Bidwell’s Brewery

Norfolk has the ideal conditions for growing barley which led to hundreds of breweries in the county. The small market town of Thetford was home to one of the most important breweries in the East of England – Bidwell’s!

This family run business was based in a flint building on Old Market Street, now a Grade II listed building. The family were wealthy and held important positions within the town.

The Bidwell’s Brewery was founded in Thetford in 1710. The brewery grew rapidly throughout the Victorian period. In 1868 Bidwell’s ran, not only the brewery but also several pubs in Thetford and more across Norfolk. They also owned pubs in Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. The estate was valued at £30,000 and continued to grow. By 1889 Bidwell’s was worth £68,000 and consisted of 55 pubs and malthouses plus other buildings and land in the town. In 1905 the business was sold outside of the Bidwell family to Eustace Quilter for £104,000. By now the brewery owned 105 hotels and pubs! The brewery was still known as Bidwell’s until 1924. It was sold to Bullard’s and brewing stopped.


This beer bottle (THEHM : 1979.71b) is on loan to the ‘Beers and Brewing: Norfolk’s Rural Pubs’ exhibition from the Ancient House Museum in Thetford.

Thankyou to the Norfolk Pubs and Thetfords Great websites which were invaluable when researching the Bidwell’s Brewery.


The Kings Head pub

One of the pubs featured in the ‘Beers and Brewing : Norfolk’s Rural pubs’ exhibition is the Kings Head in Shipdham.

The museum holds a collection of items from this pub. There had been a pub in the village since 1858. It was run by Frederick Chilvers from the 1960s to 1990s. His son donated some items from the pub to the museum. The pub is now closed and the building is now run as the Kings Café, which opened in 2012.

The items above all feature in the exhibition. Do you remember Smith’s crisps or beer sold in shillings? Beer was served in hand painted glass jars with a handle. Stoneware jars carried beer supplied by local breweries.

This book of tokens and bottle caps are also on display in the exhibition. The bottle caps were used while Emma Baker was landlady. Were these used when you bought a bottle of beer? With the 1 penny charge refunded when the bottle was returned? Do you know what the tokens were used for? – Let us know in the comments!

This till drawer is also from the pub, but does not feature in the exhibition.

For more information about the history of The Kings Head pub take a look at the Norfolk Pubs website.

Library, large working historic objects and Land Army…

We have been doing a lot of work in the library preparing for its full return! We now have three clearly zoned areas – one large public space for enquiries, a space for computer work and the store space at the back of the room. We have returned all the files to the filing cabinet so photos are easier to find now they are not in boxes. We are looking forward to meeting up with Collections Volunteers soon to plan their triumphant return!

I attended a launch of the new Guidelines for the Care of Larger and Working Historic Objects at the Museum of East Anglian Life in Stowmarket. These have been created by ABTEM (Association of British Transport and Engineering Museums) and will be super useful for us – especially with regards the Panhard Levassor and our engineering exhibits. I think the guidelines will show we are doing the right thing – and give us a chance to check our processes and procedures. In the next few weeks I’ll be looking to organise a meeting for engineering and Team Panhard volunteers so we can begin this process – I am excited to work together on this.

Collaborate work is on-going and we are starting to get interesting updates from participants. One is working on a woven mixed media textile hanging with hop vines and a collection of old bottle tops.

Another is creating a Moray Smith style panel (like the one on display in our Beer and Brewing temporary exhibition) but featuring Gressenhall. I am intrigued to see how it will all work out. Do keep an eye on the blog for regular updates.:

This week I am attending a meeting of Museums Association regional reps in Belfast. This meeting is partly to help plan the 2018 MA Conference which is being held in Belfast. I just heard this week that as well as going to conference as a rep I have been accepted as a speaker on a session about interpreting and collecting difficult institutional histories along with other speakers from both Northern Ireland and Eire. This is an important opportunity to raise national awareness in our collection and the Voices project.

Now that the holidays are over we are also looking forward to catching up with some of the collections managements tasks still needed in the Collections Gallery (looking at the mesh objects and on top of the cases) and elsewhere in the museum. We are selecting and assessing new Women’s Land Army uniforms for the gallery and planning any conservation work required over the next few weeks.

Megan, Curator