Local Heraldry

Local Heraldry

Ever since I had visited Kew Gardens as a child and seen the statues of the Queen’s Beasts lined up outside the great Palm House, I have been fascinated with heraldic animals and heraldry generally.  [https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/the-queens-beasts]

When we moved to Sturminster Newton, every day I came home over the mediaeval bridge I saw the Town’s Coat of Arms.  We have a large (about 10ft high) coloured display of these Arms marking the entrance to the town.

In 2007, when I’d reached the age of 60 and reduced my working days to just 3 days a week, I was looking for something to keep me occupied.  By that time, I had met our Town Crier, who when not Crying worked in a local store.  Kevin Knapp was a popular figure, regularly opening events and leading processions in the town.  He had also won numerous Crying competitions.

2 images of Kevin Knapp. On left he's leading the Town's 2008 Remembrance Parade. On Right he is posing in front of the Sturminster Newton Mill
Town Crier Kevin Knap – Left: Leading the Town’s 2008 Remembrance Parade. Right displaying his costume in front of Sturminster Newton Mill

Having inspected Kevin’s Crying uniform, I realised that he had lots of different badges, most relating to awards he had won but also the County Arms, but not the Town’s.  I thought that this could be a project to keep me busy, having consulted Kevin who said he’d be pleased if I could make a badge of the Arms for him.

After a visit to the Town Council offices, where I had discovered that the original Letters Patent – the deed granting the right to use the Arms – were held, I asked the Council formally for permission to photograph the Deed and to make the badge for Kevin. Once I had received permission, I went, with my husband, to the Offices and we photographed the Deed. That wasn’t easy as the Deed was housed in a purpose made, glazed, cabinet which hung on the wall in the Council Chamber. Eventually we managed to get a reasonably clear picture without too many reflections on the glass.

Image shows hand written Deed - Letters Patent - with images of the granted Arms and Badge painted on it
The original Letters Patent showing the Arms granted top left and the Bull’s Head badge bottom centre. The other Arms shown are those of the three Heralds who made the Grant.

The Letters Patent, couched in the archaic style of the Norman French which characterised early English deeds (though thankfully not totally in that actual language) was dated 1st September 1961. It evidenced that three English Kings of Arms – Garter Principal King of Arms,  Clarenceux King of Arms and Norroy & Ulster King of Arms. authorised by the Duke of Norfolk – Earl Marshal and Hereditary Marshal of England – granted to the then Sturminster Rural District Council “such Armorial Assigns and in the same Patent such Device or Badge as may be proper to be borne and used by the Sturminster Rural District Council and by its successors constituting each for the time being the local authority for such place and district on Seals or otherwise according to the Laws of Arms” (note the lack of punctuation – typical of legal documents in this country even today); hence the right of Sturminster Newton Town Council to use the Arms and also the Bull’s Head Badge. The Badge’s primary use would be to mark the Council’s property (including, some 800 odd years ago, it’s serfs, servants and men at arms!)

Image of a Bull's Head within a ring with "sun's rays" around the outside, all in Gold with black outline
The Bull’s Head Badge painted on the Letters Patent

The actual words of the Letters Patent describing exactly what was granted are: “Vert [green] a Saltire [diagonal cross on a shield] Wavy Argent [silver] between in pale [one above the other] two Crosses Moline [having jagged ends] and in fess [horizontally] two Garbs [sheaves of corn] Or [gold] And for the Crest [device sitting on a helmet] Out of a Coronet composed of four Ears of Wheat and four sprigs of Oak fructed [with fruits] set upon a Rim Or [gold] a Mount Sable [black] thereon an Heraldic Panther statant [standing on all 4 feet] guardant [shown full face] proper [lifelike colours(!)] Mantled [with cloth on helmet] Vert [green] Doubled Argent [on the reverse silver/white]” and the “Device or Badge”: “Within an Annulet [hollow roundel] Reyonnée [with sun’s rays] Or [gold] a Bull’s head caboshed [without a neck] Gold”. The Arms and the Badge were also drawn on the Deed for further reference.

Having got all this information from the Deed I started to prepare a working drawing indicating what stitches, yarns and cords I would be using.

A drawing of the Coat of Arms in outline with lists of goldwork stitches and indications of where these are to be placed
Working Drawing – you may be able to decipher my scrawl of what I was intending to do at that stage.

In doing so, I realised that the Heraldic Panther was a very odd creature: it appeared to have orange flames coming out of its ears and mouth and it was spotted – red, blue and green spots!

drawing of heraldic Panther, yellow body & face, with large blue red and green spots on the body and flames coming from ears and mouth
The Heraldic Panther painted on the Letters Patent

So I headed to the library to see if they had any reference books which might throw some light on this.  Luckily there were several in the catalogue, but none at our local branch, so I would have to wait for one to arrive.  When It did I was able to find that the flames were a mistake made by the artists painting the arms on early Letters Patent.  In the book there is a reference to the Garter King of Arms writing in the early 17th century regarding the Heraldic Panther: “this beast … is admired of all other beasts for the beauty of his skyn being spotted of variable colours; and beloved … for the sweetness of his breath that streameth forth of his nostrils and ears like smoke, wch our paynters mistaking corruptly do make fire.” Further reading indicated that the origin of the panther was likely to have been a cheetah, hence the (guessed at coloured) spots.  You will note that I was down another rabbit hole!

Well our panther was shown on the Arms as having flames coming from his ears and mouth, so that’s how I’d got to depict him.  It was also then that I realised that the Arms as granted were not exactly the same as the Arms currently used by the Council.

You will see that in the current version of the arms, the Bull’s Head Badge appears five times on the mantle, which has been altered to enable the badges to fit. (The mantle represents the cloth which the Crusaders wore over their helmets to ward off the rays of the sun)

Apparently the then Sturminster R.D.C. decided to use it to decorate the actual Arms instead of to mark it’s property (and/or servants!)

After some manipulation of the photograph of the Deed I managed to get a reasonably clear image of the Arms and could make a tracing to use to transfer the design to the background I had prepared

During the time that I’d been waiting for the book, I contemplated the fact that the actual badge would be very much smaller than the original tracing and I’d be lucky to be able to carry out all the various stitches I’d originally envisaged, and I wondered if I might make some of the badge in felt.  I needed to make a “sketch”.  Using a piece of old blanket as a base, I transferred the design and filled in some of it in needle felt.  I thought that this would work.

image of partial needle felted coat of arms
The partially needle felted “sketch” of the Arms

It would certainly make life a bit easier as I was not very experienced in gold work and doubted that I could do a good enough job in the smaller scale. As it was I managed to lose the “jagged” ends of the two gold crosses and the Saltire was not really “wavy”. It was supposed to be a nod to the river Stour, which divides Sturminster from Newton (which despite it’s name is in general the older part of the town).

In the end I felted the Helm, with the gold Rim and the Panther. I also padded the sheaves of corn. Here’s a progress picture and another with felting needle which will give you an idea of the actual size of the whole thing.

Once I was reasonably happy with the shape of the helm, I painted it with artists’ gesso and then (when it was dry) sanded it as smooth as I could get it.  Then I painted it with some of my husband’s metallic enamel paint to represent steel. (Can you imagine what a squire’s life must have been like sanding and polishing a suit of armour and weapons made of steel to get rid of and keep it free of rust? – no stainless in those days.)

It did take some time to complete the badge – some 4 years in fact although I wasn’t actually working on it all the time.

Image of finished Coat of Arms with full coloured green satin stitch, silver and gold work.
The finished Badge

Oh I nearly forgot – the motto “Quis Metuit?” means Who’s Affeared?  It is apparently used by many local authorities – I’m not sure why though and, for once, the question defeated Mr Google.

The Town Council, in the form of it’s Leader, formally presented the badge to Kevin on 30th November 2011.

Image of three people - Left Charles Fraser, the Author and Kevin Knapp, he being presented with the completed badge.
L – R: Charles Fraser, Town Council Leader; Me; Kevin Knap at the presentation of the Badge. The picture above my head shows Sturminster Newton Station as it was in the days of the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway.

Kevin decided that rather than attach the badge to his coat, he would affix it to the back of the roll containing his Cry so that it would be visible when he was reading from it.

Sadly Kevin died on 9th October 2018.  His wife donated his costumes (which she herself had made) to the town’s Museum.  I’m not sure what happened to the Badge though as the Museum doesn’t have it.  The position of Town Crier remains vacant.  If you are interested, I’ve found an obituary for Kevin published by the Bournemouth Echo.  https://www.bournemouthecho.co.uk/news/16998263.kevin-knapp-died-earlier-month/


18 thoughts on “Local Heraldry

  1. Thank you for taking the time to write this wonderfully interesting post Ann.
    In days gone by, listening to the town crier was the only way people could keep abreast of current affairs. Kevin looked perfect for the role!
    Your badge is skillfully made and quite beautiful – you must be proud of the presentation photo.

  2. Thank you Lyn. I enjoyed going back over it all and I had to severely ration what I put in otherwise it would have been twice as long.

  3. Wow Ann, what an interesting post. You must have researched so much and gone down so many rabbit holes!

    Four years in the making….the result is stunning and must have taken you through many learning curves. Both you and Kevin look proud as punch in the photo. He ‘wore’ it with pride I’m sure.

    I hope you do locate it’s whereabouts as it is part of your town’s history, and deserves to be in the museum.

    1. Oh no it didn’t [back in Panto mode!]
      Yes it really was a steep learning curve, though I was helped by taking a short goldwork course locally from a RSN graduate, plus several library books on the subject, during those 4 years. I might just have given up otherwise. I’m glad I made it in the end though.
      Don’t you just love computers and the internet? I am having very perplexing problems with my emails on my laptop at the moment, and my tame computer man is despairing!
      I’ll keep looking for the badge and hope it ends up in the Museum rather than a charity shop or the tip.

  4. Ann what an interesting piece of history from your area. Your badge was certainly well researched and this is proven by the finished piece. There is so much detail in it. I am glad you opted for the original version in your design.

    I can see the pleasure in Kevin’s face at receiving this beauty! It is so sad that he did not live long enough to fully enjoy the fruits of your labours. He was so young. I hope the badge is found and placed in the museum – it deserves to be on display while it waits for the appointment of a new Crier. It sounds like Kevin’s shoes are proving hard to fill.

    1. Thank you Helene. Kevin was a lovely man, always cheerful and glad to help anyone.
      I keep coming across more and more information on line – it seems that the Heraldic Panther was first seen on the arms of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s 3rd wife. There’s a carved Seymour Panther at Hampton Court – though his spots are only red and blue! https://www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/hampton-court-beasts/

  5. What a lovely story Ann. You did a wonderful job of stitching the badge. I’m guessing the Cryers roll disappeared too if the badge was attached to the back of it. Let’s hope it turns up at some point and can be used by the next Cryer.

  6. What a wonderful story Ann. I have been doing goldwork/metalwork embroidery for my class and I know the effort and time it takes. Your badge turned out wonderfully and it’s good to see you in the presentation photo. I’m sorry to hear of Kevin passing, he seems much too young for that. Good luck in your search for the badge.

    1. Thanks Ruth. I’ve loved the effect of gold work for ages, it’s one of those techniques that is harder than it looks, or at least takes a lot more effort to get anything like right. It’s very satisfying though.
      We do miss Kevin. Isn’t there a saying – only the good die young? It seems to be true.

  7. This was so interesting to read, Ann! I’d never heard of a town crier before – I’ve lived in big cities all my life and my childhood was spent in China, where such things were unheard of (at least by me in the 80s).

    How lovely of you to make a badge for Kevin, and I’m so sorry to hear of his passing. I’m sure he appreciated your hard work at the time.

    1. Thanks Leonor.
      As Lyn says above, the Town Crier was the chap who passed on all the news from outside the Town where he Cried. He was the “newspaper” of the day and no doubt a godsend to those many people who couldn’t read. This made me wonder how long ago they started and I’ve just had a quick google – around or even before 1066 in this country apparently. And, I’ve just seen that in Nepal, the crier is called a katuwal – so that’s where the word came from. Another rabbit hole.

  8. You certainly had an adventure, on your way to creating a treasure for your town. I’m glad you were able to share it, and a bit of time with Town Crier Kevin. I’m sorry to hear that he passed on, clearly before everyone expected! I hope your “work of art” is eventually found by someone…but if it can’t be found, I hope the reason is it happened to be buried with dear Kevin.

    I saw the spotted drawing of the “Panther” ish creature, and it reminded me of the spotted character in a Dr. Seuss book of my youth. (60 years ago) I just looked it up and it’s called “Put Me in the Zoo.” If you look it up, you will see what I mean. These things make me smile, and cause my mind to wander…and wonder if Dr. Suess was inspired by the heraldic creature as well.

    You should be proud of the incredible work you did on an amazing piece of history, and the joy it brought to a friendly Town Crier!


    1. Thanks Capi.
      I see what you mean, a very colourful spotty “Panther”. I missed a lot of children’s books when I was a child, I suspect because there wasn’t a lot of money about after the war (I’m a boomer) and comics were cheaper.

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