Tetbury Dolphins – Tetbury, England - Atlas Obscura
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Tetbury, England

Tetbury Dolphins

It's a mystery as to why this inland village chose the dolphin as its symbol. 

Monstrous sea creatures extend from a historic 17th-century Market House. They’re supposedly dolphins—though the series of spines lining their backs is certainly unconventional—and they aren’t the only trace of the flippered beast throughout this English town.

There are dolphins all over Tetbury, a quaint town built near an ancient hill fort. Two dolphins grace its crest, and other images of the aquatic animals are sprinkled throughout the town. Yet no one knows why Tetbury, which isn’t anywhere near the sea, would cling so tightly to this unusual symbol.

The most common explanation for the abundance of dolphins is that they honor two life-saving sea creatures. According to this bit of local lore, a member of a prominent local family was saved when two dolphins used their snouts to plug a hole in his ship while he sailed across the Irish Sea.

An additional theory says that the ship-saving dolphins performed their heroic duties off the coast of North America. In this version of the tale, a ship carting all the town’s wealth was in danger of sinking near the faraway continent when two dolphins took it upon themselves to block its leaks with their snouts.

Yet a third theory holds that the dolphins were inspired by the emblem of a wealthy family (it’s unclear which one) that once owned much of the town. But regardless of the murky origins, that hasn’t stopped many businesses and teams from adopting the dolphin as their symbol. Buildings throughout town also feature motifs and statues of the lovable animal.

Know Before You Go

You will see references to dolphins around the town, but the best examples are on the historic market house building, where around the perimeter you will see several dolphins featured.