Did Diss tale inspire the story of Robin Hood?

A detail of a panel from the Diss town sign. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett

A detail of a panel from the Diss town sign. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant

Could the stories behind the town sign at Diss have inspired the legend of Robin Hood? Dr Andrew Tullett investigates.

A detail of a panel from the Diss town sign. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett

A detail of a panel from the Diss town sign. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant

The sign at Diss is topped with a shield bearing the town's coat of arms.

It features sets of blue and white wavy lines.

These represent Diss Mere.

Diss Mere is a naturally occurring body of water, located in the centre of the town, which covers an area of almost 2.5 hectares (6 acres).

A detail from the Diss town sign. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett

A detail from the Diss town sign. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant


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Whilst the water in the mere is as deep as 5.5 metres (18 feet) in places, the bottom is covered in a much deeper layer of mud.

Diss acquired its name from the Saxon word 'Dic' or 'Disce', meaning a 'ditch of standing water'.

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The town sign, which was 'Presented to the town by Diss Chamber of Trade 1962' according to a plaque attached to its base, is double-sided. The main panels on either side both depict stories related to royalty.

However, the stories themselves are separated by nearly 300 years.

Another panel on the Diss town sign shows stalks of cereal to represent local agriculture. Picture:

Another panel on the Diss town sign shows stalks of cereal to represent local agriculture. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant

A plaque below one panel reads, 'John Skelton Rector of Diss (1505-1529) poet laureate and tutor to the young Prince Henry (Later Henry VIII) give instruction to the Prince and his sisters Margaret and Mary.'

John Skelton was Rector of St Mary's Church in Diss until his death in 1529, but from around 1510 he spent most of his time back at the royal court in London.

The 17th century historian, Anthony Wood, wrote of Skelton, 'at Diss and in the diocese Skelton was esteemed more fit for the stage than the pew or pulpit'.

He caused outrage among his parishioners by living with a Common Law wife and several of his children who were born out of wedlock.

A coin with the words ‘A Diss farthing 1669’ on the Diss town sign. This represents a trader’s token

A coin with the words ‘A Diss farthing 1669’ on the Diss town sign. This represents a trader’s token, local unofficial coinage produced during a period when legal small change was unavailable. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant

The image adorning the opposite side is explained on another plaque that states, 'Matilda, daughter of Robert Fitz-Walter (the Valiant) 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.'

MORE: 'I ordered the burning of the mill' - the truth behind a 'cinematic' Norfolk arsonA 'potched egg' was a boiled egg (rather than a poached egg) and this is shown on the sign. King John was regarded as a dreadful womaniser. He attempted to seduce the wives and daughters of many noblemen. He was also regarded as being extremely cruel and was associated with several gruesome deaths, including some caused by deliberate starvation.

Ironically, King John himself reputedly died after eating a 'surfeit of peaches' at Newark Castle in 1216, although the actual cause of his death is likely to have been dysentery.

The tale about King John and Matilda has an unexpected connection with John Skelton. To entertain his young pupil, the future Henry VIII, it has been suggested that Skelton fused several stories together.

The Diss town sign is near the town's famous mere. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett

The Diss town sign is near the town's famous mere. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant

The result was one in which Matilda escaped King John and joined her newly married husband in a woodland.

This may have been the inspiration for the legendary Maid Marian and Robin Hood.

The main panels are supported by emblems either side.

One depicts a coin. It shows the Diss coat of arms on one side and on the reverse the words 'A Diss farthing 1669'. This represents a trader's token, local unofficial coinage produced during a period when legal small change was unavailable.

Another panel on the Diss town sign shows the town's famous mere. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett

Another panel on the Diss town sign shows the town's famous mere. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant

Traders from most towns and villages had their own.

MORE: Norfolk on a stick: The saint who gave up riches for ragsAnother panel, showing a spinning wheel, represents the historical importance of textiles in the area.

The Diss and District Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers meets regularly to maintain these traditions today.

A final panel displays stalks of cereal to represent local agriculture.

This panel on the Diss town sign showing a spinning wheel represents the historical importance of te

This panel on the Diss town sign showing a spinning wheel represents the historical importance of textiles in the area. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant

The sign for Diss was made by Harry Carter, Norfolk's most prolific village sign maker, who died in 1983.

-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 signsofanorfolksummer@hotmail.com. 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.

The Diss town sign. This side shows Matilda, having escaped King John, after joining her newly marri

The Diss town sign. This side shows Matilda, having escaped King John, after joining her newly married husband in a woodland. Some believe the tale may have inspired the legend of Robin Hood. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant

The Diss town sign. This side shows John Skelton, rector of Diss and tutor to the young Prince Henry

The Diss town sign. This side shows John Skelton, rector of Diss and tutor to the young Prince Henry (Later Henry VIII) giving instruction to the Prince and his sisters Margaret and Mary. Picture: Dr Andrew Tullett - Credit: Archant

This is part of a series about the stories behind Norfolk's town and village signs called 'Norfolk o

This is part of a series about the stories behind Norfolk's town and village signs called 'Norfolk on a Stick'. Image: ANDREW TULLETT - Credit: Archant

Andrew Tullett. Image: SONYA DUNCAN

Andrew Tullett. Image: SONYA DUNCAN - Credit: Archant

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