The Pedlar of Swaffham in Norfolk

Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography

We were uncertain whether this story should have been placed in our Myths and Legend pages, but as John Chapman who is traditionally called the Swaffham Pedlar, is actually buried in Swaffham church we decided that there must be some basis in fact to this tale and therefore have placed it in Yesterdays.

John Chapman was a poor pedlar who lived in Swaffham. He was barely able to provide for his wife and children. They lived in a small cottage in the shadow of a huge oak tree, which stood in their garden. One night John dreamed that he stood on London Bridge in London and that he discovered a great treasure.

Excited he set out for the capital the very next day with his small dog and made his way to the Thames and to London Bridge. On the bridge he paced up and down searching for this great treasure, but with no success. Eventually one of the shopkeepers, who had observed John pacing up and down, overcome with curiosity came up and asked him what he was doing. Chapman told the shopkeeper about his dream.

The astonished London shopkeeper said he too had had a dream and in it he went to a town in far off Norfolk. There he went to a garden belonging to a pedlar and there beneath a huge tall oak tree, he found a great fortune in gold.

Hearing this story John hastened back to Swaffham and his garden, where he dug in the shadow of the huge oak and sure enough he found a brass pot filled to the brim with coins. He emptied the pot of its coins, but being a pedlar he decided to put the pot up for sale. One of his customers who looked at the pot, told him that the Latin inscription it bore read ‘under me doth lie another much richer than I’.So once again John took up his spade and dug in the exact spot where he had found the pot and there it is said he found an even larger horde.

This is the story of the Swaffham Pedlar, whose likeness is shown on the Swaffham Village Sign.  He is also commemorated in the church at Swaffham with bench end and carvings, the lady figure shown above we have been told is that of his wife.

 Picture (c) by John Ashley Photography