Pedlar of Swaffham
How a man became rich through a dream – a popular Norfolk legend
Like many English places, the Norkfolk town of Swaffham is proud of the folklore which actually happened there. This tale is one of the best known English legends, and not surprisingly the town’s website makes much of it. The website of the 15th century church, St Peter and St Paul, also relates the story and shows Victorian carvings of the pedlar, John Chapman, who subsequently donated to the building work.
Perhaps just as unsurprisingly for storytellers, the same story (AT-motif 1645) is attached to many other towns, not only in Britain but around the world. The Grimms in Deutsche Sagen place it on the bridge in Regensburg, as well as noting its connection to Lübeck.
Wikipedia cites Rumi’s version from the 13th century.
Ashliman gives a total of 16 versions. However, I have been sent several others, including “The man who bought a dream”, collected as far apart as Japan and Surinam.
Clearly a tale which cannot be tied down to just one place.
I am fairly certain that I first heard the story as a young boy in the 1960s. My father was at last able to afford a car, which meant in the summer we had a day-long journey from Cheshire (in the north west of England) across country to East Anglia for a family holiday with my grandparents. We drove via Swaffham.
Father not only pointed out the church and told us about the pedlar, he always slipped back into his boyhood Suffolk accent to recite:
I come from Swaffham,
Done a day’s troughin (troughing i.e. ditch digging),
Got narthin (nothing).
And that’s sarthin! (something)
The video clips here are all amateur quality, shot in various theatres or, as here, in my home studio.
Their intention is just to show the range of my storytelling and give a flavour of a live performance.
Permission is granted for use in non-commercial educational contexts.
The videos are © Richard Martin.
Professionally recorded CDs and DVDs are available here.
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For those who are teachers: Telling stories in the classroom: basing language teaching on storytelling