Island park to be named in honour of town's Sikh links

Members of the Sikh Temple Guardwara Baba Budha Sahib visit the Ancient House museum and enjoy Langa

Members of the Sikh Temple Guardwara Baba Budha Sahib visited the island in 2017 to learn more about Maharaja Dalip Singh - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Green space on a river island in Thetford is set to be named in honour of its links with the first recorded Sikh to settle in Britain. 

Butten Island, situated in the Little Ouse River, is the largest of the river islands in Thetford town centre, and has recently been the site of several improvements funded by Breckland District Council.  

Duleep Singh, the last Maharajah of the Punjab, was the first Sikh to settle in Britain, in 1854. 

From 1861, he lived at Elveden Hall, near Thetford, and today a statue of him stands on a large plinth on the island, which is accessible by bridge from both riverbanks.

At a Breckland cabinet meeting on Monday morning, the council's Conservative deputy leader Paul Claussen said: “Thetford has a close and highly significant connection to Duleep Singh.

Paul Claussen, who is preparing to stand in his sixth election as a Conservative councillor, said it

Breckland council's Conservative deputy leader, Paul Claussen - Credit: Breckland council

“[His] second son Frederick was one of Thetford’s most prominent benefactors, giving the town’s Ancient House as well as his personal collections.

“This connection continues today with Thetford remaining a prominent cultural site for the British Punjabi community and for Punjabi visitors from overseas.”

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Mr Claussen said the council recommended renaming Butten Island Maharajah Ranjit & Duleep Singh Park in recognition of these cultural links. 

Local independent councillor Roy Brame, speaking on behalf of the town’s Sikh community, said they had told him they did want the island itself to have a new name, but would prefer The Park of Maharajah Ranjit and Duleep Singh on Butten Island.

Roy Brame, Conservative candidate for Thetford East. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

Breckland chairman and independent councillor for Thetford Castle, Roy Brame. - Credit: Norfolk Conservatives

“They don’t want to take away anything from the town,” said Mr Brame.

“They believe that this is a merger between the Sikh cultures, our cultures. We have an ideal position in Butten Island, where [two] rivers meet,” he added. 

The cabinet voted to approve the name, as amended following Mr Brame's feedback. 

Commenting after the meeting, local Conservative councillor Jane James said: “Thetford’s quite amazing when you think of it. 

Norfolk County Councillor for Thetford East, Jane James.

Conservative councillor for Thetford Castle, Jane James. - Credit: Emily Thomson

“It’s this wonderful crossroads, going back from the ancient Iceni and the Peddars Way. 

“We are a place where people come together and we still see that today with our migrant communities.” 

Ms James said recent improvements to lighting on the nearby Spring Walk had helped reduce antisocial behaviour. 

The island has also enjoyed the installation of table tennis and chess tables, and a clean-up of street furniture on the nearby Riverside Walk. 

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