The Surrey flag was registered as a traditional design, on September 11th 2014. The flag is a banner of the arms
used by the family of William de Warenne, first Earl of Surrey,
which has enjoyed a long association with the county since its first reference in the 13th century Glover’s Roll of arms” and subsequent mention in the 17th century poem by Michael Drayton, on the battle of Agincourt. By 2014 many of Surrey’s neighbours, bearing traditional designs, appeared on the flag registry leaving the county as the last in the Southeast without a registered flag. Extensive research conducted by Philip Tibbetts, on behalf of the Association of British Counties (ABC), proved however, that the county was also linked with a long standing emblem of similar, perhaps greater, antiquity to those of its neighbours. A campaign to register this traditional pattern of checks as Surrey’s flag was subsequently conducted by the ABC, in conjunction with local representatives, including Cranleigh Parish Council and county native Danny Clarke.
As with many county emblems, for example Buckinghamshire and Sussex, the Surrey checks originated with local aristocracy – in this case the de Warenne family whose name derives from ancestral estates in the valley of the Varenne in Normandy, south of Dieppe. This was the first dynasty to hold the Earldom of Surrey after its creation by William I in 1088AD. The chequered blue and yellow arms
are described in the thirteenth century heraldic record “Glover’s Roll” as “Le Counte de Garenne escheque d’or & d’Azur” – “The Count [Earl] of Warenne, checks of gold and blue’, Garenne being an earlier form of the name Warenne. It is plausible that the “Glover’s Roll” description was based on an earlier depiction in a heraldic roll, now lost, dating circa 1240, which would make it one of the earliest rolls of arms and thus, the chequered arms, one of the first instances of formal heraldry. The Surrey checks therefore appear to be one of the oldest of all county emblems. The checks also featured on de Warenne seals.
A later account of the siege of Caerlaverock Castle from 1300, describing the actions of John de Warenne, the sixth Earl of Surrey, includes a reference to the blue and gold checks, “his banner with gold and azure, was nobly chequered”. Accordingly, the frontispiece of the 1864 Thomas Wright publication of this account, “Roll of Caerlaverock”, includes an illustration of the checks in banner form
The design was already flown as a flag in 1300, highlighting its pedigree of use in this form. In the modern era, De Warenne’s banner is displayed at the castle
By 1415 the de Warenne line had become extinct but in this very year, as recorded by Michael Drayton in his 1627 work ‘The Battaile of Agincourt’, when the last of the House of de Warenne died, the men of Surrey carried a banner of gold and blue checks into the Battle of Agincourt in honour of the 1st Earl of Surrey,
“The men of Surrey, checky blue and gold, which for brave Warenne their first earl they wore”.
The chequered De Warenne shield was included in William Smith’s 1585 work “The Particuler Description of England” as one of the arms of Surrey nobility
A near two decades before Drayton’s poem was published, the de Warenne checks had also appeared on John Speed’s map of Surrey
; their association with the county was evidently established by this time. The De Warrenne shield can be found today on a stained glass window at Westminster Abbey
and the armorial banner of the De Warrenne arms forms part of this decorative heraldic achievement
, located at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire. A tribute to Sir John Borlase Warren, a celebrated naval officer, whose surname indicates a connection with the Surrey earls.
By the nineteenth century the association of the blue and gold checks with the county seems to have been consolidated, they were adopted, for example, as the emblem of the Surrey Archaeological Societyand in 1863 the Borough of Reigate was founded and adopted for itself a device which pointedly includes the Earl of Surrey’s checks
Another notable usage of the de Warrenne checks to represent Surrey in this era was their appearance on this Suffragette banner
, of the branch covering the counties of Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire
The formal relationship of the checks to the county itself was cemented when Surrey County Council, which had come into being in 1889, adopted a seal for use on official documentation which included the de Warenne checks at the apex
The seal is described in the 1894 work “The Book of Public Arms” by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies and M. E. B. Crookes;
As an element in the Surrey council’s seal, the de Warenne checks grace the facade of W.H. Smith in Croydon, built in the 1920s
and featured in a 1929 mediaeval pageant
The seal can also be found at County Hall, in Kingston-Upon-Thames, over the entrance to the building
as a decorative element on one of its walls
and on a stained glass window
where an explanation of the designs on the glass is available, describing the de Warrenne arms (picture from getsurrey.co.uk )
The seal is also seen on a pillar of Kew Bridge, under a depiction of ‘Old Father Thames’, linking Surrey and Middlesex, built in 1903
and is present on this example of Goss ware china
from the early twentieth century.
This seal, incorporating the de Warenne checks, was subsequently used to represent Surrey in a general sense, as shown by its inclusion on this 1907 Surrey cricket postcard where it appears in the top right
1934 was also the year that a formal award of arms was made to Surrey County Council which included the de Warenne colours of yellow and blue in a vaguely chequered arrangement
It is conjectured that the arms did not feature the de Warenne checks more unequivocally because when the county council was set up in 1888 it lost administrative control over much of the county and accordingly the College of Arms specifically designed the new arms to reflect the fact that the council’s remit was a new one, which did not extend across the whole of Surrey – implying that had the council been given control of the entirety of the territory of Surrey it would naturally have received arms incorporating the Surrey checks in a more definitive arrangement! Rather confirming this conjecture is the abundance of blue and yellow checks amongst the arms of the county’s towns
Other examples of the association of the county of Surrey with the chequered yellow and blue emblem are; its appearance, embossed on the front cover of the ‘Little Guide’ to Surrey by J. Charles-Cox, Methuen & Co Ltd, 1952,
; this 1925 volume on the county, “Unknown Surrey” by Donald Maxwell, clearly adorned with the Surrey checks
; the appearance of the checks on this 1937 medal issued by the Surrey Rifle Association
and their continued inclusion in the association’s logo
; use of the chequered pattern by Surrey Cricket club over the years, such as this 1965 publication
and this antique cap
; the inclusion of the checks on the badges of four Surrey bowling clubs, at left below the county bowling association and at right the Surrey indoor bowling association; bottom left Purley Bury Bowling Club; bottom right, Putney Town Bowling Club.
; the incorporation of the de Warenne checks in the arms of the University of Surrey
and in the modern era, great use of the checks as a clear expression of Surrey identity by the Surrey County Amateur Swimming Association
who feature the Surrey checks on their team kit!
Perhaps the most unequivocal demonstration of the county’s association with the chequered pattern is its use as the badge of the Surrey Army Cadet Force from the 1980s or 1990s.
A further marked use of the de Warenne checks is their appearance on this 1966 British Rail map
Included on this page is an explanation regarding the use of the de Warenne checks.
And indeed it may be noted that the association’s own logo is itself a stylised elaboration of the Surrey checks, in a circular pattern.
Finally, the de Warenne checks appear in the badge of the “Surrey Herald Extraordinary” designed in 1981 by the College of Arms.It is noticeable that there has been an inconsistency in the display of the chequered pattern, the county archaeological society has the first check, in the top left position, yellow, the Reigate example however, reverses this and the number of checks on display is also reduced. The checks in the Surrey Council seal, as featured in the 1894 work, follow this pattern. The examples of the Suffragette banner and the council’s seal from Croydon, Kew, and on the wall in Kingston, all start with a blue check but differ in the number of checks displayed, whilst the checks on the example of the council seal on the stained glass window, in the same Kingston building, again start with a yellow one and features a greater number of them. It seems that no fixed pattern was ever formally established but that the stained glass window version seems to have emerged in time as the standard pattern. This is the basis for the design of the registered flag.
On July 23rd 2014, Historic County Flags Day, the following county bodies flew the de Warenne banner in support of the campaign to establish the proposed design as the county flag;
The Richmond Society flew the De Warenne banner from St Mary Magdalene Church in Richmond
; Caterham Valley Parish Council displayed the de Warenne checks at Soper Hall, the council headquarters
; Godalming Town Council raised the flag, displayed here by the town’s Deputy Town Clerk
; Cranleigh Parish Council arranged to fly the de Warenne flag from the flagpole near the War Memorial, in the town’s High Street. Vice Chairman of Cranleigh Parish Council, Councillor Brian Cheesman, is seen at right below, raising the flag
; and the Mayor of Haslemere, also hoisted the de Warenne checks
In all seven local Surrey councils raised the de Warenne checks on July 23rd, #CountyFlagsDay, in recognition of the flag’s status as the natural emblem of the county of Surrey including Godstone, Lingfield and Tandridge – unfortunately the latter three did not provide photographs of the occasion. Horley Town Council planned to raise it but was prevented by a broken flagpole! In addition the flag was flown by the Richmond Society. This meant that more than one third of the local councils in Surrey either flew or intended to fly the proposed Surrey flag and they ranged across the length and breadth of the county – as depicted on the map below , with Horley in brackets.
This geographical spread demonstrated the flag’s countywide appeal and was unequivocal, striking evidence of the flag’s innate grassroots legitimacy.
Registration of the proposed flag was further supported by the following county groups.
- Guildford Society
- Surrey County Amateur Swimming Association
- Surrey Cricket League
- Dorking Local History Group
- Surrey Independent Football Association
On the basis of this demonstrable support and the extensive evidence of the association of the de Warenne checks with Surrey, through the years and across the county and in consideration of its continued appearance in the badges, logos and insignia of many and various Surrey organisations, a request for registration of the county’s traditional blue and gold checks was submitted by organiser of the Surrey Independent Football Association, Danny Clarke, working with the Association of British Counties. Cranleigh council subsequently contacted the Flag Institute separately, to endorse the registration request, highlighting its belief that the pattern was the natural emblem for deployment as the county flag of Surrey. The Flag Institute accordingly recognised this position and the de Warrene checks were duly registered as the county flag of Surrey.
The campaign had promoted a pattern of 5 by 3 checks as the basic proposal
while a variant 6 x 10 pattern was flown by the various bodies on July 23rd. This latter version was determined as most suitable for registration by the Flag Institute.
Prior to the registration of the Surrey flag, a banner
of the arms of Surrey County Council
as constituted since 1965, following administrative reorganisation, was available commercially, erroneously described as the flag of Surrey. This banner being the council’s arms in flag form, represented only that body as the armiger or arms-holder, it was not and is not the flag of the county of Surrey.
Following its registration the Surrey flag was raised by the county’s residents
and was adapted for use in a local campaign
The de Warenne checks are proudly borne aloft here at a parade
are displayed here at the Oxted “Pram Race” charity event
and notably, have been adopted as its insignia by the Surrey Virtual School, an education coordination body operated by Surrey County Council.
The design has also been taken up by the county team competing in the recently developed sport of “footgolf”
The county team is seen here with the county flag
which has subsequently been incorporated into the smart team kit sported by the competitors!
The Surrey county flag is also notably and regularly, used by supporters of AFC Wimbledon football club. Between 1906 and 1965 the council of the Surrey town of Wimbledon bore arms,
which included a yellow and blue chequered border in reference to the De Warenne earls of Surrey. Local football team, Wimbledon FC, adopted a modified version of the civic arms for its own badge
which featured a distinct blue and yellow checked border; the team also played in blue with a yellow trim
In consequence of this the club’s supporters frequently wave chequered yellow and blue flags
Although the badge of AFC Wimbledon, the successor to the original club, no longer includes the yellow and blue checks
the team retains a blue and yellow kit and the established tradition of waving the chequered flag of Surrey continues.
and again alongside its neighbours, some ten miles north, at The Grasshopper Inn, in Tatsfield in the county.
The county flag flew over Parliament Square, Westminster
along with other county flags,
on July 23rd 2019, Historic County Flags Day #countyflagsday
The Surrey Flag registration campaign was based on the Facebook page Flag of Surrey which continues to promote the flag.
Philip Tibbetts’s original research can be found at “Surrey Checks – Development of a Traditional Emblem and County Flag“.