• Penrith and Eden Museum

Gryphon Weathervane

Updated: May 4



This is a pattern for making a weathervane which would have been cast from a sand casing formed around it. It is from the Stalkers iron foundry in Castlegate Penrith which made all sorts of agricultural implements and tools and equipment like ploughs. If you work the land for your living it is useful to be able to gauge the weather in advance. The direction of the wind is often an indication how it will turn out; but it is also useful to know this in general, so all sort of buildings had weathervanes fixed to them on their highest points.


The Greeks and Romans first used weathervanes. A weathercock is shown in the Bayeux tapestry of 1086. The cockerel which is sometimes used was a symbol of man’s unreliability after Peter denied Jesus (John 13:38). The fish is another Christian emblem. Saints also appear (St. Peter’s crossed keys). Many vanes are shaped like banners; these often bear dates and initials. Imaginary beasts are often portrayed – Sagittarius, the archer; the gryphon (as in the example in Penrith Museum), with a lion’s body and an eagle’s head; and several forms of dragon. Creatures from the natural world are also favourite subjects.


In the countryside fox designs are common and these were probably made by local blacksmiths. Vanes can also provide us with visual jokes – like the empty seats before a preacher. Reminders of agriculture are also found, for example the ploughman, the harvest wagon, the windmill and the farmer riding to the hunt. ‘Father Time’ (The Reaper) was sometimes shown, as at Lord’s Cricket Ground. The tradition of making and setting them up still continues.

Do you know of any in our area; what do they represent? Are they examples of any mentioned here, or are they quite different? Is there some reason, perhaps, for their being of a specific design or are they simply decorative? Do you know of any rhymes or traditional ways of telling what the weather will be like?

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