Northumberland’s flag was included on the registry from its inception. Strictly, the flag is a banner of the arms of the Northumberland County Council but its origins predate the council by more than a millennium and although it is not registered as a “traditional” design, Northumberland’s flag is essentially of ancient origin and certainly part of a local tradition.
The 7th century King and Saint, Oswald, founded the kingdom of Northumbria by merging his domain of Bernicia with its southern neighbour Deira. The Venerable Bede, England’s first historian, writing in his “Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum” describes Oswald’s tomb where “…they hung up over the monument his banner made of gold and purple;” It is probable that this description caused the mediaeval heralds to assign arms of eight alternate stripes of red and gold (yellow) to Bernicia. It is reported that in the Middle Ages the same colours were flown by the first Earl of Northumberland, Henry Percy.
Notably, in his 1611 atlas of Great Britain, famed cartographer John Speed included a map of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy.
which included shields bearing arms for the seven kingdoms. However, ironically, given its long standing attestation, the striped device of Bernica which one might have expected to see is not shown, instead the cross and lions
from the See of Durham, is there, also appearing
on the title page of the work. However, in the 1623 reprint of his 1611 work, “History Of Great Britaine”, Speed does include the striped emblem of Bernicia, alongside a lion for Deira (see also, the County Durham page) in quasi flag or banner form.
Speed also includes the striped shield
to illustrate one historical account of a Northumbrian king but appears to hedge his bets by again using the cross and lions of the See of Durham
in another kingly account!
The bands featured unequivocally however, half a century later, as the emblem of the Kingdom of Northumberland in “Divi Britannici”
by Sir Winston Churchill (direct ancestor of the famous twentieth century one), published in 1675. The subsequent strong association of the red and yellow bands with the county, is evident in their use as a Northumberland emblem in this 1930s scout badge
Before its formal award of arms in 1951, the Northumberland County Council had informally used these attributed arms of Bernicia although the College of Arms modified the design, dividing the stripes by an “embattled” line, that is, an indentation which resembles a castle’s crenellations
; the red and yellow stripes in the lower half were then “counter changed”.
The modification was intended to symbolise the interlocking stones of Hadrian’s Wall, which runs through the county, and Northumberland’s position as a border shire. Whilst the formal grant of arms meant that strictly, an armorial banner formed from them would belong to and represent, only Northumberland County Council, the historical references to red (purple) and gold striped banners indicated an association of the territory and the pattern dating back some 1200 years. More than just a device of the century old council, the design was intrinsically a symbol of the over a thousand years old county. The council accordingly voted to “release” its banner of arms for general use by Northumberland folk on November 15th 1995 and the Flag Institute duly registered it when the registry was created a few years later, noting in doing so, that Northumberland is wider than the county council area – Newcastle-upon-Tyne being a Northumberland town. The motivation to release the flag to the public was obvious, reflecting a 1,200 year old tradition and association between Northumberland and the colours red and gold, akin for example, to that of Essex and its seaxes. The depiction of the stripes on the arms is quite distinct in that each red bar, or in heraldic terms, “pale”, is outlined separately, which emphasises the intended representation of the interlocking stones in Hadrian’s Wall. In practice however, this level of detail is not seen in the generally available
Northumberland flags nor is it present in the depiction of Northumberland’s flag
on the FI registry.
In 2011 Northumberland’s flag flew at the Eland House Headquarters of the Department of Communities and Local Government in London. The occasion
was acclaimed by the Leader of Northumberland County Council who stated that
“The Northumberland flag has perhaps the longest history of any flag in the country and is still flown locally with great pride today.
Northumberland is one of England’s most rural and northerly counties so we are delighted that the flag is being flown down in London. This is an imaginative way of celebrating the unique and rich heritage of both our country and county.”
Northumberland’s flag flies at two border crossings into Scotland; Carter Bar, on the A68 located in the Cheviot Hills, as seen here, opposite the Scottish national flag
and outside Berwick-Upon-Tweed on the A1
This popular county flag can be seen over Langley Castle, Hexham
and widely around the county
and below, from a vessel on the river Tyne in Newcastle
and it is sufficiently ingrained in the local culture to decorate bus stops!
It has also been projected on to the walls of historic buildings
Northumberland’s flag has been raised over the tents at the Glastonbury music festival
and alongside the flag of Northumbria
, it has been displayed on the summit of the Matterhorn,
by Northumberland mountaineer Richard Pattison and at the county’s own high point “The Cheviot”
It appeared in abundance on a special occasion at Hexham Farmers’ Market
The Northumberland flag has also been fashioned into a number of products including badges, greeting cards, cufflinks and car stickers.
and is seen in shield form, here
on a rail bridge, marking the boundary with Cumberland at left.
At Heatherslaw Bakery, Cornhill-on-Tweed, the flag flies
alongside a plaque describing its provenance and history