Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Market Harborough, Leicestershire
I know I’ve gone on about swans on this blog before. About their seductive combination of strength and softness, their place in English tradition (swan-upping), their role in poetry and mythology, their presence near buildings such as the Archbishop’s Palace at Wells, even the memorable appearance of these usually quiet creatures in English music. Swans get me going, and there it is.
I was reminded of all this a while back when passing one of my favourite inn signs, which protrudes from the front of the Three Swans in the middle of Market Harborough. History books say that the first mention of the inn – then simply The Swan – dates from 1517. By the 18th century it was well established as a coaching inn, with stables at the back servicing regular coaches to London.
The central portion of the sign is probably the oldest – some sources guess 17th, others 18th century, when the inn was still The Swan. The collection of curlicues shows off not just the central sign but also the work of some local blacksmith. He was fortunate indeed to get the chance to display his work in such a prominent place, and took full advantage of the chance for a free advertisement. For who would not want a garden gate, or some andirons, or a trivet made by this craftsman?
At some later date, perhaps in the later-18th century, perhaps in the early 19th when the building was remodelled, the hostelry added a further two swans to its name and its sign. The smith’s successor came along and attached them in place, and, with their sinuous necks and the equally curvaceous ironwork that they bookend, they make distinctive silhouettes against the sky. No doubt I’m not the only one to crane my neck in homage.