My cousin Tony used to live in Bawdeswell. It is a pleasant central Norfolk village, convenient for his work at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital (he is now retired) and his holiday home at Snettisham on The Wash. The village has a garden centre, general stores and a pretty church dating from the 1950s, the medieval structure having been destroyed in a plane crash during the Second World War.

In the time of Geoffrey Chaucer it was called Baldeswell. I am convinced that Chaucer must have known the place intimately because he does not merely place the Reeve in Baldeswell but in Baldeswell Heath.  The name Bawdeswell Heath still remains, although the gorse and heather flora associated heathland has disappeared.

Retreating still further into history, the Anglo-Saxon name was Baldereswelle or Balder’s stream. The general view among place-name experts is that Baldhere was a personal name, but I prefer to think it applied to the god Balder, and the magical spring that broke out of the hill where he was buried. Nordic gods were mortal.

Going yet further back in time we leave Balder behind in all the forms of his name. We do not know what the Roman name was for Bawdeswell, but it had a major Roman Road running through it, crossing Peddars Way at Castle Acre and heading east, probably to Caister-on-Sea.

From our garden centre of today, through the medival poet Geoffrey Chaucer, to the ancient god Balder and the Romna legions marching to the sea.  All this in a single Norfolk village – wow.

The Reeve’s Tale




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