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Swaffham is a large market town which lies approximately 12 miles south east of King's Lynn. There is a folk tale in Swaffham about a pedlar called John Chapman who suddenly became very wealthy and used some of the money to refurbish the north aisle of St. Peter and St. Paul's Church in 1454.

Swaffham Village Sign

Swaffham Town Sign

According to legend, the pedlar had a dream that he should go to London where he would meet a stranger on London Bridge. In due course the pedlar travels to London and on his third day in the capital he meets a stranger who tells him about a dream that he has had about finding treasure in the garden of a house in Swaffham in Norfolk. John Chapman quickly sets off for home and discovers a treasure trove in his own garden - just as the stranger predicts.

The Pedlar of Swaffham

Wood carving of the Pedlar of Swaffham inside St. Peter and St. Paul's Church

The pedlar is commemorated in the town sign - and also as a wood carving on one of the church's  pews. The town sign was carved by Harry Carter (1907-1983) who was responsible for many of the beautiful wooden village signs in Norfolk. Carter was an art teacher at Hamond's Grammar School in Swaffham and was also the cousin of the Egyptologist Howard Carter.

Swaffham has become well known recently for providing the setting for Stephen Fry's ITV series Kingdom set in the fictional town of Market Shipborough and featuring the exploits of a country solicitor. Kingdom's office is located in the stylish 18th Century Oakleigh House which lies in the centre of the town and the Market Shipborough sign is a cunningly modified version of the Swaffham sign. The series has received  praise for its use of Norfolk locations but condemnation for its poor story lines and its inaccurate portrayal of the Norfolk accent.

Interestingly, there was once an earlier building which lay behind Oakleigh House which was reputed to be the home of John Chapman.

Stephen Fry has this to say about the town:

'I have lived a few miles away from Swaffham for over twenty years. I have always admired the balance between modernity and tradition that the town has managed to strike and always felt at home amongst its people. There's something about the place. A perfect market town, perfectly placed in the heart of Norfolk's perfect Breckland.'


Plaque on Oakleigh House

Oakleigh House Plaque

Oakleigh House

Oakleigh House

W.E. Johns, the author of the 'Biggles' books, also has a link with Swaffham. In 1912 he took up a job as a sanitary inspector in the town. Soon after he met and married Maude Hunn the daughter of a vicar from Little Dunham. When war broke out he joined the Norfolk Yeomanry and saw active service in Gallipoli before volunteering for pilot training. After pilot training at Thetford he became an instructor at the nearby Narborough airfield.

Captain W.E. Johns


More Photographs of Swaffham





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