|Martham Local History
This is our archive, which offers you an insight into our digital collection. It is catalogued and each item has an accession number. We also provide a page for our publications which can be downloaded.
Martham before 1370
First, comes a welcome from our Chair.
|The Martham Local History
Group created this archive as part of the Project managed
by the Norfolk
Skills, Support and
Sustainability (CASSAS) project funded by the National
Lottery. MLHG is proud to be associated with
this ground-breaking project.
The graffiti on the left is scratched into a pillar in St Mary's Church, Martham. It has been identified as a medieval 'cog', in use as a trading vessel during the 15th century. These cargo ships traded with the Baltic under the Hanseatic League during the Middle Ages and were a common sight. Replicas can be seen in Sweden at Malmo. For a detailed description of these ship graffiti read Matthew Champion's book or see this video which explains in detail the graffiti which can be found all over England. He discusses Martham's ship in some detail here.
Martham's mystery mariner
Looking around St. Marys – our ancient Parish church, you may have noticed a ship scratched on one of the pillars. How did that come to be there? What does it mean? Why is it there? When you look closely you can see that it is very beautifully drawn by an artist with a very good knowledge of sailing ships and how they work. A close inspection reveals that there is lime-wash in the scratched outline and that it therefore dates from before the Reformation in the 16th century when much that was decorative was obliterated with lime wash. The lime-wash either wore off or was removed in a later century.
It is of the
type of ship called a ‘cog’ that was built in the 1300s,
1400s and 1500s as a sea-going coastal trading
vessel. You can distinguish the hull with a high
peak at the prow, the tall mast and the sails and the
rigging and even the crow’s nest.
But why is it there? Before the days of road, rail and air transport everything was transported by water and even the narrowest rivers that were navigable were used by small boats. Sea-going transport was vital and almost every place near the sea had its harbour or jetty from the beach. But seafarers had a very risky job. They were in constant danger from the weather, the tides, the hidden sandbanks and rocks and even pirates and warfare. Seafaring took men away from their homes for months, sometimes years on end and they needed to know that people remembered them and prayed for them.
Nowadays we think constantly of those near and dear to us and have photos and other mementoes to remind us to think of them and to pray for them. Many centuries ago they did not have these things. Being out of sight meant that sailors could be out of mind too, but they desperately needed to feel that they were not forgotten. The symbol of a ship on a church pillar would remind people to pray for and remember before God those of their community who were seafarers. Sometimes a wealthy merchant ship-owner would have commissioned a skilled artist to make an engraving of his ship.
At places like Blakeney, Wiveton and Cley, which were important ports in the Middle Ages, you can see several ships scratched on pillars in the churches, but I have not seen one that is as large or finely crafted as ours at Martham.
My guess is that ours was commissioned by a wealthy local merchant ship owner about 600 years ago. But who was he? We have considerable information about Martham people of the past from the vast collection of Wills in the Norfolk Record Office. Not all of them have been read, so maybe someone doing research will one day be able to discover the name of our mystery mariner.
President, Martham Local History Group
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of the Martham cog: Chris Harrison)
(Drawing of the Martham cog: Richard Rogers)
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