A popular country market town in central Norfolk, bordered by vast swathes of heathland and pine forest. The recently rejuvenated town centre has a good range of shops and an excellent choice of pubs and eateries. Thetford has a number of interesting historic sites, museums and plenty of green open spaces with parks and gardens, plus a very attractive river front. The Rivers Thet and Little Ouse run through the town, spanned by several bridges.
The ruins of Thetford Priory © Travel About Britain
The ancient trackways of Harling Drove and Icknield Way, which pass near the town, date back to the neolithic period. During the 1st century BC, this park of Norfolk was dominated by the tribe of the Iceni, their most famous leader being Queen Boadicea, who led her people against the Romans in AD 6l. Around 400 years later a tribe known as the Angulus (or Angles) from Europe, began to settle in the area, which became known as East Anglia. Thetford became the capital of the area and the seat of the King of the East Angles. After the Norman conquest it reverted to the seat of the Bishopric of East Anglia, developing into a important medieval religious centre.
During the early 19th-c century an attempt was made to turn Thetford into an elegant spa town but it didn't flourish. The pump house in Spring Walk was built as part of this craze in 1818 but sadly closed in the 1930s.
Little Ouse and Town Bridge © Travel About Britain
The main industry here during the 1800s was engineering. The cast iron town bridge (shown above) was constructed by the local firm of Burrell & Son, who are better known for the manufacture of steam traction engines. The full details of Thetford's industrial past can be found in the Charles Burrell Museum in Minstergate.
Thetford Mill © TAB
In the 60s the town shot to fame as the 1968 Dad's Army set of Walmington on Sea. The Dad's Army Museum in Cage Lane tells the story, with various tours that take in the many of the locations where the scenes were filmed.
The town has a number of attractive and interesting buildings, mainly a mix of Medieval and Georgian. The old Norman castle mound survives, plus several ancient churches and a the ruins of a priory. There is a two-storied town gaol in Cage Lane with old stocks. Plus another Victorian gaol in Old Market Street. Other places of interest include The Guildhall, the Bell Inn (1493), the Ancient House Museum and almshouses.
The Georgian King's House (now the Council offices) stands on the site of a house used by James I. Outside stands a statue of the philosopher Tom Paine, who was born in the town.
Tom Paine Statue & The Bell Inn © TAB
Thetford once had a total of four religious houses and twenty churches during the reign of Edward II. Following the Dissolution of the monasteries its importance quickly waned and many of the monastic buildings, including the priory, fell into ruin. Only three of the original medieval churches survive, the largest of which is the part-Saxon, part-Norman Church of St Mary.
The riverside park is particularly attractive and the Spring Walk along the river bank should not be missed.
Thetford is also known for its vast forest and chase. Britain's largest pine woodland has a lime avenue and bird trail where woodlarks and nightingales can be heard. Other open green spaces include the nature reserve at East Wretham Heath with two meres that are home to many species of birds and wildfowl.
A fine Grade II listed Tudor building (1490) housing a natural and local history collection showing the development of Thetford and Breckland life. Believed to have been a Tudor merchant's house, it has beautifully carved beamed ceilings. Many artifacts on display have been traced back to very early times, with good examples from local Neolithic settlements. There is also a small period garden, recreated in the rear courtyard.
Opening times: - see website for details - Admission Charge
Location: 21 Whitehart St, Thetford IP24 1AA
Tel: 01842 752599
Castle Hill marks the remains for a Norman fortification demolished in 1173. England's tallest medieval earthwork. The 80ft (25m) castle mound, is thought to have been built by William de Warenne shortly after the Norman Conquest. Thought the surrounding earthworks may actually date back to the time of the lceni.
Opening times: any reasonable time - Free Entry
Location: Castle St, Thetford IP24 2DP
Located in Minstergate, it tells the story of the world famous Burrell's Traction Engines, manufactured in Thetford up until 1928. Several of the steam powered machines made in the town on are on display, including ploughing engines, showman's engines, road rollers and boat engines, once produced here at a rate of two per week.
Opening times: - see website for details
Location: Minstergate, Thetford IP24 1BN
Tel: 01842 751166
A small museum dedicated to the BBC sitcom Dad's Army. Several of the old sets have been reconstructed, displaying a range of historic WWII artifacts, military uniforms, photographs, episode scripts and press clippings, including the Church Hall, Bunker Room and Home Guard Room. There is also Marigolds Tea Room, serving a nice slice of cake and refreshing cuppa at the end of your tour.
Opening times: see website for details.
Location: Cage Ln, Thetford IP24 2DS
Tel: 07470 165795
The extensive ruins of this 12th-c Cluniac Priory stands amidst mature trees to the west of the town. The flint and stone remains include the site of the great Cathedral of St Mary, the Cluniac priory, the Benedictine Nunnery of St George, the 12th-century Augustinian Priory of St Sepulchre and several other ecclesiastical foundations.
Opening times: daily 8am to 4pm - Free Access
Location: Water Ln, Thetford IP24 1BB
Tel: 0370 333 1181
Thetford's historic grade II listed Guildhall was erected in 1902 over the site of a much earlier structure.
Located in the Market Place, it is currently used as an art galley and heritage hub for the town. The hall hosts craft fairs, meetings and small scale performances. Inside there is a Large Court and Council Chamber and also a Small Court that has been transformed into the Guildhall Tea Room.
The Tea Room is normally open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday & Saturday 10am-2:30pm.
Two miles west of Thetford stand the remains of a two-storey hunting lodge, built in the 15th century of flint with stone dressings.
Opening times: daily 9am to 5pm - Free Access
Location: Brandon Rd, Thetford IP27 0AF
Tel: 0370 333 1181
The second largest Forestry Commission woodland in the UK was created in 1919 to replenish wood stocks after WWI. Stocked with mainly mature pines, its wide, firm tracks and pathways make for good walking and wildlife spotting with deer, native birds, butterflies and rare flowers.
To the north an even larger area called the Breckland provides a unique reserve of pine forests and open heartland. The area's unique micro climate is home to many rare Breckland plants.