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The Pedlar of Swaffham, Norfolk

In the 15th century John Chapman, a poor pedlar, eked out a living in the little market town of Swaffham . He would trudge about accompanied by his faithful dog, selling cheap wares from his heavy pack. Chapman may have been poor, but he was a worthy soul.

One night the pedlar had a dream. He should go to London Bridge, and there among the shops and stalls that lined the bridge he would find his fortune. Being a practical man Chapman dismissed the dream on waking the next day, but the dream returned to haunt him the next night and the one after that, until he was persuaded to walk all the way to the capital to follow, in a very literal sense, his dream.


When Chapman arrived finally at London Bridge he looked around, but found no clue as to his promised fortune. A stolid man prepared to wait he stood and watched the world go by for some time, until a shopkeeper accosted him. When Chapman explained why he had come, the shopkeeper told him he was a fool, and that he had dismissed as foolish the dream he had been plagued with. In that dream he had journeyed to Swaffham, a place he had never seen, and had found gold buried under an oak tree in an orchard behind the house of someone called Chapman.

Chapman may have been stolid, but he was not stupid. He returned to Swaffham, dug beneath the tree, and found a small pot containing a few gold coins. The coins he pocketed, the pot, which bore a strange and for the illiterate pedlar indecipherable inscription, he put on sale at the local market. A monk visiting the market saw the pot, and told Chapman the inscription meant that "Beneath me lies one greater than I". So the pedlar returned to the oak and dug much deeper, uncovering a far larger cache of gold.

Though the truth of the legend is at best debatable, a John Chapman can be traced at this period of Swaffham's history. Moreover he paid for much work on Swaffham parish church. This Chapman was a rich merchant, not a pedlar, but the difference is only one of degree.

Swaffham's town sign shows the pedlar, and the church has pews and other memorials of him.

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