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The Pedlar of Swaffham

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A number of folk myths tell us about the importance of dreams. However, it seems you will only benefit from these dreams if you are honest and hardworking and willing to follow them.

Long, long ago there lived, at Swaffham in Norfolk, a poor pedlar. He lived in a small cottage in the shadow of a huge oak tree, which stood in the garden. He worked hard to make a living, trudging about with his pack on his back and his dog at his heels, but he was barely able to provide for his wife and children. At the end of the day, when his work was finally over, he was only too glad to rest his aching legs and fall into bed and into a deep sleep.

One night, he dreamed a dream so clear that the next day he could recall every detail. He saw the great Bridge of London Town lined with shops; the ships sailing by and the bustle all around. He knew he had received good tidings that would transform his life. The dream came back to him again and, on the third night, he could not dismiss the dream and eagerly set off with his little dog at his heels.

It was a very long journey and the pedlar had to walk all the way. Exhausted and weary, he was relieved when he finally arrived and stood on the great Bridge of London and saw the ships sailing by. All that day he paced about but he saw nothing and heard nothing that seemed to relate to his dream.

As he stood on the bridge for the third day, a curious shopkeeper spoke to him, wondering if the pedlar had something to sell or was he begging alms. The pedlar said he had nothing to sell and would not beg for alms whilst he was able to work.
"Then what are you doing here?" said the puzzled shopkeeper. "What is your business?"
Impressed by the shopkeeper's seeming interest and directness, the pedlar told the shopkeeper about his dream and the distance he had travelled.

The shopkeeper fell about laughing heartily at this.
"You must be a fool to take a journey on such a silly errand," he said. "Poor, foolish pedlar. Do you not know such dreams are common? Why, I myself, have dreamt for the last two nights that I was in Norfolk - and in Swaffham no less - a place unknown to me.

I was in an orchard behind a pedlar's house and, in that orchard, was a great oak tree. I felt that, if I were to dig behind that tree, I would find a great fortune in gold but I am not so foolish as to take on a long and wearisome journey for the sake of a dream." He laughed again. "My good fellow," he said, "learn from a wiser fellow. Go home and mind your own business."

When the pedlar heard this, his heart was gladdened but he spoke no word. Almost beside himself with joy, he hastened back to Swaffham. He dug beneath the shadow of the great oak tree and found a pot of gold coins. When he emptied the coins out, he saw an inscription in Latin. Unable to read it, he asked one of his customers.

It read: 'Under me doth lie another much richer than I.' So, the pedlar dug once more and it is said he found an even greater treasure.


He grew very rich but, being a man of sound character, never forgot his duty or let his good fortune change him. He helped build up and repair the church at Swaffham and when he died, they put a statue of him in the church with his pack on his back and his dog at his heels. There it stands today.

It is thought that the pedlar, shown in the carving inside the church, was John Chapman. In the 15th century Black Book (still in Swaffham Church Library), there is a list of the benefactors of the church; it records that Chapman paid for the new north aisle as well as contributing to the spire fund in 1462.

John Chapman's generosity has still not been forgotten in Swaffham. Over 500 years after his death, the town sign still depicts the legendary pedlar who had the courage and determination to follow his dream.

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