Wymondham, pronounced ‘Windham’ is situated in South Norfolk and is a long established Market Town. It is one of the largest parishes in the county, containing 4431 hectares (almost 11000 acres).
The origins of the name are uncertain but it is of Anglo-Saxon origin and probably consists of a personal name, such as Wigmund or Wimund, plus “ham” meaning village or settlement.
The first market charter was issued by King John in 1204, although there was probably a market before that date. The charter was renewed by Henry VI in 1440 and a weekly market is still held every Friday. Wymondham was the first town in Norfolk to stage a Farmers’ market in March 2000. Farmers’ markets are now held on the third Saturday of every month from 9.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m.
There was a market cross in the Market Place from sometime in the Middle Ages, but it was destroyed with many other buildings in the Great Fire of Wymondham in 1615. The present Market Cross was built in 1617-18 and cost £25-7-0d, which was loaned by one of the leading citizens, Philip Cullyer. It is now owned by the Town Council, houses the town’s Tourist Information Centre and makes a fine setting for the many events which take place in the Market Place during the summer months.
Wymondham has had a number of key industries over the centuries. The Town was once a renowned centre for woodturning which eventually evolved into brush making, and which lasted until the latter part of the twentieth century. It was also part of the Norwich-based handloom weaving industry for several hundred years. In the early part of the 19th century it specialized in the manufacture of bombazines (used in mourning clothes) but was eventually defeated by more modern weaving methods.
Today the Wymondham area has diverse industries such as the world famous Lotus Cars nearby at Hethel and the Operations Centre for Norfolk Constabulary, as well as many other trades represented on the various industrial estates.
The town’s most famous landmark is probably its Twin towered abbey. Founded in 1107 by William d’Albini chief butler to Henry I, as a priory and a cell for his brother’s abbey at St Alban’s. It was originally dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Alban but after the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket in 1170 this changed to St Mary and St Thomas of Canterbury. When built, the church was intended to serve both the Benedictine monks and the parishioners of Wymondham, but the rights of each were unclear from the start and this led to many quarrels between the two factions. This problem was not finally solved until the fifteenth century when the priory obtained independece from St Alban’s, thus becoming an Abbey. The central octagonal tower was built by the monks, while the large western tower was built by the towns people. When the Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII, all of the Abbey domestic buildings were demolished as well as the eastern end of the Church, which had belonged to the monks. The western part was retained as the Parish Church, which function it still serves.
St. Thomas of Canterbury was canonized in 1172, two years after his murder, and in 1174 William d’Albini, Earl of Arundel (the son of the earlier William d’Albini), built a chapel in Wymondham dedicated to St Thomas. It eventually became a guild Chapel. In 1400 it was re-roofed with a hammerbeam roof. After the dissolution of the Abbey and all the religious guilds in the 16th century the Chapel became the Grammar School, which lasted until 1903.
This late 15th century inn is the oldest in the town. It may once have been called St George and the Dragon” and at one time was known as the “White Swan”.
The historic railway station was built in 1845 on the Norwich to Ely line. Still providing a rail link with Norwich, Cambridge, London, the Midlands and the North-West, the award winning station has been restored and its buildings house Station Bistro. There is also a line to East Dereham run by the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Society which can be accessed at Wymondham Abbey Station on Becketswell Road.
The ‘bridewell’ or House of Correction was situated in the Town some time between 1598 and 1619. In 1779 John Howard, the prison reformer, condemned the old building as “one of the vilest in the country” and the present building was erected by 1785. This was the first to be built to John Howard’s recommendations and became a prototype for new prisons both in England and America. It remained a county prison until 1827, and a women’s house of correction from 1831 until 1878. A police station was set up in one wing in 1850 and enlarged once the women’s prison was shut. They remained there until 1963 when a new police station was built. In 1879 one wing became the magistrates court until 1991. The building was subsequently purchased by the Bridewell Preservation Trust and now houses the British Red Cross and some sheltered housing, as well as the award-winning museum run by the Wymondham Heritage Society, with many displays of local history and at least one new exhibition each year.
In 1549 Wymondham brothers, Robert & William Kett led an army of the common people to Norwich. They were protesting principally about the enclosure of common land and the oppression of the people by wealthy landowners.
Their list of demands was not accepted by the crown and after capturing Norwich and fighting two battles with the royal army they were routed and many died. Robert & William were arrested, tried and hanged, Robert from the walls of Norwich Castle and William from the tower of Wymondham Abbey.