Monday, October 22, 2012
Here be dolphins
Turning my back on Chichester Cathedral and glancing across the road, the roof-top signs of the Dolphin and Anchor immediately attracted my eye, their gilding catching the light on a dull evening.
This building was originally two inns. The Dolphin was probably established in the late Middle Ages but was rebuilt in the 18th century, when the landlord offered all the facilities of a good coaching inn – good drink, food, stables, and a daily coach service to London. The Anchor began in the 17th century and continued in neighbourly competition until at some point (1910 or around 1921 according to which source you read) the two establishments were combined and the joint name adopted.
Hence this fine sculpture of both Dolphin and Anchor above the name of the Dolphin Hotel with its rather crude lettering. When I first saw this I naturally assumed that this sign was adopted when the two inns merged. But it could be older. The sign for an inn called the Dolphin often also features an anchor, recalling the idea that the friendly dolphin would help sailors by twining its body around the anchor, to stop the anchor moving and keep the ship still and safe.
Reginald Turnor, in his book about inn signs†, notices this sign in Chichester, but does not offer a specific origin – he mentions the heraldic use of dolphins and their evocative presence on the watery edges of maps ("Here be dolphins")§. Turnor also remarks that the Dolphin and Anchor in Chichester was "what a country hotel should be – old enough but comfortable". He doesn't mention the gilding on the sign, but it's hard to imagine that it looked as good in his time as it does now. It was regilded a few years ago and still gleams.
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†The Spotted Dog (1948), spotted by Zoë in a secondhand bookshop this weekend, for which much thanks.
§Turnor is sceptical about a derivation from "Dauphin", rightly, I think, doubtful about many such folk etymologies. Not for him the old notion that The Goat and Compasses is a corruption of "God encompasseth us".