Tracing a town’s surprising heritage of turkey and cider
PUBLISHED: 07:30 23 January 2020
Attleborough has a surprising pedigree of cider production and turkey sales. DR ANDREW TULLETT tells us how they got on the town’s sign
The central images on either side of the town sign at Attleborough would appear to represent an ancient heritage of cider making.
However, the brewers extracting apple juice are not locals, and the building depicted on one side never existed in Attleborough.
The two scenes are, in fact, based on copperplate prints that appear in a book by John Worlidge entitled 'Vinetum Britannicum: or a treatise of cider, and other wines and drinks extracted from fruits growing in this kingdom'.
Published in 1676, it is acknowledged as one of the first works to document the process of producing cider and promote the virtues of cider making as an industry in Britain.
Cider was not a major employer in Attleborough until 1896 when William Gaymer moved his business to the town from Banham, where it had outgrown its premises.
By this time the company was already a major brand and had obtained a royal warrant.
The new factory, opposite Attleborough railway station, had its own sidings to help with distribution.
A few years after the move to Attleborough, in 1903, Gaymer averted disaster after the entire crop of British apples failed.
He sailed to Canada, returning with enough apples for an entire year's worth of production.
Cider making continued at the factory in Attleborough for almost 100 years.
Just one year before its centenary, however, cider making stopped.
In 1995 production moved to Shepton Mallet in Somerset.
Two other traditional industries are recalled in the scene below the main images on the sign: brush making and turkey farming.
Two crossed besoms (old-fashioned brooms made from twigs) are contained within a shield to represent the brush making industry that was once a major employer.
Hamilton Acorn's factory on Halford Road finally closed its doors in 2016 after operating for over 60 years. One third of its workforce had been made redundant in 2009 as production moved overseas.
The Norfolk Black turkeys that flank the shield symbolise those that were grown and sold in the town. Trade was especially buoyant in the 1930s, with thousands being traded at Attleborough's annual turkey fair.
The birds on the sign appear to have escaped being marched through tar, a practice said to have been carried out to protect their feet in the days, before the advent of the railway, when turkeys were walked to market.
During the 1720s Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, reported that 150,000 turkeys from East Anglia were walked to market in London each year.
On route they would graze in stubble fields before carrying on with their one-way trip which could last up to three months.
The crest adopted by Attleborough Town Council adorns the top of the sign.
It features a lion, bishop's mitre, plough and sheaf of corn.
The original sign was made by Harry Carter of Swaffham and erected in 1975 on the Green opposite the Town Hall.
Visitors to the town arriving along London Road to the south may be forgiven for thinking they are suffering from double-vision.
A copy of the sign has also been erected here on the grass verge.
-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.