A Story – The Swaffham Pedlar

The old historic market town of Swaffham, in Norfolk, England was brought to fame a few years back as the fictional town of Market Shipborough in the British TV series Kingdom, starring Stephen Fry.

The locality has links back to Boudica, the queen of the Iceni, famed for leading the uprising against the Romans in AD 60-61 but the town celebrates a more recent (only 300 years old or so) and humble ancestor who has been depicted on the town sign for years.

The Pedlar of Swaffham makes an interesting tale and was first recounted in the Diary of Abraham de la Pryme in November, 1699:

Constant tradition says that there lived in former times, in Soffham,” alias Sopham, in Norfolk, a certain pedlar, who dreamed that if he went to London bridge, and stood there, he should hear very joyfull newse, which he at first sleighted, but afterwards, his dream being dubled and trebled upon him, he resolv’d to try the issue of it, and accordingly went to London, and stood on the ridge there two or three days, looking about him, but heard nothing that might yield him any comfort.

At last it happen’d that a shopkeeper there, hard by, haveing noted his fruitless standing, seeing that he neither sold any wares, nor asked any almes, went to him, and most earnestly begged to know what he wanted there, or what his business was; to which the pedlar honestly answer’d, that he had dream’d that if he came to London, and stood there upon the bridg, he should hear good newse; at which the shopkeeper laught heartily, asking him if he was such a fool to take a jorney on such a silly errand, adding, “I’ll tell thee, country fellow, last night I dream’d that I was at Sopham, in Norfolk, a place utterly unknown to me, where, methought behind a pedlar’s house, in a certain orchard, and under a great oak tree, if I digged, I should find a vast treasure! Now think you,” says he, “that I am such a fool to take such a long jorney upon me upon the instigation of a silly dream ? No, no, I’m wiser. Therefore, good fellow, learn witt of me, and get you home, and mind your business.”

The pedlar observeing his words, what he sayd he had dream’d, and knowing that they concenterd in him, glad of such joyfull newse, went speedily home, and digged, and found a prodigious great treasure, with which he grew exceeding rich; and Soffham church, being for the most part fal’n down, he set on workmen, and re-edifyd it most sumptuously, at his own charges ; and to this day there is his statue therein, cut in stone, with his pack at his back, and his dogg at his heels ; and his memory is also preserved by the same form or picture in most of the old glass windows, taverns, and alehouses of that town, unto this day.



It is an interesting tale and one perhaps that we should all take heed of as we rush about our days: sometimes it isn’t always obvious where we can learn something of benefit. Everything we do or see can be an unexpected learning experience and we have to be open to it like the simple Pedlar of Swaffham, who is still commemorated for his open mind over 300 years later.


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