Thetford was the birthplace of Thomas Paine, aka The Father Of The American Revolution.

He was the author of Common Sense, The Rights Of Man and The Age Of Reason. He was a tireless campaigner. He was one of history’s greatest political thinkers and an eloquent proponent of social justice, emancipation and liberty. He was, as his soubriquet suggests, one of the biggest inspirations in the American Revolution. Without Thetford and Thomas Paine there would have been no California, no President Obama, no D-Day landings, no walking on the moon, no Elvis Presley. And no Sarah Palin, Fox News, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, Guantanamo Bay, 60″ waist “pants”, or people that can’t say lieutenant properly, either.

He was, in short, a big deal. The kind of man you’d think might deserve a statue in his hometown:

Unless, of course, you happen to be on of Thetford’s many local Tories. When a group of Americans first offered to erect a statue to the great man in the 1960s, a Conservative town councillor declared it “an insult to the town” and tried to stop its erection. When that failed, his council tried to get an inscription about Paine being a “traitor” engraved alongside the current inscription: “My country is the world, my religion is to do good.” Ever since, the town has regarded its famous son as a source of shame, rather than pride.

But don’t worry! The dislike was mutual. Thetford was a thoroughly Rotten Borough in Paine’s day. It was dominated by a small rich elite, who frequently (and literally) got away with murder, while poor men could be hanged for stealing a sheep. He hated it.

In fact, you could probably say that the entire American Revolution was a result of Paine’s desire to escape the legacy of his upbringing in Thetford. And you can definitely say that one of his most famous quotes is about the town: “When, in countries that are called civilised, we see age going to the workhouse and youth to the gallows, something must be wrong in the system of government.”

It’s hard to imagine he’d like the place much better now:

Mind you, it is at least fun to imagine what Paine might think of Thetford’s latest piece of statuary:

This is commemorates another famous local: the Maharajah Duleep Singh, the last royal ruler of the Punjab. He was exiled to nearby Elveden in the 19th century, where by all accounts, he felt thoroughly miserable, pining for his homeland, desperate to flee Thetford. (Which he did, eventually, making it as far as Paris, where he died.)

The birthplace of one of history’s most persuasive republicans has become a place of pilgrimage for Sikh royalists. And that isn’t the cruellest irony. Tom Paine might have a statue in Thetford, but it has been so positioned that he gazes out forever over the town’s main thoroughfare: King Street. It would be enough to make him turn in his grave, if only he had one.

Sam J


My friends and I once spent an evening in Thetford. Some people threw a cucumber at us.

Zoe H


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7 Responses to Thetford

  1. Zoe H says:

    My friends and I once spent an evening in Thetford. Some people threw a cucumber at us.

  2. Ester says:

    good article; i will share with everyone in Thetford. haha. thank you for posting.

  3. Bernardina says:

    What a Paine! (Sorry.)

  4. samjordison says:

    Just been sent this:

    “I don’t think it’s fair to criticise Thetford because Thomas Paine didn’t like it 200-years-ago. Not least because it makes the place seem far more interesting than it actually is. He’s the last notable person that the town has produced.
    Life here was getting so dull by the 1950s that the council actually applied to London City Council to bring businesses to the town – and people. Like a shot, LCC offloaded thousands of its most problematic families onto the hitherto sleepy Norfolk town, adding addiction and unrest to the traditional local problem of inbreeding. Soon afterwards the local council also decided that the centre of town wasn’t ugly enough and built a new mainstreet of flat-rooved, flat fronted squat and brutal retail sheds.
    Following local government reorganisation in the 1970s, the town council lost the power to make most decisions – but by then the damage had been done. We’ve been enjoying that legacy ever since.”


  5. Susan Boast says:

    Anything that is old and interesting in Thetford they pull down,buildings they should never have pulled down:- The Anchor Hotel,the little flint cottages behind the Picture House/Guildhall Street where Roys and a car park now stands the monstrosity of the road they have put through Castle Street,which they pulled down more old houses for,the Redcoats School run by Mr and Mrs Kennedy (which they pulled down to run the rerouted A11) they have got plenty of fields around there couldn’t they have run it at the side of Thetford, now to get to the priory you have to run for your life across the main road or face getting mugged under the underpass (as it was when i last visited Thetford) those horrible smelly little food shops they were allowed to put in the victorian building on the Market Place and as for the 60s riverside shopping centre (with about 3 shops open in it) pull that down now replace it with something that looks like the old style houses with flint worked into it, not like those awfully tall yellow buildings in St Nicholas street,they have done some terrible things to Thetford.

  6. Big sam says:

    Just stopped off in thetford. Thoroughly odd and depressing place. Some nice buildings but lots of horrible 70s crap has spoilt it. Sad

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