House Museum of Thetford Life
LA-supported trust Scope:
Local history Visited:
site of the great Norfolk Museums Service, Ancient House
is, if not exactly ancient, certainly venerable with its
15th-century origins. It was transformed from a pair of
shops to a museum thanks to the good offices of that
extraordinary figure Prince Frederick Duleep Singh,
archaeologist, antiquary, and son of the last Sikh
Maharajah. Prince Frederick bought the Ancient House (as
it would become) and presented
it to the Corporation of Thetford as the town's museum.
air is redolent with the scent of old wood and smoke;
timber-framing is visible everywhere and several of the
ground floor rooms are arranged to display the fabric of
the house as the main exhibit to which the artefacts are
just illustration. The layout is the first test the
visitor faces as you must initially find your way to the
'front desk' which is actually towards the back, and
from there they tell you how to navigate the building.
Thetford's two most famous sons, the aforementioned
Prince Frederick and 18th-century radical pamphleteer
and campaigner Tom Paine, whose death mask you can
see in the photos below, both feature in the displays,
an incongruous couple in all sorts of ways. One other
peculiarity of Thetford Museum is that many of the
labels - at least when I visited - exhibit a
copy-writing technique we were introduced to when I did
my Museum Studies training at Leicester University
nearly thirty years ago, in which curators try to write
display text in short sentences, minimising subordinate
clauses, and starting every new sentence on a new line.
It's supposed to produce accessible text, but is in fact
incredibly hard to do and what you produce can end up
reading like a strange kind of museological haiku.
I had a go at it at High Wycombe and soon abandoned it.
It was odd to see it still going strong at
artefacts were easily the colossal Mannerist busts of
the Roman emperors Otho and Tiberius which originated in
Italy but for some peculiar reason ended up gracing the
frontage of a Thetford theatre. Otho looks as
though he has not only eaten all the pies, but possibly
the baker as well.