The historic market town of Wymondham is located 15 km south-west of the city of Norwich. Its history dates back to the Anglo-Saxon times, and much of it is centred on the life of its Abby and rivalry between the town and monks.
Not much is available of its life during this period, but Doomsday records indicate that the ownership of the local manors was held by Stigand, the last Saxon Bishop of East Anglia.
The manors were seized after the Norman Conquest and handed over to William d’Albini, chief butler to Henry I, who founded the Wymondham Abbey. Later his son was to build the chapel of Thomas à Becket.
Robert Kett is believed to be the most prominent inhabitant of this town. In 1549, he led a peasant rebellion against the enclosure of common land. Unarmed with his men, he held the City of Norwich for six weeks, but was later defeated by the King’s forces. He was later executed.
In 1615, two fires, started by gypsies, broke out destroying three hundred properties, including the Market Cross, dating back to 1286. The fires were later named the Great Fire of Wymondham. The buildings were restored and the refurbished Market Cross was completed in 1617. The fires were followed by community discontent last seen in the Kett Rebellion period. A number of prominent citizens left the area to Hingham, Norfolk in a wave of religious dissent.
In 1785, Wymondham had its first prison built. The jail, using the ideas of prison reformer John Howard, was the first prison with separate cells for inmates.
The collapse of the wool industry in the mid eighteenth century saw the arrest of development. Poverty gripped the area. However, there were those who took advantage of Wymondham’s position on the route from Melton Mowbray to the A1 or “the Great North Road”, which links London to Edinburgh. The village was a stopping point for cattle drovers and travellers. An 18th century resident, Mrs Frances Pawlett, died in 1808 a wealthy woman after having successfully turned Stilton as the home of “the King of English cheeses”. She would supply her brother in law, a landlord of the Bell Inn on the Great North Road with cheese. Her son and most of her close relatives died before her, missing out on a lucrative inheritance, hence, the inscription on her headstone reads: “Remember to Die”. Cheese production continued until it was disrupted by World War Two.
Wymondham’s role in the war has not been well documented; however, it was home to one of MI5’s listening stations. The Market Cross remains a major attraction. Today, it is owned by the council and houses the Tourist Information Centre that hosts various events during the summer months. Sometimes winding down can be hard after work, but knowing you have a Hypnia memory foam mattress to sleep on makes everything much better.
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