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The Pedlar Of Swaftham

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

We have several traditional stories of the good fortune or benefactions of pedlars commemorated in the windows or other parts of our parochial churches. One of the most famous is at Swaffham, where the North aisle of the church is said to have been built by John Chapman, churchwarden in 1462 ; a rebus of his name having been carved in wood on part of his seat, representing him busied in his shop, and the initials J.C. conjoined near it, and the figure of a woman in two places looking over a shop-door, as also a pedlar with a pack on his shoulders, and below him what is commonly called a dog, but by Mr. Blomefield, iii. 507, from the muzzle and chain, supposed a bear, as painted in a window of the North aisle; these circumstances, laid together, have suggested an idea that he was a pedlar, which Mr. B. conceives very contrary to the habit in which he and she are represented in the uppermost window of this aisle. He, therefore, pronounced it a mere rebus of the name of Chapman.

I cannot, however, help suspecting, that this same benefactor was a chapman by occupation as well as name, and that he took pains to perpetuate the memory of a fortunate hit in trade, whereby he was enabled to be such a benefactor to his parish church. As to Mr. B.'s objection, that, " had he been a pedlar, it would have been more commendable to have had a portraiture suitable to his calling, as is the picture of the pedlar who was a benefactor to the church of St. Mary, Lambeth, in Surrey, and to have been represented on the glass as the pedlar is on his seat," it is of little weight. Chapman and pedlar were synonymous terms in that period of our commerce. Our laws consider a pedlar as a petty chapman ; but the inferiority of the commerce does not prevent a person's acquiring wealth by it. Though now obliged to take out a license to vend their wares, they were not under such restrictions before the Revolution.

In further proof of the respectability of such a character it may be observed, that in the South window of the chancel at Mileham, in the same county of Norfolk, there is or was painted a man and wife and children praying to the Virgin Mary ; " over their heads 'Peddar,' before them two horses travelling with packs on their backs, and under them Thomas Brown ;" whence it may be inferred that this man by such occupation attained an ability to present such a window, if not to repair or rebuild the whole or part of the chancel. (Blomefield, v. 1043.)

Peddar's, or Pedlar's way, is a name given to a bank or raised road in some part of England ; but the precise spot I cannot at present call to mind.



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