A heritage group is setting out a vision to bring the history of its town to life in a new centre.

Peter Wade-Martins, chairman of Dereham Heritage Trust, has invited councillors and representatives from across the town to listen to the group’s proposal for a new heritage centre.

The group currently has the Bishop Bonner’s Cottage Museum, but it is small and was a very limited access for people with disabilities. There are no toilets, and Mr Wade-Martins described the building as “simply not a suitable location in which to present the fascinating history of our town.”

In a letter inviting people to the event, Mr Wade-Martins said: “We believe that Dereham needs and deserves a Heritage Centre. The purpose of such a centre would be to share the history of the town and area with the widest possible audience.

Dereham Times: A 1950s postcard showing the original Dereham town signA 1950s postcard showing the original Dereham town sign (Image: Dereham Heritage Trust)

“We all appreciate that the town has changed so much in our lifetimes that the Dereham we knew in our childhoods is radically different from the expanding Dereham which is emerging in the 21st century. With more people coming to live in the town, the need to help people understand, enjoy, and identify with their past becomes greater.

“Such a centre would also enhance the experience of visitors to the town, giving a lasting and positive impression of the place. A centre which celebrates both our past and the present could be a real social, cultural and educational asset. It would need to be in, or close to, the Market Place.

“It would need the active support of all relevant organisations with an interest and commitment in making Dereham a better place in which to live and work. It could include a Tourist Information Centre.”

Dereham Times: Members of Dereham Heritage Trust, L-R, Hilary Williams, Peter Wade-Martins, Trevor Ogden. Centre - Cllr Roy Brame and Karen Brame. Carolyn Coleman and Sue WalkerMembers of Dereham Heritage Trust, L-R, Hilary Williams, Peter Wade-Martins, Trevor Ogden. Centre - Cllr Roy Brame and Karen Brame. Carolyn Coleman and Sue Walker (Image: Robert Campbell)

The meeting will take place at Dereham Golf Club on February 28 at 7.30pm on an invite-only basis - if you feel strongly you can request an invite by emailing contact@derehamheritagetrust.org.uk

The history of Dereham

Some say the most defining moment in Dereham’s history is the decision by Withburga, daughter of a Saxon king, to set up a religious community in the deer park - which gives the town its name - after being inspired by a vision of the Virgin Mary. After her death pilgrims flocked to her grave until her body was whisked away by the Abbot of Ely, jealous of the prosperity brought to the town by the pilgrims. Legend has it that a spring with magical properties immediately filled the desecrated tomb forming the Withburga Well.

Since 1983, Dereham has been twinned with the town of Rüthen in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It is also twinned with Caudebec-lès-Elbeuf, France.

Dereham Times: Dereham sign on the A47Dereham sign on the A47 (Image: Archant 2016)

Many historical discoveries have been made in the town, including a Neolithic polished greenstone axe head was found near the town in 1986, with a Neolithic axe head, flint scraper and other tools and worked flints also found in local fields during the 1980s. An enamelled bridle bit dating from the Iron Age was discovered, with pottery sherds also being found by field walkers in 1983. Also, In 2004, the largest number of Roman coins found in Norfolk was discovered in Dereham, over 1000 from the third century.

During World War Two, Dereham was partially fortified to slow down any German invasion of the country with several defensive structures built. One surviving pillbox still stands in the railway station yard and was preserved as a memorial by the Royal British Legion.

A nuclear bunker also exists in the town.

Dereham Times: Metamec clock factoryMetamec clock factory

It was also the home to several thriving industries such as Jentique furniture factory, Hobbies, Metamec clock factory, Cranes of Dereham, and Crisp Maltings.

All those have closed or moved away from Dereham. Companies currently based in the town include Steelmasters, Flagship Housing, Zip Industries.

The town’s biggest event is now its Blues Festival, which has brought thousands of music lovers to Dereham every year since 2019.