A cowl is an oast house’s crowning glory. But did you know that fitted to the kiln roof, cowls allowed the hot air to be drawn up through the hops and out through the roof? As they rotated in the wind, hot air was given the clearest escape path and the hops were kept safe from the infamous English rain. PS: If you want to read more about what is an oast house we tell you all, about it here.
A quick look up at the cowls might give you a clue as to where in the country you are though.
While Kentish cowls tend to have a flat cap, cowls in neighbouring Sussex have additional blinkers attached. Oast cowls within Herefordshire and Worcestershire follow a very different style with a pointed top and no cap. But, don’t ditch the map and compass. These rules are not set in stone and all styles have been known to travel beyond their home counties. To help the cowl do its important job and turn in the wind, a distinctive finger, fitted to the centre post and attached to the backboard, juts out from the cowl. It is on these that many owners place a delightful oast cowl decoration - a motif.
These charming motifs are often more than just an aesthetic addition, they tell a tale of the history and heritage of their county. The original farmers who used the oast houses began adding these as a kind of brand identity for their farm. Hop picking season was short and most farmers would have had various sources of income, and a clue to their other activities can often be found in the oast cowl decorations.
Common motif designs range from horses, cockerels, hunters and pheasants, ducks, swans, deer and fish to relatively modern agricultural symbols like tractors. Many other historical moments are also celebrated through the motifs; one oast house features a motif of Winston Churchill on one cowl then a spitfire on the other.
The motifs also reveal the county’s history. The most popular motif is that of the horse, and the popular Invicta horse is an important symbol in Kentish heritage. The emblem exults the fact that during the invasion of Britain, William of Normandy was unable to subdue the county and so Kent negotiated favourable terms for itself. But this celebration of British heritage and culture has travelled into the modern-day. While some oasts still defer to their original owners for their motifs, as part of the oast house restoration, many owners decide to stamp their own family traditions on their oast cowls.
It has been a while since the majority of oast houses have been used to dry hops, but they have certainly not outgrown their use as a business premise. Many oast cowls are now fitted with motifs that represent their new business owners, with company logos adorning the cowls, showing that these beautiful buildings still have a place in Kentish life.
Fancy giving your oast cowl that extra pizzazz? Our experts can craft and fit new support arms, arms, motifs and fingers for GRP cowls – perfecting the look and structure of your cowl, simply get in touch with our expert oast house Team for a consultation.