Thomas Paine was born in Thetford, Norfolk, on 29 January 1737. His formative years were thus spent in East Anglia, the region of England between the Wash to the north, the Thames Estuary to the south and the Fens to the west. In the east it encompasses the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex. Tourists and holidaymakers who flock there to enjoy the coastal resorts, or the Norfolk broads, appreciate its predominantly flat terrain, reminiscent of the Low Countries, where one is more aware of the sky than in any other English landscape. The wide open vistas of East Anglia were captured on the canvasses of John Constable, another of its native sons. As well as its enthusiasts, the region also has its detractors. One of them is A. A. Gill, the restaurant and television critic, who recently wrote a dismissive description of Norfolk: ‘This has always been a place apart’, he asserted, ‘a flat, fertile, damp, dank land … a place of witches and heretics, of revisionists and canting contrarians … From these cloud-raced, flinty farms sprang extreme Protestantism, God’s vengeance of the New Model Army. Tom Paine, the smelly and relentless barker for republics and freedom, who put American independence into words, and lit its fuse, is from here’. 1