The White Hart is a popular name for a pub and indeed we had our Christmas Party for the National Trust Dartmoor Team yesterday at the White Hart in Moretonhampstead. It was inevitable (especially with me there) that we would discuss ‘what is a hart’ and ‘ what is a white hart’.
Here is the pub sign – it is clearly a fallow deer buck (male deer) – note the wide bladed antlers
There are a number of names for male deer: Harts, Stags and Bucks……
Hart is an old English name derived from the word heorot, which is similar to the Dutch word hert, and the German hirsch, all meaning deer. Following on from the old English the Medieval meaning of ‘hart’ was a red deer male in excess of 5 years old.
The White Hart in Moretonhampstead is covering all bases – whilst the pub sign is a fallow deer there are also references to red deer.
So a hart may originally have referred to a red deer stag over 5 years in age but it has been used more widely to also include fallow stags / bucks too.
The white hart itself is deeply tied to British folklore – a rare and mystical animal which is linked to Royalty (thus the picture above) – the white hart was the symbol of Richard II.
According Arthurian legend whenever a white hart was seen it meant it was time to start a new quest. The white hart therefore became associated with the search for never ending knowledge and the quest for the unachievable. In Christianity the white hart symbolises Christ on earth.
Finally killing a white hart will lead to the perpetrator being cursed.