Swaffham is in central Norfolk and at the northern edge of an area known as Breckland. It is also close to the ancient pathway known as Peddars Way. The town of Swaffham is believed to have existed as early as the Bronze and Iron Ages with excavations providing evidence to support inhabitance at this time. Although this is so, it was not known as Swaffham until Saxon times, shortly after the Romans left the area to defend their home city against the barbarians.
In medieval times, cows and sheep were auctioned off at the Saturday market located in the centre of the town and there is still a Saturday market to this day where you can purchase all sorts of things including clothes, gadgets and machinery as well as food. There is also an animal market which mainly sells poultry and rabbits but sometimes there may be goats or other animals available. The auctioneer is quite a character and goes by the name of Fabian Eagle .
There were Roman settlements on the site of Swaffham and many coins from the period have been found, some near Peddars Way. Peddars Way is an ancient track running from the north to the south of East Anglia, starting in Holme-next-the-sea on the North Norfolk coast and passing through Norfolk into Suffolk.
In the town centre there is the Market Cross (or Butter Cross). This was built in 1783 and has eight stone columns which supports a dome surmounted by the figure of Ceres, the Roman goddess.
Swaffham is at an intersection. To the north are Fakenham and Cromer, to the east is Norwich, to the west are Downham Market and King’s Lynn and to the south is Thetford. It has been twinned with Couhe for 40 years. There is a website about the twinning which is http://www.spanglefish.com/swaffhamtwinningassociation/
The Pedlar of Swaffham
The town has a tale, partly fact, partly legend, about a local pedlar named John Chapman, who had a dream which led him to go to London to seek his fortune. Legend has it that, having failed to find it, he was about to throw himself off Tower Bridge when a stranger told him about a dream of his own in which, in a distant village he had seen buried treasure. The pedlar recognised the stranger’s description of the place described as his own garden and swiftly returned home where he dug up two pots of gold from under a tree.
The pedlar then funded the building of the North Side of the church in Swaffham to show his gratitude. Because of this the town’s sign contains an image of him and church bench carvings allegedly depict him and his wife.
There is another large building in the centre of the town which is now marred by a Costa coffee sign advertising the presence of its current occupants but which was presumably the Corn Exchange in days gone by as it has a sheaf of corn as a logo in a circle with the date 1858 below the gables. There is an excellent website about Swaffham old and new where there are some good comparison photos of Swaffam as it is now and how it looked many years ago, including pictures of the Corn Exchange. To visit the site click http://swaffhamnewsletter.co.uk/swaffham-past-present/
Just opposite the Corn Exchange is another impressive building which has a typical Dutch gable end and which is now being used as a charity shop. Swaffham is typical of many towns in England now in that it has too many charity shops, estate agents, banks and building societies. However it does also have several noteworthy shops including a couple of good independent butchers , a fishing tackle shop amusingly named Kev’s Tackle, an interesting gemstone shop and a gunsmith’s so it is not without interest. Do have a look at the photo gallery at the end of this post where there are several more photos including one of Kev’s Tackle! Finally just on the edge of Swaffham is an Eco Technology centre which includes a wind turbine which you can go up inside and see an ariel view of the town.
Finally a bit about Couhé which was an important feudal center that belonged to the powerful family of Lusignan, at least since 1024.
Couhé was also an important center of the Reform Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Lord of Couhé was then the Marquis de Verac. Most of the houses were built of wood and had their first floor overhanging the street. It is possible to see a copy of Bigeon street-Croisil which dates from the 15th century showing this.
The tree of liberty, symbol of the Revolution is depicted in Couhe. It became the rallying point of all festivals and major revolutionary events such as the Feast of the Anniversary of the Founding of the Republic.
During World War II , a prison for the Army of Africa (a French army recruited from their north African colonies) was established by the Germans in Couhé. They were assigned to work in agriculture .Gradually, they were sent to Africa by the Germans and a number of them disappeared
I would like to know why Couhe and Swaffham are twinned. They have very little in common as far as I can see, except that they are both quite nice market towns.