In 2014, residents in Berwickshire began to question the presence of three Scottish saltires
at the side of the A1 highway, on their side of the Anglo-Scottish border, which contrasted with the array of the Northumberland county flag, Saint George’s Cross of England and Union Jack
, flying just across the border and raised questions about the possibility of creating a Berwickshire county flag to match the English display. Several years of discussion and consultation followed, involving Transport Scotland, responsible for the stretch of road and the Lord Lyon, regarding the possibility of adapting the coat of arms used by the former Berwickshire County Council
and other possible ideas. Local resident John Marjoribanks however, explained why such ideas were not implementable,
“The coat of arms of the former Berwickshire County Council could not be used as the basis of a flag because, when the county council ceased to exist, the arms reverted to the crown. The coat of arms of Scottish Borders Council could have been used as the basis of a flag at the border crossing but, as the arms are the legal property of the council, it could only be used with its express permission.”
The obvious solution to the issue and one which interested parties such as the Association of British Counties had been calling for, for several years, was either to institute a county flag competition to emulate those established in Caithness and Sutherland or to commission a new but locally meaningful county flag. In 2017 the matter was duly taken up by the office of the county’s Lord-Lieutenant, Jeanna Swan, with Deputy Lieutenant, Susan Swan, tasked with overseeing the project, assisted by John Marjoribanks and Philip Tibbetts, the Community Vexillologist at the Flag Institute, who had previously been involved with the Cithness, Sutherland and South Uist Flag registrations.
In September 2017 Mrs Swan stated that the notion of adapting any of the local civic arms had been abandoned. Instead a new Berwickshire flag was to be created with the help of experts. “I realise that it’s quite a politically contentious issue, and we are keen to emphasise that we don’t want to step on anyone’s toes,” said Mrs Swan. It was agreed that Mrs Swan should meet with Mr Marjoribanks and Mr Tibbetts and bring back ideas to a future meeting in Duns.
John Marjoribanks explained “In the last few years, a new form of community flag has started to emerge, thanks largely to the impetus of the Flag Institute. The basic idea is to develop a simple, instantly-recognisable flag that people can identify with and which fosters community spirit. In Scotland, the Lord Lyon, the legal authority for the registration of coats of arms, has taken the step of providing official recognition to community flags by approving their design and entering them in his registers for use by communities.”
A couple of proposals exist.
The traditional local name of this locality is “Merse” related to the word marsh, in reference to the local terrain. This is symbolised by the green and white stripes in the proposed design from Philip Tibbetts. In 1890 the “canting arms”
(which refer to the name of their bearer in a punning fashion) awarded to Berwickshire County Council in 1890, depicted a bear in front of a Wych elm, playing on the name Ber’wick = “bear wych”. The ursine theme and prominent green and white colours of the former county council’s arms are repeated in the proposed flag.
The bear and wych are also in this proposal by Brady Ells
which is further inspired by the bi-colour fields of the arms of the county town, the Burgh of Duns
and the Burgh of Coldstream, both granted in 1952.
This feature also appeared in the arms of Berwick-upon-Tweed borough council, across the border in England, awarded in 1958 and even registered with Scotland’s highest heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon
The green, white and black colours are again taken from the arms of the former county council.
An image of how this proposal might look, deployed at the Anglo-Scottish border crossing on the A1 highway, flying alongside the Scottish saltire and the Scottish version of the Union Jack.