The village of Bawdeswell (pronounced 'Bordswell') lies
seven miles north-east of Dereham.
In Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales
- Reeve Oswald came from Baldeswell (old spelling)
in Norfolk. The name Bawdeswell originally derives from
'Baldere's spring or well' - which clearly substantiates
Chaucer's earlier spelling. In the main Prologue,
Chaucer describes the Reeve as follows:
The stallion-cob he rode at a slow trot
Was dapple-grey and bore the name of Scot.
He wore an overcoat of bluish shade
And rather long; he had a rusty blade
Slung at his side. He came, as I heard tell
From Norfolkshire, near a place called Baldeswell.
His coat was tucked under his belt and splayed.
He rode the hindmost of our cavalcade.
A Reeve was a medieval town councillor or magistrate and
in The Reeve's Tale two clerks who are cheated
by a miller get their revenge by sleeping
with the miller's wife and daughter. In the tale, the miller comes
from Trumpington near Cambridge.
Chaucer's uncle was reputedly the rector in Bawdeswell
and the old timbered building (opposite the church)
known as 'Chaucer House' may have been his rectory.
Parts of the house may date from the 15th and even the
14th century, so it is conceivable that Chaucer did
visit Bawdeswell - although it's impossible to prove.
The Reeve on the
Bawdeswell village sign
Walter Rye, the
Norfolk antiquarian, wrote a book entitled Chaucer, A
Norfolk Man (1915) in which he suggested that
Chaucer's father came from
King's Lynn. Chaucer's son was also the owner of a
farm at Gresham in North
Norfolk which he later sold to Sir William Paston.
Another Norfolk location which features in The Reeves
Tale is Bromholm Abbey - the ruins of which stand at
Bacton on the Norfolk coast.