Norfolk on a stick: The sign with stunned deer, a startled pheasant and a stubborn boulder
- Credit: Archant
The village sign in Merton tells a curious tale of a 'stubborn' boulder and a pheasant has a good reason to be startled. DR ANDREW TULLETT tells the story behind this peculiar village sign.
Merton's village sign-cum-post box combination on The Green is unique in Norfolk. The post box once stood alone, pre-dating the sign to which it is now very much attached.
The main images on the sign are different either side.
One face features the round towered church of St. Peter's.
A deer appears a little surprised to have been caught in the tableau.
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The actual lychgate of the church, which is also featured, contains a memorial to Rev. George Crabbe who died in 1884.
He was incumbent at the church for 34 years. His father and grandfather had also been clergymen.
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The shield on display bears the arms of the Baynard family.
The Manor of Merton was originally granted to Ralph Baynard for his services to William the Conqueror.
The arms also appear near the pulpit in St Peter's Church, on a brass wall memorial to William de Grey, who died in 1495.
The association between Merton's Baynards and the de Greys began in 1336 when Isabel Baynard, heiress of the estate, married Sir Thomas de Grey.
The arms of the de Greys are shown on another shield on the opposite side of the sign.
A pheasant runs across the scene presented on the second side. He has a good reason to be in a hurry.
Merton became a sporting estate in the 1800s and one of its owners was a prolific shot.
On August 30, 1888 a later Thomas de Grey, the 6th Baron Walsingham, is recorded to have killed 1,070 grouse between 5.12am and 6.45pm on Blubberhouses Moor in Yorkshire.
Thomas had been MP for West Norfolk from 1865 until 1870 when his father, the 5th Baron Walsingham, died.
Thomas inherited his father's title, the Merton estate and entered into the House of Lords.
Thomas also served as the President of the Entomological Society of London between 1888 and 1889.
When he died his renowned collection of 260,000 specimens of butterflies and moths were donated to the Natural History Museum in London.
The pheasant appears to be headed for the relative safety of Merton's fabulous thatched bus shelter.
The actual building is also located on The Green not far from the sign.
A plaque affixed to it reads: "This shelter was given by the villagers and friends of Merton to commemorate the Silver Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II June 7th 1977". Seats are provided both inside and outside, providing a perfect perch for prospective passengers whatever the weather.
The pink thatched cottages that stand opposite the sign in real life are also depicted on the sign.
Less striking is the figure of a large boulder behind the pheasant.
The Merton Stone, as it is known, is a glacial erratic. It is located near the western boundary of the parish, in an area known as Capp's Bush. It is estimated to weigh around 20 to 30 tonnes, with dimensions of 3.6m x 1.5m x 1.5m. It has been suggested that this giant may be the largest example of its type in England.
There are several local stories about the Merton Stone, mostly concerned with failed attempts to move it.
One details a whole community effort, using ropes and manpower alone, which was organised by the 5th Baron Walsingham.
Another recalls an endeavour in the 1930s or 1940s which was unsuccessful despite employing a Gyrotiller.
The rock still stubbornly remains where it was deposited at the end of the last ice age. This is probably just as well.
A local legend states that if the Merton Stone is ever moved, water will rise up and swallow the village and the land beyond.
If this ever happened the village really would live up to the name 'Meretuna', as it was recorded as in the Domesday Book. 'Meretuna' is derived from Old English meaning 'farmstead by the pool'.
-Dr Tullett, from Lakenham, researched just about all of Norfolk's 500-plus town and village signs as part of his Signs of a Norfolk Summer project. He now gives presentations on the topic, and anyone looking for a speaker can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more details of that and Norfolk's other signs, visit the Signs of a Norfolk Summer page on Facebook, or search for "Norfolk on a stick" on www.edp24.co.uk