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Here in Norwich and Norfolk we have a rather unique and interesting tradition for Valentine’s that local people still carry on today! Read on for the story of Jack Valentine…
Image: The Norwich Lanes ‘resurrected’ Jack Valentine a few years ago to celebrate this local legend
Nobody knows where he comes from. Nobody has ever seen him. Nobody has any idea quite how old he is or why he’s never ventured out of Norfolk, UK. What we do know is, for the last 200 years or so, on the 13th of February (or Valentine’s Eve), Mr Jack Valentine pays Norfolk a visit under the cover of darkness. He works tirelessly all night, silently and unseen, here and there, leaving small gifts on the thresholds of houses. Answer his knock at the door quickly enough and you might spot him – although nobody’s managed that quite yet.
There are two things that are particularly strange about Jack Valentine. Firstly, he’s not that predictable with his gift giving. His more affectionate offerings have included vases, shawls, jewellery boxes… even a writing desk or two. On the other hand, he’s been known to leave not such nice gifts: coal, or just a small, meaningless scribble in an extravagant box. Sometimes he’ll simply knock on the door and run away. Other times he’s attached a string to a gift, pulling the present away as the grateful recipient reaches for it!
The second thing that’s strange about Jack Valentine is that he is unique to Norfolk, and Norwich in particular. The tradition of gift giving on Valentine’s Eve has been around for years, too, and was big business in Norwich in the 19th and early 20th century. Accounts at the time talk about thousands of pounds being spent on the occasion, and shops here even took on extra staff to help cope with the demand.
Not much is known about Mr Valentine himself, only that he is a cheeky, traditional character from Norfolk, celebrated across the county with many families still continuing the tradition today. However, what differentiates Jack from other Valentine’s traditions is that he is all about family. Jack’s gifts are multi-generational. He leaves gifts for everyone – young or old; not just for starry eyed lovers.
Sometimes receivers would be pranked, because their present would be attached to some string so whenever they got close enough to grab it the gift it would suddenly be pulled away – naughty, but fun!
It’s not just adults that were recipients of the Jack Valentine tradition – children would often receive a token gift, too. Often the givers would knock on the door and then run away without being seen (this is a far nicer version of the irritating games of ‘knock and run’ that we’ve probably all experienced, one way or another!)
This lovely tradition is still followed today in Norfolk; so for anyone looking for a lovely trinket to gift take a look at some of our wonderful shops like Country & Eastern, Jarrolds, Gyre & Gimble, St Giles Pantry, The Bear Shop and Norwich Market.
More information on Jack Valentine can be found at The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell.