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Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Thetford lies at the natural centre of a distinctive landscape known as The Brecks, a dry and sandy area.
Thetford is commonly associated with the extensive Thetford Forest, planted in the years immediately after the first world war.
As well as its commercial activity, the forest is now a major tourist attraction with country walks, the impressive High Lodge Centre and childrens activities aplenty.
The extraordinary Neolithic flint mines known as Grimes Graves are a short drive away. These 360 mysterious depressions in the Breckland heathland are the infilled shafts of the mines dug some 4000 years ago by pre-historic man.
Closer to home, remains of the 900-year-old Cluniac Priory stand just outside the town centre.
Outside Kings House - formerly a residence of King James - there is a statue of famous Thetfordian Thomas Paine, the most remarkable political writer and radical thinker of the late 18th century who played a part in both the French and American revolutions.
Thetford also boasts the impressive Castle Mount and the Ancient House Museum (below).
Economically, the town has grown up after the second world war and now has several industrial estates housing international firms.
Sprawling across two counties, from Swaffham to Culford, this is the biggest lowland pine forest in the UK.
One of Norfolks biggest visitor attractions it was originally created 80 years ago to supply a chronic demand for timber.
As forests go its pretty impressive and there are so many bits to choose from Kings Forest, West Stow, Santon Downham, Lynford Arboretum and Lakes.
Lynford Arboretum was once part of the Lynford Estate the Hall is now a hotel and conference centre. Around 200 tree species are here and in autumn its a blaze of reds, golds and browns.
Deer, red squirrels, bats, adders and great crested newts and rare birds like the nightjar and woodlark have made their home here.
Outdoor concerts have become a summer tradition and stars have included Status Quo, Kathering Jenkins and the Zutons.
History of Thetford
In some ways, the passage of time has not been kind to Thetford.
Since the first castle was built by the local Iron Age tribe, the Iceni, in about 500BC, the fortunes of the town have fluctuated through its chequered history.
By 1066, at the time of the Norman Conquest, it was the sixth largest town in England, with 12 churches, a monastery (right) and about 4000 inhabitants.
Then dubbed the capital of East Anglia, it was home to the regions cathedral for a number of years before it was moved to Norwich in 1094.
And within 60 years, the town had suffered a decline in fortunes, rapidly overtaken by prosperous rivals Bury St Edmunds and Norwich. Indeed, by 1527 Henry VIII had sent a commission to investigate great ruin and decay affecting the town.
In 1737 Thomas Paine was born at a house in White Hart Street on the site of the present Thomas Paine Hotel.
Industrially, Joseph Burrell established a forge and James Fison began a wool exporting a corn merchants business which later became a major fertiliser manufacturer.
By 1846, Charles Burrells engineering works was producing steam engines, locomotives and agricultural machinery.
But by the 1920s, the depression had hit Thetford badly, with high unemployment and falling population as workers left to seek jobs elsewhere. It was not helped by the closure, in 1928, of Burrells Engineering Works, the major source of employment in the town.
In 1922, the Forestry Commission began to set out the pine plantation which became Thetford Forest.
After the second world war, Thetford councillors were anxious to reverse what appeared to be the accelerating decline in the fortunes of the town.
Following the Town Development Act 1952, the council agreed with London County Council to move businesses and their employees to from London to Thetford. It aimed to alleviate overcrowding and congestion in London and address under development in provincial towns.