NORFOLK Museums Service
Ancient House

Current & Upcoming Exhibitions

Pulp, pin trays, pails and Pots the Story of Thetford pulp ware

This is an image

This new exhibition at the Ancient House, Museum of Thetford Life explores the story of Thetford Pulp Ware, a distinctive and unique local industry, and the people who worked there.

Thetford Pulp Ware was made in the town’s Pulp Works from 1879 until the 1950s. In many ways a green industry it used power from the river to pulp up recycled materials such as old jute bags to make useful articles for the home, for shops and for industry. Decorated with a variety of colourful paint finishes, the products were lightweight, durable and waterproof. They were used for all sorts of purposes including washing-up bowls, baby baths and buckets.

During the Second World War Churchill’s secret documents were brought under armed guard to Thetford’s Pulp Mill. There they were then transformed into items such as baby baths or fuel tanks for fighter planes. Maybe locked inside that baby bath was a top secret military command from Winston Churchill? Also during the war, pulp ware was made into decoys to fool the enemy and the fake pulp soldiers became known as the Thetford Army.

From the start the company made safety helmets. There is a testimonial in an early catalogue from a man who unfortunately had a weight of half a hundredweight (50kg) dropped from four feet onto his head. Luckily he was wearing a pulp ware helmet and although the helmet had to be forcibly removed the man lived to tell the tale. Even royalty wore Thetford pulp ware and on display is a photograph of George V (when he was the Prince of Wales) wearing a pulp hard helmet. In fact the company continued making helmets right through the last century and after a change of names from the Patent Pulp Manufacturing Company Ltd, the company continues business in Thetford as Centurion Safety Products. The Museum has been in touch with Centurion during the production of the exhibition and has arranged with permission for a new line of postcards on sale in the museum shop.

Museum Curator Oliver Bone said: “I am delighted that we have a chance to display a selection from the museum’s colourful collection of Thetford pulp ware. It has been fascinating to learn more about the pulp process and the people who worked at the Pulp Mill and to help tell their story. I look forward to all the activities at the Museum in 2017 with pulp as a theme.”

Programme for Schools

This is an image

Bring your class to learn about life in the town. Please contact the museum for more information.