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The village of Bawdeswell (pronounced 'Bordswell') lies seven miles north-east of Dereham.

Chaucer picture

Geoffrey Chaucer (c.1340-1400)

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.

Chaucer House, Bawdeswell

Chaucer House


Bawdeswell Village Sign

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.

More photohgraphs of Bawdeswell




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