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Civil War and Restoration

The town sided with Parliament during the Civil War but fared well at the Restoration with one of its prominent Parliamentarians donating the Civic Regalia.

Overview

During the Civil War the town supported Parliament, but after the Restoration in 1660 a number of important and influential figures in the court of Charles II rose to national prominence.

During the Civil War the Corporation of Thetford was staunchly parliamentarian, and two Mayors of Thetford, Henry Kettle and Thomas Lincoln, as well as the town’s MPs, sat on the Norfolk Committee of the Eastern Association to help organise funding for men and supplies for the Parliamentary army. During the Civil War Norfolk was relatively quiet in terms of military action, although Thetford’s position meant that it was an important staging post for Parliamentary troops.

After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the political situation in Thetford became more unstable than it had been during the Civil War. The Corporation of Thetford in this period was politically divided, the Charter of 1574 was withdrawn and reissued several times, and in 1682 the new charter gave the King the right to appoint the mayor and other members of the Corporation. This resulted in a turbulent period for the Corporation; some of the official records appear to have been deliberately destroyed, but those which survive suggest violent disputes between members of the Corporation.

After a disastrous mayoral election in 1688 the Corporation effectively split into two factions, each with its own mayor and other officers, and each trying to enjoy the benefits of being the Corporation. The situation was partially resolved in 1693 when William and Mary reissued the town’s Charter of 1574, and giving the Whig faction their support, although the Tory faction continued to claim that the Charter was invalid into the early eighteenth century.

People

During this period Thetford was closely associated with a number of men who had distinguished careers in Parliament and in the government. The two key figures were Sir Joseph Williamson and Sir Henry Bennet, but also included Sir Allen Apsley and Sir William Harbord.

Sir Joseph Williamson

Sir Joseph Williamson (1633-1701) first represented Thetford in Parliament in 1669 and was re-elected several times until his death in 1701. At the Restoration, Williamson became Under-Secretary of State and quickly became a key figure in the government. He was also effectively the head of the intelligence services, which were responsible for opening mail and tracking and interrogating potential spies and informers.

In 1674 he became Secretary of State, although he lost this position during the Popish Plot in 1679. Despite this fall from royal favour, Williamson continued to serve as MP for Thetford, and donated the Sword of State and the Great Mace to the town, which are still in use as part of the civic regalia.

He was a generous benefactor to the town, and gave money and books to the Grammar School, as well as funding the building of a new courtroom in the Guildhall.

Sir Henry Bennet

Another prominent local politician was Sir Henry Bennet (1618-1685), a Royalist who was appointed as Secretary of State in 1662. This position gave Bennet close access to Charles II, and he became an influential policy-maker and was created Baron Arlington in 1665 and Earl of Arlington and Viscount Thetford in 1672. In 1666 Bennet purchased the Euston estate near Thetford, building a new house and, with the help of John Evelyn, laying out extensive formal gardens at the cutting edge of architectural and landscape design. Charles II visited Euston several times, and Bennet enjoyed a reputation as an excellent host. Bennet promoted the careers of a number of his under-secretaries, among them Sir Joseph Williamson, discussed above.

Sir William Harbord

Sir William Harbord (1635-1692) was elected an MP for Thetford in 1679, and again in 1681. Harbord was from a Norfolk family, but his own estate was at Grafton in Northamptonshire. In 1681 the Mayor of Thetford, John Mendham, reported Harbord for allegedly plotting to seize the King, and he gained a reputation for being dangerous to the government. In 1685 James II became king and Harbord fled to the Netherlands where he remained until the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when he accompanied William of Orange to England. In 1691 William appointed Harbord ambassador to Turkey, but Harbord died on the journey in 1692.

Sir Allen Apsley

Thetford also had another prominent MP in the figure of Sir Allen Apsley (1616-1683), who had fought with the Royalist forces during the Civil War. In 1661 he was elected as MP for Thetford and became of member of the household of James, the Duke of York and later James II. In 1666 Apsley’s behaviour in the House of Commons was mentioned by Samuel Pepys in his diary,

“He did tell me, and so did Sir W. Batten, how Sir Allen Brodericke and Sir Allen Apsly did come drunk the other day into the House, and did both speak for half an hour together, and could not be either laughed, or pulled, or bid to sit down and hold their peace, to the great contempt of the King’s servants and cause; which I am grieved at with all my heart (Wednesday 19th December 1666).”

Apsley died in 1683 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Places

Melford Bridge, Castle Street

Built in 1697 and funded by Sir John Wodehouse. Wodehouse arms on plaque.

Harbord’s Almshouses, Magdalen Street

Built in 1680.

Nunnery Place House, Nuns Bridges Road

Built in the early seventeenth century.

Fulmerstons Almshouses, Old Bury Road

Built in 1610 after a bequest in the will of Sir Roger Fulmerston, with original plaques bearing Hebrew biblical inscription.

The Dolphin Inn, Old Market Street

Built in 1694.

2-6A White Hart Street, formerly the White Hart Inn

A seventeenth century structure although much rebuilt in the nineteenth century.v

The Chantry, 22 White Hart Street

Early seventeenth century with later seventeenth century alterations (some original interior work surviving).

9-11 White Hart Street

A seventeenth century house which was reroofed and given a new façade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Timeline

  • 1661 - Sir Allen Apsley elected as MP for Thetford

  • 1662 - Sir Henry Bennet appointed as Secretary of State

  • 1669 - Sir Joseph Williamson first represented Thetford in Parliament

  • 1675 - Sir Joseph Williamson MP donates the civic regalia to the Corporation of Thetford

  • 1679 - Sir William Harbord first elected as MP for Thetford

  • 1682 - New Charter giving the King the right to appoint the mayor and other members of the Corporation

  • 1693 - William and Mary reissued the town’s Charter

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