of the way DOWN when your legs remembered how old they are and not quarter of the way up!!

  3. Some golf courses seem like those Norman earthworks.

  4. I enjoyed this trip. Thanks

  5. Thank you for the thorough tour! I hope the Tourism Partnership realize they owe you a bit of debt for promoting the area so beautifully:) (And yes, idling car engines are horrible anywhere, but especially outside schools!)

  6. Another charming town--the use of flint in construction gives the buildings a distinctive appearance. A hilll to climb--who can resist?

  7. John, this is a fine armchair tour. There's a county in West Virginia called Cabell. Makes me wonder if there's a connection.


Thanks for taking the time to comment. I'll try to answer any questions via a comment or e-mail within the next day or two (no hard questions, please!).