Swan Inn Sign, British

Artist unkown

early 18th century


Height: 101.3 cm

Inns used to adopt the coat of arms of a noble family as a sign to denote their patrons. Many heraldic symbols contain depictions of animals, and so many of the inns that adopted these emblems came to be recognised through the names of these animals. The swan is associated with numerous noble families and monarchs, including Edward III and Edward IV, whilst the gorged swan was used a device by Henry IV (reigned 1399-1413). In more general terms, however, the swan is the emblem of innocence.

Swans have been adopted as inn-signs for centuries. That at The Swan pub in the town of Clare, Suffolk, is one of the oldest inn-signs in England. The example here at Compton Verney is an especially elaborate inn-sign because the swan is carved and not just painted. The detail in the feathers and the water is especially striking. As with most inn-signs, which are regularly exposed to the force of nature, this one has been regularly repainted and there are remains of white paint on its surface.