Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Othery, Somerset

The full set

Apart from the fact that is has one of my favourite English place names, I remember Othery* in Somerset for this fine preserved Hovis sign. I’ve pointed out Hovis signs before, including the typical protruding one I photographed in Brackley, but it’s a long time since I’ve seen this fuller version, in which the words ‘Golden brown’ are added to the brand name. Hovis† flour was a creation of the 1890s, but the company expanded rapidly after 1928, and by the 1930s these signs were in place on the premises of many bakers who used the flour to make the popular golden brown bread. Hovis supplied tins, with the brand name on them, in which to bake loaves. They dished out these signs. And they even produced maps and guidebooks, aimed at cyclists and marking tea rooms where one could enjoy a slice or three of Hovis bread.

Hovis still exists: I had some of their bread only the other day. The brand is as famous now for its effective advertising§ and promotion as it is for its products. The promotion ranges from the famous 1970s commercials, featuring a boy pushing a delivery bicycle up the achingly picturesque Gold Hill in Shaftesbury to the accompaniment of a brass band playing the slow movement of Dvořák’s New World Symphony,¶ to these golden signs, advertising bread still sold today with graphics dating from an earlier era.

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* The Oxford Dictionary of British Place Names says it’s derived from Old English words for ‘other’ and ‘island’, the other or second island. This figures, because Othery is on a kind of extension to a larger island in the wetlands that make up the Somerset Levels.

† Since I seem to have taken an etymological turn, the name is a contraction of the Latin ‘hominis vis’, the strength of man.

§ There’s more about the company and its advertising on the website of the Historic Advertising Trust.

¶ They play this slow movement very quickly, by the way, but it’s still what it is. By linking it to Hovis bread and picturesque English townscape, the commercial has succeeded in linking a piece of music originally associated with Bohemia (aka the Czech Republic, home of the composer) and the USA (where he wrote the symphony), with England. An interesting cultural consequence.


Stephen Barker said...

The other cultural oddity about the famous advert featuring the boy on the hill is that the voice over uses a Northern accent even though the hill is situated in the south. The implication is that the location is in the North.

Katharine A said...

Just found your blog. lots of interesting places to check out. Like how you make connections between places and little pieces of history.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Stephen: Was it a northern accent? That's not how I remember it. Were there different versions?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Katharine A: Thank you so much. I hope you enjoy future posts.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

Just had some hovis with my lunch. Had to toast it - a bit stale.

Peter Ashley said...

Ah, now then, right up my wall this. I think Stephen's right about the northern aspect to the commercial. And did you know it was directed by Ridley Scott, now more famous as being responsible for Russell Crowe's Hovis?

The mirror thingy next to the sign is a Palantir (or crystal ball). Holding it in your hands you stare into it and see Unmitigated England!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Yes. Ridley Scott it was. I should have given him a credit, if he needs it.

We have one of those convex mirror things at the awkward T-junction in the middle of our town. I'm sure I've seen into the past in ours...