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The Swaffham Tinker

Dreamed between 1454 and 1474 by John Chapman, a tinker in Swaffham, Norfolk, England;
plus the dream of an oneiroskeptical shopkeeper in London in the same year.

There lived at Swaffham, in Norfolk, an industrious man named John Chapman who worked as a tinker. One night he dreamed that if he took a journey to London, and placed himself on a certain part of London Bridge, he should meet with someone who would reveal a matter of importance to his future prospects.

This dream made a great impression on his mind, and he related it to his wife in the morning. She, however, half laughed and half scolded at him for his folly in paying attention to such idle fancies and told him "You had better get up and go to work."

The next night he dreamed the same again, and likewise the third night, when the dream impressed him so much that he determined, in spite of his wife's skepticism and his neighbours' ridicule, to "go to London and see the upshot of it."

He arranged for the management of his business during his absence, and set out on foot for London, about ninety miles distant, which he reached late on the third day. After a night's rest, he took his station the next morning on a part of the bridge which corresponded with the description in his dream. There he stood all day, without telling anyone the purpose of his vigil.

The next day it was the same--and the third; so that, towards night, both his patience and his confidence in the dream began to be shaken; he inwardly cursed himself for ignoring his wife's advice, and resolved to leave London the next day and make the best of his way home again. But he stood his ground till late in the evening; when, just as he was about to leave it, a shop-keeper who had seen him standing doggedly and with anxious looks on the same spot for days, asked him what he was waiting there for. After some hesitation, the tinker told him his errand, without, however, mentioning his place of origin.

The stranger smiled at his simplicity, and advised him to go home, and in future to pay no attention to dreams. "I myself," said he, "dreamed three nights this week, that if I went a hundred miles into the country, to a place called Swaffham, in Norfolk, and dug under an apple-tree in a certain garden on the north side of the town, I should find a box of money; but I have better to do than to run after such idle fancies! No, no my friend, go home and work well at your calling, and there you will find the riches you seek here."

The tinker was astonished. This, he doubted not, was the information he sought; but he said nothing further to the stranger than to thank him for his advice, and to declare his resolve to heed it. He went straight to his lodging, and the next day set off for his home, which he reached safe.

He said little to his wife on the subject of his journey, but rose early the next morning, and commenced digging on the spot mentioned by the stranger. A few feet down, the spade struck against a hard substance, which, upon clearing the mould from the top of it, proved to be an iron chest. He quickly removed it to his house, and having with some difficulty broken off the lid, to his great joy found it full of money. After securing his treasure, he discovered, upon the outside of the chest, an inscription, which, being no scholar, he was unable to decipher. He therefore hit upon the following expedient to ascertain its meaning:--

There was in the town a grammar school, several of the pupils of which were in the habit of passing his smithy in the way to and from school. The tinker judged that by placing the chest at the door, it would excite the attention of the boys, and thus he should be able to obtain the object in view, without exciting any suspicion among his neighbours.

He had soon the opportunity he sought. A number of the boys gathered round, as was their custom, to witness the operations of the forge, and he took occasion to challenge their scholastic skill in the translation of the inscription. Some, after conning over it awhile, said it was not legible. At length one, older than the rest, after scraping and breaking off the rust, made the following guess--

"Where this stood
Is another twice as good."
Overjoyed, the tinker next morning resumed his labour; and a little below the ground already cleared, he found a second chest, double the size of the first, and, like it, filled with gold and silver coin.

The account goes on to state that becoming thus a wealthy man, the tinker showed his gratitude to Providence by building a new chancel to the church, the old one being out of repair. And whatever fiction the marvellous taste of those ages may have mixed up with the tale, certain it is that there is shown at this day a monument in Swaffham Church, having an effigy in marble, said to be that of the tinker, with his dog at his side, and his tools and implements of trade lying about him.


Many slight variants of this tale are extant; a full one is reputed to be in Blomfield's History of Norfolk. This one is largely from the Mirror, Saturday, May 4, 1833; quoted in Frank Seafield's The Literature and Curiosities of Dreams (1865); but I've added a few details present in most other versions, such as John Chapman's name. Many versions have a hawthorn, not an apple tree, and two round metal pots instead of two chests.

The Swaffham church was rebuilt gradually from 1454 on; church records do show Chapman funded the restoration of the north aisle. So far I haven't seen a firm date, but that record-book ended in 1474.

I've never seen a name for such paired, reciprocal dreams; but I intend to call them Swaffhams.

--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: recurrent dreams - financial-advice dreams - dream advice in general - money - buried treasure - a modern pair of Swaffhamy reciprocal dreams, told by R. D. Laing - cledonic dreams (dreams with messages for others) - shared and telepathic dreams - ESP in general - dream humor - London - England

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