Signs of a Norfolk Summer - One man’s project to catalogue the county’s biggest outdoor art gallery
They are a beautiful and intriguing part of virtually every community across Norfolk.
And this year 43-year-old Andrew Tullett has set out to photograph and research every village and town sign in Nelson’s County as part of a project called Signs of a Norfolk Summer.
Mr Tullett, who lives in Lakenham, said he had almost finished cataloguing the county’s 500-plus signs, and he hoped to turn the results into a series of books.
He said: “Our village signs represent the largest free art exhibition in Norfolk and collectively the signs depict the history of almost all the settlements in the county.
“These are very local histories and many of the stories depicted are not described in any of the main historical texts written about Norfolk.
“Nobody knows for sure how many there are, I estimate around 520. The only thing that everyone agrees on is that Norfolk has far more village signs than any other county.”
Mr Tullett has travelled more than 2,700 miles by car and bicycle in search of the signs.
He said he had often been delighted by at the stories behind them, and had learned much about the signs by reaching out to the communities they represent on social media.
He said: “I’ve often had people tell me facts about the signs I didn’t know, or things like ‘my dad made that’, which is really nice.
“But I think it is a real shame that most do not come with an explanation of what they show.
“Village signs are expensive to produce and usually take a community a long time to organise. The signs usually look fantastic but visitors could appreciate them even more if it was immediately apparent what they were representing.”
Mr Tullett, who spent some years living in Attleborough and attended Wymondham College as a day student, said the project was inspired by his father, Stephen Tullett, who photographed many of Norfolk’s village and town signs in the 1990s.
He said: “It has been wonderful to look back through his photos. I don’t know why he started - I thought it was odd at the time.
“My own children seem to have the same opinion of me now.”
The ruined church of St. Felix in Babingley is said to have been the first Christian church in East Anglia.
The church does not feature on the village sign but a story about the man who established it is.
Saint Felix is said to have made the journey from Burgundy to Babingley around the year 631. He arrived at the Wash and continued to sail up the River Babingley, which at that time was still navigable.
Saint Felix can be seen in the central portion of the sign with his boat on the water behind him.
A legend states that his ship got into difficulties and was only saved from being wrecked by beavers who helped to guide the vessel. In gratitude Saint Felix ordained one of the beavers.
We see him dressed in his bishop’s garb on the top of the sign holding a crosier over two other beavers.
Beavers used to be common across the country, but the last one in the wild was shot in Scotland in 1526.
Old Buckenham’s sign
Among many other symbolic images on the sign, the figure of a cricketer appears, framed in one of the arched windows.
The connection between cricket and Old Buckenham culminated in 1921 when Australia played there, but how did this connection come about?
In 1906 Lionel Robinson, an Australian who had made his fortune as a stockbroker and financier, purchased Old Buckenham Hall.
Robinson set about making extensive changes to the hall, building stables for his race horses and constructing a world class cricket ground. The turf for the cricket ground was especially imported from Australia so that the cricket square would be as fast those in Australia.
In 1919 the first international cricket match in England after the First World War was played at the ground and in 1921 the Australian test team played at Old Buckenham for a three-day game against an almost full-strength England side.
Erected in 1961, the sign emphasises the ancient origins of the town – the two main figures represent the Saxon era.
A plaque on the supporting post reads: “Loddon town sign. Alfric called Modercope was the original Saxon Lord of Loddon and gave the Lordship to the Abbey of St. Edmund of Bury in the reign of Edward the Confessor 1042-1066.
Alfric’s will contains the earliest written reference to the village. Dating from 1042-43 it stipulates that the 450 acres of land he owned in Loddon (consisting of woodland, open land and fen) should pass to St Edmund’s, “with as full rights as ever I owned it.”
The church referred to on the plaque is Holy Trinity Church which was almost entirely rebuilt in the 1480s under the patronage of Sir James Hobart. St Mary’s Chapel, which was founded some time before 1289, once stood in what is now the churchyard to Holy Trinity Church.
To learn more about the project, visit the Signs of a Norfolk Summer page on Facebook.