WELLS (50 years ago)
as described in "The King's England; Norfolk", ed. Arthur Mee (1940), pp428-429
"The sea has gone from Wells, leaving its name behind, for still its people call it
Wells-next-the-Sea. The river estuary comes up through the marshes to a sally
port, bringing up on its tide sailing barge and schooner and steam vessel to the
handy harbour and the line of warehouses which still give the town something of
the appearance of a seaport. Old gabled houses huddle together along the
quayside, down to which the narrow streets thread their way. At one end of the
quay, from where we begin the long walk to the sands beyond a dark belt of fir
woods, is a memorial showing a mast, anchor and lifebuoy. It is to 11 of the crew
of the lifeboat which capsized in a gale in 1880, after saving the crew of one ship
and going to the rescue of another.
The lofty church awaits the mellowing hand of Time, for it is only half a century
old. It has grown in the place of the old one, which was almost destroyed by
lightning in 1879. A vivid reminder of the fire caused by the lightning (which
melted even the bells) is a fine chest of 1635, for some of its stout boards are black
and charred. Remains of the older building are seen in the tracery of the chancel
doorway, charming with carving of vines in which birds are pecking the grapes.
The door itself has a lovely tracery.
There are more than 50 angels in the oak roof of the chancel, and over 60 in the
nave's; and there are stone angels over the capitals of the nave arcades. Among
much clear glass the pictures of Mary with Jesus holding a boat, St. Nicholas with
a ship, and St. Christopher stepping out of the stream, give a fine touch of colour.
Showing up on the grey wall is the Madonna and Child in a fine wreath of fruit and
foliage, in Della Robbia ware.
There is a brass inscription telling of an old rector of medieval days (Thomas
Bradley of 1499), and from those days comes the remarkable story of a fiddler
and his dog which everybody here now believes to be true. True it would
certainly seem to be.
The story is that once upon a time a travelling fiddler and his dog came to this
place, and was told that there was an underground passage connecting Binham
Priory, not far away, with Walsingham Abbey, once a famous Mecca for pilgrims
from every part of England. The fiddler declared his intention of exploring the
tunnel. and this aroused so much interest that a crowd assembled to see him
start. He promised them that he would play his fiddle as he went to show them
what progress he was making.
Followed by his faithful dog, he started on his journey and was soon lost to
sight in the dark passage. For a time the villagers could hear his gay music, and
then, somewhere near the place now known as Fiddler's Hill, the fiddling ceased.
They began to grow anxious as the time passed and neither the fiddler nor the
dog reappeared, but there was still the hope that they might come out the other
end. The hope was vain, and they were never seen again.
Now it is believed that the solution of the mystery has been discovered. While
they were rounding off the corner at Fiddler's Hill in 1933 the workmen came upon
the skeletons of a man and a dog. The villagers are convinced that the discovery
confirms the legend that has been so persistent down the centuries."