The small town of Thetford bellied deep against the landscape, besieged by cold and darkness. The winter of 1737 was hard; the winds out of the east careened the Anglian flatlands, numbing all life and drowning out the birth cries of Thomas Paine, first son of Frances, née Cocke, and Joseph, staymaker of Bridge Street. It was no easy delivery. Childbirth was dangerous at the best of times. With Frances in her fortieth year the risks to both mother and child were increased, especially during the long march of winter when fresh food was scarce, when the cold and damp reached upwards and inwards through flagged floors and wattle walls, and the nights were 15 hours long.