County councils are commonly awarded coats of arms,
from the College of Arms (England and Wales) and the Court of the Lord Lyon (Scotland). Such coats of arms are the property of the respective council as the arms holder or “armiger”; this rule of ownership applies to individuals and administrative bodies alike. Coats of arms generally contain several elements, the main one being a shield
bearing a distinct pattern of colours and various devices or “charges” in a combination unique to that set of arms. Around the shield there are usually supporters “holding” the shield,
which are often outlandish (!),
a crest, which sits atop the shield,
which is another distinct device and several other additional features. Whilst coats of arms are generally found in static environments, adorning documents,
and other property, the design found on the central shield in this arrangement may also be deployed in cloth form, as a “banner of the arms” or armorial banner. Originally, mirroring the typical dimensions of a shield, such banners were usually squarer in shape,
such as these in Saint George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
to accommodate the designs found on them but in practice modern armorial banners tend to be produced as standard rectangular flags
Being the same design as found on the arms, the same limitation on use applies to armorial banners, as it does to the original arms from which they derive. Thus, the armorial banner flown by a council, formed from its coat of arms, remains its sole property, albeit that it is deployed in flag form; it represents only the council who owns the design it bears.
A common misconception however, is that such heraldic banners used by county councils, are county flags, representing the county in a general way and available for residents to hoist. This is not the case. In the UK coats of arms are not awarded to towns, cities or counties as entities in their own right but to the administrative bodies, usually councils, which run them. Unless a design has been specifically released to the public by the arms holder i.e. the council, the design remains the property, solely, of that council. As stated in the magazine of a Hampshire society which adopted a seal in 1906, “counties have no arms and consequently no right to bear a shield”.
Today, this is highlighted by the College of Arms in reference to the revised flag flying regulations of 2012 stating “The regulations are not intended to permit the flying of armorial flags or flags bearing coats of arms;…. It is unlawful to fly or use a flag of the arms of any local authority save on sites or premises occupied by that authority.” Given that the 2012 regulations make specific reference to flags of a “county” and “historic county” this categorical statement puts it beyond doubt that local authority banners are not county flags!
This prohibition is also highlighted at the website of the Cinque Ports, the ancient defensive and trading confederation in south east England, which states unambiguously, “Arms are granted to a particular person or body (such as the Confederation of the Cinque Ports) and not for the benefit of an area in general. It is unlawful for anyone to use a coat of Arms which does not belong to them.”.
It is further spelt out in the publication “The Arms of the County Councils of East and West Sussex and the diocese of Chichester”
This reflects the general rule of heraldry that applies equally to all coats of arms in the UK. In certain cases however, such permission as referred to in the above extract, has been granted in perpetuity,effectively releasing an armorial banner for general use. The specific counties where this permission has been issued are Northumberland, Hertfordshire, Shropshire and Rutland. In a few other cases the local authority which originally received the grant of arms has been abolished,
leaving its arms effectively available for use. In such instances, use of the former council’s arms as a county flag is seen as apt and logical because often the design in question is locally familiar and already in use by other county organisations. This circumstance has applied in Middlesex, Cumberland, Westmorland, Cheshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire. A few counties have been associated with designs for centuries, owing to their origins as Dark Age kingdoms and the anachronistic ascription of national emblems to them in the heraldic era. Thus the arms used by the councils in these locations predate the councils by several centuries and their take up as county flags by the wider public is not subject to the same prohibition. The counties falling into this category are Essex, Kent and Sussex.
Notwithstanding this general proscription on the usage of council banners, commercial outlets, flag makers and flag sellers, generally flout the rules, which on the whole are not enforced and offer them for sale, described erroneously and misleadingly as “County flag of xxxx”. This practice complicates matters even further.
Additionally, some banners of arms often represent local authorities who administer territories that are not counties but short lived and often changing, administrative remits. Regrettably, the terminology has not changed with the often changing structure of local authorities and many of these administrative bodies retain the word “county” in their titles, which serves to confuse the situation even further, “Cumbria County Council” for example, implies that there is a county called Cumbria, there is not, this is just an administrative jurisdiction and the several real counties subsumed under this territory continue to exist, as described below.
Another practice that is often seen is the use of council logos, or the shield from council arms, or even the whole achievement with crest and supporters, placed on cloth
; again, these are not county flags, by definition they represent only the council in question. Such practice is in contravention of specific guidance (page 10) to the contrary, outlined for civic authorities in the 1970s!
This confusing state of affairs defines the purpose and usefulness of having a Flag Registry, which identifies and details flags specifically intended for public use, which may be freely produced and flown without any further requirement.
Following is a detailed list of the banners and other council flags that ARE NOT COUNTY FLAGS.
ANGUS COUNCIL (FORFARSHIRE)
is the armorial banner of Angus council, the shield from its coat of arms
in cloth form. This design thus represents only this local administration, it does not represent the county in a general sense and no blanket permission for residents to fly it exists. There is currently no registered flag for the county of Angus/Forfarshire.
BERKSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Berkshire’s county flag was registered in 2017. The armorial banner
formed from the now defunct council’s coat of arms
appears not to have ever been used. The former county council, instead, made use of its logo
, a watered down version of its coat of arms, on a white cloth
This very poor design remains commercially available but it is not the Berkshire flag, it was only ever used by the council and only ever represented that body.
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
is the banner of arms of Buckinghamshire County Council. Whilst it is very similar to the actual county flag, this design is the property of Buckinghamshire County Council and may not be used by anyone but that body. The banner differs from the county flag principally by the inclusion of a yellow bar across the top of the design bearing a representation of a county monument. Whilst the basic design of a divided red and black background with white swan has been associated with the county for centuries, the specific council arms and banner derived from them, were specially created for the council in 1948. The traditional basic version was registered as the county flag in 2011.
CAMBRIDGESHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
The armorial banner of Cambridgeshire County Council, seen below,
is not the county flag. This design has been used by the council from 1976 to the present day. This banner is inaccurately sold and occasionally flown as the ‘Cambridgeshire Flag’, but it actually only represents the County Council and permission is required from this body to fly its banner lawfully. As a result of the 2014 competition Cambridgeshire now has a true county flag which represents the shire and the people of Cambridgeshire, rather than its administrative body, and requires no permission to fly.
is the banner of arms of the Cumbria County Council. This body administers two counties and parts of two other counties but it is not a county itself and its banner of arms is NOT a county flag. There are four county flags in this area;
Because of the similarity of the name of the county of Cumberland and the administration of Cumbria, this flag is sometimes described as the flag of Cumberland – this is not correct, the true Cumberland flag is shown at the above link.
DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL
is the banner of the arms of Devon County Council. It is the property of the county council so may not be used by anyone else. Stylistically it also does not make an effective county flag with its fine details at the top which are indiscernible from any distance and it is insufficiently distinct, a red lion is hardly a unique charge! The actual county flag of Devon was chosen in a competition in 2003.
DORSET COUNTY COUNCIL
is the banner of arms of Dorset County Council. It is not the county flag of Dorset as it represents only the county’s administration, not the county itself. Furthermore, as the design of the council’s arms and armorial banner derive from the national, or royal, arms of England and France it has no specific Dorset county symbolism so is particularly inappropriate to fly, to represent the county of Dorset. Hence a new flag, specifically designed to represent the county, with elements purposefully chosen to symbolise it, was adopted in 2008 as the winner of a county flag competition.
DURHAM COUNTY COUNCIL
This armorial banner
represents Durham County Council. Formerly, in the absence of an actual County Durham flag, this banner was occasionally used to represent the county; an unlawful practice as the banner has never been released to the public. Additionally, use of this design is inappropriate as administrative rearrangements in 1974 meant that large swathes of County Durham were no longer administered by Durham County Council, whilst conversely, portions of Yorkshire were transferred to its administrative remit and this change was reflected in the arms that were redesigned at this time, which thenceforward included a white rose from Yorkshire. The flag formed of these arms is the property of the council and may not be used by anyone else. As the council does not administer the whole territory of the county, its banner cannot represent the whole county even if it were available for general public usage; the banner does, however, include a charge symbolic of Yorkshire which is not relevant to a flag intended to represent County Durham. Indeed it is highly inappropriate! Accordingly a new flag was revealed in 2013, the winner of a competition specifically intended to create one, to represent the true County Durham.
EAST SUSSEX COUNCIL
is the armorial banner of East Sussex County Council from 1975 to the present day. This banner is commonly miss-sold and flown as the ‘East Sussex Flag’. This is untrue. There is no such county as East Sussex. East Sussex is just a designation for an administrative remit covering part of the county of Sussex, along with several others. This armorial banner represents the council alone and as a heraldic banner, permission is required to raise this flag. There is only one Sussex and it has only one flag.
Please note that a very detailed description of the situation as it applies in Sussex is available here.
GLOUCESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Above is the banner of the arms of Gloucestershire County Council. It is not the county flag of Gloucestershire as it represents only the council whose arms it features and no one but the council itself, may lawfully fly this banner. The actual county flag was registered in 2008, following a competition organised by the Gloucestershire High Sheriff to celebrate the county’s millennium.
GREATER LONDON COUNCIL
The armorial banner of the Greater London Council (GLC), seen flying above, is formed from the arms awarded to the body
in 1966. This administration replaced the earlier London County Council which had covered a smaller territory. Both bodies administered portions of the counties of Middlesex, Kent, Essex and Surrey and the latter also covered a small part of Hertfordshire but all five counties continued to exist and still do to this day. Frequently rearranged administrative provisions have never affected the territorial integrity of the anciently established counties and residents may thus raise these respective county flags. The insignia of the GLC only ever represented the local authority, its armorial banner was never a county flag, nor indeed was it ever a flag of London as an entity, just of one of the several bodies which has administered it over the last one hundred and thirty years. The GLC was dissolved in 1986, many of its powers being devolved to the London boroughs and other bodies and then a new administrative body, known as the Greater London Authority (GLA), was established in 2000.
GREATER MANCHESTER COUNCIL
The flag flying here,
is the banner of the arms of Greater Manchester County Council. This body existed between 1974 and 1986. The extinct body was a short lived administration whose banner represented itself alone. This banner is today commonly miss-sold and often flown, as the county flag of ‘Greater Manchester’: it is not. Greater Manchester was/is an administrative convenience, this area has 3 official county flags – Lancashire; Cheshire; Yorkshire some of whose territory fell under the administration of the erstwhile Greater Manchester Council but whose territorial integrity as counties was never affected by this administrative convenience. The true county flags represent the shires and people of Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire respectively, rather than an administrative body.
HAMPSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
is the banner, of the arms
of Hampshire County Council which represents just that body, it is not the county flag. The actual county flag, located here, was registered in March 2019 and maintains the theme of rose and crown with which the county has been associated for several centuries but uses a different crown, as the style appearing on the arms is a highly restricted royal charge as highlighted here. Various versions of the council’s banner have appeared over the years all featuring the restricted crown and with widely varying depictions of rose, necessitating the establishment of an unambiguous county flag with a freely usable crown and distinct and definitive rose.
HEREFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Herefordshire’s flag was chosen by popular vote in 2019, before the vote the armorial banner of Herefordshire Council
was sometimes seen. This banner is commonly miss-sold and flown as the ‘Herefordshire Flag’, however this is not true as it only represents the County Council and to fly it requires permission from that body. Whilst there are several features on the design that are representative of the county, the lion whose form is taken from the Royal Banner of England, is found on the arms of Staffordshire, Norfolk and Dorset county councils and is not remotely unique nor is it specifically representative of the county, being found on arms across the country, the continent and the World. Additionally and importantly, the lion depicted on the flag, a “lion passant-guardant”, is a royal symbol taken from the royal arms and is thus only available for use under a royal warrant. The permission granted for its use on the arms of the Herefordshire County Council does not extend to any other usage such as deployment as a flag for residents to fly.Another flag
often labelled as “Herefordshire county flag” is a spurious creation that originated as a joke, as reported here http://www.herefordtimes.com/…/4889787.Internet_joke_creat…/ It also includes the coat of arms of Herefordshire County Council so is subject to the same provisions as the council’s actual armorial banner; it is not registered, nor well designed and is certainly not the county flag of Herefordshire.
LEICESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
There is as yet no Leicestershire county flag. The flag often marketed as the county flag of Leicestershire in fact represents only Leicestershire County Council and it requires permission from the council to fly. This body additionally does not administer the whole county, the city of Leicester itself is self-administering, so the symbols of the county council cannot represent the entire county, by definition. A design for Leicestershire promoted by a contingent in the county is detailed here.
This metropolitan council was created in 1974 for the locality around Liverpool, including Birkenhead in Cheshire. It received the following coat of arms
An armorial banner
was formed from these arms, which is often inaccurately marketed as the flag of Merseyside. Merseyside was not a county, only an administrative area which existed for only twelve years, being abolished in 1986. The arms and the banner formed from them only ever represented the local authority which owned the arms. There was never an actual Merseyside flag. The county flags to fly in this area are Lancashire and Cheshire.
NORFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL
we see the armorial banner of Norfolk County Council, from 1904 to the present day. This banner is incorrectly sold and flown as the ‘Norfolk Flag’; it actually represents just the Norfolk County Council. There is no general permission to fly this armorial banner. Norfolk only has one county flag which represents the shire and the people of Norfolk, rather than an administrative body, and does not require permission to fly.
NORTHAMPTONSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Until September 11th 2014 there was no Northamptonshire flag. Occasional use was made of this entirely spurious creation
which takes the supporters from Northamptonshire council’s full achievement of arms, plus a Tudor rose and places them on a Saint George’s cross, with a “scroll” beneath bearing the motto from the council’s arms, in an arbitrary arrangement that has no local tradition. This ignores both true heraldic practice, which is to form a banner of the arms thus
( which itself would be unavailable for the public to fly!) and specifically contradicts advice to avoid such awful designs, outlined for civic authorities, in the 1970s! It markedly contravenes one of the most recognised and oft quoted tenets of good flag design, namely, “…..Avoid the use of writing of any kind… ” Fortunately, Northamptonshire County Council recognised the issues surrounding the poor “flags” available, purporting to represent the county and sponsored a competition which elicited a true Northamptonshire county flag.
NOTTINGHAMSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
The Nottinghamshire flag was registered in 2011 and was the winner of a county flag competition. Prior to this a rather poorly rendered version
of the local council’s armorial banner
formed from the shield in its coat of arms
was sometimes used to represent the county. However, the arms and the armorial banner have only ever represented Nottinghamshire County Council itself and only this body may deploy these devices.
OXFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Oxfordshire County Council was awarded arms in 1949 which were blue with a red ox head in the centre of two wavy white stripes representing the River Thames flowing through the county. In 1974 the original council was replaced by a new body with a much expanded remit that included large swathes of Berkshire and a new set of arms was created for this new council. These new arms, in the form of an armorial banner
are sometimes found on sale as the county flag of Oxfordshire, they are not! This armorial banner represents only the county council of Oxfordshire, whose administrative scope encompasses much more than just the county of Oxfordshire so even if the banner were available to the general public, it is not representative of the true county. In 2017 a campaign was launched, supported by seventeen Oxfordshire groups, to see the design of the original council’s arms, formally acknowledged by the Flag Institute as the county flag . This was ultimately successful and the flag was registered in October 2017. Another version of the modern council’s armorial banner
unaccountably using a green background colour, is also sometimes seen but this again, is not the Oxfordshire county flag.
A further design
has been promoted as a potential county flag by the Oxfordshire Association. Named the Saint Frideswide Cross, for the county’s traditional heroine, it features a white cross against a counterchanged blue and green background, with the first quarter in green. An attractive design but a novel creation, the proposal could have achieved registration only by winning a competition but no such event was ever organised and given the county’s existing above traditional emblem, this was in any case unnecessary.
SOMERSET COUNTY COUNCIL
Somerset has been associated with a dragon for millennia. In 2013 a dragon was the winning design in the county flag competition. Prior to this, the arms of the local county council,
awarded in 1911, had also featured a dragon, grasping a blue mace, representative of authority and reflecting the county’s ancient association with the symbol. In the late 20th century the council deployed a logo
which included the dragon from its arms under the name SOMERSET. In the absence of a county flag before 2013, this logo, placed on a white cloth,
was sometimes flown. This design, seen above, is not the county flag of Somerset, it lacks the county’s traditional red and gold colour scheme; the artwork is of minimal quality; the mace specifically symbolises the authority of the county council. Additionally, use of script undermines the flag’s symbolic power and looks ugly. Such usage also contravenes perhaps the best recognised of the tenets of good flag design, namely, “….Avoid the use of writing of any kind… “
SOUTH YORKSHIRE COUNCIL
South Yorkshire describes an administrative area covering territory in Yorkshire’s West Riding. It is not a county. The council, which was abolished in 1986, had used a modern flag
derived from its logo
which represented only the council itself and nothing else. The flag also features letters, in direct contravention of probably the most widely quoted advice on good flag design, namely, “…Avoid the use of writing of any kind… ”
STAFFORDSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
is the armorial banner of Staffordshire County Council from 1931 to the present day. Whilst commonly mis-sold and flown as the “Staffordshire Flag”, this actually only represents the County Council. This council banner was released to the public by the county council in the midst of moves to secure a flag for the county but the council’s remit did not extend to great swathes of the true shire so by definition its armorial banner could not represent true Staffordshire. Additionally, the lion passant which features on the council arms and its banner, is actually a royal emblem, which requires permission to use, so it’s doubtful that it would have been permissible to register a design which enjoys such legal protection and such a restriction would have fallen outside the registration requirement of being freely available to the general public, to make and fly. In an online poll held by the Flag Institute in March 2016, the Staffordshire county flag was chosen over the council’s banner by a considerable margin. The design, submitted by the Staffordshire Heritage Group, is a traditional county pattern associated with Staffordshire for several centuries and actually the basis for the Staffordshire County Council arms, which differ by the addition of the lion passant from the royal arms of England, representing the authority wielded by the council, handed down by the crown and by having a much more visible and well designed Stafford Knot, the outstanding county emblem. The registered county flag represents the shire and the people of Staffordshire, rather than just the administrative body which runs a small portion of the county of Staffordshire.
SUFFOLK COUNTY COUNCIL
Suffolk County Council eschews standard heraldic procedure by placing the shield
from its coat of arms, on a yellow flag
ignoring specific guidance (page 10) to avoid such arrangements, outlined for civic authorities in the 1970s! The council appears not to use a true banner
of its arms but NEITHER of these is the county flag of Suffolk and both represent only the local council, NOT the county of Suffolk. Another flag used in the county features the shield of Saint Edmund’s arms placed at the centre of Saint George’s Cross
This design has not been registered and as it is almost identical to the century old, registered flag of East Anglia, of which region, Suffolk is a part it could not be registered as it is not sufficiently distinct. In fact the design is actually based on the East Anglia flag. Additionally, being copyrighted, initially at least, as can be seen below
with the circled letter “R” indicative of a commercial trademark, it was automatically ineligible for registration. The actual county flag of Suffolk was registered by the Flag Institute in 2017.
SURREY COUNTY COUNCIL
The flag seen here
is the banner of arms of the Surrey County Council as constituted since 1965. In this year a substantial portion of the county’s territory, formerly administered by Surrey council, was removed from its remit and these new arms were awarded in 1974 for the newly constituted body. Therefore, not only does this armorial banner represent only the council as a body, rather than the county itself but additionally it does not even apply to the whole county. However, in the absence of a registered county flag this armorial banner was occasionally used as a Surrey flag albeit that as council property, no one other than the council had the right to use it. In 2014 a true Surrey flag was registered, to represent the entirety of the county, derived from a traditional local emblem.
TYNE AND WEAR COUNCIL
‘Tyne and Wear’ is not a county. This name refers to an administrative area that covered a stretch of territory straddling the border of County Durham and Northumberland. Residents of this locality should fly either the flag of Northumberland or the flag of County Durham. The “flag” shown above represented only the body which administered this area for a short period before being replaced by another arrangement. Being basically a council logo
it lacks the vexillographic merit found in the majority of actual county flags.
WARWICKSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Warwickshire acquired its county flag in August 2016. The county has been associated with the symbol of a bear and ragged staff for centuries, following its initial adoption as a family badge by the Earl of Warwick. The same design was adopted in a slightly amended form and with a gold chief or upper section by Warwickshire County Council in the twentieth century. This design, in the form of a banner of the arms, seen above, has been erroneously marketed as the county flag, even though it actually only represents Warwickshire County Council and there is no general right to fly it. In fact Warwickshire Council expressly advises that the design may only be used by the council itself, stating “These arms are specific to the County Council, and may only be used by it.” Hence a newly realised flag, bearing the ancient county emblem of white bear and ragged staff against a red background, reflecting a depiction found on John Speed’s 17th century map of the county, was registered as the Warwickshire flag.
WEST MIDLANDS COUNCIL
The armorial banner
of the former West Midlands Council is NOT a county flag, West Midlands is not a county. The short lived administration only existed for twelve years from 1974 to 1986. The above banner was formed from its coat of arms
and only ever represented this administrative body. The remit of the council covered territory in Warwickshire, Staffordshire and Worcestershire and residents of this locality should fly these county flags. The territories covered by the West Midlands local authority have been part of these respective counties for the best part of a thousand years and continue to be so; West Midlands Council was simply an administrative convenience, an arrangement which has been completely replaced by a series of smaller local authorities and boards. Unlike the true counties such local government areas are created and abolished frequently at the whim of Whitehall and Westminster. Residents located in the Black Country can also fly its flag to represent them.
WEST SUSSEX COUNCIL
This armorial banner
is occasionally seen flying and sometimes found on sale, described as the “county flag of West Sussex”. It is not a county flag and there is no such county as West Sussex, which actually designates one of several administrative bodies that run matters in the county of Sussex. The photo actually depicts a banner of the arms of West Sussex council between 1889 and 1974. The body which owned these arms no longer exists, having been replaced by another council, which uses another set of arms but neither set has ever been released for public use and in any case they do not represent any county: there is only one Sussex and it has only one flag.
The council itself in 2007, promoted another, poorly designed flag
to celebrate Sussex Day. Not only is this NOT a county flag, it is also badly designed and quite unnecessary. It includes a monochromatic depiction of the West Sussex council’s arms, highlighting just one administrative remit in the county and thereby wholly undermining the concept of Sussex Day, the Day of the county as a whole.
Please note that a very detailed description of the situation as it applies in Sussex is available here.
WILTSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
is a commercially available version of the armorial banner of Wiltshire County Council. It shares a few features with the registered flag, whose general appearance is based on the council arms but which was newly created in the 21st century, specifically to be the county flag. The council’s banner, however, actually only represents the council, it is not and never has been the county flag of Wiltshire and may not be flown without permission from the council. Furthermore it should also be noted that this commercially available version of the council arms in banner form is actually an inaccurate realisation, as the canton on the arms is actually white.
The depiction on the commercially available version breaks the heraldic “rule of tincture”, as red on green is not easily discernible from any height or distance.
WORCESTERSHIRE COUNTY COUNCIL
Above is the armorial banner of Worcestershire County Council, it represents only that body. It may not be flown without permission and it is NOT the county flag. The actual county flag was the winner of a 2013 competition