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Do you know the history and meaning of the Diss town sign?

PUBLISHED: 16:23 18 January 2019

Diss town sign stands at the Mere Mouth. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Diss town sign stands at the Mere Mouth. Picture: Sonya Duncan

ARCHANT EASTERN DAILY PRESS (01603) 772434

From bustling market towns to the tiny hamlets there is one thing that symbolises local communities' stories like no other, the town or village sign.

Two village signs one for Anmer and one for Hingham, being made by Harry Carter in 1957. Picture: Archant LibraryTwo village signs one for Anmer and one for Hingham, being made by Harry Carter in 1957. Picture: Archant Library

These sometimes humble, sometimes elaborate displays of civic pride have their own histories, mysteries and tales to tell. And Diss’ town sign is no different.

The tradition of signs is believed to have started in Norfolk early in the 20th century when Edward VII suggested that village signs would aid motorists and give a feature of interest on the Sandringham Estate.

Their spread beyond Norfolk can be attributed to Prince Albert, Duke of York (later George VI) who gave a speech to the Royal Academy in 1920 promoting the wider use of village signs. This prompted the Daily Mail to run a nationwide competition with a prize fund of £2,000.

One side of Diss town depicts John Skelton, Rector of Diss, tutoring a young Henry VIII. Picture: Simon ParkinOne side of Diss town depicts John Skelton, Rector of Diss, tutoring a young Henry VIII. Picture: Simon Parkin

Many signs were initially basic but they became ever more elaborate and Norfolk again played a signicent role in the popularity of carved decorative wooden signs.

In 1929, Harry Carter, an art and woodwork master at Hamonds Grammar School, now the sixth form buildings for Hamond’s high school in Swaffham, carved a sign for his home town. By the time of his death in 1983 he had carved over 200 town and village signs.

Amongst them was the Diss sign which was presented to the town by Diss Chamber of Trade in 1962.

The other side of Diss town depicts Matilda, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor of Diss, being presented with a poisoned boiled egg. Picture: Simon ParkinThe other side of Diss town depicts Matilda, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor of Diss, being presented with a poisoned boiled egg. Picture: Simon Parkin

Like many it bears all the trademarks for Harry Carter’s town signs including its ‘T’ shape.

The image on one side shows John Skelton, Rector of Diss, tutoring a young Henry VIII.

Skelton, rector of St. Mary’s Church from 1504 until his death, once controversially turned up to a service with his common law wife and child born out of wedlock.

Harry Carter, arts and woodwork master at Hamond's Grammar School in Swaffham, became famous for his carved village signs. Picture: Archant LibraryHarry Carter, arts and woodwork master at Hamond's Grammar School in Swaffham, became famous for his carved village signs. Picture: Archant Library

A plaque on this side of the sign reads: “John Skelton, Rector of Diss 1504-1520, Poet Laureate and tutor to the young Prince Henry (later Henry VIII) gives instruction to the prince and his sisters Margaret and Mark.”

The other side of the sign represents Matilda, the daughter of the Lord of the Manor of Diss, being presented with a poisoned boiled egg. She had upset King John by refusing his advances and he sought revenge.

Another plaque on this side reads: “Matilda daughter of Robert Fitz-Walter (The Vallant) Lord of the Manor of Diss, rejected the advances of King John. The angry King sent a messenger with a poisoned potched egg – “whereof she died” 1213.”

The plaque on Diss town sign signifying it was presented to the town in 1962. Picture: Simon ParkinThe plaque on Diss town sign signifying it was presented to the town in 1962. Picture: Simon Parkin

Both sides of the sign bear the blue and white striped shield of Diss.

A cousin to Howard Carter, the famous Egyptologist who discovered the tomb of boy king Tutankhamun, Harry Carter died in 1983. He left his mark on scores of local towns and villages with his series of lovingly-carved signs instantly recognisable as his handiwork.

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