Thomas Paine is one of the best known sons of Thetford having been born in the town on 9 February 1737. He was educated at Thetford Grammar School and for a while lived in Lewes. He sailed to the United States in 1774, nearly dying with illness during the journey. He became involved in the American War of Independence and wrote numerous books and pamphlets about the political situation in the country. Later known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, although he wasn’t directly involved with the establishment of the new American Government.
A meeting took place at Thetford Guildhall in February 1937, marking 200 years since Paine was born. Sir William Gentle, the Mayor of Thetford, made a speech and said:
“It is appropriate that the people of Thetford should assemble in their guildhall tonight in these days when democratic government is once more in danger, when according to General Goering, its foundations are on sand”.
The town’s statue of Thomas Paine dates from later on, designed by Charles Wheeler and unveiled in 1964. I hadn’t previously noticed this, but the book in the sculpture is upside down, apparently as a way of getting people talking about the new artwork in the town.