Swaffham

Country Life Every Week - - Market Towns -

Nor­folk was the heart­land of the Agri­cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion. Pi­o­neers such as Coke of Holkham and Turnip Town­shend of rayn­ham were at the fore­front of a move to de­velop new crops and tech­niques that would take on the chal­lenge of feed­ing the work­ers of the world’s first in­dus­tri­alised na­tion. No won­der then that Swaffham, in the cen­tre of that county, half­way be­tween king’s lynn and Norwich should be­come a thriv­ing and ar­chi­tec­turally dis­tin­guished mar­ket town.

At its cen­tre is the But­ter Cross. With its re­strained Doric or­der and shal­low leaded dome crowned with a statue of Ceres, god­dess of the har­vest, the build­ing must have seemed alarm­ingly mod­ern when it was erected by the Earl of or­ford in 1784. Per­haps this would have seemed even more strik­ing if the un­der­side of the dome had been, as now, painted a clear sky blue.

How­ever, this was just one com­po­nent of gen­tri­fied late-18th-cen­tury Swaffham that, with a race­course, Na­tional Cours­ing So­ci­ety and the well-ap­pointed and at­tended As­sem­bly rooms, had be­come a focus of aris­to­cratic amuse­ment in the county.

Swaffham ap­pears prin­ci­pally a Ge­or­gian mar­ket town in part due to the de­mo­li­tion, in the 1930s, of the me­dieval sham­bles in which three rows of butcher’s and fish­mon­ger’s stalls once did business. How­ever, there are still sev­eral good 17th-cen­tury houses and a fine church, which boasts a late-me­dieval wooden An­gel roof and a soar­ing tower built in the early 16th cen­tury. This is crowned with a most recog­nis­able wooden flèche or lantern.

The wide, open mar­ket­place once con­tained one of the town ponds, which, in the ab­sence of river or stream, served as the town’s wa­ter source un­til mains wa­ter ar­rived in the late 19th cen­tury. De­spite the demise of its once-great sheep, cat­tle and tur­key auc­tions, the town is still home to a thriv­ing weekly sale of fancy poul­try. Ev­ery Satur­day, more than 100 feath­ered lots are knocked down to the ham­mer of fabian Ea­gle, the aptly named and nat­tily dressed auc­tion­eer, and so the me­dieval foun­da­tion of the town lives on.

‘Swaffham be­came a thriv­ing and ar­chi­tec­turally dis­tin­guished mar­ket town

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