Thetford in 1842
THETFORD, a small parliamentary borough, partly in the hundred of Grimshoe, in the county of Norfolk, partly in Lackford hundred, in the county of Suffolk, 88 miles from London by the Norwich mail-road through Woodford, Epping, Bishop Stortford, Newmarket, and Bury St. Edmunds ; and 30 miles from Norwich by Attleburgh. It has been confidently asserted that Thetford existed in the time of the Romans, or even antecedent to their arrival ; but it cannot be identified with any of their towns that have been mentioned in ancient records. Plot and Blomefield attempted to fix here the Sitomagus of the Antonine Itinerary; others have proposed to fix here the Iciani of the Itinerary, but without any solid ground for their opinion. The Ikeneld or Icknield Street or Way, and a road called the Peddar or Ieddar Way, crossed the Little Ouse above Thetford, but not very near it. Blomefield describes some traces of fortifications as existing in his time, but it is not clear that they were Roman. Some coins of the earlier emperors, from Claudius to Antoninus Pius, have been found.
Under the East Angles it was a place of importance : a synod was held here A.D. 669. When the Danes invaded England in the reign of Ethelred I, they fixed their head-quarters, A.D. 870, at Thetford (called in the Saxon Chronicle, Theodford, Theotford, and Theotforda ; and by-other old writers Tedford and Thedford), which they sacked : and it is likely that the battle in which they defeated Edmund, king of the East Angles, was fought not far off. There appears to have been an abbey near the town at an early period, for king Edred, the grandson of Alfred the Great (A,D. 952), ordered a great slaughter to be made in the town of Theotforda, in revenge of the abbot, whom they had formerly slain. (Saxon Chronicle ; Florence of Worcester.) In the reign of Ethelred II the town was burnt by the Danes (A.D. 1004) under Sweyne, but on their return to their ships they were intercepted by the Anglo-Saxons under Ulfkytel, and did not make good their retreat without serious loss. They burned the town again A.D. 1010. In A.D. 1075 the bishopric of the East Angles was transferred from North Elmham to Thetford, but remained there not twenty years, being transferred (A.D. 1094) to Norwich. At this time Thetford was a town of considerable size and importance ; it was a burgh with 944 burgesses in the time of Edward the Confessor ; but at the time of the Domesday Survey there were only 720 burgesses, 224 houses being uninhabited. It gave name to the hundred in which it stood. After the removal of the bishopric to Norwich ; or perhaps before, a Cluniac priory was founded here, the revenues of which at the dissolution were £418, 6 shillings, 3 pence gross, or £312, 14 shillings, 4¾ pence clear. There was also a house of canons, which was afterwards a nunnery, a Dominican friary, and several smaller religious houses or hospitals. Thetford was the seat of one of the suffragan bishoprics established by Henry VIII. There have been as many as twenty churches ; thirteen are mentioned in Domesday.
The borough of Thetford, according to the Population Returns for 1831, comprehends three parishes, with an area of 8,270 acres, and a population of 3,462. The parishes of St. Cuthbert and St. Mary are very much intermingled, and are partly in Suffolk and partly in Norfolk : the whole of the other parish (St. Peter) is in Norfolk. The town is chiefly on the north-east or Norfolk bank of the Little Ouse ; a smaller part is on the opposite or Suffolk bank. The town is irregularly built, and is neither paved, watched, nor lighted, but has a neat and clean appearance. It has no manufactures, but there is a good deal of malting, and the trade of the place is favoured by the river being navigable up to the town, by means of which an export of agricultural produce and an import of coal are carried on. St. Peters church consists of a nave with two aisles, chancel, and tower ; the last rebuilt A.D. 1789. The ancient part is built chiefly of flint, whence it has obtained the name of the black church. St. Cuthberts church is of ordinary structure : it has an embattled tower. Both these churches are in Norfolk. St. Marys is on the Suffolk side of the river, and is meanly built. There are meeting-houses for Wesleyans, Independents, and Quakers ; and a Roman Catholic chapel. Considerable remains of the Cluniac priory, especially the ancient gateway, still exist on the north-west side of the town. There are also some considerable remains of the nunnery, comprehending the chapel and the ruins of some other parts, at what is called Thetford-place Farm, on the Suffolk side of the river, south of the town ; and some relics of other religious structures of the middle ages. The grammar-school is an ancient building.
The borough, as we have seen, is as old as the time of Edward the Confessor : under the Municipal Reform Act it has four aldermen and twelve councillors, but is not to have a commission of the peace, except on petition and grant. It first sent members to parliament in the time of Edward VI, and still returns two : the borough limits were not altered by the Boundary Act. There were 156 voters in 1835-6, and 160 in 1839-40.
The livings of St. Mary and St. Peter are rectories, of the clear yearly value of £83 and £55 respectively ; that of St. Cuthbert is a perpetual curacy, of the clear yearly value of £50 : all are in the rural deanery of Thetford, and the archdeaconry and diocese of Norwich. There were in the borough in 1833, thirteen day-schools, with from 357 to 367 scholars, namely, 123 boys, 69 to 79 girls, and 165 children of sex not stated ; and three Sunday-schools, with 393 scholars, namely, 180 boys and 213 girls.