Brass Door Knockers – Not so Scary Now!
Brass door knockers used to really frighten me as a youngster. Whenever my parents took me up to someone else’s slightly “posher” country house, I always remember the way it made me jump whenever the heavy metal of knocker fell against these grand old doors. Looking back I’m not sure if it was just the noise, or whether it was the often grotesque gargoyle look of some of them that really left me quivering.
It’s all very different now, there can’t be many more eye catching features of an outside door, than the good old-fashioned brass door knocker! It doesn’t seem to matter what the door is finished off with. A decent chunk of quality polished brass can set the door off nicely. My personal favourite though, is the gleam of brass against the dark stained or polished surface of the wood itself.
According to the online literature, the knocker isn’t something new, some would say that they’ve probably been around nearly as long as doors themselves. It was well into the Middle Ages before door knockers became a more eye catching door accessory. During these superstitious times medieval door knockers took on gruesome faces, such as gargoyles, dogs and lions, to try and ward off evil spirits that might bring Plague or other unpleasantness to the occupants. And… they seem to have been in use pretty continuously, apart from a short spell during the seventeenth and then again, in the nineteenth century. The form was probably at its various peaks during the Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance periods of history.
The door knockers in use during the Medieval period were perhaps the most carefully designed, while those of the Renaissance period showed the most fanciful treatment. The growing use of brass as opposed to the previously common iron, allowed a whole new wave of experimentation with shape and finish. Early styles of door knockers came at a time when designers were somewhere off in a very different future. If you could have looked in you would have seen artists; hired to draw patterns, which were worked out by blacksmiths under the supervision of master smiths, a method which resulted in a greater range of treatment and almost infinite variety in the finished items.
Sanctuary… gimme shelter!
The really serious door knocker enthusiast divides them up into 3 broad divisions, that we might call by; ring, hammer, and “critter” (including the human figures!) It’s funny to imagine that those noisy child scarers of my toddler days actually count some real characters among their number. Having attended college in Durham, my first character imbued door knocker was the very distinctive bullet pierced Durham Cathedral “Sanctuary Knocker”. The story goes that the bullet hole is from one zealous kings man trying to shoot a sanctuary seeker before he was able to rattle the knocker and claim sanctuary. It was a close run thing, with the musket ball skinning his arm as he grabbed the heavy iron ring and piercing the lion’s forehead! The fleeing criminal did get his sanctuary and confessed… to be deported into exile.
The iconic Number 10 Downing Street Brass Door Knocker
The brass door knocker that will be an almost unacknowledged, yet familiar sight on British front doors is the lion from number 10 Downing Street. This imperial lion shows up all over the world and is an icon among door furniture. Most of the examples that we see nowadays are half size examples. Brightly polished, a brass knocker like the lordly lion, undeniably adds to the “look” of any door.
Big Brass, Nickel and iron door knockers remained popular until mid nineteenth century, when a wave of modern design, cleared the land of the old. From colonial ideas and lavish furnishings emerged a new creed of plain looking doors, which lost their knockers and latches and morphed into undistinguished, less ostentatious designs. Lots ended up on the scrapheap, many thousands more in trunks and attics. Over the years collectors have liberated the lost door knockers which are now becoming fashionable again.
Funnily enough, we’ve got some very nice examples at our warehouse that you might just fancy! Just pop along to Brass Door Knocker page
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