What do these marks mean?
During the course of our building survey inspections, we sometimes find marks on structural timbers. These marks could easily be dismissed as mindless historic graffiti, perhaps notched into the wood by the resident teenage delinquent from the 18th century. They are however ‘Carpenter’s Marks’, used primarily to assist with assembling the structural timbers on site. Much like an early form of instruction manual for flat pack furniture. The Master Carpenters, who would have made these inscriptions, mostly used Roman numerals which could be easily inscribed with a basic chisel.
There are however other marks and inscriptions which can be found in buildings that have a more foreboding meaning. These are sometimes referred to as ‘Witch Marks’ and comprise symbols such as daisywheels or pentagons designed to drive evil out of a property or house. They are also referred to as apotropaic marks (derived from Greek meaning to ‘turn away’ or ‘ward off’ evil spirits). Apotropaic symbols are mainly found in the draughtier locations of a house such as next to windows or doors. This is possibly because it was through these gaps the residents believed evil spirits could enter the house.
The inscription on the sketch below is from a stone door reveal of a Church in Warwickshire. It depicts the daisywheel symbol. Some researchers believe that the continuous lines of daisy wheel caused evil spirits to become entrapped in an eternity of circular motion thus preventing them from actually entering the building.