The County Durham flag was registered on November 21st 2013. It was created by James Moffat seen here at right
and his twin daughters Katie (below left) and Holly (below right).
from Chilton, County Durham and was the winning entry in a competition established by noted adventurer and campaigner Andy Strangeway (at left in the top photo), in cooperation with the Durham County Council and the Flag Institute, to select a flag for the county, which had been the last shire in northern England, north of the Dee/Humber line, without one.
At the unfurling ceremony Andy Strangeway reminded everyone, in his speech, of how County Durham had been the last county in northern England without a flag and referred to common misunderstandings regarding the exact nature of the county
“I appreciate that there has been much confusion as to the boundary of County Durham, following the boundary changes of 1974. However, these changes and those since are purely administrative. The County Durham boundary is the same today as it has been for over 1,000 years, from the River Tees to the River Tyne including Durham, Hartlepool, Stockton- on-Tees, Darlington, Sunderland and Gateshead.”
A Tourist Map map of the county from ABC.
He spoke also of how the flag
“… is a free, public symbol for all to use, especially on 20th March each year which is not only County Durham Day but also St Cuthbert’s birthday.” and referring to fears about the costs involved in establishing a flag for the county confirmed that the “…flag would not cost County Durham folk a penny, and I am pleased to confirm that this has been achieved. Not only has it not cost a penny, I am pleased to say that the Association of British Counties has kindly donated 50 flags to County Durham folk.”
The flag’s designer James Moffat referred to the inspiration behind the flag’s creation,
“The design is simple. Holly’s favourite colour is yellow and Katie’s is blue which luckily coincides with our county’s historic colours. The St. Cuthbert’s cross was selected simply because, the first ever present my children bought me was a St. Cuthbert’s cross badge, on a trip with Chilton Primary School to Durham Cathedral in 2002.”
He also extolled the virtues of his county
“Our county also has agriculture; tourism (we have beautiful countryside, beaches and historic buildings): sport; a world class University here in Durham as well as another in Sunderland…”
The winning flag retains the blue and yellow colour scheme that has appeared in the arms and symbols of the various authorities and bodies that have administered County Durham through the ages both as a palatinate territory of the Bishops of Durham and as a local authority area.
Before the competition, a banner
of the arms
of the Durham County Council, as constituted since 1974, had been widely used as a county flag by local inhabitants, although without any legal sanction and in spite of the fact that the territory represented by this armorial banner did not include great swathes of the real County Durham, such as Sunderland and Hartlepool, which did not fall within the remit of the post 1974 Durham County Council but did include a portion of the North Riding of Yorkshire, ironically represented by Yorkshire’s white rose. This has never been the flag of County Durham but the arms from which this banner derives, are the latest variation on the theme of yellow cross designs that have featured in the county since mediaeval times.
The first arms to appear in the locality were those of the Norman House of (de) Percy, Earls and then Dukes of Northumberland and the most powerful noble family in northern England for much of the Middle Ages. The first arms borne by this family featured five gold (yellow) diamond shapes, heraldically termed “fusils”, lined across the middle of a blue shield (“conjoined in fess”)
In about 1300 Henry de Percy (First Baron Percy of Alnwick) adopted new arms
which retained the same colours, in the form of a blue lion rampant on a gold shield. The design was identical to the arms originally borne by the Redvers family, once Earls of Devon but by then extinct.
It is also suggested that the arms may have been inspired by the lion of the Duke of Brabant, left below, or that of the Arundel family, centre, in the colours of the de Warenne Earls of Surrey, right.
Heraldry was a mediaeval creation that developed in the twelfth century. As coats of arms were borne by the mighty and the titled, heralds of this time were inclined to award arms to comparable illustrious figures from earlier ages. Amongst those receiving posthumous arms was the revered King and Saint, Oswald of Northumbria (605-642) whose territory included County Durham. This seventh century monarch, the reputed founder of the “See of Durham”, was awarded arms featuring a gold cross patee, that is, a cross with splayed ends, between four gold lions.
The Anglo-Saxon historian, the Venerable Bede, relates that Oswald raised a cross before his battle aginst the Brythonic King Cadwallon ap Cadfan, which may be the reason that a cross is included on his assigned arms. Heraldic historian Wilfrid Scott-Giles posits that in assigning Oswald a cross, mediaeval heralds clearly intended to highlight his great contribution to the spread of Christianity in ancient Northumbria.
The form of cross on Oswald’s arms, a “cross pattee”
was probably influenced by the famed pectoral cross (i.e. worn on the chest) associated with the locally venerated saint, Cuthbert. Cuthbert was a monk, born in the kingdom of Northumbria, associated with the monasteries of Melrose and Lindisfarne in the kingdom. After his death he became one of the most important medieval saints of England, with a cult centred at Durham Cathedral, where his remains were eventually interred and he is generally regarded as the patron saint of northern England. When his coffin was last inspected on the 17th of May 1827, a typical Anglo-Saxon, square pectoral cross of gold, with splayed ends
and studded with garnets, was discovered, buried amongst the robes on the body. The pectoral cross’s firm association with the county was notably demonstrated by its use by the county scout movement in the 1930s
Notably, a gold pectoral cross on blue was also found on the arms of the former Borough of Darlington
and is present on the arms of the modern Darlington Borough Council
King Oswald is also celebrated for his consolidation of the two early northern English kingdoms of Deira and Bernicia into the one kingdom of Northumbria and Scott-Giles speculates that the arms attributed to Oswald likely included lions because the heralds had already anachronistically allocated one, to the arms designed for the old kingdom of Deira, the southern portion of Northumberland. Scott-Giles also contemplates that the number of lions included on Oswald’s arms, four, may have been inspired by Bede’s account of Oswald bringing under his dominion ”…the Britons, the Picts, the Scots and the English.”, one lion for each of the four peoples under his domain. The choice of a lion was itself, likely to have been a compliment to the contemporary local lords, the lion bearing Percys. It is also conceivable that the blue and yellow colour scheme, of the arms anachronistically devised for Oswald, was derived from the de Percy colours.
The arms of the See of Durham, which are the insignia of office, of the Bishop of Durham, are a gold cross between four silver or white lions on a blue background (field),
which arguably are also derived from the arms awarded to its reputed founder, Oswald of Northumbria. The writer on heraldry Arthur Charles Fox-Davies, in his 1915 Book of Public Arms, states that “The earliest use of these arms was by Bishop Robert Nevill, 1438-57, …” and then adds “ but an older form of the arms is with a cross patoncee.”
which is another design of cross with distinct decorative arms, similarly splayed as that on the Oswald arms, although in a different manner as can be seen. Plausibly the cross in these ecclesiastical arms may originally have been illustrated in the Saint Cuthbert form
as in the Oswald arms.
An alternative view however is that these arms may actually be derived from the personal arms of Thomas Hatfield, bishop of Durham from 1345 to 1381, a gold chevron between three white lions on blue
which are certainly similar.
Another very similar set of local arms is described by Fox-Davies, those of the “Church of Durham”, contemporary with but distinct from, the “ See of Durham”. These arms are described as “Azure, a cross patoncee, between four lions rampant or “ describing arms that are virtually the same as those of the “See of Durham” but displaying gold (“or”) lions rather than white and with, again, the patoncee
variety of cross, also gold, on a blue background.
These again are also very similar to the arms of Saint Oswald.
The territory of County Durham was originally a “liberty” under the control of the Bishops of Durham (the “prince bishops”), based on claims that King Ecgfrith of Northumbria had granted a substantial territory to St Cuthbert. Disputes between king and bishop over whose writ ran in the locality were frequent but by the fourteenth century Durham was accepted as a liberty which received royal mandates directly. In effect it was a private shire, known as the “County Palatine of Durham”. A county palatine or palatinate, being an area ruled by a hereditary nobleman possessing special authority and autonomy – “palatinate” deriving from the Latin phrase “palatinus”, meaning “relating to the palace”. The distinct status of the liberty was removed in the 1830s and then in 1889 the county received a county council administration along with the rest of the country.
As the inheritors of the authority wielded by the “prince bishops” the county council is reported as using the Arms of the See of Durham in its early years, albeit it seems, informally.
However, Fox-Davies relates that “The seal of the County Council has favoured and displays…Azure, a cross between four lions rampant or”, indicating that the lions in the insignia that the council made use of, were actually yellow like the cross. Wilfrid Scott-Giles similarly reports in his “Civic Heraldry of England and Wales “…making use of the arms of the See: Azure, a gold cross and four gold lions. These arms appear on the seal of the Durham C.C.” From which description it seems that the arms of the See may have been indiscriminately depicted with either white or yellow lions! Such a design, with all yellow charges, is comparable to the arms described above as being used by the separate Church of Durham, differing only in the form of the cross.
The badge of the Durham County Bowling Association appears to be based on the design of this reported seal, with all gold or yellow charges.
In 1961 a formal award of distinct arms to the council saw the lions somewhat fancifully adorned with coronets upon their heads and swords within their grasp! The coronets reflected the use by the bishops of the same device, as a crest, on their own arms and was intended to reinforce the notion of the council inheriting the episcopal authority. A more radical embellishment was the addition of five black diamonds to the bars of the cross to represent the county’s major local industry of coal mining; a black diamond being a general heraldic representation of coal.
After 1974 the former council’s area of jurisdiction was greatly altered, principally by the addition of South Teesdale from the North Riding of Yorkshire. This was recognised by the substitution of the central black diamond by a white rose, symbolic of Yorkshire. Given that the County Council of Durham was administratively annexing the territory, it was rather ironic that it altered its insignia to feature the symbol associated with the area it was annexing!This design, in banner form
, has been erroneously marketed as the flag of County Durham, however it represents only the council, which administers part of the territory of County Durham and is not the flag of County Durham.
Interestingly the emblem of the Durham County Football Association
retains the gold cross and white lions found in the arms of the See but on a purple field. This unusual colour is a shade named “Palatinate purple “ associated with the University of Durham and Newcastle University Medical School, which likely relates to the key role played by the Bishop of Durham in the foundation of the University, purple being an eminently episcopal colour! The colour appears in the kits of several university sports teams
, is common in apparel associated with the university
and is the inspiration behind the name and banner headline colour of the university newspaper
The splayed cross of Saint Cuthbert, a “cross pattee quadrate” is unequivocally present in the arms of the University of Durham, which also features the arms of Thomas Hatfield, bishop of Durham from 1345 to 1381 as a canton
A quadrate cross, as can be seen, has a square at the intersection point clearly reflecting the shape of the cross located in the coffin of Saint Cuthbert (see above) recovered just five years before the university was founded, by an Act of Parliament, in 1832. Scott-Giles refers to these arms thus, “The cross as used is by no means a true cross pattee…….though I believe it is known as the cross of St Cuthbert.”
The alumini association of Durham University combines these arms with the palatinate colour in its insignia
Saint Cuthbert’s Cross and the colours purple, blue and yellow were consequently popular themes amongst the county flag competition entries, many of which can be seen here
along with the judging panel, including council chairman Pauline Charlton with her chain of office. These three colours subsequently featured amongst the six final designs
including of course, the eventual competition winner
where St Cuthbert’s cross is depicted in the long associated local colour scheme of blue and yellow, with the whole design counter-changed horizontally.
This winning design was revealed at a ceremony held at Durham Cathedral on November 21st 2013 (see above), which was attended by Susan Snowden the Lord-Lieutenant of County Durham, Councillor Pauline Charlton the Chairman of Durham County Council, the Mayor of Darlington and Michael Sadgrove, the Dean of Durham.
The modern flag also recalls the “Banner of Saint Cuthbert”, bearing the famed pectoral cross, mentioned by “Reginald of Durham” in the late 12th century. Carried in processions, it was considered to be an embodiment of the saint’s “power” and such a banner is reported as having been carried into Scotland in 1097 by Edgar, to reclaim the Scottish throne. It is subsequently recorded that a banner of Saint Cuthbert was carried into battles against the Scots for the following two centuries and was likely present at the siege of Caerlaverock castle in 1300. It was also carried in the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace but was later reported to have been burnt in 1563 by the wife of Dean Whittingham, the puritan Dean of Durham. In 2008, Chris Kilkenny, Historian to the Northumbrian Association, proposed the creation of a new banner and a four-year project ensued, involving sourcing the materials and engaging a team of local artisans with the skills to produce an authentic artefact
The completed item was one of 38 drafts based on the description of the Banner in the “Durham Rites”.
Since registration the county flag has proven enormously popular and has been flown enthusiastically at various spots around the county.
It is seen here
in Sunderland. And is presented here
, at left, by Councllor Dave Geddis, Hetton Town Mayor, with Councillor Dorothy Trueman, Deputy Mayor of Sunderland City Council, for County Durham Day, March 20th 2023. The flag was subsequently raised at the Hetton Council office
and also flew, tripply (!) at the office of County Durham Council
An all glass version
is on display at the Wheatsheaf pub in Chilton, in the county and a magnificent flag map of County Durham has been fashioned
Perhaps the most unusual sightings of the County Durham Flag have been here
on Santa Isabella and Guadalcanal,
Islands, in the Solomon Islands archipelago, in the Pacific Ocean! And here
with the Maori of New Zealand.
Following the successful registration of County Durham’s new flag, a local brewery decided to create a new beer to celebrate the event. The real ale, named “Cuthbert’s Cross”,
was produced by the Yard of Ale Brewing Company and was launched on March 8th 2014 at The Surtees Arms, Ferryhill Station, County Durham.
The golden ale celebrates the life of St. Cuthbert and County Durham Day, March 20th. The official launch of the beer was attended by County Durham flag competition organiser Andy Strangeway, second from left below and the designer of the flag, James Moffat, at right bearing his flag.
And several years later the design of the flag was made available in the form of a fashionable pair of leggings!
With the completion of the competition
all the counties of northern England now bear flags!
The county flag flew over Parliament Square, Westminster
along with other county flags
on July 23rd 2019, Historic County Flags Day #countyflagsday