Looking skywards in London can be surprisingly rewarding. There’s so much detail up there, passing most of us by, most of the time. Weathervanes, for example. Dozens of them, perched on top of our churches and other buildings. They range from the run-of-the-mill weathercock to a wide variety of other creatures and inanimate objects, usually with an interesting and emblematic significance linking them to their particular home.
Weathervanes are an ancient invention, dating back to at least the first century BC when a vane was erected on the Temple of the Winds in Athens. The common use of the cockerel or rooster is believed to be linked to an edict of Pope Nicholas in the 9th Century that all church steeples be surmounted by the symbol of Christ’s betrayal by St. Peter (that Peter would deny Christ three times before the cock crowed on the morning following the Last Supper). The Bayeux Tapestry (1) shows a workman attaching a weathercock (the less charitable might see it as a squirrel) to the roof of Westminster Abbey:
Here are ten London weathervanes I’ve spotted recently. We’ll begin with the traditional poultry, and then move on to some of the more idiosyncratic varieties.
All-Hallows-by-the-Tower. A very traditional-looking vane, on the City of London’s oldest church (originally built c.675, although gutted during the Blitz and extensively rebuilt after the Second World War). This vane is a good illustration of the two main rules of weathervane-making: (1) the centre of gravity must sit directly over the central spindle; (2) the surface area of one side should be significantly greater than the other. With such a big tail, the cockerel will face into the wind and give the direction from which it is blowing (it appears the wind was South-Westerly on the day I took this photo…)
St. Dunstan-in-the-East. Another weathercock sits atop Wren’s beautiful spire with its four flying buttresses. The main body of the church was ruined in the Blitz and never rebuilt. It is now a rather lovely enclosed garden.
Our third weathercock is at St. Katherine Cree on Leadenhall Street. Another beautiful building, dating mostly from the early 17th Century and one of the very few City churches to survive both the Great Fire and the Blitz almost unscathed.
Perhaps the next most popular category of weathervanes is the ship. Unsurprisingly given its great maritime history, London has its fair share of these: