Hot Spot: Thetford, Norfolk

This Saxon town became a London overspill in the 1950s. Improved rail links have now made it attractive to commuters, says Robert Liebman
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The Independent Online

Don't panic! You are not going soft in the head if Thetford looks familiar, especially if it resembles Walmington-on-Sea in Dad's Army. The Guildhall, Bell Hotel and other locations in the Thetford area appeared in the Second World War comedy series, which originally aired 25 years ago.

Don't panic! You are not going soft in the head if Thetford looks familiar, especially if it resembles Walmington-on-Sea in Dad's Army. The Guildhall, Bell Hotel and other locations in the Thetford area appeared in the Second World War comedy series, which originally aired 25 years ago.

In addition to Captain Mainwaring and Corporal Jones, real-life local heroes include writer Tom Paine, who was born in Thetford but emigrated to America, and Indian-born Duleep Singh, the last Sikh Maharajah of the Punjab, who became lord of the manor of Elveden Estate, three miles outside town.

The town borders the large Thetford Forest Park and is within the area known as the Brecklands, a 370-square-mile chunk of pine forest and heath land extending as far as Swaffham in the north. The Little Ouse River meanders through the town centre.

The capital of East Anglia in Saxon times, Thetford was an important religious centre in the Middle Ages and later became a spa and the home of Burrell steam engines. "Until the 1950s, it was a small market town with a Guildhall and Clocktower that still exist," says Nigel Steele of Jackson-Stops in Norwich.

"In the late 1950s, it became an overspill town for London and expanded enormously. Thetford has a lot of social housing, and the more recent up-market private development should help it lose some of its reputation as an overspill community."

Steele notes that the current slowdown has mostly hit the middle market, whereas "demand from first-time buyers is still strong, and well-located properties on the upper end are also holding up well. Property prices surged with the recent upgrading of the railway line between Norwich and Cambridge. There are more trains to London now, and Thetford is beginning to attract London commuters."

THE LOW-DOWN

Getting there

Thetford lies at the intersection of a string of access roads, with King's Lynn and Norfolk to the north, and Cambridge and Ipswich to the south, each about 30 to 35 miles away. Stansted Airport is 55 miles, and London is 85 miles.

Amenities

Thetford has a highly regarded grammar school and several infant, junior and primary schools. Breckland Leisure Centre and Waterworld boasts a leisure pool with wave machine, flume and whirlpool bath.

Attractions

The Ancient House Museum is located in a 15th-century timber-framed merchant's house, which was donated to the town by Duleep Singh. The Cluniac Priory ruins (1104) are in the town centre. Steam engines and agricultural machinery are exhibited in the Charles Burrell Museum, located in a former paint and finishing shop. Within Thetford Forest Park is a complex of Neolithic flint mines known as Grimes Graves.

Prices

A first-floor studio flat with front and side windows and allocated parking in a modern, purpose-built block is for sale at £69,995. A modern three-bed mid-terrace with a small walled front garden and patio-style rear garden with brick shed is £88,950; both through Duncan Estates.

Family homes

A three-bed semi with a double-length single garage and an extension providing an additional reception room is £119,950, whereas a three-bed detached with a large garden is £194,950. A three-bed detached bungalow with conservatory and carport next to the garage is £183,000; all via Duncan Estates.

Listed town centre

Bedfords is marketing a late-Georgian Grade II-listed house within walking distance of the town centre. It has a reception room, drawing room, dining room, 15ft-by-10ftt kitchen, three first-floor bedrooms, two attic rooms (one is windowless, though), two spacious cellars, a small rear garden and a single garage; £249,950.

Great Hockham

A few miles north-east of Thetford, two period semis have been combined to form a single cottage. For sale at £305,000, it has four bedrooms, a study and a dining room in addition to a living room. Briar Dene consists of a four-bed Grade II-listed family home plus attached cottage, for £435,000. Both through Charles Lister.

Croxton

Just north of Thetford and convenient for the A14, Jackson-Stops & Staff is selling a Victorian farmhouse with four bedrooms, detached double garage and side hall, consisting of an office and a utility room, on nearly an acre; £545,000.

Garboldisham

Ten miles east of Thetford, a 1950s house on the site of the former Garboldisham Hall has an office/bedroom on the ground floor and four bedrooms on the first floor. The property includes a one-bed annexe, open barn and outbuildings in a parkland setting on about 12.5 acres; £450,000, through FPDSavills.

Estate agents

Bedfords, 01284 769999; Charles Lister, 0870 2405254; Duncan Estates, 01842 753388; FPDSavills (Norwich), 01603 229200; Jackson-Stops & Staff (Bury St Edmunds), 01284 700535, (Norwich) 01603 612333; Mullenger, 01953 883474.

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