The Village Sign

The Forncett Village Sign

The village sign was made in 1981 to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. It was designed by Bill Matthews, a resident of Forncett, with help from his wife, Heather, and daughter Debbie. The final design was chosen by Forncett residents after a meeting at the village hall. 

Unveiling of the Forncett Village Sign. (L-R: Rev. Bill Cummings, Neville Chapman, Bill Matthews)

The sign was made by Harry Carter, who was an art teacher at Swaffham Grammar School and responsible for a great number of Norfolk's carved village signs. The sign was erected on an oak post, with a substantial flint base capped by a millstone from the White Mill which stood behind the Jolly Farmers until the early 1900s. The millstone had been used as a doorstep in the stables at Lime Tree Farm and was donated by Neville Chapman. 

In the centre of the sign is an escutcheon with the Coat of Arms of Roger Bigod, 2nd Earl of Norfolk. . This is flanked by four quadrants representing stylised images of the Forncetts' past.

Upper left. This shows a monk reading a manuscript, with Forncett St. Mary church in the background. The monk represents John of Fornsette who was reputedly born in Forncett and who died in 1238 or 1239. He was a monk at Reading Abbey where he kept the records and is credited as being the composer of "Summer is coming in" (Sumer is Icumen In - Old Eng.); a piece that is considered to be a masterpiece of medieval music. John has been widely regarded as the possible scribe of the manuscript containing it, and as the person who inspired the Latin and English words and the music. However, whilst his name appears on the manuscript, it is debatable whether he was the author or composer.

Upper right. Farm labourers are shown protesting about conditions on the land, with Forncett St. Peter church in the background. In the early 1800s food riots, machine breaking and the protests over tithes, wages and the Poor Laws were all quite common public activities. On Saturday 2nd March 1822 there was a riot in which as many as 500 men gathered at Forncett End. They went through Tacolneston, Fundenhall, Ashwellthorpe and Hapton breaking all the threshing machines they could find and by the 6th March there was reputedly not an intact machine for ten miles around. A number of the rioters were subsequently imprisoned in Norwich Castle.

Lower left. The half-timbered house represents the now lost manor house of Forncett which is believed to have stood immediately to the north of St. Mary's church. The manor house is said to have fallen into disrepair and disappeared around 1460-1490. The whole manor of Forncett was given to Roger Bigod, 1st Earl of Norfolk, by William the Conqueror, as a reward for his services during the Conquest. In the foreground of this quadrant a noble couple represent Forncett as the Duke of Norfolk's prime manor. (Note: In 1397 Richard II conferred on the then Duke of Norfolk the estates and titles that had formerly belonged to the Earls of Norfolk.) 

Lower right. The postmill is representative of the two mills (the White Mill and the Black Mill) that existed at the crossroads in Forncett End from the early 1800s to the early 1900s.

Restoration in 2016

In 2016 the village sign was in need of major refurbishment which was carried out by a team of local volunteers. Bob McClenning dried out, restabilised and then repainted the sign. David Taylor supplied wood sections for the lettering and other supports, expertly crafting them to match the (by then very decayed) originals. Linda Preece used her skills as a sculptor and wood carver to recreate "The Forncetts" name. Graham Gale and Brian Frith dismantled and later reassembled the sign using the original repainted wrought ironwork. The sign was then returned to its location in front of St. Peter's church with a new plaque recognising that the renovation took place in the year of the 90th birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

The refurbishment group (left to right), Parish Councillor Dawn Welsby, Bob McClenning, David Taylor, Graham Gale, Brian Frith, Linda Preece, Andrew Smith, Debbie Smith (née Matthews), Bill Matthews and Andrew Coleman (Parish Councillor). 

With particular thanks to Bill Matthews for help in the preparation of this article.