Thetford’s Ancient House Museum owes its existence to the generosity of Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, son of the last Maharajah of the Punjab. Prince Frederick worked with Thetford Borough Council, giving funds to buy the house and paid for its restoration as the town’s public museum. The Ancient House Museum was opened on the 11th December 1924. He also generously gave the town items from his personal collections including oil paintings, Staffordshire figurines and a rare stuffed great bustard.
Prince Frederick’s father, Duleep Singh, became Maharajah as a boy, last of the heirs of the powerful Maharajah Ranjit Singh. After the Anglo-Sikh wars of the 1840s, Duleep Singh lived a life of exile. He settled at Elveden Hall near to Thetford. Here he raised a family with his wife the Maharani Bamba, became ‘Lord of the Manor’ and held shooting parties for his aristocratic friends. A sense of injustice about his treatment by the British grew inside him and towards the end of his life he rebelled against the imperial power and tried to return to the Punjab. Prince Frederick grew up to be a great collector, enthusiastic archaeologist and antiquarian becoming President of the Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society during the same year he established the museum.
We are now launching a project to raise funds estimated at £50,000 to redisplay one of the rooms at the museum to give more space to the fascinating Duleep Singh story and our Anglo Sikh connections. The Museum attracts visitors from all over the world interested in this shared history. The project will provide an opportunity to display more of the Duleep Singh family heritage including items from the Norfolk Museums Service collections, and to tell the story in an engaging way.