Signs old t of mes the

Artist Fiona Davies has long been fas­ci­nated by Nor­folk folk­lore and her­itage – and now her work is en­sur­ing a com­mu­nity’s his­tory can live on for an­other gen­er­a­tion

EDP Norfolk - - Artist - www.fion­a­davies.co.uk

WHEN Fiona Davies was asked to help re­store a crum­bling vil­lage sign it was the start of a fas­ci­nat­ing journey into a new world of arts, crafts and cul­ture.

She has now worked on dozens of vil­lage and town signs across Nor­folk and Suf­folk, breath­ing new life into these much taken for granted sym­bols of a com­mu­nity’s his­tory.

Con­tem­po­rary artist Fiona, who lives in East Run­ton, says her in­flu­ence has al­ways been the land­scape which sur­rounds her and that she has long had an in­ter­est in her­itage and lo­cal his­tory.

“My friend was on the parish coun­cil at Gim­ing­ham and she asked me whether I could do some work on the vil­lage sign, restor­ing the pic­ture in the mid­dle panel and some carv­ing. It was in a pretty bad state but I re­ally en­joyed bring­ing it back to life. Al­though I had al­ways paid a pass­ing in­ter­est to vil­lage signs when I was out and about, the restora­tion pro­ject sparked a real in­ter­est in me to find out more. I am not a wood worker as such, I am an artist, but I have done sculp­ture and I like to re­pair old things and I am also re­ally in­ter­ested in Nor­folk folk­lore. The Gim­ing­ham sign led to me be­ing asked to do a full re­fur­bish­ment of the Ed­ingth­orpe sign and it has just con­tin­ued from there. Now I get quite up­set when I see them fall­ing apart or left in dis­re­pair. They are things of beauty.”

Her coastal stu­dio is cur­rently home to sev­eral vil­lage signs which she is work­ing on and they come in all shapes, sizes and states of re­pair.

She is work­ing on an ex­cit­ing pro­ject for the tiny com­mu­nity of West Lex­ham near Swaffham and she says it has been her most chal­leng­ing and most re­ward­ing restora­tion yet.

“West Lex­ham is a re­ally, re­ally small vil­lage. It doesn’t have a parish coun­cil, they just have a parish meet­ing, but they have a fan­tas­tic Nor­man church and have re­ceived a £7000 grant from the Nor­folk Churches Trust to re­pair the pretty round tower.

“I hon­estly think this lit­tle vil­lage and its church are one of Nor­folk’s best kept-secrets. What is most ex­cit­ing about this vil­lage sign is that it was be­lieved lost – un­til it was found in the church.”

The orig­i­nal was made by Harry Carter – the renowned Nor­folk sign maker who cre­ated more than 200 signs through­out East Anglia dur­ing the mid 1900s.

“It was taken down be­cause it started to rot, then it went miss­ing. So it was in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing when some­one got in touch to say they had found it in the church and would I re­store it, par­tic­u­larly as it was a Harry Carter orig­i­nal,” she says.

“Ev­ery time I touched it, I felt like an­other piece was flak­ing off. Most peo­ple wouldn’t even touch it but I man­aged to fill the miss­ing parts and re­store it to its orig­i­nal

shape for dis­play. I was also asked to make a fi­bre glass copy which will once again take cen­tre stage in the vil­lage as its sign.

“The pic­ture de­picts West Lex­ham as a coun­try­side farm­ing com­mu­nity. There is a cow and some pheas­ants, a horse and trac­tor and there is also an owl and a kestrel in ei­ther cor­ner.”

Among other signs that Fiona has worked on are the fa­mous fairy­tale style sign in Gris­ton de­pict­ing the grue­some tale of Babes in the Wood, and the sign at Marsh­land St James.

“I love Nor­folk folk­lore so the Marsh­land St James sign was a real joy as it shows Tom Hickathrift – the Wis­bech gi­ant. Ex­plor­ing that story was fas­ci­nat­ing. An­other of my favourites is Haver­ing­land. The orig­i­nal sign de­picted an air­craft from RAF Swan­ning­ton which crashed near the church dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, killing two men on board. When I re­stored it I did some re­search and with some help man­aged to find the ac­tual air­craft num­ber and I in­cluded it on the sign. The vil­lage re­ally loved that de­tail.”

She says that al­though she tries to stay as close to the orig­i­nal sign as pos­si­ble, some­times she is able to add her own touch.

“I like to add a lit­tle la­dy­bird some­where on the sign – if you spot one you will know it is some­thing I have worked on. I am a Nor­folk girl, I love Nor­folk and these signs are a re­ally im­por­tant part of our her­itage; it is some­thing we must pro­tect and cel­e­brate.”

Fiona Davies who is in the process of restor­ing the West Lex­ham vil­lage sign at her home in north Nor­folk

Fiona Davies who is in the process of restor­ing the West Lex­ham vil­lage sign at her home in North Nor­folk.

Of­fi­cial un­veil­ing of the new vil­lage sign at Gris­ton re­stored by Fiona Davies.

Martham vil­lage sign, re­stored by Fiona, be­ing re­turned to the vil­lage green on March 14, 2015

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