A Kentish cowl
A Sussex Oast cowl can be distinguished by its 'blinkers'. The flat side panels at the front of the cowl. Some Kent Oasts near the county border have them too, and likewise Sussex oasts often have Kentish Cowls.
Hereford & Worcestershire cowls do not have a cap, but a pointed top.
Traditional cowls are made of wood and painted white, they came in different sizes, but a typical example stood about 2.5m high and 1.2m wide at its base.
Many wooden cowls have now been replaced with lighter and supposedly easier to maintain fibre-glass ones. However their longevity is not fully proven. It has been said that they cannot be easily repaired or maintained, and deteriorate at a much faster rate.
Cowls are notorious for being blown off during strong winds, so it is essential they are well maintained and are always able to move with the wind. Many were knocked off during the hurricane of September 1987.
During the Second World War, some oast house cowls had to be painted black so as not to attract the attention of the enemy. The lady of the estate of Chart Court Oast at Little Chart, decided to have hers painted red and green.
It was common for the cowl to be replaced with a cap once the Oast House was disused for hop drying, or if it was blown off during strong winds and no longer in use.
The vane of the cowl is often decorated with an icon. Traditionally the farmer would adorn an icon of his trade, hop picking after all was only for 4 weeks of the year, so most farms would have other sources of income. Typically these were an animal, or farm or countryside related theme, these include horses, cockerels, dogs, cats, acorns, cat chasing mouse (two cowls), huntsman and pheasants, ducks, swans, sheep, cows, an oast house, deer and stags, fish, and tractors…
Nowadays many home owners replace or add an icon that reflects their own interests, some examples including a sailboat, badgers, a train, rabbits, a bugle, squirrels, witch on broomstick, theatrical faces, a helicopter, a dragon, and a teddy bear.
By far the most common is the 'Invicta' prancing horse, the symbol of Kent.
Tatlingbury Oast in Five Oak Green shows a hunting scene of a horse and hounds.
The vanes also come in various shapes.
In the 20th Century, electric fans were introduced to push the air through the hops and cowls were no longer needed. Louvred ventilators were placed on the roofs instead.
Much like the oast houses they once adorned, some cowls are converted to living accommodation, in the form of a dove cotes!
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