Do you know the meaning behind these Norfolk signs?
- Credit: Archant
Norfolk boasts the most village signs in Britain, but have you ever wondered what stories lie behind the paintings and carvings you see?
Since the beginning of the 20th century, decorative signs have stood on verges and village greens, reminding local residents of the area history and showcasing the talent of local craftsmen.
The origins of these signs are often attributed to King Edward VII, who is said to have commissioned the Princess Alexandra School of Carving at Sandringham to produce signs for several villages on the estate.
David Mulrenan, The Village Sign Society's Regional Officer for Suffolk, said: 'They were merely to be directional signs. However the carvers, being artists, incorporated scenes of each village on the signs. The royal enthusiasm for these emblems of local village life was continued by King George V who ordered further signs for other estate villages, and also by his son, Prince Albert, the Duke of York who in May 1920 made a speech at the Royal Academy banquet that mentioned village signs.'
He added: 'There was a great mushrooming of village signs in the years 1977 during the Silver Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II, 2000 for the Millennium celebrations, 2002 for the Golden Jubilee and 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee. The royal interest in village signs was underlined when the Queen Mother and the Queen unveiled signs at Hillington, Norfolk in 1996 and Stowmarket, Suffolk in 2002 respectively.'
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Today, there are over 4,000 village signs in Britain and Norfolk is home to the largest number of these, with more than 500 standing across the county, while Suffolk comes in a close second with over 300. Each sign is unique to the town or village it represents and the scene it shows often has a deeper meaning than may first be apparent, much like with the village sign in Wolferton, the image for which has little to do with the village and more to do with the name itself.
The Wolferton sign has been renewed in recent years, but the original was donated by King George V in 1912 and depicts a representation of Fenrir and Tyr, two characters from Norse mythology.
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Legend states that Fenrir, a monstrous wolf and the son of Loki, was prophesied to aid in the end of the Norse world so the gods attempted to tame him, binding him in various chains. However the wolf grew at such an alarming rate that he was easily able to break free from the restraints. Not wanting to anger Fenrir the gods pretended the chains were a test of his strength and clapped each time he freed himself.
When they finally found a material strong enough to hold him, Fenrir began to suspect foul play and decided to trick his captors, telling them that he wouldn't allow them to chain him up again unless one of the gods placed their hand in his mouth. Tyr, the god of law and justice volunteered and so Fenrir was tied up once more, however when he realised he was unable to escape he became angry and bit down on Tyr's hand in an act of revenge. Tyr lost his hand, but the beast was beaten.
Griston village sign is also believed to have links to a legend, but one of local significance.
Located near Wayland Wood, Griston Hall was thought to be the home of the cruel uncle from the tale, Babes in the Wood, who ordered the death of his wards in order to inherit their large property. The sign depicts this tale, showing the uncle attacking the children in front of the hall.
Watton's sign is also thought to reflect this same piece of folklore, but the image is much more tame than Griston's, instead depicting the two children sitting under a tree in the wood.
Other notable signs include Heacham's, which depicts the Native American princess Pocahontas who married Heacham's very own John Rolfe on April, 5 1614, and Holt's wooden sign, which is said to represent the legend of the Holt owl.
A plaque in the town, reveals that local men caught the owl, who had been disturbing residents and put it in the Town Pound for 'safe-keeping' but somehow it managed to escape and flew away.
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