Welcome to the site run by the sub-committee of the Thetford Society (charity number 802218) responsible for the Bicentennial Celebrations for Tom Paine in his home town throughout 2009.
Following the Celebrations, the committee has been reconstituted with a Legacy brief, to maintain the profile of Thetford's radical thinker in the town. At the heart of our programme is an annual Autumn Lecture series - the Common Sense Club.
Click on the links for reports and information about our past and present activities or navigate using the tabs above and to the side of the page.
Common Sense Club
The Common Sense Club resumed on Friday 7th September with a lecture in the Thetford Festival: Lucy Inglis, culture historian and creator of the award-winning blog www.georgianlondon.com talks on Thomas Paine's London.
Another panel evening of politicians, a Hustings, took place on Friday 19th October in the Williamson Hall of Thetford Grammar School.
We have rearranged the cancelled lecture by Ted Vallance, that was to have been held on 5th October, for Friday 23rd November. The author of A Radical History of Britain, who spoke illuminatingly at the Bicentenary in 2009, will be looking at 'Mass Protest and the English', a topic suggested by one of our members last year.
The Club is open to all who relish debate and lively, informed talk, free of charge with the support of legacy funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Do join us.
The Common Sense Club, meeting to ‘explore aspects of Tom Paine's life and experience and topics that would have engaged him today' opened its second year programme on Friday 30th September 2011 with a feminist critique offered by Sheffield academic Linda Kirk: ‘Paine, Wollstonecraft, Condorcet: from Rights of Man to Rights of Woman'. Asking whether the great man practised what he preached, Dr Kirk sought to set Thomas Paine's personal indifference to female subordination against the use by others of Paine's arguments in their support of women's emancipation. After a careful review of the evidence, Dr Kirk concluded that, through friendships and political association, Paine had every opportunity to go much further in pursuit of women's rights than he actually did. She awarded the palm instead to the Marquis de Condorcet. ( “They order these things better in France”).
On Friday 14 October. Dr Alan Cardew of Essex University returned to shed light on the age of Paine and beyond with ‘Kit-Kats, Jacobins and Drones: clubs and politics from1688 to the present'. Characteristically witty and informed, a man entirely at home in his material, Dr Cardew in the event focused on the first two of his subjects. He reminded us that it was not just radical debate in taverns that set the 18th century political pulse racing: bewigged aristocrats in coffee-houses met to plot and plan the advancement of their causes. Across the channel, the club dynamic of private meetings and debate was at the heart of the French Revolution in the paranoid and murderous history of the Jacobin Club. All in all, the notion of club politics was a far stronger one than might have been imagined by those of us whose ideas of the club were formed by sandwich, soda, Bertie Wooster and the Drones.
Finally on Friday 4th November the Common Sense Club enjoyed an all-party Question Time. Panel members bridged governments of the past, present and maybe future, speaking eloquently from all points of the political compass on topics ranging from human rights to the response of the church to the protestors camping outside St Paul's. The spirit of Tom Paine manifested itself most obviously through outbreaks of heated audience participation and the socialist warmth and independence of Dr Ian Gibson. Yet Paine would surely have appreciated equally the fervent scientific rigour of the Liberal Democrat member for Cambridge Julian Huppert, the combative vigour of former conservative MP Michael Cartiss and the broad sensitivity to a range of issues shown by the Deputy Leader of the Green Party, Adrian Ramsay. If ‘wellbeing', Dr Huppert's tool for measuring the health of a nation, includes intellectual stimulation and respect for the commitment and integrity of others, this was an evening which contributed significantly to “the sum of human happiness”.
Recordings of the first three lectures given to the Common Sense Club in 2010 are online. Use the links in the box on the left to listen to them. Many thanks to Clive Davies for preparing the sound files.
Two substantial records of Thetford's 2009 Paine Bicentenary Celebrations are still available - the Commemorative Video and Bicentenary Papers. Two lectures from 2009 by Ruth Scurr and John Keane are preserved; see box on the left.