Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life
A history of Ancient House
Ancient House is the charming black and white building known as the Ancient House is among the main attractions of Thetford in Norfolk. Indeed, it probably ranks as one of the best examples of an early Tudor town house in East Anglia. A Norfolk attraction and a great family day out. None of the documents at present available, shed any information on who built the house or when. The conveyance of 1921 (when the house was given to the town) speaks of its being built in the reign of Edward IV (1461-83), architectural details point to a date soon after 1500.
Clearly it was the home of a merchant of some wealth and importance, who wished to model his dwelling on the larger mansions of the day. It appears he was prepared to pay for the best craftsmen in its construction. He seems to have been restricted in the size of the site at his disposal and was probably constrained by earlier boundaries on both sides. However the house would have been detached when first built, with perhaps a carriage entrance at the side. The house attracted attention in 1867, when a local historian wrote that ‘two interesting Elizabethan studded houses were discovered in White Hart Street when removing the external plaster’. Sketches of the house made in the late nineteenth century show that its external appearance was then much the same as it is today, which is a remarkable fact. In 1921, the Mayor of Thetford consulted the local antiquary Prince Frederick Duleep Singh about setting up a museum in the town. The Prince very generously responded by purchasing the Ancient House and presenting it to the Mayor and Corporation of Thetford for this purpose. And that occurred and set off history. With the advice of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the house was carefully and painstakingly restored, and the Prince contributed to the estimated cost of £550 [a huge sum in the day]. Stairways, doors, fireplaces and partitions were removed, and the plaster stripped to reveal the unsuspected richness of carvings underneath.
On 11 December 1924, the museum was opened by the Duchess of Grafton. It was administered by Thetford Borough Council until the museum became part of Norfolk Museums Service in 1974. And more historical facts are contained within our website.
Maharajah Duleep Singh (1838 – 1893). Maharajah Duleep Singh was the last Sikh ruler of the kingdom of the Punjab in northern India. Wars with the British in the 1840s ended when the young Duleep Singh surrendering his lands and possessions (including the Koh I noor diamond). Duleep Singh came to Britain, was befriended by Queen Victoria and settled into family life at Elveden Hall, near Thetford. In time however unhappiness over his treatment led him to rebel against the British authorities. His plans led to nothing and he died a broken man. Duleep Singh’s second son, Prince Frederick was the founder of the Ancient House Museum. He lived at Blo Norton Hall, near Thetford and took a keen interest in local history amassing a fine collection of books, paintings, prints and archives.
Sovereign, Squire and Rebel Maharajah Duleep Singh – ‘Sovereign, Squire and Rebel Maharajah Duleep Singh’ by Peter Bance is a fascinating book about the Maharajah Duleep Singh and his family. It is Peter’s fourth book and has taken him over 13 years to research. It traces the Maharajah and his family’s life in over 250 superbly presented images.
Thomas Paine was born 100 metres from the Ancient House in 1737. Influenced by his humble origins in a corrupt and violent world he wrote earth shattering pamphlets and books such as Common Sense, Age of Reason and Rights of Man. He became one of the greatest political figures of his day. Paine stirred up the spirit of Independence in America. He defended the ideals of the French Revolution, and Paine shaped democracy and human rights in Britain where the authorities organised a backlash against him, and effigies of Thomas Paine were publicly burned up and down the country.
Ancient House Museum Tudor Hall – Ancient House Museum Ancient Householders Room – Ancient House Museum The 1901 Kitchen – Ancient House Museum The Collectors Room – History highlights The two upstairs rooms were originally used as living and sleeping apartments. The first room, now known as History Highlights, is displayed with archaeology and ephemera relating to Thetford’s rich history. This includes objects dating from prehistory, the eras of the Celts, the Romans, the Vikings, through to the 1960s. Discover Boudicca’s link to the town and the town’s very own treasure!
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Ancient House Museum is a great family day out in Thetford and a premier Norfolk attraction and something to do with the kids. Covid 19 measures are now relaxing and we hope to see you soon
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