Gales in the winter of 2014/15 caused the leopard to lean over at a very dangerous angle. After some careful refurbishment of both the Leopard and the top of the Bell tower it is now back in place.
The snow leopard is sometimes mistaken for a spotted dog. In fact the snow leopard or ‘ounce’ is part of the Sackville coat of arms.
This does not mean that the Sackville family owned leopards, but the leopard symbol shows their high status, just as the lion denotes royalty.
During the time of the Norman Conquest, Herbrand de Sauqueville came to England. His descendants married into other landowning families such as the Dalyngrigge family of Bodiam castle, or the Bakers of Sissinghurst. John Sackville married Margaret Boleyn, aunt of the more famous Anne Boleyn. This made the Sackvilles cousins of Queen Elizabeth I, who trusted and employed her cousins.
Visitors can see the predecessor of the present leopard, inside by the Dining Hall. After standing out on the tower for 130 years, he has been brought inside. Although his ears, tail and tongue have been mended and he looks rather battered, he is much loved, especially by children of roughly the same height.
The present leopard was put up on 10th January 1986, thanks to the generosity of Mrs Davy, a former Assistant Warden. He was carved by Glyn Foulkes of Burledon, Hampshire, a sculptor of ship figure-heads. The leopard is made of laminated mahogany, protected and painted with epoxy systems.
In March 2015 after high winds the leopard was removed by crane and assessment of the repairs needed for the tower roof, mounting and support was carried out.
The leopard on the tower is a landmark in the town, and represents a tradition of at least 160 years. It would have been sad if he had to be taken down permanently.
In February 2016 following protracted negotiations with insurers, progress was made on repairing and re-instating the Leopard. He was refurbished at Virtuoso Joinery. Ian Godfrey told us ” ‘Leo’ settled in well. He was very chilled out, and even helping around the workshop.”
Thanks to Ian Godfrey, Estimating and Technical Manager of Virtuoso for the use of the photographs.
In April 2016 the Leopard was returned to the top of the tower.