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Swaffham

 

Swaffham is a market town and civil parish in the English county of Norfolk. The town is situated 12 mi (19 km) east of King’s Lynn and 31 mi (50 km) west of Norwich.

The civil parish has an area of 11.42 sq mi (29.6 km2) and in the 2001 census had a population of 6,935 in 3,130 households. For the purposes of local government, the parish falls within the district of Breckland.

Its name came from Old English Swǣfa hām = “the homestead of the Swabians”; some of them presumably came with the Angles and Saxons.

By the 14th and 15th centuries Swaffham had a flourishing sheep and wool industryAs a result of this prosperity, the town has a large market place. The market cross here was built by George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford and presented to the town in 1783. On the top is the statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest.

About 8 km to the north of Swaffham can be found the ruins of the formerly important Castle Acre Priory and Castle Acre Castle.

On the west side of Swaffham Market Place are several old buildings which for many years housed the historic Hamond’s Grammar School, as a plaque on the wall of the main building explains. The Hamond’s Grammar School building latterly came to serve as the sixth form for the Hamond’s High School, but that use has since ceased. Harry Carter, the grammar school’s art teacher of the 1960s, was responsible for a great number of the carved village signs that are now found in many of Norfolk’s towns and villages, most notably perhaps Swaffham’s own sign commemorating the legendary Pedlar of Swaffham, which is in the corner of the market place just opposite the old school’s gates. Carter was a distant cousin of the archaeologist and egyptologist Howard Carter who spent much of his childhood in the town.

Until 1968 it was served by Swaffham railway station on the Great Eastern Railway line from King’s Lynn. Just after Swaffham, the line split into two, one branch heading south to Thetford, and the other east towardsDereham. The railways were closed as part of the Beeching Axe, though the possibility of rebuilding a direct rail link from Norwich to King’s Lynn via Swaffham is occasionally raised.

The Swaffham Museum contains an exhibition on local history and local geology as well as an Egyptology room charting the life of Howard Carter.

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