Discovering what Diss, in south Norfolk, has to offer visitors

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Diss

Where is Diss?
Diss is on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, about 20 miles south of Norwich with the nightmare that is the A140 providing the main link between the two. The market town is also on the main line rail route from Norwich to London.

About Diss
The late Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, heaped praise on Diss, describing it as 'the perfect English market town', and joined a campaign to preserve it.

Another Poet Laureate, John Skelton, was rector there 500 years ago. As cleric, poet and ladies' man, he is said to have held up a love-child of his own in the pulpit and challenge anyone to find fault with it.

The main shopping centre is served by a range of traditional shops and larger stores, including three supermarkets. There is a choice of banks, building societies, estate agents, public houses, restaurants, post office, public library and charity shops.

St Mary's Church in Diss

The weekly Friday market is one of the town's many attractions. Dozens of stalls set up in the town centre selling a wide variety of goods, including fresh produce, flowers, plants, clothing, bric-a-brac, books and videos.

Friday is also the day of the weekly auction at the Diss sale ground, where antiques, second-hand furniture, garden effects and timber are among the items on offer.

Annual events include the Diss Festival and Raft Races and a New Year pantomime staged by local drama group Mere Players.

The six-acre lake in the town centre is known as the Mere. The origin of the Mere has been the subject of considerable speculation, but its greatest depth is 20ft. There is evidence of a channel across its muddy bed, possibly the course of an ancient stream.

Diss Angel

St Mary's Church, Diss

What to see in Diss

  • The large and beautiful 13th century church of St Mary's, where John Skelton was rector
  • The small, award-winning museum in the market place and,
  • The timbered structure of the former Dolphin pub (right), now the Dolphin House
  • Fair Green, Lower Denmark Street, picturesque old cottages surrounding open space.
  • Diss Museum, 4 Market Place, 650099.
  • Friday is market day, with about 40 stalls.

History of Diss

Diss developed around its picturesque six acre mere (pictured) which remains the focal point of this thriving market town.

The name is thought to derive from the Saxon "Dic", meaning ditch or bank, perhaps indicating the proximity of the lake to the neighbouring River Waveney.

One of the town's most famous citizens was John Skelton, Rector of Diss from 1504-1529, who was the childhood tutor of Henry V, and became Poet Laureate.

To date two major disasters are recorded, the town being ravaged by plague in 1579 and suffering a "great fire" in 1640 that destroyed properties in Mere Street.

Fortunately many of its ancient, timber framed buildings survived to the present day.

The Shambles, at the Market Place, is now home to Diss Museum. The name means "flesh market" recalling when meat was sold there. Denmark Green has a less savoury history, being a centre for the sport of cock fighting for centuries.

In Tudor and Stuart times it was famed for its fair and as a training ground for the militia.

St Mary's Church, whose tower dates from around 1300, was built on a site used for worship for more than 1000 years.

Diss has an interesting history, which is well portrayed in the Diss Museum in the heart of the town centre next to the Market Place. The town's early history revolved around wool and linen which were staple industries for several centuries from the 1100's on.

Following on from that were the Flemish weavers who brought with them their skill in the growing and use of hemp. Historical records contain numerous references to Diss and its 'Hempen cloth'.

The wool trade and weaving industry declined in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and there was much poverty in the town around that time.

Despite this the town has continued as a market town and social centre and previous prosperity can be identified by the many fine old buildings in the town.

The right to hold a market in Diss was granted in 1152 to Sir Richard De Lucy, Lord of the Manor of Diss.

Other famous people related to Diss include

  • Robert Fitzwalter, who obtained the Charter for Denmark Green Fair (then known as Cock Street and now known as Fair Green) and was responsible for the building of Diss Parish Church in 1290;
  • John Wilbye, son of a Diss tanner, who wrote some of England's most famous madrigals during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I;
  • Grayston Ives (known in Diss as Charles) modern composer, Master of the Music at Magdalen College, Oxford, and one-time member of the Kings Singers was born in Diss;
  • Thomas Lord, born in 1755, who lived much of his life in Diss, founded Lords Cricket Ground at Dorset Square, St Marylebone in 1787 (the turf was later moved in 1811 to Regents Park and in 1814 to St. John's Wood).

Diss directory

EDP and Wymondham and Attleborough Mercury
26, Mere Street, Street, Diss IP22 4AD. Tel: 01379 644517. Fax: 01379 652790.
Local Authority: South Norfolk District Council, South Norfolk House, Swan Lane, Long Stratton. 01508 533633
Town Council, 11 Market Hill, 01379 643848

Tourist Information Centre: Meres Mouth, Mere Street, 01379 650523

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