21st Century Scots Heraldry with Gordon Casely

Left: Casely finishes his speech. Right: Lyon models his hoodie.

Today I attended another Zoom lecture, this time arranged by the Heraldry Society of Scotland. This one went rather more smoothly than the one six months ago, though I still think that putting it on YouTube or similar would be more practical in the long run.

Our main speaker today was Gordon Casely, described as “a freelance journalist, heraldist and piper” by the host Edward Mallinson (the Society’s Social Secretary). His presentation was on what he perceived as a rise in grants of arms and interest in heraldry more generally. His anecdotal evidence for this was that he had attached a new hard drive to his overloaded computer for all of his hi-resolution heraldic images – a problem I too have encountered since last summer. More objective information was provided in the form of grant and matriculation records from the Lyon court in certain years: fourteen for the year 1720, four each for 1820 and 1821, then thirty in 1920. He described these as appalling output figures, which would shock any work study manager or time & motion engineer. Later in the session Dr Joseph Morrow – on the seventh anniversary of his appointment as Lord Lyon King of Arms – confirmed that in modern times the norm is between fifty and sixty-five new grants per year as well as matriculations, and that about 10% of the court’s business is from the commercial sector. He also said that in the last year, due to people having more time on their hands for such things, the court had seen a 50% increase in new petitions, though all of them had to be managed by electronic correspondence rather than meeting in person.

Casely told us of the records for time taken to complete an application, the longest being Banchory Community Council (thirty-seven years) and the shortest the Aberdeen Association of Civil Engineers (twelve minutes). He complimented the latter’s multilayered symbolism – simultaneously it represented a bridge over water, a stream, a cross section of a pipe half-filled with water, the sweep of a bend in a road, a ditch and a mound, as well as the letters ACE.  He was less happy with the arms of Gordon District Council, describing them as “how not to design a coat of arms, unless you’re in the Clydesdale Bank school of heraldry”.

He sang the praises of the late Anthony Maxwell, his longtime colleague. He drew attention to a commission Maxwell had done of the arms of Dr Tom Tait on the side of a carriage at a railway heritage centre in Derbyshire. He confirmed to “those anoraks who are watching” that it was the only British Rail Class 119 Diesel Multiple Unit in preservation. I did a little searching and can now say more specifically that it is DMCB 51073 on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.

After the main talk had ended there was an opportunity to ask questions, though on this occasion I couldn’t think of one – and indeed I wasn’t sure that my microphone was working. When the structured questions and answers concluded the session moved to informal chatter among the veteran members with occasional interjections by outsiders. This included showing some rather garish heraldic tattoos that they had seen, and then Lyon putting on a heraldic hoodie that he had received as a novelty gift.

A few more heraldic zoom lectures are scheduled for later this year, including a Canadian one that, for Brits, begins at midnight. That could prove an interesting experience!

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