Norwich the Old City Names & Legends

The Pedlar of Swaffham

The Legend
This legend concerns a pedlar called John Chapman who lived in Swaffham, Norfolk.
Now this pedlar had a dream that if he went to London Bridge he would hear news greatly to his advantage. Only when the dream was repeated the next night did he act on it, and packing his bag, he and his dog walked to London.

He found his way to London Bridge early one morning and stood there waiting for the promised news.
The hours passed, and eventually a shopkeeper who had been watching him just standing there gave in to his curiosity and walked across and asked if he needed help.
The pedlar told him of his dream, and the shopkeeper laughed, saying that if he had believed in dreams he would be in a place called Swaffham, where ever that was, digging up gold under the apple tree of a man called Chapman, but that he didn't believe in dreams and that the pedlar should go back home and carry on with his life.
The pedlar thanked the man for his advice, and made his way back home.

Upon reaching home, he dug under his apple tree and found a small pot filled with gold coins. He put the coins away and cleaned the pot, finding a strange inscription. As he couldn't understand the inscription he put the pot on his stall and life carried on.
A few weeks later a wandering monk passed the stall and spotted the inscription on the pot. He asked the pedlar if he knew what it said, and when the pedlar said no, the monk translated it for him...

'Under me doth lie, another richer far than I'

When the monk had gone, the pedlar quickly dug under the apple tree again, much deeper this time, and eventually found a much larger pot again filled with gold.
Soon after, the inhabitants of Swaffham decided to rebuild the church, and were very surprised to find the pedlar offering to pay for the north aisle and the tower.

The Facts
From 1435 to 1474, John Botewright was rector of Swaffham, and compiled the 'Swaffham Black Book' which is an inventory of all the work done on the church. From the entries it can be seen that a John Chapman paid for the rebuilding of the North Aisle.

Today, in the choir of the church stand two pews. One with carvings of a pedlar and his dog, and the other of a woman looking over the door of a shop.

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Copyright © Ken Ward 2004
Photographs Copyright © Ken Ward 2004 (unless otherwise stated)
Last Updated: 08 November 2004

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