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Chaucer’s reeve has a tale to tell on Bawdeswell’s new sign.

PUBLISHED: 15:59 20 November 2011

Bawdeswell villagers gathered on the green for the unveiling of the new village sign.

Bawdeswell villagers gathered on the green for the unveiling of the new village sign.

Archant © 2011 01603 772434

Geoffrey Chaucer’s reeve, from his Canterbury Tales, Roman roadbuilders and the ill-fated crew of an RAF aircraft have all played their part in shaping the history of the Norfolk village of Bawdeswell.

And all are commemorated in some way on its new sign, which brought a bold dash of colour to a grey,foggy morning as it was unveiled today.

Wind, rain and frost had taken their toll on the old sign, installed some 30 years ago, so the parish council ordered a replacement that incorporated a few extra reminders of episodes from Bawdeswell’s past.

The rural scene has been crafted and painted in Norfolk-sourced English oak by husband-and-wife team Kelvin and Mary Thatcher, of Croxton Hamlet, near Fulmodeston.

It stands beside what is today the B1145 road to Aylsham, just a stone’s throw from the site of the old turnpike tollgate.

The design depicts Osewald the Reeve on horseback - Chaucer recounts how this pilgrim was “of Northfolk ... byside a toun men callen Baldeswelle” - a well, the crossroads where a Roman road between ancient Durobrivae, in the Fens, Smallburgh and maybe Caister met the route from Norwich to Fakenham, the old 1845 Norman-revival parish church and a Mosquito aeroplane. The last two are connected: in late-1944, one such aircraft of RAF 608 Squadron based at Downham Market crashed in the village and destroyed All Saints’, killing both crew.

The unveiling was performed by a group reflecting all ages of the community, ranging from children to 93-year-old Irene Ames, whose home too was damaged by the stricken plane. She said of the new sign: “I think it is lovely - I am very pleasantly surprised.”

The ceremony was watched by dozens of villagers, among them parish councillor Ailsa McColville, who was closely involved in the sign’s commissioning. She described it as a splendid representation of the special events in Bawdeswell’s history.

Afterwards, villagers enjoyed refreshments in the ruined church’s neo-Georgian replacement, built in the early-1950s.

Mr Thatcher, whose work as a conservator for museums of ship models, furniture and other bygones has brought him commissions from as far afield as the Caribbean and the Middle East, said that with loving care the sign should last half a century or even longer.

Meanwhile, the old one, crafted by celebrated Norfolk village sign-maker Harry Carter, won’t be consigned to the scrapheap - rather, it will be restored and preserved, ready to be mounted behind glass and given pride of place when the community achieves its dream of a new village hall in years to come.

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