Agecroft Hall: Discover 17th Century England in Richmond
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Agecroft Hall's Apotropaic Mark

 

 

In April 2016, Agecroft Hall, in conjunction with the Yale Center for British Art, invited dendrochronologist Dr. Ian Tyers to conduct research on the wood panel paintings in the collection. Dr. Tyers dates panel paintings by counting the tree growth rings that become visible when magnified. Through further analysis and comparison to other paintings, he can accurately date the paintings. Consulting with Dr. Tyers gave us more precise information on our paintings, which is what we were hoping for when he arrived. We also got an extra bonus we were not expecting during his visit: Dr. Tyers briefly looked at the wood paneling in the Great Parlor, and, while doing so, found an apotropaic mark located to the left of the fireplace.


The find of the daisy wheel mark has led to many questions, namely, what is an apotropaic mark and what’s its significance? Also known as a witch mark, hex foil, or charm, apotropaic marks were believed to have the power to keep away evil spirits, witches, and bad luck. From the mid-16th through the mid-18th century, ritual protection marks could be found throughout England as this was a time when people still firmly believed in witchcraft and felt the need to protect themselves from harm. These markings are found in areas that were considered hard to physically bar against evil, namely windows and chimneys. The marks were often faint and hard to see, as is ours at Agecroft. Protection marks found by fireplaces served a double purpose, protecting from the threat of both witches and fire. Our symbol, the daisy wheel, is the most common mark. Other markings include a double ‘V’, a ‘P’ intertwined with a cross, a ‘W’ intertwined with a ‘P’, a St. Andrews’ Cross, and demon traps, a maze like marking thought to trap the evil spirit as it follows the maze. Each marking repels evil by invoking a different protective measure.

Agecroft Hall’s apotropaic mark relates to our mummified cat in the Armor Gallery—both were talismans against evil in a world that was just starting to describe natural phenomenon in scientific terms. Dr. Tyers’ excellent find leads to one final question: when Agecroft Hall was rebuilt in Windsor Farms, was the daisy wheel purposely placed beside the fireplace or was this just a happy accident?

 



Sources:
Binding, C.J. and L.J. Wilson, “Ritual Protection Marks in Wookey Hole and Long Hole, Somerset.” 2010.
Reeve, Anthony. “Here Be Witchcraft.” Lassco. www.lassco.co.uk/lassco-news/2013/10/29/here-be-witchcraft/   29 October 2013. Accessed on 20 May 2016.


This article was previously published in the December, 2016 issue of Windsor Living.

 

Please contact Libby Howlett, Curator of Collections, with any questions.