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.
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
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.