Thetford, chapter 5: Of Thetford-Hill the situation of the city at that time, and of its first destruction by the Danes

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.

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'Thetford, chapter 5: Of Thetford-Hill the situation of the city at that time, and of its first destruction by the Danes', in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, (London, 1805) pp. 26-27. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]



The Danes having been acquainted with the strength and riches of this city ever since the year 838, thought long to be masters of it; and, in order to conquer it, they first made the present hill, commonly called, the Castle-Hill, and encamped in it, which so terrified the inhabitants, that they were glad to make peace with them; this was in the year 865 or 866, for then they wintered in this camp. which I do not take it was brought to its full height, strength, and perfection, till their return in the year 870, when they came again and wintered here, having (as it is to be supposed, drove out King Edmund from this his royal seat; at their first approach, it appears they encamped against it, and were some time, though not long, before they took, burnt, and entirely destroyed it, not only pulling down its buildings, but murdering all its inhabitants, the King having retreated out of it, in all appearance, (when he saw he could keep it no longer,) to Eglesden, now Hoxon, in Suffolk; and it is to be thought, that at this time they completed this great camp, raising the mount to such a height, not only as an annoyance to the besieged city, which by this means they overlooked, but that they might command also the opposite hill, on which King Edmund's army laid, on the extremity of which there are many tumuli now to be seen, (fn. 1) the most remarkable of them being called Tut-Hill; and under these the bodies of the slain, in the dreadful battle between King Edmund and the Danes, were interred; but after they had made it so strong and complete, they kept it afterwards as one of their strongest holds, fit upon any occasion for the reception of their army or friends. It is plain that this city was sacked that same year King Edmund was martyred, which was in 870, or 871, on the 20th day of November, on which day his martyrdom is commemorated; the whole of it was then on Suffolk side, the river bounding it on the north, or Norfolk side, on which, upon the ford or great pass directly against the Roman fortress, which then guarded the city that way, this hill is placed; it is a camp very remarkable for its bigness and strength, being exactly in the Danish way, with a prodigious hill or mount in the midst, (consisting chiefly of chalk,) said, by good judges, to be both higher and bigger than that famous one at Marleburgh, and if so, it is the biggest made hill in this kingdom; it has a hollow on its top, in which 20 or 30 men can lie and not be seen at all below; it was an uniform fortification till the works on the south side were levelled (by degrees, I suppose,) as the present Market-street was built; and those of the eastern outworks, when the Augustan friars church and convent were built; but the works on the west and north side remaining pretty entire, with the barbican, which faces the east, shew us plainly that its outworks went by the river that comes from Melford bridge east, and with that, turned to the south, and so faced the ford and eity that way. It had three ramparts surrounding it, with large ditches between them, all round, except where the barbican interferes on the east part; there do not seem to have been any walls or building any where about the camp, or upon the hill, whatever may be pretended. Its site is owned by the Duke of Norfolk, being part of the lordship of Thetford: the remaining part of the fortification contains 13 acres; the whole, including the Friar's Close, and that part of the encampment on which the Market-street now stands, contained when complete about 24 acres, and the city, at the time of its destruction, was a mile in length, viz. from Red-Castle, to the Place, and above three miles in circumference: but whatever places of divine worship there were before this time, we are quite at a loss to know, the whole being now destroyed by the heathen Danes.


  • 1. Hist. Norf. fol. 193, 194.