County flags have appeared in various publications from time to time. Some early articles were gratuitously scathing and dismissive but as the appeal and popularity of county flags has increased and they have become gradually established as a common feature of modern life, the general tone in the media has become less condemnatory and more positive.
By 2011 a number of county flags had been registered, causing some people to take note, such as the following report in the “The Field”.
THE FIELD, MARCH 24TH 2011
Britons are proud of their roots. It is not just the Scottish with their bagpipes and deep-fried Mars Bars, or the Welsh with their choral hymns and satisfied sheep, who are boastful. Across the nation, there is a sense of fervent local pride. Lancastrians, for example, talk big about LS Lowry and chip butties. Geordies show off by wearing the skimpiest of clothes on the coldest of nights and claim that they are the only tribe in the UK that can smell out a Gregg’s Bakery five streets away. Anybody from Essex finds it imperative to swank around his county rolling his shoulders like a wide boy. Somerset is proud of its snakebites and Scrumpy, Hampshire has its own dress code (blancmange-coloured, cashmere sweaters, hi-visibility yellow corduroys and slippers embroidered with pheasant motifs), while those who hail from Gloucestershire are uncommonly pleased that man’s shortest known measurement of time is the split-second between announcing you are from the horsy county and those within earshot chanting, “okay yah”.
This pride defines our country. It gives football clubs their nicknames: Leicester City Football Club is known as “the foxes” because it is sited in the county that once had the largest local hunting industry, while Charlton Athletic is called the “addicks” after the haddock sold at the local fish and chip shop. Norfolk folk are commonly nicknamed “dumplings” because of their aggressively rural ways.
Yet these modern boasts and occasional barbs remain mostly unrecorded. There is, for example, no Mancunian flag of an Overpaid Latin Footballer Salient Leaping, no duster of a Glaswegian Cubit Arm (an arm with the hand made into a fist) or Balti Curry flapping in the Birmingham wind; or at least that has been the case until very recently.
ALL HAIL COUNTY FLAGS!
In 2007, the government announced that new flags (in addition to the Union Jack, the St George’s Cross, the Scottish and Welsh national flags and the European Union flag), could now be flown without the need for consent. Among the new pennants able to flutter from our civic buildings were county flags. This change sent the local county council bureaucrats into a creative spin, excited about formally recognising their county with a duster. But, unfortunately, none of the new flags seems to bear any relation to how the residents see themselves or the rest of the country sees them.
Devon, for example, decided it needed a county flag shortly before the 2007 ruling. It was doubtless inspired by its neighbour Cornwall whose stay-at-home residents like to brag about pasties and their “fierce Celtic independence”, while its diaspora likes to fly the Cornish black and white cross of St Piran. “Devonians are only too aware of the ubiquitous Cornish flag that is often seen in the form of car bumper stickers on vehicles entering Devon from Cornwall,” says Bob Burns from Devon. “People are quite aware that the Cornish make political capital by claiming to be different.”
The flag finally chosen for Devon, and now officially recognised by its local county council, is a black and white cross on a green background. The green is supposed to represent the “lush of the rolling Devon hills”, the black is meant to symbolise the “high and windswept moors”, while the white is (you’ve guessed it) “the salt spray of Devon’s two coastlines”. I’ll bet a crust of Wonderloaf to a cream tea that most locals and no visitors can identify it. The Cornish, on the other hand, have criticised it as being too similar to their own and claim it is linked to St Petroc, who is associated with them.
A more appropriate flag for Devon, as there is a derelict car in every outbuilding, might be a banner featuring a Vintage Motor Car Statant (all four wheels on the ground) and bearing a Countryside Alliance march sticker. Further-more, it would be correct in the county of red cheeks, red earth and red apples for it to be resting on red bricks. This may sound daft but such a flag would carry as much authority as the newly created bogus cross, according to the College of Arms, the body responsible for official heraldry in Britain.
As David White, the Somerset Herald at the College of Arms, says, “There is no such thing as a flag that is separate from a coat of arms. A flag is a coat of arms put on a bit of cloth and flown on a square banner and if anything has been added or subtracted from that coat of arms, it has no authority. A cross such as the Devon cross may be a welcome sign of support for a local area but it has no more worth than that.”
COUNTIES’ COLOURS AND CRESTS
English counties are based on historic sub-divisions that were established by the Normans who had been influenced by the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and shires. Many of those original fiefdoms had their own colours; Wessex, for example, had a golden dragon as its standard while Northumbria had a flag (first recorded in the eighth century) of gold and purple. However, it was not until the 1888 Local Government Act that the first county councils, known as administrative counties, were created and only then were most of them awarded coats of arms by the College of Arms. “Those county crests belong exclusively to the county council and not to the general public living in the county,” says White. “County flags based on the crests that can be seen on bumper stickers and poles in the back garden are wrong.” However, archaic rulings by the heralds, who have been trying to lay down the law on heraldry since medieval times, seem to have been largely ignored by the counties, many of which have chosen to go Devon’s anarchic way.
Lincolnshire has adopted a flag chosen in a competition in conjunction with BBC Radio Lincolnshire and Lincolnshire Life magazine. Like Devon, it has adopted a cross on a green and blue background, representative of the fields and the sea. A V-shaped flag with a partridge would be more reminiscent of its steep combes and excellent shooting. Derbyshire, too, has decided on a cross; it is green on a blue background, designed by a BBC Breakfast show listener. “It’s green because we are a lush county,” says the official bumf, “while the blue represents our rivers and reservoirs.” Again, this shows a striking lack of imagination. After all, Florence Nightingale lived in Derbyshire; it is the home of Bakewell tart, Edith Sitwell, Mick Jagger’s grandmother and several great houses including Chatsworth, owned by the Devonshires. Furthermore, Henry Mosely Stevens, inventor of the hot dog, was born in Derby. The Devonshire arms, showing three stags’ heads with a serpent twisted to form a knot, would be far more representative if the serpent were replaced by a hot dog.
Wiltshire’s new ensign features a great bustard on a green and white striped background. It was decided, rather oddly, that the recent reintroduction of this bird to the county was of greater importance than its magnificent score of ancient white horses carved into its chalk hills or the stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge. Kent is universally known as the “garden of England”, yet it hasn’t adopted a trowel and a trug logo but a Wiltshire-style white horse on a red background.
There are, of course, some county flags that are historic, such as the red rose of Lancashire and the white rose of Yorkshire. The Essex flag, depicting three Saxon swords, and the ensign of Middlesex (now an area rather than a county) with its three swords, are the famed emblems of the Saxon kings. But the rest are, as David White calls them, “bogus populism”. If Britain is going to have “bogus” popular flags then I suggest that rather than meaningless crosses and predictable colours, we should adopt more accessible, modern symbols.
A Commuter Train Static might suit East Sussex, for example, while Electric Gates Shut would be perfect for Surrey. I like the idea of a Lurcher in Full Chase for the Fens and a Hippie Sandal Dormant as the totemic sign for North Wiltshire. A Hoodie Embattled would be right for Liverpool while I suppose Swindon with all its roundabouts would suit a Roundel (a generic circle in the heraldic dictionary). So where does that leave the Cotswolds – my neck of the woods – which so far has no flag and no plans to introduce one?
At first I thought that an appropriate banner might be a Horse Box Passant. The equine transporters dominate the Cotswolds in much the same way as white caravans clog Cornwall and ice-cream vans crowd Margate. Then I realised I had ignored the great heraldic convention – one must feature a beast. The sensible Cotswold flag therefore would include a horse, but a horse could represent half our counties, so therefore its immensely proud rider would embody the area better. A Fake-Tan Cubit Arm with Circling Tiffany Bracelet Gripping a Pair of Reins is my suggestion.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
It’s really not obvious why the writer of this article was so outraged by the concept of county flags, what harm they might cause anyone is not apparent and just why the use of flags to promote county identity is something to be ridiculed is not clear.
The writer states
” none of the new flags seems to bear any relation to how the residents see themselves or the rest of the country sees them.”
which is a highly sweeping statement, based on no apparent evidence. He writes that ”
The flag finally chosen for Devon, and now officially recognised by its local county council, is a black and white cross on a green background. ”
but it was chosen by popular vote and was one of several submitted designs that included the colours green, white and black in a cross pattern, indicating that the theme was very much how the county’s residents saw themselves. He doubts “that most locals and no visitors” can identify the flag, which is baseless assertion and no reason for a flag not to be produced and flown, there are several thousand flags around the world and the average citizen of the planet is unlikely to recognise most of them…so what? Would he question the citizens of a little known Pacific island nation for adopting a flag on the basis that few people recognise it? In any case the Devon flag is a ubiquitous feature around the county and it is consequently actually highly doubtful that any resident cannot, identify it – visitors too, are likely to cotton on pretty quickly that it might have something to do with the place they are visiting! He then sarcastically lists other items that might be more appropriate to appear on a flag, all related to dereliction and impoverishment – but why suggest this? What is the point? Would he tell the residents of an impoverished nation that their flag should feature such negative imagery? Completely misses the point that a flag is there to inspire pride, not cast despondency.
The writer then refers to the Devon flag having no authority and cites one David White, Somerset herald at the “College of Arms” as the source of this statement. The herald in turn asserts that
“There is no such thing as a flag that is separate from a coat of arms.”
which is palpable nonsense and lacking a sound context. He continues
“A flag is a coat of arms put on a bit of cloth and flown on a square banner and if anything has been added or subtracted from that coat of arms, it has no authority.”
The piece fails to clarify that the herald is referring specifically to the flags used by local authorities which are “banners of arms” or “armorial banners”, formed by taking the design from the shield in a local authority’s coat of arms and deploying it on a piece of cloth. It is true that arms and the banners derived from them, are used on the basis of the authority provided by the College of Arms and ultimately the Crown but county flags arose as people felt the need to express their local pride; whilst no law exists to provide them, county flags are an expression of legitimacy and popular will nonetheless and “authority”, in practical terms, is irrelevant. Weirdly though the herald does seem to get it because he then states
“A cross such as the Devon cross may be a welcome sign of support for a local area but it has no more worth than that.”
which is exactly the point and purpose of a county flag, they are signs for a local area and that, is, their actual worth, what further worth exactly is required? The fact is that the College of Arms and the rules of traditional heraldry are not designed to cater for the concept and use of county flags, they provide the insignia for use by authorities, whilst the flags are for the counties as entities in their own right and the residents who live in them, so these opinions are invalid. The herald allegedly then states that
“…county crests belong exclusively to the county council and not to the general public living in the county,”.
Well for a start what he is referring to are “coats of arms” not “crests”, a crest, as any herald will advise, is one facet of a full coat of arms, his use of this incorrect term is dumbfounding; secondly, whilst it is certainly true that such arms and banners derived from them, may not be used by anybody, as they belong to the arms holder as personal property and this is as true of arms belonging to a local authority as it is of arms belonging to an individual, this is, however, exactly why county flags exist, because they are not coats of arms prescribed for local authorities by the College of Arms – both the writer and the Herald seemingly fail to grasp this point entirely, they seem to feel that without any “authority” the flags are not “real” in some sense – whereas in fact the college and its rules have simply failed to move with the times! When the author of the article writes
“archaic rulings by the heralds, … seem to have been largely ignored by the counties, many of which have chosen to go Devon’s anarchic way.”
he does not recognise that the flags are not “anarchic”, they are simply not subject to the heraldic rules laid down by the College.
Further disparaging comments follow, suggesting that the flag of Derbyshire ought to feature Mick Jagger’s grandmother and a Bakewell tart and other snide comments about hot dogs. All of this is supposedly intended, yet again, to dismiss the notion of county flags as serious products, swiping, for some peculiar reason, at the popular will that has created them. And what is one to make of the comment that
“Kent is universally known as the “garden of England”, yet it hasn’t adopted a trowel and a trug logo but a Wiltshire-style white horse on a red background.”
when the Kent symbol is several centuries old and certainly comparable to the other county emblems he cites as being somewhat acceptable because they are “historic”. He uses this adjective for the Yorkshire and Lancashire roses but fails to recognise that their deployment on flags is a recent practice and by the way, Middlesex IS a county still, it has never been abolished. So basically it seems that if a county flag is of recent development it is “bogus” but if it is of some long standing it is perhaps acceptable, by which criteria the writer seeks to deny the opportunity to express their local pride and allegiance through the raising of a county flag, to those shires which do not have the “history” that he deems necessary.
However, a much more positive and welcome report appeared on the BBC news website the following year.
FLYING THE COUNTY FLAG: THE PRESERVATION OF AN IDENTITY, 20TH APRIL 2014
By Bethan Bell Journalist, BBC News
Symbols, patterns and colours have been used for millennia as ways to rally the troops, frighten foes, inspire loyalty, and recognise allies.
Think Native Americans using war paint to intimidate their enemies, the clan tartan of the Scots, standard bearers on the battlefield.
Does anything fulfil that unifying role today – and does anyone care?
Country flags fluttering in the breeze are a common sight, but flying the county flag has been relatively rare.
They are, though, experiencing something of a boom.
Six new county flags were registered last year, the highest ever yearly number, and more than half of England’s 30 historical county flags have been registered since 2000.
A further 15 are in the pipeline, according to the Flag Institute, which maintains and manages the national United Kingdom Flag Registry.
So what is driving the movement?
Gloucestershire’s Severn Cross flag was the winner of a competition organized by the county’s High Sheriff.
To understand the point of county flags, the role of the counties themselves must be considered, said Dr Kenn Casey, a retired lecturer in social history.
“They give their names to clubs, societies, military regiments, and sports teams,” he said.
“But most importantly, they are places where people think they “belong”.
Andy Strangeway, a campaigner for the recognition of historic counties, raised awareness by sleeping at the highest point in every county in Great Britain. If the county had an official flag, he took it with him.
The Local Government Act of 1974, which introduced administrative counties based on the local authority, seemed to eliminate some counties overnight by moving the geographical boundaries.
But this is not the case.
Registering a new flag
A new design refers to a flag which is original but may still include elements of traditional icons and symbols
- If a flag has been in use, but unregistered, for a long period of time an application may be made by anyone. There must be compelling evidence of provenance
- A local authority may apply, but must detail the design’s relevance to the area in question and outline the intended use for the flag and the symbolism of the design
- A public competition can be held to come up with a new design
Source: Charles Ashburner, Flag Institute
An activist for the recognition of traditional counties, Andy Strangeway, whose campaigns have established a handful of new flags, explained: “On 1 April 1974 I was a young lad who had gone to bed the previous night in the East Riding and woke up in Humberside – or so the powers that be like us to believe.
“The truth is that the River Tees is still the boundary between Yorkshire and County Durham and the River Humber is still the boundary between Yorkshire and Lincolnshire today as it has been for over 1,100 years.”
On Saint George’s Day last year, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government asserted that England’s historic and traditional counties still exist, and are now recognised by the government – including the likes of Cumberland, Huntingdonshire, Westmorland and Middlesex.
The county flag plays a crucial role in promoting recognition of traditional boundaries and names, according to Jason Saber, from the Association of British Counties.
“The county flag is a highly effective weapon in our arsenal,” he said.
“A bright eye-catching design rippling in the breeze will attract attention of itself and invariably lead to an enquiry about what or where it represents.”
Regional flags for Yorkshire’s East Riding, North Riding and West Riding. All were chosen by public vote last year, after a campaign led by Andy Strangeway
Flags for County Durham, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire
Some of the proposed designs for (l-r) Bedfordshire, Surrey, Hampshire and Suffolk
Mr Pickles said the widespread flag flying during the royal wedding, Diamond Jubilee and Olympics is evidence of a gradual cultural change in Britain.
“Flags deserve our respect.
“Not only do they convey power and status but they can create deep pride and bring unbridled joy,” he added.
The historic county of Westmorland, and the county’s official flag which was registered in 2011
Social psychologist Rachelle Dwyer said there is some truth in Mr Pickles’ suggestion that public celebrations could have triggered an interest in community feeling.
“Street parties and the like got people together.
“In a fast-moving society where it is common for people not to know their neighbours, there would be a certain comfort in rediscovering community spirit, and a reluctance to abandon it,” she said.
Can that alone explain the recent surge of interest in county flags?
Image captionThe flag of Essex is ancient in origin and features three Saxon seaxes
The earliest of Mr Pickles’ examples, the royal wedding, took place in 2011. But the increase began a decade before that.
Flags deserve our respect. They convey power…but they can create deep pride and bring unbridled joyEric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
In 2002, the county flag for the Isles of Scilly was registered after a campaign by a local newspaper, the Scilly News.
It opened the floodgates. In the next 12 years, more than a third of new flags were established as a result of competitions held by local media.
They generate publicity for the press, which has a vested interest in encouraging people to identify themselves with their counties.
A third reason, according to Mrs Dwyer, is simply human nature.
“When someone sees a county with a flag, their reaction could be “I want one too.””
Envy aside, is there a point in having a flag, and do they mean anything to the communities they represent?
It depends, said Dr Casey.
Worcestershire’s county council, cricket team and county flag all bear pear tree symbols
Arms belonging to a county council may be incorporated into any flag, but they belong solely to the organisation to which they were granted, and do not, as is often assumed, represent the county as a whole.
But that very assumption means counties already have symbolic identities – Essex’s swords, Lancashire’s red rose, Yorkshire’s white.
Flag design guidelines
- Keep it simple. The flag should be easy enough for a child to draw from memory, or it will be too hard for people to remember and reproduce
- Use meaningful symbols. The flag’s elements, colours, or patterns should relate to what it will represent
- Use two or three basic colours, and make sure they contrast well.
- Do not use lettering or seals. Writing and intricate designs are difficult to make out and will be the wrong way round on one side of the flag
- Be distinctive. Flags too similar could be misidentified
- Consider how the flag will look flying in the wind or drooping from the pole. Flags very rarely fly flat
Source: Flag Institute
Worcestershire’s official flag, granted a year ago, features the black pear – the emblem borne by men from the county at the Battle of Agincourt – and a green and blue background symbolising the floodplain of the River Severn as it runs through the county.
The pears are already on the county council’s arms, Worcestershire County Cricket Club’s banner, and pub signs.
The Worcestershire Rifle Volunteers of 1859 used the Pear Tree as their emblem until 1908, while pear blossom was shown as a badge by the Worcestershire Yeomanry Cavalry from the beginning of the 20th Century until 1956.
In cases like these, where administrative counties tally with the historical ones, Dr Casey argues a new flag adds little: “There is no motivation to feel particularly passionate about it.”
The Huntingdonshire flag, which was established by the Huntingdonshire Society
But when the historical county is no longer an administrative one, a flag assumes a much greater importance.
“People still identify with those counties – there are still Middlesex, Huntingdonshire and Cumberland county cricket clubs, and a Westmorland cricket league,” he said.
A county flag can reinforce that sense of identity where it might otherwise become fragile.
The seven kingdoms of Anglo Saxon England: Mercia, East Anglia, Northumbria, Wessex, Essex, Kent and Sussex
People living in Cumberland or Westmorland, for example, now officially live in Cumbria under the remit of Cumbria County Council.
“If someone is told something enough, they will eventually come to believe it,” said Mrs Dwyer.
“So there is a chance a strong identity would be compromised.”
In response to the disappearance of their administrative county, a Huntingdonshire Society was set up to promote awareness of the historic county.
In 2009, the organisation was successful in registering an official Huntingdonshire flag.
One obvious exception is Cornwall, where the historical county and administrative one are the same, but the flag is well known and well represented.
The red rose is the traditional symbol of Lancashire and yellow and red are the livery colours of the county
Cornwall is historically a Celtic land, and is not one of the seven kingdoms of Anglo Saxon England: Mercia; East Anglia; Northumbria; Wessex; Essex; Kent and Sussex.
The peninsula has its own language and four elected county councillors from a nationalist party.
According to Cornwall Council, in the 2011 census 73,200 people out of a total population of 530,000 said they had a distinct Cornish, rather than English, national identity.
From this perspective, the Cornish flag is not a county flag at all, but comparable to the Scottish saltire, the Welsh dragon or England’s cross of Saint George.
So do any symbols, patterns or colours fulfil that unifying role to rally the troops, frighten foes, inspire loyalty, and recognise allies?
And does anyone care?
The answer to both questions, in Dr Casey’s words, is “sometimes”.
St Piran’s day is celebrated in Perranporth, Cornwall, with an annual procession
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Ms Bell demonstrably understood the purpose and usefulness of county flags, her insightful account promoted and publicised their existence and place in modern society and incidentally prompted fourteen and a half thousand visits to this site on the day of publication!
The BBC article was followed the next year by another, focussing on the flags of Welsh counties.
SEVEN COUNTIES IN WALES NOW HAVE THEIR OWN FLAGS, 14TH APRIL 2015
By Lucy Ballinger, BBC Wales News
Increasing numbers of counties are applying for to have flags officially recognised
Flintshire has become the latest Welsh county to adopt a flag, and campaigners hope the standard, adopted from an ancient design, will soon be flown across the area.
It is the seventh historical area in Wales to register a flag with the Flag Institute, a charity which manages a list of banners, with two other counties – the former Cardiganshire and Radnorshire areas – still campaigning for their own.
Dr Shaun Evans, who was one of the people behind Flintshire’s new flag, said it won support from locals and the county council.
“It is primarily about celebrating and promoting an identity for Flintshire and help sell the county to the world,” said Dr Evans.
But has your county got a flag, and do you recognise it?
Take our quiz below to find out.
1) A rose on a cross
This flag was launched in a flag dedication service in a local castle in 1988.
The banner is based on the flag of St David, with the Tudor rose symbolising Henry VII, who was born in this county.
The blue and green represent the land and cliffs of this region.
2) Three chevrons
This flag dates from the 12th century but was officially registered in 2013.
It is based on a banner of the arms attributed to Iestyn ap Gwrgant, the last native ruler of the kindgom of Morgannwg, on which this county is based.
The design has been used by various councils in the area.
3) Three dragons
This flag dates from the 15th century.
The design of three lions and a chevron is believed to date back to local ruler, Hwfa ap Cynddelw. The earliest reference made to it appears to be in the work of the 15th century bard Lewys Glyn Cothi.
The arms were the recognisable county emblem before being registered as a flag, and were used by the local council, police and fire brigade.
4) Three goats and a sun
This flag, featuring three goats and a sun, was registered in January 2015 as a traditional design which dates back to the 17th century.
It was an adaptation of the seal used by a former county council.
The design was based on a description of a banner borne by the men of the area at the Battle of Agincourt, in the 17th century poem of the same name by Michael Drayton.
5) Three eagles
This flag was registered in March 2012, but its origins date back to a 12th century king.
The three eagles on this flag represent the legendary ones of a mountainous region in this area, whose Welsh name means “nest of eagles”.
The banner is originally understood to have been used by Owain Gwynedd, whose kingdom covered most of the present day county.
The design has also featured on the seal and arms on the later county council and the emblems of a number of local organisations.
6) Four choughs
The design of this flag dates back to the 14th century, when the choughs – the four black birds which feature on the standard – populated the coast of this county.
Although choughs no longer live in this region they have been retained on the emblem, which has been used by councils and local clubs.
The ancient arms is understood to be a banner posthumously assigned to Edwin Tegeingl, the 11th century Lord or King of Tegeingl, which formed the core of this county.
7) … and three fleur-de-lys on a background of black and blue
This flag dates back to the 6th century and is based on the arms attributed by medieval heralds to King Inyr, who was from the county it represents.
These arms have historically been part of the coat of arms of the local county council. They have also been used by local organisations including the rugby club.
1) Pembrokeshire; 2) Glamorgan; 3) Anglesey; 4) Merioneth; 5) Caernarfonshire; 6) Flintshire; 7) Monmouthshire.
Source: UK Flag Registry
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Another welcome account that drew attention to the existence and use of county flags in Wales. It included one inaccuracy by referring to “three dragons” rather than “three lions” on the flag of Anglesey which may have been occasioned by their particularly heraldic, elongated depiction.
Sadly, after these two positive BBC reports, the following year, The Irish Examiner published an extraordinary vilification of British county flags entitled “Is your county flag one of the 20 most bonkers in the UK?” that was highly disparaging, gloried in its profession of ignorance and neglect of the research which one might presume to be an inherent journalistic requirement and exhibited what seemed to be an excessive depth of loathing for the subject matter!
THE IRISH EXAMINER, JULY 7TH 2015
Is your county flag one of the 20 most bonkers in the UK?
Did you know your county even had a flag? Chances are it’s got some odd things on it…
If you’re going to a music festival this summer – or even just watching one on TV chances are you’ll spot at least a few crazy looking flags in the crowd. And you might be surprised to learn that (smiley faces and images of Bob Marley aside) a lot of these are genuine flags belonging to the historic counties of the UK. But unless you live somewhere like Cornwall, Yorkshire or Essex (who’ve flown their flags proudly for centuries) you probably don’t know your own county flag. That’s because: a) most of them have been cobbled together in the last 10 years, and b) the majority are plain bizarre.
Here’s a rundown of some of the most *ahem* inventive county flag designs in Britain.
20. West Riding of Yorkshire
There’s one flag for the whole of Yorkshire, and others for each of the Ridings. All of them feature white roses. The West Riding, however, is the only one that found it necessary to set their white rose ON FIRE.
Sorry Glamorgan, but your historic flag looks like road markings. Actually, no it looks like a turbo ramp in a kart-racing videogame.
Norfolk had a lovely banner of gold and black with a white bar. Until some bloody bird walked over the white paint!
17. Outer Hebrides (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar)
The Western Isles have clearly tried to flag up their proud maritime history (even if it is a millennium out of date now). Unfortunately guys, all your boats look beached.
Cheshire: fighting off ferocious hay bales since 980 AD. That or they’ve got a woeful grasp of appropriate agricultural implements.
Y’know, Bedfordshire? Landlocked county. Its towns include Luton, Flitwick, Dunstable… Nope, we don’t know why there are scallops and waves on their flag either.
Got the horn? Because Huntingdonshire’s flag has. (It’s a hunting horn geddit?) All topped off with a lovely albeit totally unnecessary golden bow.
13. Isle of Wight
Is it just us or does the Isle of Wight’s flag look like a crappy nautical rip-off of Space Invaders?
Shropshire treasures its local wildlife especially its leopards. Or are they jaguars? Either way they’re not native to Shropshire!
If you’re looking for a psychedelic board to play draughts on, Surrey’s flag is for you.
Know what that bird is? It’s a great bustard. They’re native to Wiltshire. Incidentally, the test for being a true Wiltshire local is being able to discuss bustards without resorting to slightly rude puns.
You know what Worcestershire are really proud of? The beautiful silhouettes of their local pears.
As well as the award for “campest stag”, Hertfordshire also picked up the gong in the “say what you see” category. You see it’s a male deer (or “hart”, in olden-day speak) over some blue wavy lines (perhaps a “ford”, if you will). Outside the box this is not.
7. Tyne and Wear
Rather than a traditional flag, folks in the North East designed a campaign poster against the perils of climate change. Perhaps now the world will sit up and take note?!
The flag-designers of Nottinghamshire were scratching their heads trying to think of anything non-fictional that symbolised the county. And then just went for Robin Hood anyway.
So Angus got greedy. Here’s how we imagine their conversation with the Flag Institute went…
So we want a cheeky red lion with a blue tongue and a crown. And a heart and that has to have a crown too. And a golden flower that looks like it’s melted a bit. And three gold steering wheels with spiky bits. And a blue and white starting line. And two… no, THREE stars!
You think you’ve got room for all that?
Yeah sure, why not?
This flag is Westmorland’s two fingers to the fact they’re not really a county any more (just the southern half of Cumbria). For no apparent reason, it features the whomping willow from Harry Potter, but with badass pine cone fists. Oh, and it’s shooting golden bombs all over the place. Take that Cumbria!
Just taking my pet swan for a walk with this golden chain. Standard Sunday afternoon in Buckinghamshire…
Is this what springs to mind when you think “Warwickshire”? It looks like a weirdly hairless polar bear, muzzled and chained to an entirely white tree by a golden chain. What it’s doing to the tree, we don’t care to guess.
And finally, the historic Welsh county of Merionethshire has gone with an imagining of what a hillside of goats getting struck by a meteor might look like. Well done, Merionethshire! You win most bonkers county flag in Britain!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
There was no direct means available to respond to this printed diatribe, perhaps in anticipation of its likely reception, but our response, shown below, delivered via general email and Facebook methods, was entirely ignored.
Last week The Irish Examiner published a “report” on British County flags. Presumably this was intended to be satirical but it seems to glory in ignorance and serves only to misinform. We can take a joke but it had worn a little thin by the 5th paragraph. Since the journal offers no evident means of reply on any public forum our response follows.
So what was the point of this article? Limp satire? Gratuitous criticism? Why exactly are our county flags “bonkers”? Are you just unfamiliar with the provenance of the designs? What is that you object to, the fact that our flags exhibit more creativity than a few coloured stripes? You also imply that novelty is worthy of disdain; “cobbled together in the last ten years”. Perhaps rather than “cobbled together” our flags have been carefully crafted after extensive research, which you admit that you did not do before cobbling together your article; “Nope, we don’t know why there are scallops and waves on their flag either.”… maybe you could have found out, https://britishcountyflags.wordpress.com/…/bedfordshire-fl…/ ?
Or are you just opposed to the idea of county flags in general? If so why? Numerous countries on Earth include flags at various levels of territorial division; every Swiss Canton and each commune or district within bears its own flag; a similar condition applies in the Netherlands, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, the Czech Republic. Why should our counties not also mark themselves out with distinctive flags?
West Riding’s flag features a “Rose-en-Soleil” device, combining a sun and a rose. First used by Richard II. this emblem of 600 years standing appeared on the arms of the former West Riding Council; its inclusion on the local flag was an obvious continuation of an established local tradition. Most people feel it is an eye-catching and impressive design that stands out. The sun and rose emblem is both distinct and locally meaningful – consult any guide to flag design e.g. http://www.flaginstitute.org/…/Flag_Design_Commission_Repor… or https://portlandflag.files.wordpress.com/…/2013_gfbf_final_… and you’ll find that distinctiveness is a desirable trait in a flag.
Road markings and turbo ramps in kart-racing videogames are twentieth century creations, THEY resemble the arms of Iestyn Ap Gwrgant created in the middle ages, some seven hundred years ago. You may be more familiar with the former items that you mention but that is not a reason, not to utilise this ancient local design as the Glamorgan flag. It has appeared on the arms of many local councils and sporting bodies, including the arms of the capital city, where the Welsh dragon proudly wields the Iestyn banner. Rather than being “bizarre” this flag is imbued with ancient local heritage and is entirely apt.
The ermine bend on Norfolk’s flag reflects the association of its first earl with Brittany, this Celtic land today still proudly bears an ermine pattern on its national flag. Perhaps you have also notified the people there of your dislike for their ancient tradition?
Westmorland has never ceased to be a county, what makes you think it has? There is no Westmorland County Council but the county existed for about 700 years without a local council and continues to exist today. Our counties are not defined by local administrations, a point asserted in 1974 by a government official “The new county boundaries are administrative areas, and will not alter the traditional boundaries of counties, nor is it intended that the loyalties of people living in them will change despite the different names adopted by the new administrative counties.” See the foot of the page here https://britishcountyflags.wordpress.com/ for further confirmations of this fact. You may also like to see http://www.quadhurst.co.uk/aboutthiscountiesmap.html to get better acquainted with the facts. Oh and by the way the “apparent reason” why there is a stylised apple tree on the county flag is that it represents the county town of Appleby – it’s all here https://britishcountyflags.wordpress.com/…/westmorland-flag/
In his 17th century poem on the Battle of Agincourt, Michael Drayton relates that the men of Merioneth bore a banner with “three goats dancing ‘gainst a rising sun”. This six hundred year old theme was used in the seal and subsequent arms, used by the local council in Merioneth and with this centuries long association, naturally features again as the county flag. Do you really find the flag unattractive? Most people think it’s beautiful. It is also locally relevant and utterly distinct. What is bonkers about that?
Worcestershire has a proud fruit producing heritage, long symbolised on various local arms and now its flag. Why not? Should the county not be proud of its distinctive black pear variety? Do you find pears inherently humorous? What could possibly be more appropriate?
Considering the precepts of good flag design outlined in the above guides what would you have recommended instead? Take a look at the state flags in the USA by comparison and you’ll find that most of them are dire – utterly indistinguishable and generally comprised of tiny complex seals on bed sheets. Few are memorable and most will not stir the soul. Our flags generally comply with the recommendations – they are bright, cheerful, thoughtful. You may find them bizarre, we fly them with pride.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And some further subsequent observations include, the fact that Tyne and Wear is not a county and the image shown is not a county flag and that Angus currently has no county flag, what is depicted is the armorial banner of the local council and no one else has any right to make use of it. The imagined conversation included in the above article would never have taken place because the banner was never available for use as a county flag. Similarly, the so called Warwickshire flag depicted is also the armorial banner of the county council, which expressly forbids its use by anyone else, on its website. At the time of publication the Warwickshire county flag had not yet been established and there was no flag for the county, which a modicum of research would have revealed. The Outer Hebrides is also not a county and there is no registered county flag although it true that the archipelago competes as a distinct entity and in the absence of an actual registered flag for the island group, the local council’s armorial banner has been used to represent the territory. Further information on the misunderstandings and inaccuracies contained in this “report” can be found at Not British County Flags and here for details regarding the flag used to represent the Outer Hebrides/Western Isles. And just for clarity, the flags of the West Riding and the Isle of Wight both represent territories subsumed by counties but are not county flags themselves, more here.
A few years later the Daily Mail surprisingly produced a very colourful report on county flags. It made up for its raft of inaccuracies and some misinformation with a welcome enthusiasm for the subject matter!
COULD YOU RECOGNISE THE FLAG OF YOUR COUNTY? TAKE A LOOK AT THESE COLOURFUL BANNER FROM AROUND BRITAIN AND TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE
DAILY MAIL TUESDAY JUNE 27TH 2017 By TED THORNHILL FOR MAILONLINE
- De Vere Hotels has produced a map revealing all but a handful of Britain’s county flags
- Here MailOnline presents them in quiz form. Take a look at the first grid, then scroll down for the answers
- National flags are often used as symbols of patriotism – and this is true for county flags, too
A white house shape on a green background on top of wavy lines? Sound familiar? No?
How about a black bear on top of green and white stripes? Is that a mystery, too?
These are both descriptions of flags belonging to British counties – but it’s fair to say that most people in the UK wouldn’t know that.
De Vere Hotels has produced a map revealing all but a handful of Britain’s county flags and here MailOnline Travel presents them in quiz form. Take a look at the first grid, then scroll down for the answers to see where in the UK they are placed
How many English county flags do you recognise? Put yourself to the test here
The study of flags is known as vexillology, which is taken from the Latin word vexillum meaning flag or banner.
National flags are often used as symbols of patriotism – and this is true for county flags, too.
They are often used to represent an important historical event in a county’s past.
The county flags of the UK revealed, from the black bear of Berwickshire to the swan of Buckinghamshire
This map, produced by De Vere Hotels, places all the county flags on a map of the UK
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
The problem with this zealous promotion of county flags was its imprecision, it included several designs that were not registered flags but armorial banners of local authorities such as Cumbria County Council, Mersyeside and Greater Manchester, some of which, such as West Midlands, were borne by local authorities that had ceased to exist over thirty years previously and none of these designs had ever been released for public use. By contrast it also omitted several county flags such as Westmorland and Middlesex. The report also appeared to have delved in to this site as it included numerous designs that feature here, specifically designated as “proposals” but presented them as established flags; examples included Stirlingshire; Berkshire, Berwickshire, amongst many others. Another confusing aspect was the inclusion of the colours used by county teams, from Northern Ireland, participating in Gaelic Football, which had never been registered as county flags. Also somewhat perplexing was involvement of “De Vere Hotels” in the production of the above map depicting the flags across the country – quite what qualification this company had for this task was not immediate! However, as stated, this promotion of the concept of county flags and the colourful array, made a fine contrast with earlier denigratory media coverage.
The county flags feature in the Daily Mail prompted further similar reports in the London Evening Standard
and the London based “Metro” newspaper
DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE FLAG OF YOUR COUNTY LOOKS LIKE?, THURSDAY 26TH JANUARY 2017
Jen Mills for Metro.co.uk
Spot yours (Picture: De Vere Hotels)
Everyone knows what the Union Jack looks like – but did you know there are British flags which picture swords, a two headed bird, and goats apparently ‘getting struck by an explosion’? Not all in the same picture, sadly.
A map showing each county’s flag has been put together.
It includes almost all of them (both official and proposed flags), but not every single one.
If you want to be really nerdy, try to name them all and see how far you get. The answers are at the bottom of the page.
Click to enlarge (Picture: De Vere Hotels)
Most counties in the UK now have a flag. However, some of them are newer to the flag game than others, with many counties registering theirs in the last decade.
One of those with the oldest heritage is the Cornish flag. Its white cross on a black background represents the tin mining which the area relied on for centuries, showing the flash of metallic ore in the darkness of the mine.
It’s known as the flag of St Piran, after one of the three patron saints of Cornwall
The Essex flag also has a long pedigree, showing three seaxes (short Saxon swords) on a red field, depicting the ancient kingdom of the East Saxons.
First shown in 1611, it has the sword imagery in common with Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka.
Yorkshire’s flag, showing the white rose of York, was registered officially in 2008 but the design dates back to the 1960s.
The symbol itself is centuries old, and gave its name to the Wars of the Roses between two sides of royal House of Plantagenet who both wanted the throne. The House of Lancashire had a red rose.
Perthshire in Scotland has proposed to have the double headed eagle as their official flag.
It derives from the coat of arms used by the city of Perth, which shows the two-headed bird to represent its Roman history.
Most bizarre flag in the UK goes to Merionethshire in west Wales, officially registered in 2015.
It has been described as three goats getting blown up by a meteor, but it’s actually meant to represent them ‘dancing ‘gainst the rising sun’, which was apparently depicted on a banner carried by men from the area at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Both of these subsequent reports on county flags appear to have been based on, or derived from, the original Daily Mail article and consequently suffer from the same basic errors exhibited there although the Metro report does actually acknowledge that some of the designs portrayed are proposals. Unfortunately the same loose De Vere map has also been used and there is an unnecessary, generally critical description of the Merioneth flag, which demonstrates a failure to grasp one of the important aspects of flag design, distinction – the Merioneth flag is unique and will never be mistaken for anything else!
In late December 2018 The Daily Telegraph reported government plans to promote our counties which included the recommendation to fly county flags, with a depiction of them!
including the three proposals featured on this site
for the three English counties still lacking a county flag. This lavishly illustrated report (and the recommendations it related) was of course very welcome! Six months later, in June 2019. the same publication reported the government’s plans to fly our county flags at Westminster
This was a move that had been called for on this site and the report was naturally warmly received!
Probably the best media account of British county flags that has been produced was the feature appearing in Country Life magazine in the first week of February 2020, which had a resplendent front cover full of flags
and information, all of it accurate
on the inside pages. The writers and editors of this piece are to be praised for their positive and enthusiastic report.