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From the 1950’s Thetford became an ‘overspill town’ taking new populations from London and grew at a faster rate than any other English town.
During the last fifty years Thetford has undergone more radical change than perhaps at any other point in its history. After World War Two the size of the town grew enormously, including development on the south bank of the river on the location of the Late Saxon town.
The Town Expansion Scheme – housing
The Newtown estate, built in the 1920s, was expanded after the Second World War and in 1946 building work started on the St Mary’s Estate. These were small in comparison to the Town Expansion Scheme in Thetford which allowed families from large cities to move into smaller country towns. In 1953 the Borough Council approached London County Council to become part of the scheme, and Thetford may have been the first town to do so.
In 1957 Thetford signed an agreement that would transform the town. Work began on new housing estates and 5,000 Londoners moved to Thetford.
In 1960 another 5,000 Londoners moved to Thetford increasing the population to about 17,000 people. This phase of development first saw the building of an additional 1,500 houses by 1965, and then the focus shifted to the Abbey Farm estate to the north of the river. Construction of the Abbey Farm estate began in 1967, with 1,000 houses, public open spaces and footpaths.
In the early 1970s there were 25,000 families on the waiting list to move to the towns expanded under the scheme, including Thetford. New residents to the town were welcomed with a letter from the Mayor and a welcome pack of information about the town and the area.
By the late 1980s the population of Thetford was around 21,000 people, this enormous increase in population meant that Thetford had grown much faster than any other town in Norfolk, and indeed in the whole country.
The new estates constructed in Thetford are typical of the 1960s and 1970s. This is an area which has been relatively neglected by historians, but these estates are part of the fabric of Thetford’s historic landscape. The architecture and landscape design can be ‘read’ from the landscape of the new estates in the same way that we can ‘read’ the medieval landscape of Thetford. In Thetford, the new estates cut across the pre-existing landscape and were laid out with little regard for the earlier landscape. This had a negative impact on the archaeology of Thetford, as much of the evidence for the Late Saxon town, and earlier periods, was destroyed during the construction of these estates.
The Town Expansion Scheme – industry
Along with the residential development, Thetford was also transformed by industrial change. As the new estates were built, many companies moved to the town, creating new jobs. Four industrial estates were created around the town, with well-known companies such as Thermos, Jeyes, Danepak and Conran. By the end of the 1960s some 9,000 new jobs had been created.
The Town Expansion Scheme – amenities
Under the original town expansion scheme, a new shopping area was planned for the town centre, along with new roads for enhanced access. The plans were opposed by some locals as it would have meant demolishing many of the historic buildings in Thetford town centre, so the initial plans were modified.
From 1965 onwards new developments were built in the town, including the Riverside shopping area and the extension to the Bell Hotel. A further shopping precinct was built between King Street and Tanner Street. During the 1960s and 1970s this development attracted many new independant shops, including Savage’s, Adderley’s, Dubock’s, Siddall’s and Doran’s Corner. As well as redeveloping the town centre, the Borough Council also laid out new public open spaces and a new bus station on the south side of the river.
Just as in previous ages, 21st century Thetford has seen an increase in migrants from other areas and countries. Russian, Polish, Slovak, Spanish and Portuguese families have settled in the area, drawn by the abundance of agricultural work. In fact, the 2011 census revealed that almost 30% of the Thetford population were of Portuguese descent.