Wymondham

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Wymondham (/ˈwɪndəm/) is a historic market town and civil parish in the English county of Norfolk. It lies 9.5 miles (15 km) to the south west of the city of Norwich, on the A11 road to Thetford and London.

Wymondham’s most famous inhabitant was Robert Kett (or Ket), who in 1549 led a rebellion of peasants and small farmers who were protesting the enclosure of common land. He took a force of almost unarmed men, and fought for and held the City of Norwich for six weeks until defeated by the King’s forces. He was hanged from Norwich Castle. Kett’s Oak, said to be the rallying point for the rebellion, may still be seen today on the B1172 road between Wymondham and Hethersett.

The Great Fire of Wymondham broke out on Sunday 11 June 1615. Two areas of the town were affected implying there were two separate fires. One area was in Vicar Street and Middleton Street and the other in the Market Place, including Bridewell Street and Fairland Street. About 300 properties were destroyed in the fire. Important buildings destroyed included the Market Cross, dating from 1286; the vicarage in Vicar Street; the ‘Town Hall’ on the corner of Middleton Street and Vicar Street; and the schoolhouse. However, many buildings such as the Green Dragon pub did survive and many of the houses in Damgate Street date back to 1400, although this is now masked by later brickwork.

The fire was started by three Gypsies, William Flodder, John Flodder and Ellen Pendleton (Flodder) and a local person, Margaret Bix (Elvyn). The register of St Andrew’s Church in Norwich records that John Flodder and others were executed on 2 December 1615 for the burning of Wymondham. Rebuilding of the destroyed buildings was quick in some cases and slower in others. A new Market Cross, the one we see today, was started and completed by 1617. However by 1621 there were still about 15 properties not yet rebuilt. Economic conditions in the 1620s could have been a contributory factor to the delay in rebuilding.

Kett’s Rebellion was evidence of an undercurrent of ferment in sixteenth century Wymondham. Comparable discontent manifested itself in the seventeenth century when a number of Wymondham citizens, including Thomas Lincoln, John Beal and others emigrated to Hingham, Norfolk in the wave of religious dissent that swept England in the years preceding Cromwell’s Commonwealth.

In 1785 a prison was built using the ideas of John Howard, the prison reformer. It was the first prison to be built in this country with separate cells for the prisoners, and was widely copied both in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

The collapse of the woollen industry in the mid-nineteenth century led to great poverty in Wymondham. In 1836 there were 600 hand looms, but by 1845 only 60. During Victorian times the town was a backwater, escaping large-scale development, and the town centre remains very much as it must have been in the mid-seventeenth century, when the houses were rebuilt after a great fire. These newer houses, and those which survived the Great Fire, still surround shoppers and visitors as they pass through Wymondham’s narrow mediaeval streets.

Wymondham played a part in the Second World War that is very poorly documented. It was home to one of MI6’s Radio Security Service direction finding stations; the type at Wymondham was a “Spaced Loop” design newly developed by the National Physical Laboratory. Unfortunately, it was soon found to be unsatisfactory and was converted to the more traditional Adcock type. The station at Wymondham was located at latitude=52.583333, longitude=1.121667, just north of Tuttles Lane and east of Melton Road. Based on information from one of the WW2 operators it transpires that another spaced loop station was later installed alongside the first in 1944 after the Normandy invasion. This may have been due to increased interest in transmissions from western Europe where the shorter distance made the spaced loop more reliable.

The civil parish of Wymondham has an area of 44.31 km2 (17.11 sq mi) and in the 2001 census, had a population of 12,539 in 5,477 households. This relatively large parish includes one nearby village, Spooner Row.

Wymondham is governed by a town council of 15 councillors. The town is split into five wards, each of which returns three members. Since the last election (2011) and subsequent by-elections, 11 councillors are members of the Conservative Party, two are from the Liberal Democrats and two are independent. The current mayor is Robert Savage.

For the purposes of local government, Wymondham civil parish falls within the district of South Norfolk, returning five district councillors, one for each ward. The town as a whole returns one county councillor to Norfolk County Council – Joseph Mooney. Nationally, Wymondham is in the Mid Norfolk constituency and is therefore represented at Westminster by George Freeman.

In the town centre, there is a market cross, which is now used as a Tourist Information Centre and is owned by the Town Council. The original building was destroyed in the Great Fire of Wymondham in 1615; the present building was rebuilt between 1617-18 at a cost of £25-7-0d with funds loaned by local man, Philip Cullyer. The stilted building was like many others designed to protect valuable documents from both flood and vermin. According to T.F. Thistleton Dyer’s “English Folklore” [London, 1878], live rats were nailed by their tails to the side of the building by way of a deterrent. This bizarre superstition ended in 1902 after a child was bitten, later to die of blood-poisoning.

Wymondham Abbey is the Church of England parish church.

A large housing development has commenced in Wymondham near the Hethersett road. Construction of this housing estate began after much opposition and, more recently, plans for a new housing estate on a green-field site on the Wicklewood-side of Wymondham have been put forward. There is opposition to the development as wildlife may be damaged and the buildings will be on a flood plain.

Another much larger development of 3,000 homes has been proposed for the South of Wymondham and has attracted tremendous local opposition. A campaign group known as “Fight for Wymondham” has been formed by local residents to oppose this development, on the grounds that it will destroy Wymondham’s character as a historic market town and potentially overwhelm local services and pose a threat to wildlife.

The headquarters of Norfolk Constabulary are located in Wymondham.

The former town jail or bridewell now houses the Wymondham Heritage Museum.

The Wymondham railway station (voted Best Small Station in the 2006 National Rail Awards) possesses a piano showroom and a locally famous themed Brief Encounter restaurant. The latter featured in Mark Greenstreet’s 1996 comedy film ‘Caught In The Act’ which starred Sara Crowe, Annette Badland, Nadia Sawalha, Paul Shelly and Leslie Phillips. (N.B. ‘Brief Encounter’ was shot 250 miles away, using Carnforth railway station, Lancashire.) The whole site has been sympathetically restored by owner David Turner and also houses a small railway museum. The station was featured as the “Walmington-on-Sea” station in the popular BBC comedy series “Dad’s Army”. Wymondham station is the junction for the Mid-Norfolk Railway, although their trains, running 11.5 miles (19 km) north to Dereham operate from the separate Wymondham Abbey station. The town once had another station Spinks Lane, but this closed only a short time after opening in the 19th century.

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