This eagle on the left here perches at the feet of the alabaster effigy of Sir William
Phelip (Lord Botolph) who fought with Henry V at the battle of Agincourt and who
died in 1441. Sir William in his armour and his wife, Lady Joan, rest on the top
of a carved tomb-chest in St. Mary’s Church at Dennington in Suffolk.
The eagle has long been considered the king of all birds, and has stood as a symbol
for the sun, for royalty, for strength and for various gods. During the Middle Ages
in Europe it was associated with Jesus’s ascension to heaven because it was thought
to gaze directly at the sun as it flies upwards.
The above pictures are both of birds of prey to be seen in Harleston in Norfolk.
On the left is an eagle on top of a house and on the right is a falcon motif as
a trade-mark for a brewery on a pub wall.
Raveningham’s village sign in Norfolk depicts a raven, which is a rebus, the raven
standing for the beginning of the name of the village. The word raven is a corruption
of the name Hraefn. Raveningham means ‘the home of Hraefn’s people’. The castle
in the background of the picture symbolizes the Castell family, who married into
a local branch of the Bacon family, some of whom have memorials in the church here.
The moat represents the old moated manor house, which stands in the village and
is now a farm. The sign was made by John Pye, a gamekeeper, who lives on the estate.
Raveningham’s sign is made of local wood that was donated by the Lord of the Manor,
Sir Edmund Bacon, who is also the premier Baronet of England.
The village sign (above left) at Fritton in Norfolk depicts a duck on Fritton lake,
which is three miles long and sheltered by woods.
The lake was once known as Gunhilde’s Mere (after an aunt of King Canute), It is
famous for its duck decoy, which is why the duck is so prominent in the design. Also
depicted is the old thatched church and the River Waveney. The seagull motif on
the picture (above right) is on a house number plate at Woodbridge in Suffolk.
Peacock motif on tiles inside the Royal Arcade off Gentlemans Walk in Norwich. It
is part of a much-admired Art Nouveau scheme that was designed by W.J. Neatby in
1899. He was born in East Dereham in Norfolk and was the chief designer for Doulton
& Co. Who made the tiles.
Above: Three examples of wooden bench-end carvings of birds in churches in Suffolk,
all dating from the Middle Ages. Top row: Two birds in Barningham Church.
Top right: An owl.
Above are two examples of birds depicted in ironwork. On the left is the village
sign at Cransford in Suffolk depicting a crane. The shape of the crane is a copy
of the cranes on the bench-ends in St. Peter’s Church. It was designed by the villagers
and made by Mary Moore of Brandeston Forge and Terry Pearce of Bredfield Forge. The
picture on the right, in modern wrought iron, is a pub sign suspended from a wooden
frame that stretches across the A140 Norwich to Ipswich trunk road. This is one
of the few remaining ‘beam’ or ‘gallows’ type of signs that were once quite common.
Left: A pub sign with a cockerel in ironwork at Fair Green in Diss, Norfolk.
Weather vanes, usually produced at local forges by skilled blacksmiths, are frequently
seen on buildings in East Anglia. Different subjects appear on them, the choice
of which is often determined by the use of the building on which they are erected.
As East Anglia is mainly a rural and agricultural region it is not surprising to
find a lot of weather vanes depicting rural pursuits such as angling, horse-riding,
ploughing and shooting, farm machinery such as combine harvesters and tractors, and
farm animals such as cattle, goats, pigs and poultry.
Right: at Gissing in Norfolk.
Far right: at Brandeston in Suffolk, which was made at Brandeston forge and painted
by the farmer’s wife.
W.J. Neatby also designed the tiles for Harrod’s Foodhall in London and the famous,
Grade II listed facade of the Everard Building in Bristol (dating from 1900).
For further details on the Royal Arcade in Norwich go to:
Cockerels make a good subject as a motif for a weather vane because their large tails
catch the wind nicely. To work well a weather vane motif must have a substantially
larger surface on one side of the shaft (the technical term for the pole that supports
the motif) than on the other side in order to catch the wind. This larger surface
always forms the tail of the weather vane. To give a good balance the smaller end
of the motif is often given added weight. For example, a cockerel might have a breast
made of lead. The motif is placed on top of the shaft to which are attached four
arms with the cardinal points of the compass positioned at their ends. Correctly
shaped and weighted the weather vane can accurately show which way the wind is blowing.
In the past, the fixed parts of a weather vane have been made of iron, and the motifs
of either iron, copper or brass. Nowadays, however, other materials are also used,
including aluminium, bronze, perspex, plastic, tin and wood.
In the 1920s an organisation was set up to support isolated craftsmen living in the
countryside. Known as the Rural Industries Bureau (and later to become the Council
for Small Industries in Rural Areas - CoSIRA) it ran training workshops and produced
a catalogue of weather vane designs which included not only the motifs but also many
different styles of lettering and scroll patterns. Many forges and foundries today
offer a wide range of designs, some of which have several hundred to choose from
on a wide variety of subjects.
Among the most common subjects to be found in East Anglia are birds. According to
Patricia Mockridge in her book ‘Weathervanes of Norfolk and Suffolk’ the most usual
in Norfolk beside cockerels are ducks, geese, grebes, gulls, herons and kingfishers.
This reflects the watery nature of Norfolk’s landscape with its many rivers, coastline
and Broads. Below are just three examples of water birds that I spotted in one small
area in the Waveney Valley.
Right: An avocet on a garden shed at Dickleburgh in Norfolk.
A goose and a duck at Homersfield.
Left: A pair of ducks at Dickleburgh.
For further details on weather vanes and lots more pictures of examples in East
Anglia see Patricia Mockridge’s book ‘Weathervanes of Norfolk and Suffolk’ published
by Larks Press, 2001.
Above: Floor tiles in the chancel of Gissing Church in Norfolk depicting St. John
as a bird.
Above left: : A bird with a lamb in Wilby Church in Suffolk
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The cartoon-like painting of two fighting cocks (right) is on the front wall of
a pub in Winfarthing in Norfolk.
The Fighting Cocks Inn at Winfarthing is one of two that I’ve found. The other one
is in Lowestoft. There is also The Cock Inn at Drayton, Attleborough and Diss in
The Sexton’s wheel is there because there’s one in the local church. It is one of
only two that have survived from the Middle Ages. The other is at Long Stratton
in Norfolk. The wheel was used to help people choose one of six given days on which
to fast. They did so by catching one of six strings that were attached to the spokes
when the wheel was set spinning by the Sexton.
These are two examples of church weather vanes showing different styles of cockerel.
Left: Weather vane depicting an owl seen on a building at Thurne Staithe in Norfolk
in 2009. Photo by Pauline Willmott.
Right: A weather-vane that depicts a heron on a house at Swainsthorpe in Norfolk.
It was chosen as a household member’s fiftieth birthday present. Photo by Jane
Left is another falcon, in this case the rare gyrfalcon. It is depicted on the village
sign at Kettlestone in Norfolk. In the Middle Ages only the monarch could own a
gyrfalcon and it was a Lord of the Manor here in the thirteenth century, a Sir Thomas
de Hauville, who was Keeper of the King’s Falcons.
The sign was paid for with money raised by sixty-year-old Marjorie Santer who did
a sponsored moped ride from Kettlestone to Caernarvon and clocked up 800 miles. The
design was also hers.
Right: This wooden village sign at Yaxley in Suffolk shows a cuckoo on top of a
Sexton’s wheel. A cuckoo pint flower in woodland is painted in the background. Both
cuckoo and wood are references to the name of the village, which in the Domesday
Book was named as Jachelsea, meaning ‘Cuckoo leah’, and leah meaning wood. A cuckoo
is also depicted on the other side of the sign, but in a different pose. The sign
was designed and painted by Peter Lockwood and Robert Bassett, both of Derbyshire,
and was refurbished by Chassis Cab Ltd. Of Bury St. Edmunds.
Above is a picture of a stained glass window in Old Buckenham Church in Norfolk.
It shows a charming group of ducklings among reed mace. The artist may have been
inspired by the pond that is situated in the centre of the village near to the church.
The picture on the left here shows a gravestone at Pulham Market in Norfolk. The
bird motif carved on it represents the dove that returned to Noah’s ark with an olive
branch, as depicted in the Bible.
This gigantic chicken catches the eye of motorists as they travel the road on the
outskirts of Harleston in Norfolk. It’s there to help advertise the sale of farm
eggs nearby. It was made in about 2005 or 2006 by a young farmer, and is constructed
entirely of pieces of metal welded together. It has survived the outdoor elements
Of the latter, the most common motif is the cockerel which is why weather vanes are
often referred to as weathercocks. They are frequently seen on top of church towers
where they represent St. Peter whose vacillating character is likened to the swaying
of a weathervane in the wind. According to the New Testament gospels, at the Last
Supper Peter insisted that he would never deny that he knew Jesus. Yet just before
the cock crowed the following morning he did just that, three times denying that
he was acquainted with him..
Right: A name plaque on a house wall in Gissing in Norfolk. It shows a male mallard
swimming with two ducklings.
Left: A swallow is carved in wood as a backcloth to a bench. It is located alongside
a path by the Little Ouse river in north Suffolk. It was carved by Ben Platts-Mills
Below: Fragments of stained glass windows showing cockerels at Thrandeston Church
Right: Flying duck depicted in iron on a house sign at Thrandeston Little Green in
Suffolk. There are often a pair of mallard swimming on the village pond nearby.
Right: Another house plaque at Malthouse Farm, this one depicting an owl.
Right: An owl with a dead animal depicted on a chimney pot on a house also in Gissing,
Below: Weather vane over a house in Tibenham, Norfolk, depicting a pheasant in flight.