Mildenhall is a market town that is rich in history and packed full of tourist attractions and amenities. The town is near the A11, standing on the River Lark and on the edge of the Fens. The town is conveniently placed close to Bury St Edmunds, Lakenheath, Brandon, Lavenham and Newmarket – making it ideally located for visitors who wish to visit other villages and historical towns in the north-west of Suffolk. Thetford Forest is only a short drive away, as is Cambridge, and Suffolk’s county town, Ipswich, is just 37 miles from Mildenhall.
Mildenhall is renowned for its market place that features a 15th century Market Cross and town pump. The market takes place every Friday, and the construction of the Market Cross commemorates confirmation of the importance of the Friday market by the Royal Charter in 1412. The town pump acts as a reminder that piped water was not available until the 1940’s.
The parish church of St. Mary’s stands off the market place and is considered to be the finest in West Suffolk, with features dating back to 12th and 13th Centuries. The church is particularly well known for its angel roof, wide aisles, aisled ceiling with carved hammer beams, and the 112 feet tall square tower with its ornate East window provides the perfect opportunity to view the surrounding countryside, which includes the River Lark.
The Mildenhall airbase, formerly a wartime bomber base for the RAF, is nearby just North of the town. As is the Lakenheath airbase, making Mildenhall a great spot for aviation enthusiasts – however, both airbases are far away enough not to disturb the town.
Also, Nestor Pharmaceuticals – an Indian-owned pharmaceutical business – chose to set up its UK headquarters in Mildenhall and is planning a further £3 million capacity expansion and to increase employment at the site from 30 people to over 100 in coming years.
One of Mildenhall’s claims to fame was the unearthing in January 1943 of the Mildenhall Treasure. This is a major collection of 34 of the finest surviving examples of Roman silversmith work, believed to have been buried in the 4th Century. The hoard was discovered by a Suffolk ploughman, Gordon Butcher, who removed it from the ground without recognising the objects for what they truly were, and handed them over to his friend, Sydney Butcher, for safe-keeping. Some time later, an archeologist recognised the treasure at Ford’s house and urged him to report it to the police.
Years later, Roald Dahl wrote a non-fiction account of this great discovery called “The Mildenhall Treasure”, in which Ford was actually fully aware of the value of the treasure when deciding to keep it at his home! Whatever the case, the discovery was made public in 1946, and the hoard was acquired by the British Museum in London. The Mildenhall Treasure came in at number 7 in the list of British archaeological finds selected by experts at the British Museum for the 2003 BBC Television documentary ‘Our Top Ten Treasures’.
Amongst the discovered objects was a mid-4th century Great Dish which glorifies Bacchus (the Roman deity of agriculture and theater, who plays a prime role in Roman mythology) and is decorated with a wide band showing a Bacchic revel, at the heart of which is a drinking contest between Bacchus and Hercules, who is shown dead drunk and having to be supported.
Visitors will be delighted to know that there are replicas of the Mildenhall Treasure on display at the Mildenhall Museum. The museum also has displays involving RAF Mildenhall down the years. It’s housed in a flint house, and admission hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 14:30 to 16:30, and Fri from 11:00 to 14:30. Admission is free, but donations are always gratefully accepted. You can call them on 01638 716970.