Just who is the silent woman? The headless figure has taken up residence on pub signs for centuries, but her origin is uncertain.
It could be a straightforward joke possibly based around garrulous smugglers’ wives or incautious landladies. Look back far enough and some think she could be the ‘Good Woman’ Anne Boleyn, executed by Henry VIII.
On the other hand, some folklorists think the figure dates back to St Osyth, beheaded by heathens in Anglo-Saxon times. A spring burst from where her head fell.
Whatever the truth of the matter, a good example of her can be seen on this mid-20th century pub sign. Hand painted on metal and inscribed Since the Woman is quiet let no man breed a riot, it is offered by folk art dealer John Cornall Antiques for £650.
In the cataloguing the dealer refers back to the most ancient versions of the woman (a martyr) and says: “As an emblem this image or sign stands for the good wife ‘silenced’ but still with voice, commemorated as an opponent to the establishment, an example of virtue and standing by one’s truth. What appears at first as ribald misogyny turns out to be the reverse.”
There is more to be learned on the sign both on the dealer’s website and on the extensively researched Instagram caption on the same item.