With a prized location in the heart of East Anglia, a unique history and 5,000 new homes on the way, Thetford faces a choice between dormitory or destination. In which direction will he go? Reports by NOAH VICKERS
It may not be obvious to those passing by around it on the A11, but Thetford is at a crossroads – not only of the old roads that cross it, but also of its future.
The city – Norfolk’s fourth largest settlement – is about to undergo a major housing expansion that will bring big changes.
It has already undergone more transformations than most places. The city was the ancient capital of East Anglia and rivals only Winchester and the City of London in claiming to have the oldest town hall in the country.
The birthplace of American revolutionary Thomas Paine – with a gleaming gold statue in the town center – Thetford is also known for being one of the main filming locations for Dad’s Army and for having Grande’s first black mayor Britain, Dr. Allan Glaisyer Minns, in 1904. .
“We’re a big city with a small community vibe,” said Corinne Fulford, 56, who runs the Leaping Hare tourist center.
“He has very friendly, people are always ready to help. This is, I think, the difference between Thetford and other towns. It’s very friendly and open. »
But Thetford stands out from other towns in another crucial way: it grew exponentially as a so-called “spillover from London” in the decades following World War II.
An agreement reached between Thetford and London councils in the late 1950s saw vast new housing estates built in the years that followed, to accommodate thousands of young families in the capital.
“While there is absolutely no doubt that the development in the 1960s brought enormous change, therein lies the rub,” Ms Fulford said.
“If you were in a very small town where pretty much everyone knows each other, and all of a sudden it exploded – which it did – it takes a lot of getting used to and getting used to it. adapt. And I think people are still adapting to that.
Despite the disruption, it was migration that breathed new life into Thetford’s economy, as four new industrial estates sprang up across the town, creating some 9,000 new jobs by the end of the 1960s.
And Thetford grows once again. The 2011 census revealed a population of 24,833 – a growth of 12.7% since 2001.
In 2015, a plan to build some 5,000 new homes on the northeastern outskirts of the town was approved by councillors. The development, known as Kingsfleet, is being built gradually over various plots of land, with the first phase due to be completed by 2029.
With nearby Attleborough – due to expand by 4,000 homes – Thetford has been identified in Breckland’s local plan as one of the two towns in the district best suited for major growth.
“We have the opportunity to do one of two things,” said City and District Councilor Roy Brame.
“We could become a bedroom community – a nice place to live, with all the conveniences, and a nice place to raise kids.”
“Now I, personally, have no problem with that, as long as we’re the best dorm town.”
Good road and rail links to Norwich and Cambridge, and beyond, mean the city is well placed for such an outcome.
But Mr Brame said his preference would be for Thetford to become a job hub instead, attracting workers as well as tourists from the ring of larger towns around it, such as Cambridge, King’s Lynn, Norwich and Bury St Edmunds .
But Thetford’s geography also has its drawbacks, he added, pointing out that part of the difficulty in implementing a strategy for the wider Thetford region was its position on the border of two counties, requiring a high level of collaboration between Norfolk and Suffolk councils.
Oliver Bone, curator of the town’s Old House Museum, agreed there was a lot of additional potential for tourists, saying: “I think Thetford’s natural history is wonderful and perhaps overlooked.
“People drive past but it’s great to stop and explore.”
The 61-year-old added: “I would like to see a bit more done with the river because it’s such a wonderful aspect [of the town].
“Before, you could get on a steam pedal boat in Thetford and go all the way to Cambridge or all the way to King’s Lynn.”
While he admitted there would be several hurdles to reviving such a service, he said he would like to see its comeback explored.
Married couple Maryska and Barry Sumner, who moved from Devon three years ago, raved about the town.
“We didn’t know anything about Thetford when we first moved here, and we love it,” said Mr Sumner, 70.
His wife, 76, said: ‘Everyone talked about the inconveniences, but we came here and were open-minded.
“What really sold us was the house, which is near the river,” she added.
“The more we have seen [of the town]the more we loved her,” her husband said.
Asked what 5,000 new homes could mean for the future of the area, Mr Sumner said: “I hope it breathes new life into the city centre.
“But I would also like to see infrastructure improved to be able to cope with this influx of people – bus services, doctors, things like that.”
He added that a direct train service to London could also bring benefits to the city.
On the outskirts, the progression of Kingsfleet’s vast development is evident, as stylish new houses are erected in neat rows and crescents, west of the A1075.
Jessica McKee, 24, who works for the East of England Ambulance Service, has lived in Thetford with her family for seven years.
On the new development, and with her partner, she has just bought her first house.
“Thetford has been great for us since we moved here a few years ago…
“The bus station, right in the center of town, is great to have. Most of our family members use it to get to and from Bury.
“We have definitely noticed over the last year that there is a lot more going on in terms of housing and also the shops and amenities available to us.
“We are very close to things like Thetford Forest… The best part [the development] is that we are surrounded by greenery.
She added that a new station on the Norwich-Cambridge rail line, for which land has been earmarked on Kingsfleet’s master plan, would be “really neat to have”.
“My partner works in Cambridge, so for commuting and things like that it will be great because he won’t have to drive every day.”
Migration to Thetford
The agreement between Thetford Borough Council and London County Council was concluded in 1957.
A wave of 5,000 Londoners in the city that year was followed by another 5,000 in 1960, bringing the city’s total population to 17,000.
They were housed in new social housing, the money for which came from London County Council.
The new industrial zones that sprung up as a result of the migration hosted well-known companies like Thermos, Jeyes, Danepak and Conran.
Residents of New Thetford received a letter from the mayor and a welcome package containing information about the area.
But migration from London had not calmed down for a long time before the European Union began to expand.
The accession of Portugal in 1986 and much of Eastern Europe in 2004 saw significant migration from both places.
The 2011 census revealed that almost 30% of Thetford’s population was of Portuguese descent.