Monday, October 22, 2012

Chichester, Sussex

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.

* * *

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".


Peter Ashley said...

I've noticed dolphins everywhere, notably sliding down lamp posts on the Victoria Embankment. However, they never seem to look like the real thing. It's as if there's a master heraldic dolphin somewhere that's then been copied ad infinitum.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes, you're right, they are never very realistic. Shouldn't be surprised if they are based on heraldic dolphins, which go back to the time when the artists hadn't seen them, or not closely.

James Russell said...

From Roman times until the 13th century the British climate was warmer than it is now. The Romans for example had vineyards in the Cotswolds. Maybe there were more dolphins in British waters too - just a thought!

Philip Wilkinson said...

James: There could well have been. Although hard evidence about temperatures in historical periods is hard to come by (until the 17th century anyway), things certainly point to a warmer Britain in earlier times, especially 11th/12th/13th centuries. But once that heraldic dolphin had got lodged in people's minds, it was hard to shake off, whether they'd seen a real one or not.

Unknown said...

Chichester is NOT, never has been in Hampshire, heaven forbid
Ken Green

Philip Wilkinson said...

Ken Green: My sincere apologies. What was I thinking of? Brain in neutral. I have corrected the post.

Chris Partridge said...

When we first moved down here the Dolphin and Anchor was still a hotel with the coaching yard, though admittedly it was pretty old-fashioned and dreary. Now it is a lot of shops and a place for filling teenagers with booze masquerading as a pub. Sad really, though it's some compensation that one of the shops is a large and very good bookshop.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris: I noticed the bookshop. And the boozing place - sometimes looking up at old and interesting details is for me a kind of escapism, enabling me to forget for a moment the sorry reality of what exists at street level.

Hels said...

I loved the development of coaching inns, entrepreneurial chaps who saw a new business opportunity to create and fill. I had a good look at the front of the Dolphin and Anchor, but all I could see was what looked as though it had been a very large front entrance (for the carriages perhaps?).

Clearly this clever landlord offered all the facilities of a good coaching inn – good drink, food, stables etc. What were his connections with the daily coach service to London - did the coaches stop right at the Dolphin and Anchor?


Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: Yes, the coaches stopped there and passengers could stay in the inn or get onward transport. These coaching inns must have been bustling with activity in their heyday.

Thanks for the link.