Railway Heraldry with Gordon Casely

Casely with the Scotsman, 10th April 1966

Today I virtually attended the Alan Watson Memorial Lecture by the Heraldry Society of Scotland, focusing on the coats of arms of Britain’s railway companies since Victorian times.

Before the presentation proper, Edward Mallinson gave a speech commemorating Alan Watson himself – a heraldist, philatelist and trainspotter who died last year.

Gordon Casely added to the tributes, then began his lecture. He noted that the society had never covered railway heraldry in its lectures before, and insisted that “to sample the pleasures of such heraldry, one doesn’t need to be a railway enthusiast, far less a loco-spotter, number-bagger, rivet-counter, or even an anorak. Casely himself had been a railway journalist in the 1960s, and in later decades a campaigner for higher quality rail services in Scotland.

He prefaced his historical tour was a health warning – railway heraldry is an absolute mess, almost all being borrowed, bogus or thieved. He also said that much of it amounts to heraldry we don’t really deserve – badges, totems, insignia, emblems, motifs or devices, rather than coats of arms. As to why this had occurred, he suggested that Victorian-era Lyons and Garters had both “missed their trains” when it came to “the heraldic iron horse”. He said that he had examined over two hundred sets of heraldic devices used by railways in Britain, and could count on his fingers the real coats of arms. Still, railway heraldry was always interesting and entertaining.

His first example was a plaque at Edinburgh Waverley station commemorating Sir Nigel Gresley. The coat of arms above the text is that of the London & North Eastern Railway (real and legal, unusually), rather than Gresley’s own.

In the next slide, I am sad to say that our speaker made an error. He showed my illustration of the arms of the Gooch baronets of Benacre Hall, although he attributed them to Sir Daniel Gooch, 1st Baronet of Clewer Park and Chairman of the Great Western Railway. He compared these to the arms to those displayed on the stall plate of Major John Gooch in the chapter room of the Order of St John, and thought it curious that the latter’s arms contained railway references (a wheel in centre chief and on the crest) while the former’s did not. Having checked in Burke’s, I can say that the arms of Sir Daniel and his successors do contain those elements, and that Casely was simply using the wrong image.

The vast majority of railway arms showed a shield within a strap and buckle. Within the Scottish clan system, such an arrangement marks that one is a junior member of the group rather than the chief, and thus the captains of industry were making themselves look like mere corporals. Of the five major railways in Scotland circa 1920, four used a buckle around their main emblem while the Caledonian Railway simply copied the pre-1603 royal arms of Scotland. Scottish railways in modern times are no better. Casely recalled writing to the chief executive of the Great North Eastern Railway in 1996 suggesting arms be adopted. What resulted was, in Casely’s words, “a real fruit salad”, featuring two oval shields within a strap and generic Scottish floral emblems crammed between. Particularly bad was the logo of the English, Welsh & Scottish Railway, which instead of the unicorn represented Scotland with a stag more appropriate to Northern Ireland. A case study was made of the Deltics (“a proper locomotive”, Mallinson interjected). An earlier plan was for this class to be called Heralds, with individual vehicles named after specific heralds (i.e. Albany, Rothesay, Ross, Orkney, Marchmont and Stirling, plus Glasgow).

Moving down to England, the Great Western Railway used the “entirely bogus” emblem simply placing the arms and crests of London and Bristol side by side, even though the line ended at Paddington and never penetrated the square mile. The Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway borrowed the shields of the two county towns, while an early emblem for the Hull & Barnsley Railway used an ermine pavillion based on those employed (incorrectly even then) by peers of the realm. Casely was particularly contemptuous of the Cornwall railway, whose seal used the shield of the Duchy, ensigned it with the heir apparent’s feathers, and shoved some industrial tools behind it. A smorgasboard of other railway emblems was shown, most following the trend of simply stealing the civic arms of their connected towns or badges of the royal family.

At last some “real” heraldry was featured – the Great Central Railway matriculated from the College in 1898, making it likely the first railway in Britain with legal heraldry, and used them on just about everything.

Arms were adopted for British Rail following nationalistation in 1948, technically those of the British Transport Commission. The crest alone was used on a roundel on the sides of many trains. Two versions of this were used – with the lion facing either dexter or sinister depending on which side of the train you stood. Allegedly Garter Bellew went apoplectic upon realising this. The famous cycling lion was similarly reversible.

Casely also mentioned that a handful of lines never used any kind of emblem – such as the North Sunderland Railway which he personally visited in 1951. His conclusion was that though railways have long used a large selection of emblems, badges and other quasi-heraldic insignia, the majority of it would not be heraldry as we know it. He wondered if heraldists had “some work to do” in convincing modern rail companies to seek legal grants of arms.

This was, by the speaker’s assertion, the society’s first in-person lecture for eighteen months. A hybrid system was in place, with an uncertain number of people sitting in the lecture hall and two dozen (including myself) attending virtually. What annoyed me about this setup was that all of the virtual attendees had been forcibly muted and the chatbox was disabled. Members physically present were invited to ask questions at the end of the presentation, but we had no ability to interact. This was a deep disappointment as I was keen to advertise the island armory post that I published a week ago. The only function I found still working was the “raise hand” button, which I and one other attendee used, but I never got to see if this was acknowledged by the hosts as while Mallinson was advertising an upcoming lecture my internet connection failed. By the time I got it working again the meeting had concluded and the session had closed.

FURTHER READING

Islanders’ Arms

Ever since the seventy-fifth anniversary of The Railway Series last May, I have been looking to bridge my interest in that franchise with my hobby as a heraldist. I had long known that the thin clergyman had invented coats of arms for many characters and institutions within his fictional world, but it was difficult to actually find them.

Of particular importance was a video by Max Davies, better known as Terrier55Stepney, documenting one of many visits that he and other tankies have made to the Talyllyn Railway. This particular video is valuable because at fifteen minutes and ten seconds in it shows a front-on close-up shot of an old sheet of paper on which Awdry had sketched and blazoned four different fictional coats of arms. I had glimpsed this before but never in quite enough clarity to make out the details. Even in this version the handwriting is not always legible. Luckily I found a handful of old posts on the Sodor Island Forums where other fans had also attempted to decipher the text. I have now illustrated all four shields there depicted and uploaded the results to Wikimedia Commons, though whether I shall be able to use them on any Wikipedia articles following last year’s purge is debatable.

CROVAN’S GATE

Escutcheon: Vert a gateway kernelled Or with portcullis closed of the same. In base a glove dexter Argent.

Motto: Ave Amicos Cave Hostes (Welcome Friends, Beware Enemies)

The symbolism here is fairly obvious – the gate is a literal interpretation of the proverbial “gate” (the narrow pass in the hills between eastern and central Sodor) at which King Godred Crovan held the Normans at bay in 1089, while the glove is one of his famous white leather gauntlets.

SUDDERY


Escutcheon: Argent in base three closets wavy Azure charged at the nombril point with a coracle therein a monk erect dexter hand raised in blessing in sinister hand a crozier all Proper.

Motto: Luoc Sodoris Lux (Luoc, the Light of Sodor)

This was the hardest to do and the least visually-satisfying at the end. The arms are pictorial heraldry, showing the legendary arrival of Saint Luoc on the island in the fifth century. There is a discrepancy between sources here – the above blazon refers to simply “a monk” but The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways twice asserts that the arms have him “arrayed as a bishop”, the latter reference specifying “in cope and mitre”. I have said before that human figures usually don’t work well in heraldry, and this is no exception. Awdry does not describe Luoc’s appearance nor his liturgical vestements, so I took a drawing of St Vallier and changed the colours to give a more Anglo-Irish aesthetic, with the mitre using the blue and green shown on the other coats of arms here.

TIDMOUTH

Escutcheon: Quarterly Azure and Vert 1st a lymphad 2nd a Smith’s hammer & tongs saltirewise 3rd a wheel 4th three herrings naiant all Argent.

Motto: Industry and Progress

There is some obvious faux-quartering here, though at least the colour scheme works. The first and fourth quarters refer to the towns history of fishing and later ship-building while the second and third refer to the other industries based there – possibly including the big train station.

THE NORTH WESTERN RAILWAY

Escutcheon: Per saltire Azure and Vert two gloves Argent saltirewise in fess a rose of Lancaster Proper in chief Azure a wheel or winged of same dexter Vert a fleece Argent sinister Vert a mattock Argent hafted Or in base Azure three herrings naiant Argent.

Motto: Nil Unquam Simile (There’s Nothing Quite Like It)

The gloves are here again, though I have elongated and narrowed them to fit the saltire. The herrings also make a reappearance. The winged wheel has a long history in heraldry and has appeared in the arms of a few real-life transport companies. The fleece and mattock presumably represent agriculture and industry, both of which are serviced by the railway but do not have any more specific importance. The rose refers to Sodor’s attachment to the Duchy of Lancaster, though of course its symbolism as such is very much a modern affectation.

While we are here, let us recap the other heraldic images I have mentioned here before:

THE SODOR REGIMENT

Escutcheon: Sable two gloves Argent saltirewise, charged in fess with the Rose of Lancaster Proper.

The blazon is given in the book (described as the regiment’s “colours”), though I wasn’t sure which shape to use for the field. The significance of the red rose and the white gloves has already been explained. The military is not covered much in the franchise so their is little detail to give here.

THE EARL OF SODOR

The Norramby line is mentioned in the book but nothing is said of them armorially. When the earl appears in the 2013 special “King of the Railway” his shield is Azure a pale Argent bearing a representation of Ulfstead Castle, with a jewelled Eastern crown on top and two lions rampant Or as supporters.

Taken as a whole, the Sudrian arms are a mixed bag – just as in real life. The time of matriculation for any of these devices is not specified, though we can guess from both content and context – the North Western Railway was formed in 1915 so its arms cannot be older unless inherited from one of the predecessor companies (earliest 1853). It looks a little too busy, as do those of many real railway companies from the time. The regimental badge, featuring the red rose, is probably from no earlier than Victoria’s reign. The faux-quartering on Tidmouth’s shield suggests a much more modern adoption, most likely by assumption in the mid-twentieth century. The shield of Crovan’s Gate is simple enough that it could be medieval. I am not sure about Suddery as I do not know how far back precedent can be found for the depiction of humanoid religious icons in heraldry.

I notice that blue and white seem to be the most persistent (though of course not universal) colours in the island’s civic and corporate heraldry as well as in the flag. This could be the diagetic reason for the majority of the main characters on the North Western Railway being painted blue. It would also fit the historical connections made in the source material, as blue and white were the livery colours of both the House of Lancaster and the Lordship of Ireland.

UPDATE (1st November)

I have just discovered the website Railway Mania, dedicated to building and running model trains. A subsidiary project is Sodor Histories, an attempt at re-imagining Awdry’s island in as much detail and as realistic a manner as possible. It’s well worth a look for the truly dedicated railfan.

Matters of the Harp

Heraldists and historians will know that there have long been two versions of the British royal arms. Prior to the death of Elizabeth I the arms of England had been three yellow lions passant guardant on a red background, while those of Scotland had been one red lion rampant on a yellow background. When James VI of Scotland ascended to the English he quartered the arms of both countries to indicate their personal union, albeit varying the precedence so that each kingdom had its own arms in both the first and fourth quarters with the other’s confined to the second. This duality continued even after the 1707 union into Great Britain, although the “English” version is the standard one used internationally, with the Scottish version being purely for internal purposes. Though the first, second and fourth quarters of the shield have chopped and changed much over the centuries, the third quarter of both shields has consistently been Azure a harp Or stringed Argent. This represented the Kingdom of Ireland since its creation in 1542, though its usage in other capacities can be traced back much further. Prior to 1603 Ireland was not referenced in the English royal arms. What is a little perplexing to those interested in this subject is that neither James nor his successors ever created a distinct Irish arrangement of the shield as he had English and Scottish ones. Instead it seems that Ireland (both before and after the 1801 union) used either the same arrangement as in England or the harp alone.

One might have expected some other curious heraldist to have come up with such illustrations by now – for the interpolation is fairly simple – but I could not find any, so set about performing the thought experiment myself. After a few hours of cutting and splicing Sodacan’s familiar pictures I had produced Irish arrangements not just of the royal arms in their present state, but for every other variation that has occurred since the union of the crowns.

There were some aesthetic challenges here, the most prominent of which is that the harp in the fourth quarter has to be significantly smaller than that in the first to fit the curve of the shield, though that would be alleviated if the instrument would face right rather than left (as in the Guiness logo). It also produces some interesting colour combinations – especially in the 1714 version where the impalement of England & Scotland lines up perfectly with that of Brunswick & Lüneburg.

Readers will note that I have only made shields here, not full achievements. That is largely because I was unsure what the other elements would be. While the crowns, supporters, mottos and crests for England and Scotland solidified long before their personal union and have been consistent ever since despite numerous changes to the shield, those of Ireland are much less clear. A crest was designed for James I (A tower triple towered Or from the portal a hart springing Argent attired and unguled also Or) but it was not much used, and neither supporters nor motto were granted at all. Occasionally depictions can be found which copy those pieces from the English achievement, but this is the result of artistic fancy rather than official sanction. I would hesitate to put the Order of St Patrick around the shield, since it was only instituted in 1783 and became dormant in 1974, never achieving the same prominence as the Garter or Thistle nor appearing much in heraldic art. Certainly the present Republic of Ireland uses the shield alone and the achievement of the government of Northern Ireland from 1924-1972 is of sufficiently different appearance and origin to be ruled out as any indication of what to use here.

On a different note, the YouTube channel Terrier55Stepney recently put out a video documenting another visit to the Talyllyn Railway. Fifteen minutes in the camera points at a framed page of drawings and blazons for Sudrian heraldic devices. I mentioned this before but this time I could see the whole page (though the legibility of the handwriting remains a difficulty). I hope to have illustrated at least some of them fairly soon.

More Heraldry on Screen

In the last few weeks I have discovered the old ITV series Crown Court, which simulated high criminal trials in the fictional town of Fulchester. It debuted in October 1972, just 292 days after the establishment of the real Crown Court in England & Wales took effect.

The series ran for over eleven years, and the set underwent multiple refurbishments. In the earliest episodes the courtroom was furnished in plain wood panel, but by the end of the seventies this had been replaced with darker wood in more ornate carvings. In 1982 what looked like a sheet of marble was placed behind the judges chair and the tables were lined with copious red padding.

Freak Out

The focus of this post is on the depiction of the royal arms behind the judge. In the pilot episode Doctor’s Neglect? it is rarely focused on, and looks to be a grey cutout, little detail of which is discernible at such low resolution. For much of the early seasons a fully-coloured relief is used, and the camera often focuses on it at the beginning and end of a story. The depiction is a curious hybrid of the greater and lesser versions of the achievement, for it has the escutcheon fully enclosed by the Garter circlet as in the latter but also shows the helm and crest as in the former. The motto “DIEU ET MON DROIT” is shown on a blue ribbon below the shield. Otherwise the only real errors that I can make out are the absence of the double tressure from the Scottish quarter and the mantling being Or instead of Ermine, though that could be considered an artistic choice. Possibly the unicorn is missing its chain, but that could be a trick of the light.

Cat in Hell

In Cat in Hell (1978), a bizarre mistake can be seen – everything else about the achievement looks the same (including the missing tressure) but the scroll is now golden and bears the motto “NEMO ME IMPUNE LACESSIT” normally only seen on the Scottish version. Why this would be used in an English courtroom is not explained. By 1979’s Question of Care the original scroll has been restored.

Leonora

Leonora (1981) is even more confusing – the familiar relief is still used as the background for the credits, but looking behind the judge during the episode proper one can see an entirely different design on the wall – the shield sticking out of the circlet and a green compartment beneath the supporters. Then, during the transition cards before the commercial breaks, a third variant is shown – a golden drawing upon a brown backdrop. This one is very intricate in style, similar to those used in the Georgian and Victorian eras.

Ignorance in the Field

By Ignorance in the Field (1982) the fuller variant is being shown up close. This depiction is unambiguously the greater version, with Ermine mantling, the tressure in place and the unicorn’s chain clearly visible. The tinctures are very bold on this one, almost giving it an 8-bit appearance. The crowns are rather angular in design, and seem to be based on the Tudor crown instead of St Edward’s. The motto is in gold letters on a pale blue scroll, which makes it a bit hard to read.

The Jolly Swagmen

On some episodes a completely different shield can be glimpsed on the back wall of the courtroom which perhaps is intended to represent Fulchester’s municipal arms. The only time I’ve gotten a good look at it is in The Jolly Swagmen (1976). It appears to be per pall inverted Gules Azure and Or. The charge in the dexter chief is clearly a key Or, that in the sinister chief perhaps an oak tree Or. The base shows a castle triple-towered Argent windows and port Sable on top of a mound of grass. There is another charge at the very bottom of the shield which I cannot make out. The crest and motto similarly indecipherable. In any case I have not seen the insides of enough courtrooms to know whether or not the inclusion of local civic heraldry is standard practice.

Shifting genre a little, I have spent much of the last year babysitting, which has left me far too familiar with the Channel 5 series Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom. It is produced by the same companies responsible for Peppa Pig, and essentially is to that series as is American Dad to Family Guy. There is only one piece of heraldry or vexillology with prominence in the series – the forked banner flying over the Little Castle, blazonable as quarterly 1st & 4th Argent an ancient crown Or 2nd & 3rd Azure a cinquefoil pierced Argent. This seems to function as both King Thistle’s personal arms and as the nation’s civil flag. The design features on shield’s carved into the king & queen’s thrones and the sash worn by the Fairy Mayor. The tinctures sometimes vary.

In one episode King Thistle’s parents, Viktor & Milicent, are visited at their own much larger in the clouds. From the towers many different-coloured pennons are flying charged with golden crowns and cinquefoils. Inside we see several more off-tincture versions of the Little Kingdom’s arms, as well as two other shields hanging on the wall in a corridor – one of them Purpure three bends Vert, the other Azure three mullets one and two Or. Given their simplicity these are likely to be the arms of real people, though I have not yet identified them.

King & Queen Marigold also had their own castle (resembling St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow) but there wasn’t any heraldry that I could see. Perhaps it was too old-fashioned for them?

The Heraldry of the Pastons

This afternoon I attended a virtual presentation by the Norfolk Record Office concerning the heraldry of the Paston family. I knew little of these people before signing up, but the topic was as intriguing as any other heraldry lecture.

The presenter was Dr John Alban of the University of East Anglia. He apologised for not being physically present in the office – having to divide his time equally between Norfolk and South Wales – but said it didn’t matter since in a virtual lecture he was not restricted by location. That comment fell quickly into irony. The first few minutes of the lecture were plagued by technical difficulties as the audio failed completely for many in the audience, requiring us to log out of the session and then back in again. That was far from ideal, of course, since it caused us to miss the introductory sentences. At least we could see the slides, including establishing what the Paston arms were in their simplest form: Argent six fleurs-de-lis three two and one Azure a chief indented Or. He then showed us a gallery of uses of those arms in various places and by various institutions, whether alone or marshalled with others.

The main thrust of the presentation was in showing how arms mutated and evolved in the period before heraldic regulation, and how even after that armigers would be keen to manipulate the historical record for their own ends. Thus we saw a few alternate prototype versions of the Paston arms and their appearances in medieval and Tudor records. One especially interesting case study shown to us was William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, whose family history before Henry VII’s accession Alban reckoned to be entirely fabricated.

At the end of the presentation an attendee asked Dr Alban to recommend books on heraldry. He suggested the works of Charles Boutell and Arthury Charles Fox-Davies, and was pleased when I pointed out that older works such as these were available for free on Google Books or Archive.org for those who could not access physical copies.

In these meetings I tend to scan the list of attendees for anyone remotely famous. This time I found Elizabeth Roads, Lyon Clerk from 1986 to 2018. As per usual I attempted at the end of the session to plug this blog. I probably left it a little too late as we were being instructed to log out (and I’m fairly certain Roads already had), but there already seems to be a bit of an uptick in view count, so at least someone spotted it.

Who am I to Judge?

This has been a busy week for state ceremony, yet you wouldn’t know it from the news.

Friday 1st October was the beginning of the legal year 2021-22 in England & Wales, marked by the procession of hundreds of judges in their full dress uniform to a special service at Westminster Abbey. This included readings by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, as well as a sermon by the preacher of Lincoln’s Inn.

The legal year in Scotland began on Monday 27th September. It featured similar events at the Court of Session and St Giles’s Cathedral. The Lyon Court was one of the bodies involved and a number of new officers of arms had their inaugurations.

On Saturday 2nd October the sixth devolved Scottish Parliament had its ceremonial opening, though of course it has been sitting and legislating since May.  The Queen visited the chamber, accompanied by the Duke & Duchess of Rothesay and Edinburgh. Many heralds were in attendance carrying with them the crown of James V.

It is a little disappointing that these events were so ill-publicised, even accounting for the distraction of party conferences and fuel queues. Rather than major newspapers I have mostly had to piece together details of all three ceremonies from the websites and social media accounts of the people involved.

Curiously this is not consistent across time – footage of judges’ processions from a few years ago can be found on YouTube, and some from many decades back are archived by British Pathé.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Judges at Westminster Abbey

Heralds at the Court of Session

The Scottish Parliament

Discerning Dukes

This afternoon I missed a turnoff on the way to my second COVID vaccination. While navigating back to where I should have been I discovered Church Street where there was a pub called the Duke of York. This struck me because the pub’s sign showed an illustration of the duke’s coat of arms which I instantly recognised as Sodacan’s illustration from Wikimedia Commons. Unfortunately I wasn’t in a position to stop and take a photograph and what I can find in the pub’s own galleries or on Google Street View isn’t very clear, so I cannot work out which particular duke is being honoured here.

The Prince Andrew, Duke of York since 1986, uses the royal arms of the United Kingdom differenced by a label of three points Argent, the centre bearing an anchor Azure. This same cadency label was also used by his grandfather George VI from 1920 to 1936, and by his father George V from 1892 to 1901. It plainly cannot be George V represented here since his arms as Duke of York included the inescutcheon of Saxony. The main identifier, therefore, is the harp of Ireland – versions made during the present reign use a plain harp, while those issued in earlier reigns show a woman’s head and chest carved into the side. I think that this pub sign shows the modern version but the image resolution is too low to be sure.

A Grand Total

It is not entirely easy to count how many heraldic illustrations I have made for Wikimedia Commons over the years. Do I count badges separately from shields? Do I include achievements I’ve made twice? What about ones that have been deleted?

When I finished updating my gallery at the end of July the shields and lozenges collectively numbered nine-hundred and sixty-six. Over the course of August I have illustrated at least another thirty-four.

My official one thousandth coat of arms is that of the Barons Darebury, a relatively short and low-profile line of peers whose distinctions include High Sheriff of Cheshire and Chairman of Aintree Racecourse.

Having cleared this benchmark, I move onto the next project. Last year I unveiled my armorial of universities in the United Kingdom. This year I have made a similar list for the universities in Canada. This one has so far progressed much more rapidly, as Canadian heraldry is very easily searchable in the Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges, in contrast to British heraldry which often involves a great deal of searching around for clues. The register had blazons for fifty-four fully-fledged universities, as well as twenty-nine subsidiary colleges or faculties and four related voluntary bodies.

The items in this list are organised by province, though they are not evenly spread – forty of the eighty-seven institutions are in Ontario, with the University of Toronto alone having fifteen distinct grants. Newfoundland & Labrador and Prince Edward Island, by contrast, boast only one each. Another strange trend is that Canada’s heralds seem to have been inordinately fond of sealing their letters patent on the fifteenth and twentieth days of the month.

I am struck by one major problem – although I have quickly compiled many dozens of blazons I can find illustrations for only two of them. On the actual pages of these institutions one can frequently find an image of the coat of arms copied directly from either the register or the university’s own website, claimed under fair use. Such a justification does not fly on pages such as the one I am making, so I will have to call on the aid of all Wikimedia’s great armorial artists to fill the gaps.

Thanks to my Supporters

Early this morning I made another virtual visit to the Toronto Branch of the Royal Heraldry Society of Canada.This time the speaker was D’Arcy Boulton, Emeritus Professor of History & Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame, and the topic was The Development of the Forms and Uses of Supporters by the Peers of England to 1580, as shown in the Earliest Armorials of the Peerage.

The session opened with a fair amount of technological fumbling. Eventually Boulton got his slideshow going and warned us that we would be seeing a lot of manuscripts, which would be identified by collection numbers instead of by names.

We were shown a rapid succession of medieval and Tudor armorials. That by Gelre (1370-1395) was the first to display crests, followed by Shirley’s roll (c. 1450) which still mainly restricted them to foreign kings. Supporters, Boulton said, played a very small role below the level of princes prior to the late sixteenth century. There were many attempts in that era to produce books which contained a full account of the arms of the English peerage, though each omitted at least a few peers for whatever reason. It was further observed that during this time specialised helmets and coronets for peers began appearing in the records. An interesting phenomenon is the solidification of supporters as indicating noble rank, for until the seventeenth century they were not formally restricted to peers and garter knights but examples of usage by lesser knights and gentlemen were still rare.

Later in his talk, our guest discussed some statistics about peers’ supporters. Among seventy-four distinct achievements found by the middle of Charles I’s reign, he found that twenty-four used identical pairs and fifty used non-identical, making one hundred and twenty-four distinct supporters in total. Different peers used the same supporter only if they were agnates of the same lineage or co-heirs of a split peerage. He also identified four fundamental types of supporter: Human, wholly natural beast (eighteen species), semi-natural beast (three species) and imaginary beast or monster (thirteen species). He saw that human supporters were much less popular among English peers of the time than among their Scottish and continental contemporaries.

At the end of the lecture there was time for questions. I asked if he knew anything about the emergence of supporters in corporate heraldry (as opposed to the personal heraldry he had so far covered). He said that corporations began to acquire supporters at a relatively early stage, including all of the greater livery companies of the City of London.

It is often the case that the discussion after the lecture is as blog-worthy as the event proper. On this occasion most of the conversation – punctuated with some very long silences – was between Darrel Kennedy and Sean in New Zealand, the latter showing off his newborn son Arthur. This was the first time I had known anyone bring a baby to a Zoom conference. He joked about being able to blazon infants’ clothes – Argent semé of Blue Whales Proper.

Charles Veale asked if a grant had yet been made to Mary Simon, the new Governor-General. Kennedy said that nothing was yet known but “it’s coming eventually”. I asked about the process behind the heraldic badge granted some months ago to Canada’s Supreme Court. Kennedy said it had started some years ago under Claire Bodreau. He said there seemed to be a fad for every court to have its own arms. I relayed the story of our own Supreme Court’s logo, whose launch in 2009 had met with some public dismay.

Sean then wondered aloud how the supporters of post-1958 life peers differed from those of the pre-modern hereditaries. I recounted my anecdotal experience of nearly-1000 Wikimedia heraldic illustrations that the proportion of peers seeking arms at all is much lower now. I also noted that from about 1800 onwards human supporters appeared more frequently – and are a pain to illustrate. I speculated that life peers might be more disposed to them as non-hereditary supporters could afford to be more personalised. He asked if, in the age of identity politics, human supporters could prove inordinately troublesome. I concurred that there were various heraldic elements – such as Saracen heads, savages and cartoonish African garments – that could be liable to spark outrage among certain circles, and that undoing the damage would be very difficult as coats of arms are not supposed to be redesigned in the manner of corporate logos. Sean recalled speaking to a herald about the design of the old coat of arms of Toronto. There were some First Nations individuals who even volunteered to model for the drawing of the supporters, but wanted to be depicted in Armani suits with mobile phones. I brought up the precedent from the Victorian era that inclusion of modern technology in heraldic achievements tends not to date well. There seemed to be a consensus among the group that one was better off sticking to abstract animal figures.

Moira Scott then asked if any remaining participants could identify the supporters on her clan chief’s arms, but we were none-the-wiser and could make no more profound an observation than that the dark brown women were probably not from Scotland. She noted the resemblance of the feathers to those of the Prince of Wales and wondered if she could incorporate something similar into her own arms without incurring his wrath.

After 01:50 the conversation had reached the point where we were talking about our domestic pets and Arthur’s “deposit”, and it became clear that the session needed to adjourn.

As a coda, I will return to the Sudrian realm. We are not far from the official US debut of All Engines Go and already some Spanish editions have been released. The general reaction from those who have seen them is that they are nowhere near as bad as implied by the trailers and leaked test footage, but still fall short of being good as art in their own right or a worthy successor to the franchise’s legacy.

In aid of that latter goal, I looked for armorial opportunities. Already I have invented arms for the Thin Clergyman himself and illustrated those of the Norrambys, but institutional heraldry has not been covered before. Its People, History and Railways gives two examples of heraldry: The badge of the Sodor regiment is actually blazoned Sable two gloves Argent saltirewise charged in fess with the Rose of Lancaster Proper. The shield of arms of Suddery – the capital city – is not truly blazoned but described as “St Luoc arrayed as a bishop standing in a coracle and holding his crozier” with the motto “Luoc Sodoris Lux”,  St Luoc being a legendary Irish missionary of the fifth century. I have illustrated the regimental badge for Wikipedia but the city arms are impossible without knowing the tinctures, or indeed what Luoc looked like.

The island as a whole is not said to have any armorial bearings nor a civic flag. The latter was invented by the television series, roughly blazonable as Azure a fess Argent fimbriated Or, though it could equally be Tenné.

Arms and the Woman

The heraldic achievements of the Baronesses Hornsby-Smith (left) and Miller of Hendon (right)

This evening I returned to the Yorkshire Heraldry Society for a virtual lecture by Duncan Sutherland, detailing the arms which were sought and borne by Britain’s female parliamentarians since 1958. This is far from the first time that he has made this presentation – in 2019 he performed it in person at the Palace of Westminster. Today, however, was my first time to witness it, thanks to the virtual format.

The majority of these cases were baronesses for life, but there were some others, including the posthumous grant of arms that was made to the late Jo Cox for display in the chamber of the Commons.

In other news, yesterday Ruth Davidson finally took her seat in the Lords, with the title Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links, of Lundin Links in the County of Fife. Also yesterday I made a disappointing excursion to Hull Central Library: some months ago I found in their online catalogue a copy of Debrett’s Peerage 2015 – a much more recent edition than the ones in the university’s library – but of course as the libraries were still under semi-lockdown conditions I could not actually go there to access it. Once the restrictions were lifted I went there hoping to scoop up hundreds of new(er) blazons only to discover that, while the ground floor of the library was open again, the reference section on the first floor was closed for a refurbishment and the staff had no idea when it would open again. Blast!

UPDATE (September 2021)

The Heraldry Society has updated the publication section of its website. Sutherland’s presentation can be read as a PDF.