Every day we all pass many objects and buildings that form part of our landscape, they become so familiar that we give them little thought. However there is always a story or history about everything we pass by, all it needs is time to research the facts, then someone to write their story. Some quite modern objects have unexpected links with quite ancient history, and this is the case with Bradwell's sign.
Within Norfolk there are still three village signs that date back to 1912, this was the time when King Edward the 7th and his son, later to be King George the 5th, suggested and encouraged this idea of communities having their own individual signs. The general view is a village or town sign should be erected to commemorate an event of particular significance within that community. The Jubilee of our Queen or that of the local Women’s Institute has promoted many such signs.
There are no set rules for village and town sign production, most aim to depict historic events and local activities associated with their community and its surrounding area, while each sign has a plinth and base, its surrounding setting being usually created by a skilled local craftsman. With over 400 signs now to be seen in Norfolk, they have become a new source of historic folk art. They could also become the basis of a Norfolk community local history book. So far at least three books about Norfolk village signs with a brief description of their histories have been written and published. There is a considerable skill in designing and carving such signs, then more work in their repair and maintenance. This perhaps opens a new and interesting field of employment for a skilled rural craftsman with ability and who can generate a public demand for his work.
In the 1970’s, the leading exponent of sign creation in Norfolk was a retired Swaffham teacher, Harry Carter. In his lifetime, he researched, carved, painted and produced over 200 signs for towns and villages in Norfolk and North Suffolk. Some years after his death, our present Bradwell sign still remains a tribute to his design skills. However, all is not what it seems, this present sign is not that carved by Harry Carter, and it is also in a different location.
The promoters of most Norfolk village signs are Town or Parish Councils and Women's Institutes; at Bradwell the Parish Council took the lead, having from 1974 received several requests for a sign to represent at what in those days was still a village. Agreement was reached that one should be produced and erected to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. This project was brought up for discussion by all village residents later at an annual parish meeting. A householder owning an area of land in front of the small stores, located in those days at Mill lane crossroads, was impressed, he offered this land as a gift to Bradwell Parish Council and the community to be a site for this village sign. An offer that was gladly accepted, so this land became community property with its deeds transferred into Parish Council care. It is perhaps interesting to note that the same householder offered the land on which today’s dental surgery, the former medical practice premises, and a pharmacy now stand.
The next tasks for the Parish Council were to select a designer and constructor for their sign, then to obtain planning consent for its erection. Both tasks proved quite easy, planning consent was soon obtained, and a trail to the best sign led to Harry Carter, Norfolk's top man. So he was invited to a Parish Council meeting to present his ideas, where he proposed that each village school should be asked to submit their pupils’ ideas for a Bradwell sign. Then he would use the key elements from each submission to produce a final design and plan
for Parish Council approval.
The following provides a historic background to these elements selected from Bradwell schools’ ideas, then used in the original signs final design, it should be noted that they are all still to be seen on the new replacement sign, their significance and meanings are as follows:-
St Nicholas of Myra and Three Bags of Gold
Representing our oldest building, Bradwell Parish Church, is its dedicated saint St Nicholas of Myra, also shown is his emblem, three bags of gold. These three bags of gold illustrates his kindly concern for other people, he heard of three young women reduced to an unmarried life because their fathers were too poor to provide them with dowries. So he went to their windows at night and threw in three bags of gold, this enabled them to marry.
The Ploughing Man depicts Bradwell's agricultural past, when all of the land belonged to one of five manors, on those days it was farmed and ploughed into long narrow strips.
The Corn Mill was once owned by Gapton Hall Manor, and indicates the main type of agricultural occupation carried out in Bradwell. This mill was situated where Lilac Close is now located. Mill Lane was named after the track way leading to this building, it was the main route serving Gapton Hall Manor wheat and corn fields.
The Rising Sun appears in this land on the eastern coast of Norfolk earlier than any other part of England. This also illustrates one of the earliest recorded buildings in Bradwell, the Rising Sun Inn. A rising sun also refers to the central logo in Lothingland’s coat of arms - this was the area of Suffolk within which Bradwell was located.
The site selected in 1977 for Bradwell’s new village sign was at its main crossroads serving the Post Office and local store. (No traffic lights existed there then!) Harry Carter completed this sign on time and after planning consent had been obtained a local craftsman built a plinth and suitable surround. So on the fifth of November 1977 the Reverend Maurice Cuttell, before a gathering of press, councillors, and village residents, performed an official unveiling, dedication, and opening ceremony. The Reverend Cuttell was a very good choice for this task, before his retirement to North Walsham he had been Rector of Bradwell, Vice Chairman of the Parish Council, and an early keen supporter of this project when it was first proposed.
At this point Bradwell was turning from a country village to a small ‘Dormitory Town’ by slowly constant building. Calls were made for traffic lights to be installed (Norfolk County Council had rejected an earlier offer of free land to build a roundabout here), and eventually a scheme was agreed by constructing an artificial ‘dog leg’ at Mill Lane. The plan closed a section of Mill Lane and also required the Parish Council to give up the village sign site and land surrounding it.
To progress this idea, the County Council offered to lease a section of the former highway which had become redundant for a new village sign site. Then when Gt Yarmouth Borough Council offered to layout, plant, and maintain this new site, it seemed in everyone's best interest that the Parish Council should hand over its land.
When the sign was moved to its new position, it was known that it needed repainting, but when the contractor came to move it he discovered several major problems, severe rot had set into the wood. His conclusion was that the sign had been constructed with unseasoned wood, but that he could undertake remedial work that should last and save this sign for a few years. This he did and the sign was moved to its new site opposite what had now changed to a Community Store. Then came time for another planned repaint, and after an inspection the contractor selected reported that the sign had rotted to a state beyond repair. He could not repaint it, and he was concerned that it had now become a safety hazard to passers by. The Parish Council had no option but to arrange for it to be dismantled and placed in store until a new sign could be produced.
A few weeks after this shock report, the Parish Council was informed that the county council had plans for a road widening scheme which would require all land at Mill Lane used as a site for the sign to be vacated. Incidentally no such scheme ever took place, but for the Parish Council it was a repeat of the earlier problems. Tenders were sought for a new sign, and consideration was given to a new ‘central Bradwell’ location to place the new sign. A list of everyone who had produced a Town or Village sign in Norfolk and North Suffolk was drawn up, letters were sent to a number of such people seeking their help, but replies were few in number.
Eventually it was agreed to ask Blundeston Prison Workshops to manufacture a new sign for Bradwell, and have it completed by the year 2000. The old sign now in an advanced state of decay was sent to Blundeston Prison to be a model for this new sign with instructions to copy and reproduce it. Then a site for a new sign was agreed with Norfolk County Council and planning consent obtained. The site selected was at School Corner on a small area of redundant highway waste land opposite Bradwell community centre, this being an area that both the Parish and County Councils were keen to see tidy and improved. The previous sign had been located at Bradwell Post Office crossroads on the A143, which was by far the busiest point in Bradwell and where such a sign would be seen by the largest number of people.
From a historic point of view this was a particularly good choice of site for this new sign. Going right back 2000 years in time the Roman Via Jovis Highway running from Burgh Castle to Corton passed over or close to the new location for Bradwell’s sign. About 1000 years later this new sign site formed an eastern tip to a triangular green or common. One of the cross roads passing beside this green going on to the Parish Church, the other followed a line now called Lords Lane this being part of the old Roman Road line. In the middle ages on this green were held markets and fairs, and its market cross was probably located very close to this site. Quite a substantial stream flowed along one side of this triangle of land and was still doing so in the mid 1800s as maps from this time show.
Modern development changes caused this stream to be placed in a pipe or duct and houses built over it as it passes through Bradwell, but in very wet weather water returns. So this remains an area subject to occasional floods. Indeed the flooding was so bad in winter months that the village school was flooded out and closed on a number of occasions. Until finally in the 1950s the local member of parliament asked a question of the Education Minister in the House of Commons inviting him to see the flooding at Bradwell school himself or to get better drainage put into this area. Things have improved in this locality, but it still floods in very bad weather, and there will be times when this Bradwell sign will become isolated and sit in a pond of floodwaters.
Some time in the late middle ages this triangle of land came into the ownership of the church and in1841 Bradwell village school was built on much of what was once this village green. However maps from this time show a small section of this land remained in community ownership probably used as highway waste and this included the area now used for Bradwell’s new sign.
In due course Blundeston Prison completed this new sign, it was said many prisoners were willing to visit Bradwell and erect their work! Less keen was the prison governor who wanted no away days in Bradwell for his charges. A local craftsman constructed an appropriate plinth, and surround, and all was complete by 2000 the Millennium Year.So in January of that year Bradwell’s second sign was unveiled in a ceremony by Mr S R Robinson, Governor of Blundeston Prison, who was introduced by Ted Howlett, Chairman of Bradwell Parish Council, before the press, councillors, and members of the community.’.
Now we move to today when the sign was removed again due to water works, giving an opportunity for the sign to be repainted and re-erected on a metal pole in March 2017.
If anybody would like to expand this series please do. I would just ask that you let Smokeypugs know first so they can keep track of the Village Sign numbers and names to avoid duplication.
Well done to TobyC on his F FTF !!