Indian Prince Frederick Duleep Singh who devoted his life to preserving Norfolk and Suffolk’s heritage to be commemorated
PUBLISHED: 18:38 18 January 2018 | UPDATED: 19:20 18 January 2018
He was a man of prestigious ancestry who devoted his life to saving some of Norfolk and Suffolk’s most precious landmarks, as well as preserving its rich heritage for future generations.
And this weekend, the county will pay homage to a man of royalty whose passionate work keeping the area’s history alive is still being felt today.
Prince Frederick Duleep Singh was the son of Duleep Singh, the last King of Punjab.
Born 150 years ago this month, he grew up at Elveden Hall near Thetford before studying at Eton and Cambridge University.
But he would devote his life to Norfolk and Suffolk, serving as Second Lieutenant in the Suffolk Yeomanry and a Major in the Norfolk Yeomanry between 1893 and 1909, rejoining to fight in France during the First World War.
He had several homes in Norfolk, including Old Buckenham Hall, Breccles House and Blo Norton Hall, where he became known for walking to church on Sunday mornings in a chalk-stripe suit with a hat and stick.
But his real passion was archaeology and history - and that was where he made an indelible mark on the area.
He was a member of a number of heritage groups, including the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Norfolk and Norwich Archaeological Society - of which he was president in 1925–6 - the Norfolk Archaeological Trust, president the London Society of East Anglians, the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association and the Diss Choral Society.
Using his income from the India Office of £2,000 a year, Prince Frederick built up a collection of books and objects of antiquarian interest.
In Norwich he was instrumental in saving a number of churches including St Peter’s Hungate, St Peter’s near Elm Hill and St Swithin’s, which is now Norwich Arts Centre.
In 1921, he bought Ancient House in Thetford and donated it to the town, paying for its restoration for use as a museum. He also donated paintings and artefacts which are still on display.
“We have the opportunity to tell the story of the development of this area because of the things he was able to collect and the sites he was able to save,” said Melissa Hawker, learning officer at Ancient House Museum of Thetford Life.
“It was a life-long passion for him. He certainly had a huge impact on our understanding of this area in lots of different ways.”
His entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography reads: “Dreading the restorer’s zeal, he advocated repairing old landmarks to retain their character, urging local residents to ‘preserve every bit of tangible history’ that still existed in parish churches’.”
To celebrate Prince Frederick’s 150th birthday, Ancient House is holding a free event on Saturday, January 20 between 10am to 4pm, where visitors will be able to find out more about his life.
Curatorial trainee Sam Bellotti said: “We are thrilled to have this opportunity to say thank you to Prince Frederick and also explore the story of his wider family.
“We are hosting a pop-up display about his father, Maharajah Duleep Singh, and we will also have a costumed suffragette character talking about Prince Frederick’s sisters and their links to the suffrage movement.
“This is particularly relevant as 2018 is the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which enabled all men and some women over the age of 30 to vote for the first time.”
A family trail will highlight artefacts donated by Prince Frederick and Oliver Bone, Ancient House Museum curator, will be on hand to answer questions about Prince Frederick’s legacy.
In the evening the Thomas Paine Hotel is hosting a dinner and quiz in Prince Frederick’s honour.
Ancient House Museum is hoping to fundraise for a dedicated Prince Frederick exhibition during this year.