Tuesday, December 6, 2016
I was so pleased to find this sign, because, like so many three-dimensional inn signs, it enhances a city street while paying tribute to a business that goes back centuries. Bristol’s Elephant Inn in St Nicholas Street was originally built in the 17th century, but was demolished in 1863 when the street was widened. It was rebuilt, to a design by Henry Masters, in 1867, which is presumably the date of the carved elephant sign. Set among scrolls, acanthus leaves, and classical window surrounds, the sign stands out, and helps the facade stand out.
It must have seen a lot over the nearly 150 years it has been here and it’s an unusual and memorable addition to my collection of three-dimensional inn signs, themselves a scarce but I hope not endangered species – a bear here, a swan there, a unicorn rare, white harts almost everywhere. Why do I like these signs so much? Well, it’s obvious on one level isn’t it? I like most things that enliven the streetscape with a bit of art or craft and most things that are distinctive – that show someone trying to be a bit different form the usual hanging pub sign, excellent as many of these are. But it’s more than this. Old pub signs seem to embody memories. They make me think of the decades of enjoyment that people have had here, of the bottles of wines and spirits, the succession of pints and pink gins that must have been consumed here. Places of hospitality. We need them more than ever in these tough times. ‘To th’Elephant,’ as Antonio says to Sebastian in Twelfth Night.* Cheers! Or what you will.
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* Twelfth Night, Act 3 scene 3