A Shield For Wilbert

Wilbert Awdry, so far is I know, was not armigerous. As a belated part of The Railway Series‘s anniversary celebrations, I have toyed with the medieval practice of heraldic attribution.

Escutcheon: Azure two sections of railroad track between four steam whistles Or.

Crest: Issuant from a funnel Sable a cloud of smoke Argent.

Motto: I Can And I Will.

Badge: A wheel Azure surmounted by a bar Gules thereon a goat statant Argent horned Or hooved Sable holding in its mouth a top hat of the last.

A crest is included for the sake of completeness, though Awdry as a priest likely would have used a galero-type hat instead. Also in place is the medal of an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, to which he was appointed in 1995. The motto is based on James’s refrain when hauling a troublesome goods train up Gordon’s hill. The more familiar “Really Useful” did not quite feel appropriate for a personal motto. The badge is, of course, a parody of the “cycling lion” once used by British Rail.

I had originally hoped to include more references to Awdry’s ecclesiastical career, perhaps by taking charges from the arms of parishes he served, but what little heraldic material I could find didn’t really seem to fit. By happy coincidence I discovered afterwards that the real-life municipal crest of Barrow-in-Furness includes a ram’s head with golden horns, though of course its mouth is empty. For those wondering how to tell the difference between the two caprines, a goat’s horns tend to be short and straight while a ram’s tend to curl back.

Since the previous post compared Awdry’s world to that of J. R. R. Tolkien, it is worth taking a brief look at him here, too. While Tolkien designed a lot of heraldic devices for the cultures of Middle Earth, his own armigerous status is uncertain. This article is the only one I can find going into detail.

FURTHER READING

http://www.northernvicar.co.uk/2018/10/26/upwell-norfolk-st-peter/

Rails Go Ever Ever On

Illustration of “Edward’s Day Out” by William Middleton

The Reverend Wilbert Vere Awdry’s The Three Railway Engines, first instalment in what would become the world famous Railway Series, was originally published seventy-five years before today. After his death, the franchise he created was carried on by his son Christopher. That can, of course, be said of another great English writer, though sadly his Christopher’s own demise came earlier this year. Present circumstances impede me from coming up with a more comprehensive tribute, but perhaps this could be the basis for a joint effort between Clamavi de Profundis and The Tuggster Intensifies one day:

Rails go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree.
By tunnels where no sun has shone,
Canals that never find the sea;
Ploughed through snow by winter sown,
And past the merry flowers of June,
Over sleepers lain on stone,
And viaducts o’er valleys hewn.

Rails go ever ever on,
Under cloud and under star.
Yet wheels that thundering have gone
Roll at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and smoke have seen,
And horror in the smelter’s place
Look at last on buffer clean,
In cosy sheds they longed to face.

The track goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the line has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary wheels,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many points and switches meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

The track goes ever on and on
Out from the yard where it began.
Now far ahead the line has gone.
Let others follow, if they can!
Let them a journey new begin.
But I at last with pistons worn
To silent sidings will crawl in,
To down for night and sleep ’till dawn.

Still ’round the next bend there may wait
A new branch or secret gate;
And though I long have roamed this isle,
I never could lose cause to smile
Upon the realm my line does span
West of Barrow, East of Mann.

Adapted from The Road Goes Ever On by J. R. R. Tolkien, circa 1937.

My New Gallery

It has been a few years since I started making heraldic illustrations for Wikimedia Commons. My earliest, according to what the file page says, was that of William Pitt the Younger, uploaded on 11th September 2016. By 8th August 2017 I had made twenty-two, and decided it would be useful to collate them on a subpage. I originally formatted them as a fairly simple two-column table showing each image with a short description next to it. New images collected slowly and intermittently for a year after that, but a sudden growth spurt occured in the latter half of August 2018 when more than eighty new files were added following my discovery of Cracroft’s Peerage. As 2019 dawned I had counted two hundred and forty images in total.

Having found copies of Burke’s and Debrett’s in the university library and the internet archive I was able to expand the collection at a steady pace. In the last few months I noticed that the list had grown very long and was difficult to navigate effectively. This week, therefore, I decided to move them into a gallery format, with files sorted by type rather than by date.

It took several hours to move each individual image from the old page to the new and add the appropriate captions. The principal advantage of the new gallery format, at least for me, is that with the images sorted into neat rows instead of one long column it is now easier to count how many there are. The total presently stands at an ominous six hundred and sixty-six, though this does not include two which the community – one for the Baroness Hale of Richmond for which I couldn’t confirm a source, and a speculative placeholder for the Duchess of Sussex which was subsequently jossed.

My armorial collection is still some way off the size of Sodacan’s, of course, but it’s a start.

Need No Introductions

Are we missing something?

After an unusually long recess today was the day that Parliament finally resumed, but everything was far from back to normal.

Social distancing measures require MPs and peers to be spaced 2 metres apart, which significantly diminished the capacity of the main chambers. Plenaries can no longer be physically attended by more than a few dozen members at a time. Every other bench has been ruled out of bounds. In the Lords this is indicated by a red cloth placed over the length, while in the Commons there are slabs of cardboard bordered by hazard tape blocking access. The small white cards on the frames of the green benches, normally used by honourable members to reserve a place in advance, were replaced by either red cards with a no entry sign or green cards with a tick to indicate which spots could or could not be used. The red benches have no corresponding external frames, so instead the tick signs were attached to small pillars propped up behind. Two of the three cross benches had disappeared, as had two of the three seats for the upper house’s clerks, and both chambers had lines of tape on the floor marking standing distances.

Last month, without much fanfare, two new junior ministers were appointed to the government with a promise that they would be made life peers. One was Sir Gerry Grimstone, former chairman of Barclays Bank; the other was Stephen Greenhalgh, former Deputy Mayor of London. Today they finally had their introduction ceremonies, which fell short of what they had probably been led to expect. Black Rod still wore semi-state dress, but Garter did not wear his tabard, nor did the newcomers themselves wear the familiar robe. The supporters – existing members of the house who accompany the new one – were omitted entirely. The reading clerk began with the letters patent already in his hand rather than the inductee delivering it to him, then stepped back to give their lordships space to swear the oath and sign in – though Greenhalgh almost forgot the latter step and had to quickly double back. After bowing to the throne from behind the clerk’s table as usual, the procession exited through the content lobby, with the peer only nodding to the acting speaker on the woolsack instead of shaking hands. One cannot tell from the footage, but it can reasonably be reckoned that friends and family of the new members were not given the usual invitation to watch from the gallery, nor to attend any kind of reception afterwards.

Of course, this is still the early stage of transition. Both houses are moving to conduct much of their business virtually, so shortly it may be the case that the empty benches are filled with monitor screens, or even that the chambers are not used at all.

Arms to Yourselves

A consequence of the COVID-19 lockdown is that the great majority of schools, colleges and universities have closed as far as physical premises are concerned. This has naturally forced a major surge in online learning as institutions scramble to keep their curricula going on a remote basis.

Heraldry has doubtfully ever been considered a core subject, and indeed neither the College of Arms nor the Lyon Court are considered essential businesses. Both have closed their offices to the public. The latter has attempted to compensate, and perhaps keep children busy, by releasing a rudimentary online course in Scottish heraldry.

The content is rather basic and most hobbyists will not learn anything new from it, but it is pleasing to see that an effort has been made. As I and others have noted, the proliferation of knowledge in this subject online has been rather slow and haphazard, relying mainly on a small smattering of hobbyists who use whatever reference materials they can obtain – typically those which are out of copyright and thus septuagenarian or older. The present circumstances may finally see some progress on this front, though of course it is still much too early to tell.

Turn Right and Change the World!

Cameron 2015 Dissolution

We are turning our country around… we must see this through together.

Five years ago, the fifty-fifth Parliament of the United Kingdom dissolved, commencing the general election campaign. As usual, proclamations were read out from the steps of the Royal Exchange in London, and from the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh, but on this occasion the text was quite a bit shorter than had been the norm before. The substance of the revised version concerns only the convocation date for the newborn legislature and the issue of writs of summons to the Lords Spiritual and Temporal. The act of dissolution itself was omitted, as was any reference to writs of election.

The reason for this was, of course, the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act 2011, which curtailed the monarch’s prerogative to make and break parliaments whenever her prime minister said so. From then on, a general election would happen on the first Thursday in May of the fifth year since the previous election took place, with dissolution occurring twenty-five working days in advance. There were of course some exceptions, but they will be detailed later.

For the first time, the date of the next general election was known years in advance. Even better, the death date of the 56th Parliament was known before it was even born: the five years after 2015 included two leap days to bring the days of the week right around, so this year the general election timetable is exactly the same as last time. Some commentators lamented that the element of surprise had been lost from British politics.

That at least was the dream, now to the reality: The second Cameron ministry did not gracefully live out a full term. Nor, for that matter, did the next three governments. The fifty-sixth Parliament dissolved on 3rd May 2017, after Cameron’s successor Theresa May successfully sought a two-thirds majority in the Commons for an early election motion under Section 2 of the Act. The fifty-seventh parliament was dissolved on 6th November 2019 by a special act of its own creation, May’s own successor Boris Johnson having tried a Section 2 motion several times and failed miserably. We are now in the time of the 58th Parliament, which is currently expected to expire on 25th March 2024, though that expectation has little solidity given that the present government intends to repeal the FTPA altogether at some point.

Jeremy Corbyn, who emerged from three decades of backbench obscurity to become Leader of the Labour Party in the aftermath of the 2015 general election, is due imminently to retire again. The result of the leadership election is due to be announced on Saturday, though the large conference originally planned has had to be scaled back dramatically due to the world events which have transpired in the meantime. It strikes me that, of the six Labour MPs who originally set out to be Corbyn’s replacement, four only joined the House of Commons in 2015. Had politics gone normally they would only now be at the end of their first term, instead of well into their third.

Obviously, it may have been awkward now if those snap elections hadn’t taken place, since all elections scheduled to take place on 7th May this year have been pushed back to 6th May 2021. Presumably the general election would have had to be delayed too*, the first instance of such an action since 1944.

As noted in my posts about Paul Danahar and Terence Casey, it has become common to remark that we currently inhabit the dark timeline, or words to that effect. Neither man could decide precisely on the point of divergence. Until someone else can suggest a better point, I will choose 2015. Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic is an entirely separate issue, but the issues that most prompted the calamitous musings prior to the outbreak were the presidency of Donald Trump in the United States and the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union. These phenomena both had their gestation five years ago. It was in May that the Conservative & Unionist Party won the general election outright with a manifesto that included an In-Out referendum, which would likely have been dropped in coalition negotiations had that parliament been hung as expected. It was in June that Donald Trump came down that escalator and announced his desire for the GOP nomination.

Life would never be the same again. Still, at least I got to rack up my edit count in the past few years.

*Section 1 of the FTPA allows the prime minister to delay polling by statutory instrument, but only for two months as opposed to the twelve now in place.

Can You Picture It? (2019 Edition)

Lia Nici, MP for Great Grimsby. Photograph by David Woolfall (CC-BY-3.0)

The general election in December meant the formation of a new parliament, and this was marked by the commissioning of a new round of members’ portraits.

There has been less publicity about the photographs this time: so far I have yet to even see a blog post about them by the parliamentary digital service, let alone the extensive amateur caption contest which kicked off in 2017. As with the previous rounds, my first awareness of the new series came from noticing the photographs on MPs’ and peers’ Wikipedia pages. Naturally, I again went through a long list of names adding as many of their portraits as were not already in place. Lacking much in the way of official confirmation I assume that this photo shoot was carried out in much the same way as the first one – a stall erected just beyond the chamber to catch members passing through after they take the oath. The key difference is that both houses have been covered simultaneously, whereas originally the Lords did not get their portraits until many months after the Commons.

We still do not have a complete gallery of parliament, for there are still a few dozen members who did not pose for either series. Conversely there are many MPs and peers for whom two portraits now exist. This caused Wikipedians a minor problem when it came to competing filenames. The files for portraits from the lower house now include “MP” at the end where they did not before, which allowed them to be moved from one Commons to the other easily. No change was made to the filenames for the upper house, which means that in cases of duplication the uploader has tacked “, 2019” onto the end so as to avert a clash.

Visually the main difference is in colour temperature – the portraits for the 57th parliament were done with stark blue-grey tones whereas those for the 58th are a less dramatic beige. There is also a slight change in aspect ratio for the full frame shots – the old ones were in 5:7 and the new 2:3. The automated cropped versions are come in the same ratios as before.

Left: The Lord Naseby in March 2018.

Right: The Lord Naseby in December 2019.

Note the fortuitous choice of tie colours to coordinate with the light and background on both occasions.

Kilnsea Sound Mirror

A year ago I and my parents attempted to reach the sound mirror at Kilnsea, but could not traverse the terrain. Today we made a second attempt, parking rather closer and walking in from the other direction. We found the large concrete concavity surrounded tightly by a primitive fence and dappled with lichen. The land around the fence is dense with weeds and getting to the mirror required a lot of creative stomping. There were some notice boards explaining the features of the landscape but they were few and far between. From some angles the structure appears merely to be a solitary artifice in the middle of nowhere. Still, at least there is no entrance fee.

10,000th Place

It was five and a half years ago that I became a registered editor on the English Wikipedia. Through years of small edits to politicians’ post-nominals I gradually climbed through the user ranks, from Signator to Burba, then to Novato. It was in 2017 that I began adding heraldic illustrations, as well as looking for photographs of article subjects if the site did not already display them. It was also in that year that I built a user page for myself, complete with a smattering of userboxes.

Not all of my projects have gone well: Several template ideas, such as life peers or husbands of British princesses, were rejected by other editors. Others, such as British MPs by seniority, turned out to exist already.

Late last month I made my eight thousandth edit to the English Wikipedia, enabling me to claim the rank of a Veteran Editor, or Tutnum. It was at this point that I wondered about the statistics for edits by members, and in particular where I ranked in the grand scheme of things. Eventually I stumbled upon a list of registered members by number of edits made. I will not be breaking into the top ten any time soon, for their counts are in the millions. The article goes much further than that, though, showing the top ten thousand editors. To some that may seem excessive, equivalent to handing out participant medals to otherwise lacklustre child athletes. It must be borne in mind, however, that at present the number of registered users on the English Wikipedia is just shy of thirty-seven million, and so even a list as large as this one represents only the top 0.027% of the community. I was intrigued when I saw that the edit counts at the tail end of the leader board were only a few hundred above my own. The article includes links to archived versions of the list, showing who was where at roughly monthly intervals. From this I could see that while the goalposts were obviously shifting, it was doing so at a stately pace compared to my own edit count, which meant that I would eventually catch up. I decided to step up the pace of my contributions, setting a target of twenty-five edits per day, or 175 per week, in the hopes of making the grade before the summer was over. Last night I made by 8,539th edit, having seen that the most recent version of the list had the lowest member on 8,538. This morning the page was updated and shows that I have just scraped through to the 10k spot. I realise, of course, that this position is tenuous and that the editors immediately below me are likely to make up the difference fairly soon (whether or not they are actively trying to get on there), but the closeness of the counts for the next few hundred members above me suggests that I can easily advance a safe distance beyond the waterline even if I decelerate to my normal rate of activity.

One cannot foresee what the future holds. In a few years I might climb thousands of places, or I may be knocked out of the league altogether by a stampede of hyperactive newcomers. In any case, it will be a long time before I can say my work is done.

Heraldic Humour – A History

Eight days ago the President of the United States gave an address at the Teen Student Action Summit of the political organisation Turning Point USA. As is often the case for such appearances, he was flanked by projections of the presidential seal. This time, however, something was wrong.

A derivative of the Great Seal, the presidential seal is known less for the rather diminutive escutcheon (Paly of thirteen Argent and Gules, a chief Azure.) than for the much larger supporter – a bald eagle displayed, holding in its dexter talon an olive branch and in the sinister thirteen arrows all Proper – and for the motto of “E Pluribus Unum”, which was considered the effective motto for the whole country until the controversial imposition of “In God We Trust” in 1956. The presidential seal in all its variants is famous worldwide. Even my own letterhead is based on it, though swapping the eagle for my namesake passerine. This very familiarity makes it all the odder for the recent substitution to have gone unnoticed until too late.

The seal which appeared beside the president last week may have looked legitimate at first glance, but on the second there are some glaring differences. The most obvious is that the bundle of arrows has been replaced with a set of golf clubs. The next is that the eagle has two heads pointing in opposite directions. Peering closely at the emblem, it can also be seen that the olive branch has been replaced by a wad of dollar bills and that the motto scroll says “45 es un títere”.

Designed by Charles Leazott, once a loyal Republican who defected after the rise of Donald Trump, the doctored image paints the incumbent as a puppet of the Russian Federation whose primary concern is for his own wealth and leisure.

This is far from the first instance of heraldry being used for satirical purposes. During the American Civil War, H. H. Tilley produced a mock coat of arms for the Confederacy – which had not yet adopted a real state emblem. A cigar-smoking plantation owner and a hand-manacled slave support a shield of cotton, tobacco, and sugar, with three slaves hoeing the fields in base and some of their owners’ characteristic tools in chief. The motto given is “Servitudo Esto Perpetua”. Behind the crest rooster are two flags in saltire. One is clearly the battle flag used by several of the southern armies, the other is a skull and crossbones with the number 290. This latter flag could refer to the CSS Alabama, which was built in secret and known merely as “Hull No. 290” prior to launch.

Going back further to 1814, the Anglo-German publisher Rudolph Ackermann released and Explanation of the Arms of Napoleon Bonaparte. This particularly savage illustration has, for a crest, the world being set on fire and stabbed with French standards. The escutcheon, a montage of eight acts of barbarity attributed to the recently-deposed Emperor, is supported on the dexter by Death holding an hourglass and on the sinister by Satan wearing an iron crown.

Not all heraldic satire is quite so brutal: a 1909 Punch cartoon by Bernard Patridge alludes to the art by citing “an heraldic inversion”, in which the prime minister Herbert Asquith has to stand with his limbs awkwardly spread out to hold Winston Churchill (President of the Board of Trade) and David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer) on his shoulders. The drawing was made during the crisis over the “People’s Budget”, the commentary being that Asquith’s prominent ministers were the real protagonists of the government, their nominal leader being in fact subservient.

A famous Gillray cartoon from 1797 shows William Pitt the Younger looming over the House of Commons. Notable is the suggestive positioning of the royal coat of arms (affixed to the canopy above the speaker’s chair to indicate the royal authority of the legislature) between the premier’s legs. The message is that Pitt had no passion beyond the accumulation and exercise of state power.

These armorial parodies continue into the modern day – many being found on Wikimedia Commons, though these do not see much use. A particularly memorable instance comes from 2011, showing the arms of Princess Beatrice of York, the coronets replaced by the unusual hat she wore to the wedding of her cousin the Duke of Cambridge.

FURTHER READING