Mildenhall is another of those East Anglian towns such as Snettisham and Hoxne, which has gained fame through treasure found there. Most of these 'hoards' seem to have been buried in the late 4th century, perhaps in that unsettled time as Rome's rule came to an end in these islands.
Mildenhall is on the edge of both the fens and the brecks; in Roman times it seems to have been a well-populated area. Wild fowl and fish were plentiful from the watery fens, and where the land was dry it was both good for the cultivation of crops and would support herds of sheep. The whole of East Anglia, once the revolts of Boudica's Iceni had been overcome, warranted two major roads, the Icknield Way and the Peddar's Way. Communication by water using the rivers of the fens and then by sea to the rest of the Roman Empire was particularly good. Small wonder then that the silver riches of the hoard have been found near Mildenhall.
Domesday book, King William's great record from 1086, gives us a further peek at Mildenhall in past times. The Anglo-Saxon settlement on the site, and the subsequent Norman lordship, records a mill at Mildenhall and a church. 64 families are recorded, quite a large settlement by Domesday's standards, together with a thousand sheep.
The abbey of Bury St Edmunds held the manor of Mildenhall, and the abbot would have exercised his power over the town in various ways. A royal charter established a weekly market on Fridays in 1412, and an annual two-day timber and servant hiring fair was another regular event until the mid 1th century.
As with many other manors, the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII brought about change to the established structure, the Crown seizing the manor of Mildenhall, and then it became the property of Sir Roger North of Kirtling. He is responsible for the building of the manor house. One of his successors as lord of the manor was Sir Thomas Hanmer, who gave the almshouses which have been restored and continue to be used today.
When we walk through the market place of any East Anglian town, it is still possible to imagine it as the bustling centre of activity. Goods from all the villages and farms within about a ten mile radius would be being traded there. In 1567 there was a catastrophic fire centred on the market place, destroying over 20 houses within two hours. Consequently most of the buildings in todays market place date from the late 16th century.
Down by the river Lark is the mill. As we have already said, a mill is recorded on this site from 1086. The plaque on the mill today says that the current mill dates from 1908. The Lark itself was once navigable to Bury St Edmunds, and barge traffic continued into the time of the railways, offering some competition to the branch line which served Mildenhall for a while. The modern road transport system passes Mildenhall by, but a short distance away is the great meeting point of the main Norwich-London road, the A11, with the A1101 and the A1065, at Barton Mills roundabout
The other great form of transport came to Mildenhall in 1931 when the RAF established one of the first of its new bomber bases nearby. It was an important RAF base during the Second World War, and continued to grow when in 1950 it became a home to the United States Air Force, operating as its primary link point between America and Europe. It became particularly well known for its annual two-day Sky Fete, which happened for 25 years up to 2001, but has not been held since.
The almshouses by the church were originally donated by Sir Thomas Hanmer in 1722. They were restored and brought back into use in the 1970s.
The hexagonal market cross dates from the fifteenth century
Mildenhall Museum is in three flint cottages at the corner of King Street and Market Street. As well as exhibitions on Breckland, Fenland, the air base and other special exhibtions, it has a range of publications with further information on the town and district
The parish pump in the market place
Half-timbering can be seen on some of the 16th century buildings in the market place. A number of animals, possibly including squirrels or monkeys and horses, are a feature of the ridge of this building.