East Anglia’s flag was included on the registry from its inception. The flag combines the Saint George’s cross of England, with a shield bearing the arms ascribed by mediaeval heralds to the Anglo Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia and the Wuffingas dynasty which ruled it, three golden crowns on a blue background. The arms are effectively identical to the small arms of Sweden
from where the Wuffingas are held to have originated. The archaeological discoveries at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk closely resemble those in southern Sweden both in general form and in details of equipment that the burial contains. It has therefore been suggested that the mediaeval choice of three gold crowns as the ascribed arms of the ancient kingdom was a purposeful reference to the ancient Scandinavian origin of the ruling East Anglian dynasty and that therefore the arms may have rather an ancient origin. The earliest record of the Swedish arms was in the fourteenth century however, so nothing can be definitively asserted.
In East Anglia, the emblem of the three crowns appears on the baptismal font of the parish church of Saxmundham, Suffolk, dating from approximately 1400
which is a notable record of their local recognition and usage. Their appearance in this church predates their inclusion in the 1611 atlas of Great Britain produced by John Speed where, as with the arms of other one-time Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, Essex, Kent and Sussex they appear on the map of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy
They are also present on the title page of the work
although inexplicably appear there, doubled in number, with six crowns arranged three at the top, two at the centre and one at the base of the shield.
Speed features the three crowns,
again in his “History Of Great Britaine” (also from 1611, reprinted in 1623) and it also appears there in quasi flag or banner form.
The crowns then featured as the emblem of the Kingdom of East Anglia in “Divi Britannici”
by Sir Winston Churchill (direct ancestor of the famous twentieth century one), published in 1675. The arms are found, twice, as a decorative element over an entrance to Woolpit Church in Suffolk
are seen on this decorative plate
and appear on this example of Goss ware china from the early twentieth century
The theme of the three crowns is also evident in local heraldry; they appear in the arms of the diocese of Ely
and the borough of Bury Saint Edmunds
where the crowns are shown pierced with arrows to represent the martyrdom of Saint Edmund the last king of East Anglia. They were also included in the arms of the former Isle of Ely council
and are found in the civic arms of Colchester
and the University of East Anglia
Another notable use of East Anglia’s crowns was their appearance on the front cover of a guide to Norfolk and Suffolk
from 1930, by celebrated mediaeval scholar and acclaimed writer of ghost stories, M.R. James.
The three gold crowns shield of the Wuffingas also featured on the company insignia
of the mid twentieth century “The East Anglian” rail service which ran from Liverpool Street station, London, to Norwich and they have been adapted for use in the logo of the Rugby League east division
The same three crowns further appear on the county flag of Cambridgeshire
which forms part of East Anglia.
Thus one might have expected a modern East Anglian flag to be a simple banner of these early arms
but perhaps because, unlike Sussex, Essex and Kent, East Anglia did not continue as a single entity but subsumed several counties itself, the arms used to represent it do not appear to have had a continued history of use in the manner of the seaxes of its southern neighbour, Kent’s rampant steed or the graceful martlets of Sussex. Their development as a flag, as transpired in these sister “kingdoms”, was therefore unlikely. It has been further speculated that at the time that the East Anglian flag was adopted, Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom and as the traditional arms of the Irish province of Munster, are similarly, three gold crowns on a blue field,
perhaps the simple armorial banner was rejected to avoid confusion with the provincial Irish banner?
However, these arms clearly remained in the consciousness of its inhabitants because an association of displaced East Anglians, resident in London, naturally selected the shield as the central element in their design of a flag for their “homeland” at the start of the twentieth century.
One George Hanry Langham appears to have been the protagonist for a distinct flag for the East Anglia region. He is mentioned in a 1900 edition of the “Eastern Counties Magazine”, (Volume I, Number3) as the creator of a very complex proposal, seen below
which includes the three crowns of East Anglia as described, as a centrepiece, alongside red and blue stripes to recall the territory’s contributions to the military and navy, a number of heraldic ornamentations and the civic arms of six notable East Anglian towns! In another publication, “The Sphere”, printed December 28th 1901, it is related that the yellow field colour of the flag was selected, “for the reason that East Anglia is that portion of the country which daily receives the morning light. It is also the colour of gold and of ripe, waving corn, so familiar a feature in many a home landscape.” An accompanying black and white illustration of the flag
differs a little from the 1900 version, with the placement and realisation of the imperial crown over the East Anglian ones.
Another, later edition of “The East Anglian Magazine” (Volume II, Number 3) further relates that Langham’s idea may in fact have been based on a considerably earlier suggestion from a Major General Last, who had conceived a similar pattern in 1867 that differed only in lacking the red and blue borders, the mace (crossed with the sword beneath the shield of crowns) and the wreath of laurel. The magazine states that East Anglians flung even further afield than London, based in the American state of Ohio (Ohio East Anglian Club) were actually using the Last design and had in fact adapted it to include the additional listed elements contrived by Langham.
Mr Langham seems to have been persuaded that this excessively detailed arrangement would not make a very effective flag (!), as a letter appeared in the Bury Free Press, dated Saturday, April 6th 1901, from the “East Anglian Herald Extraordinary” criticising the design;
Langham fashioned a lengthy response
which appeared in the same publication, on Saturday, April 27th, inviting the herald to participate in the design process and a subsequent edition of the Eastern Counties magazine (Volume II, Number 7) reports on the adoption of the simpler shield and cross combination. The editor of the magazine writes
“…Mr George Henry Langham has given me the opportunity of placing the flag of East Anglia, in its altered form in the ‘Eastern Counties Magazine”. The flag as now represented has been approved by a small Committee….and has been unanimously adopted by the East Anglian Society.”. The magazine continues, “It is a very charming flag and Mr Langham is to be congratulated on the success he has achieved, having overcome various difficulties.” Recalling the aforementioned Munster comparison, perhaps the correspondent’s heraldic awareness may have influenced the choice of not using the straightforward banner of arms as the East Anglian flag?
The report on the adoption of the flag included this fine illustration
The publication then further asserts that “There is high authority for stating that East Anglians have the right to fly this flag on all occasions; and no more appropriate time than the approaching coronation of King Edward could be chosen for its inauguration, especially as his Majesty has a favourite home in East Anglia.”
Another account of the flag, in the 1950s publication, “The East Anglian Magazine” confirms that the Executive Committee of the “London Society Of East Anglians” after consultation with the then Duke of Norfolk, accepted and adopted the revised Langham design, in 1902, this being the year of the coronation referred to above. It is evident from these accounts that G H Langham expended considerable effort to see an East Anglia flag adopted, his name has always been associated with the flag and it is related in the later magazine, that he left a trust fund to finance its further manufacture.
The flag seems to have been well received, it is cited by a resident of Great Yarmouth in 1902, in a letter to the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich gazette, published on November 8th, where he encourages people to raise it and also refers to the London Society of East Anglians having placed a wreath at the pedestal of the Nelson statue in Trafalgar Square, of white flowers with the East Anglian flag at its centre. And the following year there is an extensive report from the Yarmouth Independent newspaper (March 7th 1903) about the raising of the East Anglian flag at Cobholm School
which seems to have been an elaborate affair with a large attendance, a deal of ceremony and a performance of what was in essence an East Anglian anthem, reflecting the flag and written specifically for the occasion.
The flag appears on a postcard
produced in Great Yarmouth by “Jarrold and Sons, one example of which
was posted in 1905.
Although not endorsed by the College of Arms and therefore regarded as “lacking authority”, a silk version of the flag was reportedly accepted by King Edward VII. Another flag presented to his successor, George V, was actually flown from the tower of Sandringham Church on July 12th 1919, the day of the Official Celebration of Peace after World War One..
The London Society of East Anglians was founded in 1895 “For the promotion of good fellowship and the encouragement of local patriotism.” but seems to have ceased to function during World War Two. Lord Kitchener was perhaps its most illustrious member, a memorial to him in St. Mary the Virgin Church in Lakenheath, Suffolk, erected by the society, includes an image of the East Anglia flag at its base
The society was also responsible for the installation of a monument to the fallen of East Anglia from World War One, at Liverpool Street Station in London
on which of course, the East Anglia flag is the principal feature.
In 1930 the society presented a number of East Anglia flags measuring approximately twelve feet in length, by six in breadth, to towns in the region, including Beccles and Bungay, intending that they be flown from the respective church towers. A ceremony of presentation took place at St Mary’s church Bungay on June 15th, after the morning service, where Mr Botwright, Executive Chairman of the society, handed the flag over. It was then dedicated and proudly raised above the church tower. A similar ceremony took place at Saint Michael’s Church, Beccles, on September 14th. The East Anglia flag is amongst the display here
in Coddenham High Street, Suffolk, for the Silver Jubilee of King George V in 1935.
A depiction of the flag is again found on a Goss ware china product
from the early twentieth century and it was also to be found, in shield shape, in a stained glass window at the former East Suffolk Council’s, County Hall, in Ipswich, now derelict..
The emblem is present
on the Essex and Suffolk Fire Office, in Colchester, in neighbouring Essex.
the onetime headquarters of the Essex and Suffolk Equitable Insurance Society. Originally constructed in 1820 as a corn exchange, a third storey was added in the early twentieth century when the building was assigned its new purpose. The additional storey included the East Anglia emblem
to indicate the Suffolk portion of the company’s remit. One may speculate as to why a more specific “Suffolk” emblem was not selected but presumably the building being renovated in the era when the East Anglian flag had been adopted, the emblem may have been very much in the local public eye and seemingly the obvious one to depict to indicate an East Anglian territory.
The flag is present at the base of this commemorative tea towel
from Bury Saint Edmunds dating from 1959 but perhaps the most unusual instance of the East Anglian flag on display is its appearance at the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the occupation of Samoa by the German Empire!
where it can be seen on the front facade of the building in the picture, on the second storey, behind the pole bearing another flag; the date being about 1910. Its presence here was something of a mystery but appears to have been solved with the discovery of a letter, printed in the Bury Free Press, on Saturday, December 12th 1914,
In this the widow of G.H Langham, creator of the East Anglia flag, writes that her son had communicated that the East Anglian flag had been hoisted in Apia, the capital, by the New Zealand Volunteers, after the British flag. She relates how Langham despatched an East Anglian flag to his stepson (Mrs Langham’s son) in Samoa, six years previously, that is, in 1908. This would allow for it to have been on display in 1910 and then raised again in 1914 as described.
In the century since its creation the flag has been rarely seen in standard reference works on British flags and symbols although it was known amongst enthusiasts and accordingly, as one of the first specifically created local flags in the country, it was naturally automatically included in the registry as its first “regional” flag. Unfortunately however, for decades, it was seldom seen in the region that it represents, where arguably loyalties to town or county and local rivalries, may have overshadowed interest in the wider region and its flag, although it has made a considerable comeback in recent years with the advent of more affordable versions, as shown further down the page. Notably, however, the East Anglian flag has been deployed often as an emblem. In the 1950s and 1960s it was used on the badge
of the ‘Eastern District Licensed Trade Association’ a regional branch of a national organisation, formed in 1888, as the ‘National Trade Defence Fund’, to campaign on behalf of the breweries and licensed trade against the temperance movement and measures to stifle their trade. Use of the flag by this body, whose remit covered the four recognised East Anglian counties, was particularly apt. The flag also appeared on the cover
of a publication on local biographies and it was prominent on the labels
of a range of ales produced by Norwich brewer, Morgans. It also featured on a Colman’s mustard pot
In shield form, the design can be found on several buildings in Norwich
It may be present below
as a decorative feature although the evident colours of this device are difficult to determine; what might have been a blue shield at the centre seems sadly much faded by the elements, whilst the surrounding colour does seems to be red but may conceivably be a rusty patina.
Rarely seen flying for many years, this regional flag has enjoyed a recent boost in popularity, one example of the flag’s use was in 2004 where it was raised by a supporter of the Cambridge University boat crew during the famous race along the River Thames, Cambridge University lying within the bounds of East Anglia. Here it is seen wielded alongside the flag of Wessex, in which regional territory, some hold, Oxford University is situated.
It is displayed below with the East Anglia junior orienteering team
over Norwich Castle, below
at Gedney in neighbouring Lincolnshire and following, across the region at private homes
and on waterways
The flag has also appeared on local produce to indicate its geographical origin
It is interesting to note that the arms of a later and indeed the last, native monarch of East Anglia, Saint Edmund
who was not of the same Wuffingas dynasty, was ascribed arms of his own, which have also seen some use, representing East Anglia as a whole, as seen in their adaptation in the badge of this regional body
Over the centuries however, the saint’s specific associations with Suffolk have consolidated use of his arms, primarily as a county emblem for the land of the South Folk, resulting in their deployment as Suffolk’s county flag.
With thanks to Ben Archer for extensive additional research in this account.