Jack Valentine: The Norfolk Legend

Help us bring back Norwich’s very own Valentine’s day tradition…

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. You might call him socially distanced!

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. Today, Jack Valentine is thoughtful. Something that – in 2021 – means more than ever.

So, this year we’re celebrating Jack’s acts of affection, romance and trickery by encouraging people to leave gifts for one another within their own households, and share online messages of thanks, love and support to the people we care about, miss and haven’t been able to see for a while. We want to bring Jack back to put a smile on people’s faces. To let people know we’re thinking about them. To celebrate one of Norwich’s most special traditions.

If you’d like to help continue (or even start!) the tradition of Jack Valentine in your house this year, there are a number of ways you can get involved:

• Use #JackValentine and tag @visitnorwich in social media messages to loved and missed ones expressing to them how much you care or thanking people for their support with a picture. Your picture could be a drawing of what you think Jack Valentine looks like (fun for the kids) or it could be a favourite picture or something that represents your message. We’ll be sharing our favourite images and messages on our social media channels.

• Leave token gifts from Jack for your household on Valentine’s Eve. Create clues, make it a game – little ones will particularly love it. And (to borrow a known phrase) whether you ‘trick or treat’ is up to you…

Messages that are tagged #jackvalentine will also be displayed on our online display wall, helping to spread some love throughout the local community.

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