Last night the wind raced over the rooftops, growled along the gutters and tore through the trees. Snug in my bed I dreamt of weathervanes. Moved by an invisible force, they changed direction, pointing first this way, now that. Heralds of high winds, portents of down pours, forerunners of fair weather, they turned as the wind charged past the chimneys, which stood boldly in defiance, like two Shi-Tenno, Guardian Kings of the Four Corners, one to the north and one to the west.
The wind continued its chase through the copse and out over the open fields, and the weathervanes pointed north, predicting oncoming snow.
That afternoon we had returned from a trip to our home county of Staffordshire, where a plain octagonal building with two stone porches stands in the grounds of Shugborough Hall.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower_of_the_Winds_%284824631378%29.jpg
A tower of the winds, it derives from Ancient Greece and the eight-sided Horologium built by the astronomer Andronicus, which still stands at the northwest foot of the Acropolis in Athens. Above the roof of this ancient original, a weathervane once turned, shaped like a Triton, half man, half fish, whose spear pointed to one of eight representations of the wind sculpted in relief around the top of the tower.
Back in Oxford a Tower of the Winds forms part of Green Templeton College. This more elaborate affair is adorned with the signs of the zodiac and topped with the figures of Atlas and Hercules bearing the globe.
And Oxford is where you will find my favourite weathervane. Not a pennant (the word vane comes from the Old English “fane” meaning “flag”) nor a cockerel, not a Scandinavian quadrant, nor a ship, but an elegant elephant and rider that turns in the wind with poise and grace above the former Oriental Institute on Broad Street: a reminder that so many of the objects with which we are familiar have multi-faceted stories and origins.
Photo by Charlie Rapple via Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/charlierapple/2279511487/
Do you have a favourite weathervane?