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This article was sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker, Oct 2019:

Cocks of Hungerford and a Brief History of Weathervanes

Weathercocks or weathervanes are simply devices which are used to show the wind direction. The vane part of the device was traditionally in the shape of a cockerel; cockerels are associated with a prominent position in farmyards or backyards where they wake us up crowing at the day break with a rendition of "cock-a-doodle-doo". Beneath the vane is found a direction pointer in the form of a cross with the letters N, S, E and W indicating the points of the compass. It is hardly surprising then that Hungerford weathercocks are found on the highest points of some of its buildings.

Weathervane Cottages, at the junction of Church Way and Moores Place, is one of the highest points in the town and has a weathervane attached to its roof line on the middle cottage. If you stand at the junction of Church Way and Atherton Road you will observe Hungerford Primary School’s prominent bell tower supporting another weathercock. Traditionally, two of Hungerford’s more important buildings, the Town Hall and the Croft Hall (formerly the Church House), also sport weathercocks. When I took the photographs of these in the summer of 2018, I eventually discerned under high magnification that they were of a pennant or flag design.

Perhaps more interestingly Hungerford has a number of more personally-designed weathercocks:

• A weathervane of Merlin the Wizard is found on Merlin House in Church Street. Merlin was a mythical Welsh character associated with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. He was the most trusted advisor, prophet, magician and friend to King Arthur.
• A Blacksmith at his anvil is found at Forge Cottage in Bridge Street, the former residence of once local blacksmiths Vic Caswell and Arthur Barret. Arthur was once a national blacksmith champion of England and it was he who fabricated the design.
• A Hot Air balloon vane on the bungalow at 9a Church Street, bought by the local hot-air balloon enthusiast David Liddiard, who intoruced nationally famous Balloon festivals including the Icicle Balloon Meet established near Hungerford in 1972.
• A small covey of partridges weathervane on a thatched cottage in Church Street. Thatched cottages are often associated with woven straw animals such as dogs, pheasants, cats, foxes and horses, to name a few.
• Hungerford Volunteer Fire Brigade’s fire station, built around 1890 at 3 Charnham Street, has a weathervane bearing the initials HVFB. Interesting, it was one of the last purely volunteer-based fire brigades in the country.
• Hungerford Cricket Club has a weathervane on the top of the scorer’s box showing that the batsman has just been “given out” by the empire who is standing over the stumps.

The weathervanes of the Town Hall, The Croft Hall and the Primary School are more traditional in design, consisting of a metallic pennant or flag.

History of Weathervanes

Early History

Weather vanes were thought to originate in Greece and China around the 2nd century BCE (before common era) which translates today to around 2219 years ago.

The earliest weather vane on record was a bronze sculpture, built by the astronomer Andronicus in Athens, and apparently between 4 and 6 feet in length!!

This instrument was mounted at the top of the Tower of the Winds and looked like the Greek God Triton, ruler of the sea. Triton was believed to have the body of a fish and the head and torso of a human. A pointed wand in Triton's hand showed the direction from which the wind was blowing. After this, wealthy Greeks and Romans adorned their homes with weathervanes in the shape of other ancient gods such as Boreas, Aeolus, Hermes and Mercury.

The earliest written reference to a weather vane appears in the Huainanzi, an ancient Chinese text that consists of a collection of essays based on a series of scholarly debates held at the court of Liu An, Prince of Huainan, sometime before 139 BC.

9th Century Weathervane and Wind Vanes

Archaeologists have discovered bronze Viking weather vanes from the 9th century. They are unusual in shape since they are shaped like a quarter circle (a quadrant) which rotated around a vertical axis. They were often positioned on the front of Viking ships or on the highest point on the roofs of Scandinavian churches usually surmounted by an animal or creature from a Norse fable. Even today, these weathervanes are popular in the Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Pope Nicholas I in the 9th century reportedly decreed that every church in Europe should show a cock on its dome or steeple, as a reminder of Jesus' prophecy that the cock would not crow the morning after the Last Supper, until the disciple Peter had denounced Him three times (Luke 22:34). Because of this story, "weather cocks" have topped church steeples for centuries, both in Europe and in America. The 11th century Bayeux Tapestry even includes a scene of a craftsman attaching a rooster vane to the spire of Westminster Abbey.

Medieval European Weathervanes

During the Middle Ages, public buildings in Europe were typically adorned with weather vanes that took the shape of an arrow or pennant. The word vane comes from "fane," a term that means "flag." During this period, archers used fabric flags to help gauge wind speed and direction from the weathervane. These flags helped to inspire weather vane designs for many years.

American Weathervanes

America's first documented weathervane maker, Deacon Shem Drowne, created the famous grasshopper vane on top of Boston's Faneuil Hall (1742), as well as the banner for Boston's Old North Church (1740), the rooster now on First Church in Cambridge (orig. 1721), and the large copper Indian for Boston's Province House (1716). Thomas Jefferson attached the weather vane on his home, Monticello, to a pointer in the ceiling of the room directly below, so he could read the direction of the wind from inside his home. And George Washington commemorated the end of the Revolutionary War by commissioning a "Dove of Peace" weather vane from Joseph Rakestraw in 1787, for his estate at Mount Vernon.

In the early 1800s, Americans favoured weather vanes in patriotic designs, including the Goddess of Liberty, and of course, the Federal Eagle. By the middle of the century, vanes of famous racing horses such as Black Hawk, Smuggler and George M. Patchen were being modelled after the popular Currier and Ives prints. In the 19th century, there were many weather vane manufacturers mass-producing vanes in dozens of designs. Some of the more famous makers were L.W. Cushing, J.W. Fiske, Harris & Co., A.L. Jewell & Co., and E.G. Washburne & Co.

To commemorate the Revolutionary War, George Washington commissioned a dove of peace weather vane to sit atop his home. By the 1800s, patriotic wind vane designs were quite common, and many were mass-produced. The late 19th century ushered in a Victorian style of design, and weather vanes became much more ornate and grand.

By the 20th century, these devices took on a largely decorative function, with many inspired by sports or nature.

World's Largest Weathervane

The world's largest functional weathervane can be found in Montague, Michigan. It measures 14.6 meters (48 feet) tall with an arrow measuring 7.9 meters (26 feet) long. It features a traditional arrow shape with a decorative ship on top.

A less traditional plus-sized wind vane can be found at Whitehorse in the Yukon. It's made from a retired CF-CPY airplane that's so perfectly balanced, it takes a wind speed of just 2.6 meters per second (5 knots) to rotate the plane. The nose of this plane indicates the direction of the wind, just like smaller, more traditional wind vanes.

In the last decades of the 19th century

During this period many Victorian buildings featured fancy weather vanes and elaborate metalwork embellishing almost every inch of roof space. Victorian style copper work, de rigueur on Queen Anne, Second Empire, Richardsonian and Tudor buildings, is in great demand for the Victorian Revival homes of today. After 1900, the movement to a simpler style of architecture was reflected in the silhouette weather vane, which often depicted sporting scenes or figures of a humorous nature.

Photo Gallery:

3 Charnham Stre...
3 Charnham Street Weather Cock 2016 3 Charnham Street Weather Cock 2016
Bridge Street F...
Bridge Street Forge Weather Cock Bridge Street Forge Weather Cock
Church Street W...
Church Street Weathervane 2010 Church Street Weathervane 2010
Church Street W...
Church Street Weathervane 2012 Church Street Weathervane 2012
Cricket Club We...
Cricket Club Weathervane 2018 Cricket Club Weathervane 2018
Croft Hall Weat...
Croft Hall Weather Vane 2016 Croft Hall Weather Vane 2016
Hungerford Prim...
Hungerford Primary School Weathervane 2018 Hungerford Primary School Weathervane 2018
Old-Fire-Statio...
Old-Fire-Station-Weather-Vane 2018 Old-Fire-Station-Weather-Vane 2018
Town hall Clock...
Town hall Clock Face and Weather Vane 2008 Town hall Clock Face and Weather Vane 2008
Weathervane Bri...
Weathervane Bridge Street 2008 Weathervane Bridge Street 2008
Weathervane Cot...
Weathervane Cottages 2011 Weathervane Cottages 2011

The weathervane on the Old Fire Station, 3 Charnham Street, 2016 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Weathervane on the the old blacksmith's forge, Bridge Street. (Sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Weathervane in Church Street, 2010 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Weathervane on Merlin House, Church Street, 2012 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Weathervane on Hungerford Cricket Club, 2018 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Weathervane on Croft Hall, 2016 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Weathervane on Hungerford Primary School, 2018 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Detail of weathervane on Old Fire Station, 3 Charnham Street, 2018 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Weathervane on Town Hall, 2008 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Weathervane in Old Blacksmith's Forge, Bridge Street, 2008 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)

Weathervane Cottages, Church Way, 2011 (sent by Dr Jimmy Whittaker)