Origin of the Name of Saracen's Head


Some say the village was only called Saracen’s Head because there were formerly two public houses of that name.  The two are shown in Bryant’s map surveyed between 1825 and 1827 with Pipwell Manor opposite.  The Dugdale map of South Holland mentions neither while Armstrong in 1779 shows Saracen’s Head only.  A map of 1824 marks Holbeach Clough but no Saracen’s Head or Pipwell.  A great deal more research is needed.

A Saracen’s Head was quite a common item in heraldry and may have originally commemorated the fact that a member of the family had been on crusade.  The Willoughby family’s crest was an ‘old man’s head, couped on shoulders and ducally crowned’, very similar to the Warburton crest, which was a Saracen’s Head.  The local Irby family who had property in the village also had a crest of a Saracen’s Head in profile, wreathed   More importantly, the Littlebury family, (the pedigree is set out in Maddisons Lincolnshire families on page 598) who lived at Penny Hill nearby, had a crest of a ‘man’s head couped shoulders and armed in mail’.  On the Littlebury tomb in Holbeach Church Sir Humphrey (1400) is seen with his head resting on a ‘life-sized head of a man in a netted hood’.  This tomb is finely sculptured, has armorial bearing but the head does not feature in his coat.

This head has never been fully explained; some say it is a lady’s head, but it has become known as a Saracen’s Head, netted because it was a captive Saracen, and which may have captured the imagination of some publican long ago.

The crest of the Parr family is nothing to do with Saracens.  It was a maiden’s head, cut off at the neck, full faced, on her head a wreath of roses.  When Catherine Parr became Queen it was tactfully changed, bearing in mind Henry VIII’s proclivities.

More research might reveal whether the original Saracen’s Head public house was on Irby or Littlebury land.

Saracen's head

It has been claimed that the original public house of that name ‘goes back 400 years’ and that the sign was very much alive and wild looking.  Mr Gooch, the local historian, makes up a wonderful story of the scull (a Saracen’s Head) being brought back as a trophy from a mediaeval crusade and claims this is the origin of the name because the scull was kept as a memento in the pub.  The painting of a wicked looking soldier with a scimitar said to be the sign of the public house may well date back to the 16th century when an imaginative artist painted it.

Prior to 1660 Saracen’s Head stood on the sea bank of the wide estuary of the river Welland where travellers, drovers, gozzards and such would wait for a guide and suitable tidal conditions to cross the estuary to Fosdike.  The hamlet evolved to serve these travellers.  King John may well have passed this way on his ill-fated last journey.

(Whaplode Parish Council would like to thank the author, Nancy Snowden, for her kind permission to reproduce the article in this website)