Thorpe St Andrew history handed on for future generations

From seeing the land mine which weakened the parish church to tobogganing down South Avenue in the snow, Janet Smith has lived through a fair amount of Thorpe St Andrew's history herself.

The former village librarian and stalwart of the Thorpe History Group, Janet Smith has also built an extensive archive of photographs, documents, newspaper cuttings and even videos since the 1950s.

Due to ill-health in the past few months and concerns about the future of the collection, she has now handed over the historic treasure trove to Thorpe St Andrew Town Council for safekeeping.

Although no firm plans have been made, there could be a town museum or even a digital archive to ensure the lovingly-built collection can be enjoyed by future generations.

Miss Smith started to build the collection when she became the first librarian of the purpose-built library on Williams Way and she was chairman of the popular Thorpe History Group for 14 years.

'I am a squirreller. It is just the whim that takes me,' she said. But she said that archiving and collecting went with the job of a librarian.

She was also responsible for a vast history collection in Wymondham.

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Among the photographs in the Thorpe St Andrew collection are those that chronicle the vast expansion of what was then Thorpe St Andrew village.

'In the 1901 census, there were more people in the mental hospital than there were in the village', she said. 'It was such a small village. Nearly all of the building came after the war.

'They started building before the war, but when I opened the library I looked across and there was no Heartsease Estate.'

She described how she had watched as a landmine came down in a parachute next to Thorpe St Andrew Church in the 1940s and then they had all gone to take shelter. She said that she remembered the big traffic jams when Thunder Lane was still single track onto the main road.

'I remember all the development of north Thorpe and the coming of sewerage.'

And she has fond childhood memories of life during the war.

'Everything was very communal during the war,' she said. She said that someone would get out a magazine and then they would pass it around the street.

'It brought people together. All the kids had one party together. We all had to share food because of rationing, but then cars came and we didn't go on the bus anymore.'

Over the years Miss Smith has given many talks on local history.

She started the Wymondham archive when she retired from being a librarian and did that for 20 years before she handed it over.

But this collection has taken 50 years to put together and it was a combined effort with other members of the Thorpe History Group.

'It has been collected over the years', she said. 'Various people have given me things and a high proportion of those are things that are in the Millennium Library.

'My friend was marvellous about getting things from people,' she said.

The collection amounts to around 70 folders.

Miss Smith said: 'The best way to get photographs is to get what you've got and put it in an exhibition and then people see what they've got. That is the best way to start a local history society. People then start talking about things.'

The history society was formed in 1985 and continued until 2005 when nobody came forward to be the chairman.

Town clerk Steven Ford said that the local history group had been one of the town's most successful societies.

He said: 'The council would like all the records to be kept in Thrope St Andrew and to be available for everyone, but it's early days yet. It has all got to be archived.'

He said that a student grandson of one of the councillors would be looking at the collection and seeing what the next step was.

'It was very sad that the history group did not continue,' he added.

It is hoped that the collection can be put into some sort of order and built upon in years to come.

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