Thetford has a close connection with Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Punjab, and the first Sikh to settle in Britain. Duleep Singh’s second son, Frederick, was one of Thetford’s most prominent benefactors, giving the town Ancient House as well as his personal collections.
Duleep Singh became the first Sikh to settle in Britain at the age of eleven. He spent the first years of his life in the Punjab, but after the defeat of the Sikh army in 1847 the young prince was taken in guardianship by the British.
In 1849 Britain annexed the Punjab, allegedly in the name of Duleep Singh. However, Duleep gave up his sovereign rights and his property to the British, including the famous diamond known as the Koh-i-Noor, which is now part of the British Crown Jewels.Duleep became a favourite of Queen Victoria and the aristocratic elite. In 1863 he bought the estate of Elveden, close to Thetford, where he pursued a leisured life including shooting and hunting over the 17,000 acre estate. The Prince of Wales attended his hunting parties at Elveden.
The house was enlarged during the 1860s, including many alterations in a palatial Moghul style. Duleep lived at Elveden with his first wife, Bamba Muller, and their six children, three girls and three boys, including Prince Frederick who was born in 1868.
In the 1880s, Duleep’s relations with the British government became strained over the issue of his pension. He left Elveden to live in Paris and later Russia. He hoped that foreign governments would lend him military support to regain control of the Punjab region. In Paris, after the death of his first wife, Duleep married his second wife, Ada.
In 1890 Duleep suffered a stroke which left him paralysed. He asked to visit Queen Victoria, and was granted a royal pardon. In 1893 he returned to England for the last time, and died in October 1893. Prince Frederick buried his father at Elveden, along with his first wife and their youngest son.
A 74cm high marble bust of Duleep Singh by sculptor John Gibson sold at auction for £1.7million in 2007, having been expected to fetch around £30,000.
Frederick was Duleep Singh’s second son, and the godson of Queen Victoria. After his education at Eton and Cambridge he served in the army, and fought in World War One. He was particularly interested in the history and archaeology of Norfolk, and wrote several articles on the subject.
He also collected paintings and other objects of local interest. He lived at Old Buckenham Hall, and later bought the moated manor house at Blo Norton in south Norfolk.
Frederick was one of Thetford’s most prominent benefactors. In 1921 he purchased the Ancient House in White Hart Street and gave it to the town to be turned into a museum. After his death, he left Thetford his collection of portraits, and his books relating to East Anglia.
Pop in to our King Street shop and pick up one of our Trail Leaflets (just 50p) for a self guided themed tour in and around the Thetford area