Exhibition opens on Thetford's expansion

It remains probably the biggest single expansion project in Norfolk's history. IAN CLARKE reports on a new exhibition tracing the story of Thetford's rapid growth - and the latest news on the town's future expansionTake an historic town on the southern tip of Norfolk where the population was dwindling as people moved away to find work.

It remains probably the biggest single expansion project in Norfolk's history. IAN CLARKE reports on a new exhibition tracing the story of Thetford's rapid growth - and the latest news on the town's future expansion

Take an historic town on the southern tip of Norfolk where the population was dwindling as people moved away to find work.

Quadruple the number of inhabitants by moving thousands of Londoners 100 miles up the A11.

Build huge new housing estates, lure major manufacturing firms in and change the face of the town forever.

In the late 1950s it would have either sounded like a recipe for disaster or a bold vision to breathe new life into Thetford.

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The debate has gone on for the past five decades about the success - or otherwise - of the town expansion plan.

And as Thetford sits on the verge of new major growth - which will see thousands more homes and jobs created - a new exhibition has been launched looking at the impact of the huge development during the 1960s.

Our Thetford: Yesterday & Tomorrow has opened at the town's Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life on Saturday and continues until May 23.

The exhibition explores the changes that occurred in Thetford looking at the new homes and employment opportunities, the high street and shops, the riverside and new schools and leisure facilities. Objects and photographs from the 1960s will bring back many memories for visitors of the swinging sixties.

There are exhibits made in Thetford by the new firms which moved there including a Thermos flask, Conran fabric, trays by Thetford Moulded Products, a Centurion helmet and Jeyes' cleaning products.

During the expansion scheme some of the old buildings were demolished and make way for the new developments.

Pictures in the exhibition show the stark changes to roads like Well Street and the removal of the Old Manor House to create the library.

The exhibition also asks people for their views on how they want the town to grow in the future.

London County Council was behind the town centre expansion scheme and among the thousands who moved up to Thetford from London was long-serving county, district and town councillor Thelma Paines.

'We were going to move to Welwyn Garden City but the waiting list got longer so they asked us about Thetford. We had never heard of Thetford and when we first got here we thought there was nothing here! It was freezing cold and we had to wear extra clothes.

'But it is the best thing we ever did and we have never regretted it.'

Officially opening the exhibition, Norfolk County Council's learning champion for Thetford Jenny Chamberlin said the town quadrupled in size during the expansion scheme and she said it was a 'wonderful exhibition' in 'a real gem of Norfolk County Council's armoury of museums.'

Thetford Museum curator Oliver Bone said: 'The 1960s were a time of amazing change and excitement in Thetford. Some mistakes were made and there were also good things which happened. We are now looking forward to a new period of growth for Thetford.'

*The museum is open from 10am-4pm Monday-Saturday and until March 28 admission is free. After that, summer opening hours and admission rates apply. Museum contact number: 01842 752599.

*The EDP is planning a series of special features marking the growth of Thetford - and we would love to include your story.

Were you one of the Londoners who moved to Thetford in the 1960s? Or can you remember the impact that the arrival of the new population had on the town?

EDP feature writer Angi Kennedy wants to hear from you. Call her on 01603 772464 or email angela.kennedy@archant.co.uk or write to her at EDP Features, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, Norfolk NR1 1RE.