Above: Photo of the Scole Inn sign in Norfolk, formerly known as the White Hart.  

This town sign at East Dereham in Norfolk stretches across the high street between two buildings at first floor level.  It depicts a bailiff on horseback furiously chasing two roe deer with his dog.  The shepherdess on the left is Saint Withburga, daughter of Anna, King of the East Angles who died in AD 654.  It was Withburga who established a church here and during the building of it she got her milk from the local deer.  The bailiff was thrown from his horse and killed before he could catch the deer, so the deer survived and Withburga was able to continue to get her milk.  The sign was designed and made by Harry Carter and was a gift of the local Rotary Club to commemorate the thirteen hundredth anniversary of the founding of the parish.  The dates 654 and 1954 can be seen either side of the town’s name.

Deer on a gatepost in Ditchingham in Norfolk.

For more information on inn signs, see the Inn Sign Society website at: http://www.innsignsoci ety.com





Inn signs


According to Eric Delderfield in his book ‘An Introduction to Inn Signs’ (David and Charles 1969), ‘no other country in the world has a counterpart to the British Inn with its centuries-old traditions.’  In 1969 when he wrote, there were 70,000 inns in the British Isles and they all had signs - with a wide range of subjects from animals and people to trades and transport.  Although The White Hart is a common sign for a pub in East Anglia (five being listed in Yellow Pages for the Norwich area alone), along with The Bell, The Chequers, The Cock, The Feathers, The Fox, The Nelson, The Red Lion and The Royal Oak, there are twice as many as any one of these of The Queen’s Head and The Swan or The White Swan, and three times as many of The Crown Inn, The King’s Head and The White Horse.


Inn signs have a long history going back to the days when tracks first became roads, and inns displayed a sign to attract travellers and let them know that they could get refreshments inside.  This was usually a simple stone plaque attached to an outside wall with carvings of vine leaves symbolising wine, an idea possibly introduced by the Romans.


As the number of signs increased, it became necessary to distinguish one from another, so innkeepers started designing plaques with their own distinctive ideas.


At the end of the fourteenth century King Richard II made it illegal to sell a brew of ale unless it had first been inspected and given official approval.  At the same time, he made it compulsory for all innkeepers to display a sign, so that their trading was public rather than secretive.


When competition between publicans became more fierce, the stone plaques were superseded by hardwood swing signs that could be more conspicuous by being hung across the road.  These so-called ‘gallows’ or ‘beam’ types became increasingly large and elaborate by innkeepers who could afford them.  One such extravaganza was at Scole in Norfolk.  The sign of the White Hart inn, erected at the end of the seventeenth century, had twenty-five life-size figures and cost £1,000.  It has since been replaced by a different sign (see photo above) and is now known simply as the Scole Inn, but it retains the old name in the image of the white hart.

The ‘White Hart’ is a common name for an inn or a pub.  It was sometimes used in heraldry, and was the personal badge of Richard II, hart being a male deer.  (His mother’s badge was the white hind, a hind being a female deer.)  The hart was frequently associated with hunting and with the idea of regeneration, because its antlers are renewed annually.  It has also represented the Tree of Life because of the shape of the antlers.


The name Lyhart is preserved as a sculptured hart lying down in water in many parts of Norwich Cathedral as a pun (or rebus) representing Walter Lyhart who was Bishop of Norwich in the fifteenth century.

Statues of a stag and hind standing in a private garden at Thurne Staithe in Norfolk.  Photo by Pauline Willmott.

Right: Carving of a stag on a tomb in Brome Church in Suffolk.  It lies at the foot of the effigy of Sir Thomas Cornwallis (1519-1604). He was the Comptroller of the Royal Household and Treasurer of Calais.  On the accession of Queen Elizabeth he was removed from his posts and retired to Brome Hall which he had rebuilt.  He married Anne Jerningham of Somerleyton and they had five children.

Below:  A house name plaque with a deer depicted in the village of Gissing in Norfolk.