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Snap, the Norwich Dragon


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In the Castle Museum at Norwich there is a dragon made of painted canvas over a wooden frame, designed to rest on the shoulders of a man walking inside it; its neck can retract, shoot out, and turn, while its iron-clad jaws are opened or snapped shut by a cord. It was made in about 1795, and is the last of a series of effigies recorded since 1408. At first, they featured in a religious procession on St George's Day, in which both St George and St Margaret were impersonated; after the Reformation, the pageant became a Mayor's Show without saints or religious symbols, but kept the dragon and generally included sword-bearing ‘whifflers’ to clear the way, and ‘Dick Fools’ in motley; it was held annually around Midsummer until 1835.

Two suburbs of Norwich also held dragon parades during the 19th and early 20th centuries, with Snaps of their own; these were burlesque parodies of the main event, with heavy drinking and rough horseplay. Two of their dragons are in the museum too, as is the head of a third.

The 18th-century Snap is still occasionally brought out to celebrate major royal and national events. In the 1980s, a new Snap was made for the local morris side, and assumed the civic role of appearing in the Mayor's parade; costumed whifflers were reintroduced in 1996.

Richard Lane, Snap the Norwich Dragon (1976);Simpson, 1980: 95–8, 101–2;Nigel Pennick, Crossing the Borderline (1998), 119–24.


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