Friday, February 10, 2017
A sign of old times
It is, as they used to say, February fill-dyke. Here in Gloucestershire dark days predominate, deadlines loom, and there seems little chance of going very far in search of interesting architecture – or at any rate mot much chance of seeing anything very clearly or photographing it if one does venture out. So I am looking back over pictures of some of my recent haunts, to find something of interest to share on the blog. To start with, a bird that’s at home in the wet…
This beautiful sign adorns the Swan in Clare, Suffolk. It’s carved on a piece of oak about 10 feet long, and is full of interesting detail. The bird itself is a beautiful combination of curves (the breast, wings, and neck) and feathery traces still visible beneath a few coats of paint. On the left are the arms of Mortimer and de Burgh quartered; on the right is a shield with the royal arms of France and England. The sign also includes the crescent and star, both royal badges, and the swan itself has a collar in the form of a crown. This is a royal swan, then, and the theory is that the carving came originally from Clare Castle, which was held by Elizabeth de Clare (who was married to a de Burgh) and then by the Mortimer family. In the castle the sign must have formed the base of an oriel window, probably at the time when Henry Prince of Wales was guardian of the young nobleman Edmund Mortimer (1391–1425), so dates to some time in the early-15th century.*
Many are the Swan Inns of England† and they often have fine signs, but there are few to beat this one.
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* Edmund was in custody during the latter part of the reign of Henry IV because of his rival claim to the throne and his family's part in efforts to depose Henry. When Henry died and his son Henry V became king in 1413, Mortimer was freed, made a Knight of the Bath, and became a loyal counsellor of the young king. Edmund founded a college of canons at Stoke-by-Clare in 1414.
† I have previously admired the Swan at Wells and the Three Swans at Market Harborough.