Posted by: Wayne Robinson | March 21, 2011

17th Century Graffiti – and how to do it properly

For those of you feeling the urge to do some reproduction 17th century graffiti, here’s some tips and original examples.

There are a number of reasons why our forebears felt compelled to commit their carvings to posterity.

  • To denote ownership of an object, for example, how to you show that a mass-produced turned bowl is yours?

Wooden Can with ownership mark
This wooden tankard from the Mary Rose has an owner’s mark on the lid, others have them on the base. The use of symbols was particularly important in a pre-literate world. 1545.
Photo by the Reverend, Mary Rose Museum.

  • To record an event for posterity – the equivalent of “Jonno waz ‘ere, 1976”. This is particularly common in association with the Grand Tour, where wealthy young men would tour Europe and sometimes Asia, catch “interesting” diseases and scrawl their name on monuments before returing to England and taking their proper place in society.


Wall graffiti, St Alban's Cathedral
Wall Graffiti in St Alban’s Cathedral. Charles Clarke appears to have either visited twice, or decided to expand on the simple C C in 1613.
Photo by the Reverend

On one of the dolmens at Stonehenge, the top inscription is dated 1644. WM at middle left is slightly later from the form of the W in WC in the middle lower part of the screen.
Photo by the Reverend

17th Century Graffiti
On the wall of the cloister at Winchester College, no doubt commemorating a visit or residency. Those that wanted to stand out a bit framed their inscriptions.

  • Piety, shown in wall scratchings in an age before cheap ecclesiastical junk mail, and including defacing statues and windows in churches.

The Interior of the Buurkerk at Utrecht

The Interior of the Buurkerk at Utrecht (detail), 1644, Pieter Saenredam. Photograph: The National Gallery.
The sketch depicts the Four Sons of Aymon escaping on a magic horse after one of them killed Charlemagne’s nephew, the act was a subersive way of redecorating the inside of a church recently whitewashed by the protestant reformation, or possibly an irristable urge when presented with a large, fresh white surface.

  • Political discourse or parody, sometimes on a grand scale. cf. The Rude Man at Cerne Abbas.

Cerne Abbas Giant
It could be Cromwell or much earlier, but he seems to be having a lovely time with that club.

  • Boredom or lack or other art materials.

Tower graffiti, London, United Kingdom
This travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: London Tourist

  • Or a combination of the above – for example religous prisoners in the Tower

More graffiti, London, United Kingdom
This travel blog photo’s source is TravelPod page: London Tourist
The top grouping is associated with Jane Grey. Salt Tower, Tower of London.

So have fun customising your item, wall, toilet, church or hillside, but make sure you get the design and letter forms right for the period.



  1. Excellent post, thank you.
    A Woodsrunner’s Diary.

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