Thomas Paine was born in Thetford. His father was a Quaker who worked as a corset-maker and smallholder. Although educated in the town, the young Paine left Norfolk at an early age. Already he was smarting at the unfairness of the hierarchical, undemocratic society of his time.
He tried a number of jobs, including working as an excise collector, schoolteacher and sailor, before finding his true calling. A meeting with American Benjamin Franklin led him to emigrate to the colonies. There he lent his considerable intellectual skills to the cause of American independence. His best known line – “these are the times that try men’s souls” – helped raise the morale of George Washington’s army at a crucial time.
Back in England he wrote his best-known work The Rights of Man, in 1791. It was a defence of the French Revolution, and an early call for democracy. With Britain thrust into a war against revolutionary France, his words got him into trouble and he fled to the continent to avoid arrest.
In France he got mixed up with dangerous revolutionary politics, and was lucky not to be guillotined during the Terror. Despite this, he wrote The Age of Reason, stressing his demands for religious freedom.
Eventually, he returned to America, where he died in 1809. In 1964 a statue of Paine was erected in Thetford, where it stands outside the historic King’s House.
Norwich was rocked by ‘The Great Blowe’. This city dust-up had its roots in growing discontent in the wake of the civil war.
In the aftermath of King Charles I’s surrender in the spring of 1646, puritanical religious reformers had tightened their grip on Norwich and other places in eastern England. They even banned Christmas.
By early 1648, the city was in a funny mood. Norwich apprentices and workers were up for a fight. Rumours spread that popular Mayor John Utting was about to be arrested by the authorities, and sent to London. The city gates were locked and by midnight a crowd reckoned at about 2,000 people had gathered in support of the mayor, shouting for ‘God and King Charles’.
Things got out of hand. As Parliamentary cavalry were summoned to break up the unrest, rioters decided to seize arms and ammunition stored at the headquarters of the County Committee.
What happened next is unclear, but there was an explosion. . . and when the dust had cleared 40 people were dead, many more were injured and the windows of St Peter Mancroft and St Stephen’s Churches were blown out. Which was why Norwich people recalled the incident as the ‘Great Blowe’.
The authorities cracked down. Some 300 people were arrested, and eight ringleaders hanged at Norwich Castle the following January.
At a national level a second civil war broke out, and Colchester was besieged by Parliament. In January, 1649, King Charles was tried and beheaded in London. England became a Republic.
Hereward the Wake and his Viking allies sacked Peterborough Cathedral.
Renowned as the last English warrior to successfully oppose William the Conqueror and his formidable Norman soldiers, Hereward’s tale is seeped in legend.
Although it is hard to separate the man from the myth, it seems likely Hereward was a noble English thegn from Bourne in south Lincolnshire. He was in exile during the Norman invasion of 1066, but on his return to England he became leader of the rebels in the east defying King William.
By the summer of 1070 he was operating alongside a Danish fleet led by their King Sweyn. On June 1, as a new French abbot Torold was abut to take over the wealthy religious establishment at Peterborough, Hereward and the Vikings struck first. They stormed the monastery, brushing aside the monks, and made off with “treasures in money, cloth and gold”.
With that, the Danes made a separate truce with William and made off with their loot – which was probably their intention all along. As for Hereward, despite making enemies of the Peterborough monks, he fought a highly successful guerrilla campaign based in the fens around Ely. There he defied the Norman army, which struggled to make headway in the marshy ground, until (by some accounts) some more monks betrayed him.
With the fall of Ely, Hereward leaves the pages of history and enters those of legend. It seems that, despite later making peace with King William, Hereward was ambushed by some of the Norman knights he had earlier defeated – and died making a last stand.
A duel was fought on Mousehold Heath, Norwich, by Mr Robert Alderson, a well-known barrister, and Mr Grigby.
“The latter conceived he had been unfairly treated in cross-examination by Mr Alderson at the Suffolk Assizes, and, refusing to accept his explanation, sent him a challenge.
“Mr Alderson was attended to the field by Mr Mackintosh and Mr Grigby by Mr Turner. Two shots were exchanged, with no effect than that of Mr Grigby’s first ball passing through the skirts of Mr Alderson’s coat. A cordial reconciliation was afterwards effected.”
The Phenomena day coach was advertised to run from the Angel Inn, Norwich, and the One Bull Inn, Bury, to the Bull Inn, Aldgate, London, in fourteen hours. It set out from Norwich at a quarter to six. The proprietors prohibited racing on the part of their coachman. The rival coach, the Norwich and London Original day coach, started from the Norfolk Hotel every morning at a quarter to seven and ran to the Spread Eagle, Gracechurch Street and the Swan with Two Necks, through Bury, Sudbury, Chelmsford and Romford.