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Thursday 18 December 2014

Dreaming of a Fortune at London Bridge

Whilst scanning through a children’s book entitled Secrets of the Unknown a familiar bell began to ring as the story seemed to be quite familiar. Although no source is given, the following is how the tale is related:

Dreaming of the Future

In the church of Saints Peter and Paul at Swaffham in Norfolk there are wooden statuettes of John Chapman, his wife and dog. They are there because John Chapman put up the money to build the north aisle of the great church. Nothing mysterious in that you may think, but John Chapman was a simple pedlar. How did this simple tradesman come by enough money to finance the building of the aisle? The answer lies in a dream.
            One night the pedlar had a strange dream that told him to make his way to London. It he stood on London Bridge he would meet a man who would bring him a great deal of good fortune. The dream was so compelling that John had to go to London to find out if the dream was true. ‘You must be crazy!’ shouted his wife as he started off on his long walk. ‘Taking that much notice of a silly dream!’
            After a walk of almost a hundred miles, John eventually arrived in London and made his way to London Bridge. But there was no man there. The people of London were hurrying about their own business and paid no attention to the tired untidy man. For the next three days and throughout the next three nights John kept his vigil. But still no-one approached him. ‘My wife was right,’ he said to himself. ‘Fancy a grown man walking all the way to London just because of a dream!’ He was about to set off back home when a man approached him.
            ‘Excuse me,’ said the stranger, ‘But I keep a shop here on the bridge and I have noticed you standing here for the past three days. I am curious to know why.’ So John told the shopkeeper of the dream he had and how he now expected to be scolded by his wife when he returned home. ‘I’m not surprised,’ laughed the man. ‘Why, if I took notice of dreams, I would be in the Norfolk town of Swaffham now, for I dreamt that a man there called John Chapman has a tree in his garden at the base of which is buried a pot of gold!’
            When John Chapman returned to Swaffham he decided to dig at the place mentioned in the shopkeeper’s dream. Sure enough, there beneath the tree in his garden he found the gold!

The very same tale with light variations was recorded and transcribed shortly afterwards by Calum Maclean on the 23rd of March 1951 from the recitation of John MacDonald of Highbridge, Brae Lochaber:

Taigh-òsda le Droch-ainm

Bha taigh-òsta anns an àite seo agus bha droch-ainm aige: iad a bhith ri meirle agus ri goid airgid. Agus chaidh an glacadh agus chaidh an toirt air falbh. Agus nuair a dh’aithnich iad gun robh iad gu bhith air an glacadh, chuir iad an t-airgead falach fo leachd aig stairsneach an doraist. Thàinig cuideachd eile dhan taigh agus cha robh iad a’ creic deoch san àite seo leis an droch-ainm a fhuair a taigh. Chum iad bhuaith a bhith a’ creic deoch. Ach, co dhiù, bha e oidhcheannan ann an sin san taigh. Cha robh e fada ann dar a thàinig bruadar ga ionnsaigh gun robh fhortan aig Drochaid Lunnainn. Cha robh e a’ gabhail mòran feairt. Bhruadair e trì oidhche an deaghaidh a chèile, ach air an oidhche mu dheireadh thàinig an rud gu math garg, crosda air agus:
“Feuma’ tu a dhol a Lunnainn,” thuirt e, “Tha t’ fhortan aig Lunnainn. Agus chì mi an sin thu.”
Dh’ innis e seo dhan bhean. Dh’fhalbh e a Lunnainn a h-uile ceum agus ràinig e am beul an anmoich. Chunnaic e duineachan an sin cho truagh is a chunnaic e riamh aig Drochaid Lunnainn:
“O,” thuirt e ris fhèin, “gu dè tha mi a’ dol a dh’ fhaotainn air cabhsair lom Lunnainn. Chan eil fortan na rud eile ann,” is e a’ coimhead mun cuairt, dar a thàinig am bodachan a bha seo thar an robh e.
“Thàine tu,” thuirt e.
“Ma-tà,” thuirt e, “Cha d’fhuair mise de chumhachd a dhol cho fada ris an taigh sa bheil thu a’ fuireach. Agus cha robh agam ach fios a chuir ort an seo. Agus thèid thu air ais chun an taigh as a bheil thu a’ fuireach. Gheibh thu geimhleag agus cuire’ tu car dhen chlach aig stairsneach an doraist, agus tha t’ fhortan fon a’ chloich.
Thill e dhachaigh is cha do ghabh e dad air gun fhios nach ann a bha e air a mhealladh. Cha do dh’innis e dhan mhnaoi nitheann. Ach fhuair e geimhleag agus chuir e car den chlach. Agus ma chuir bha fortan a-staigh fon chlach a chum gu math e cho fhad ’s a bha e beò.

And the translation goes something like the following:

The Inn of Ill Repute

There was an inn in these parts which had a bad reputation: they used to thieve and steal money. And they were caught and taken away. And when they recognised that they were about to be caught, they hid the money at the door’s threshold. Others took over the inn but they did not sell drink due to the bad reputation that the place had gained. They kept off from selling drink. But, in any case, he spent many nights in the inn. It was not long before a dream came to him that there was fortune to found at London Bridge. He did not give it much heed. He dreamt of this three nights in a row, but by the last night the dream came vividly and impressionably upon him:
“You must go to London,” he said, “Your fortune awaits you in London and I shall see you there.”
He told this to his wife. He set off to London by foot and he reached it at dusk. He saw a small man as poorly off as any he had ever seen at London Bridge.
“Oh,” he thought to himself, “whatever am I going to get on the bare streets of London. There’s no fortune or anything else,” as he looked around and then the little old man came to where he was.
“You’re here,” he said.
“I am.”
“Well, he said, “I’ve not the strength to go as far as the house in which you stay. And, besides, I’ve only got to tell you something. You’ll go back to the house in which you stay. You’ll get a crowbar and you’ll give the stone at the door’s threshold a turn and you’ll find your fortune underneath the stone.
He returned home and he pretended that nothing happened in case he had been duped. He didn’t tell his wife anything. But he got a crowbar and he turned the stone. And if he did he found his fortune beneath the stone which kept him well off for the rest of his days.

As can readily be seen the above stories are a variation upon and theme and, as might be guessed are, in fact, an international tale (ATU 1645, The Treasure at Home) known throughout Europe and beyond. The summary may be given as follows:

A man dreams that he finds a treasure on a bridge in a distant city. He goes to find it but is unsuccessful. While he is there, he tells his dream to a man (beggar), who in turn relates a similar dream in which he found a treasure in the house of the first man. When the first man returns home, he finds the treasure there.

In some variations, as in the above Gaelic version, details would have been added to give a local colouring. The very same has also occurred in the version from Norfolk and, even more intriguingly, physical evidence – in this case the statuettes situated in the church – attempt to give at least some credence to the truth of the tale. It appears that the English version of the tale known as the ‘Pedlar of Swaffham.’ According to the authors of The Types of International Folktales, the earliest literary versions of this particular tale are in Persian and go as far back as the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Perhaps its most famous rendition appears as ‘The man who became rich thourgh a dream’ in The One Thousand and One Nights.

Gordon Hill, Secrets of the Unknown (London: Knight Books, 1979), pp. 84–88
SSS NB 6, pp. 488–90 

Detail of Old London Bridge on the 1632 oil painting “View of London Bridge” by Claude de Jongh

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