Wymondham's history can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon times, and there was once a Saxon church near the Abbey site. Domesday Book records the ownership of the local manors being with Stigand, the last Saxon bishop of East Anglia. Following the Norman conquest, the manors were seized and handed over to William d'Albini. He founded the priory which later became Wymondham Abbey, and his son built the chapel of Thomas à Becket. Much of the medieval history of Wymondham centres around the life of the abbey and rivalry between the town and monks.
Today the chapel carries a plaque remembering Robert Kett and his brother William. It was Robert, supported by his brother, who let the revolt of 1549, initially against the enclosure of common lands. Local landowner Sir John Flowerdew was a prime target of the anger of the populace. Kett was himself a Yeoman Farmer and landowner, and his rivalry with Flowerdew seems to have been part of his choice to side with the peasantry, at one point pulling down fences on land he himself had enclosed. Kett set up a camp outside Norwich, supported by bands from throughout the county of Norfolk and sought to obtain new rights for the poor. Battle raged at times in Norwich, but eventually an army from London arrived and the rebels were defeated. Robert was executed in Norwich but his brother William was hanged from Wymondham Abbey.
The pleasant market place with the Market Cross at its centre carries indications of the history of the town through the years. Many of the inns and taverns - there were 33 in the town in 1622 - can still be seen and recognised by name. Traffic now moves either side of the Market Cross itself, but we can imagine over 700 years how it stood at the centre of a thriving market. Originally there would have been a straightforward cross, a Christian memorial at the centre of the secular market. The current building was built after the 1616 fire, a development into a covered place for those at the market and a room where market administration could be carried out. Its uses went beyond those of the market - from it proclamations were made, sermons were preached and in front of it executions were carried out.
Many of Norfolk's market towns record a particularly distastrous fire in their history. In the case of Wymondham, the fire can be pinpointed to arson, started in a stable whilst many of the population were at church. The 'Booke of the Losses by the fire' survives to record 327 people and their families losing property. As well as personal dwellings and property, public buildings such as the school and the guildhouse were damaged. The other disaster to strike the town was the floods of 1912, when many Norfolk towns and Norwich itself were inundated.
During the Second World War much of East Anglia was home to American servicemen, and the main military hospital for Amercian servicemen was close to the town. After the war the Nissen huts of the hospital became the dormitories and schoolrooms of Wymondham College, then a Norfolk LEA boarding school. Today it remains one of the two state boarding schools in the country, with pupils from near and far, from Wymondham itself to the other side of the world. Only two Nissen huts now survive, a reminder of the foundation of the school in the 1950s.
The railway came to Wymondham in 1845, adding to its importance on the main coaching road from Norwich to London. In more recent times Wymondham has been bypassed twice, the current dual carriageway being provided in the 1990s, taking the main traffic well outside the town. Today the visitor by road must make a specific diversion to visit the town, but the centre - aided by substantial free car parking - is well worth a visit for history and for shopping.
Wymondham Heritage Society dates the first market cross to the late 13th century. The present building is believed to date from 1617-18, and served as a town meeting room
The Methodist Chapel at Town Green is a very pleasantly proportioned building from the second half of the 19th century
The Thomas à Becket chapel was founded by William D'Albini in 1174, with most of the present building from about 1400. Today it is the public library
The timber framing of the Green Dragon marks out the age of the building, in this case late 15th century. The area around lower Market Street features a number of timber framed buildings, though often with the lower part of the building altered or obscured
The original timber framing of the White Hart is hidden behind the Georgian frontage. The broad archway is typical of inns which served the coaching trade, an important part of Wymondham's place on the Norwich-London road