Historic Counties Blogs

ABC Flag Blog

All about county flags from the Association of British Counties

Welcome the the ABC Flag Blog.

As part of our efforts to strengthen the identity and recognition of the nation’s counties, the county flag is a highly effective weapon in our arsenal. A flag often seems synonymous with the entity it conveys, its very existence can reinforce the notion and status of that entity; 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.

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The proposed flag features the traditional county emblem of a gold Stafford Knot, with which Staffordshire has been associated for centuries. The earliest recording of the knot is on the shaft of a stone cross located in a Stoke-on-Trent churchyard.


There are a number of stories relating to its origin.

The knot was said to symbolically bind three different local areas which joined to form what is now known as Staffordshire when Ethelfleda, eldest daughter of Alfred the Great,


who defended a stronghold at Stafford, symbolically took off her girdle and said to the local lords: “With this girdle, I bind us all as one”, and the three areas became Staffordshire. The anniversary of this event was celebrated in 1913, a thousand years after it was said to have happened.

Another theory holds that the Knot forms the shape of a double ‘S’ representing ’’Stafford-Shire’’. There is also a popular notion that the Knot originated when a Stafford County Sherriff invented it to hang three criminals at the same time. He only had one piece of rope but could not just hang one of the criminals as it would be unfair to the other two to give precedence to only one of the condemned! He therefore tied his single rope into three loops and dispatched of all three criminals at the same time.

However, the earliest authentic appearance of the Stafford Knot is on the seal of Joan Stafford, Lady of Wake, who died childless in 1443. A descendant of Hereward the Wake, she may have inherited the device, described as the “Wake Knot”, from past generations. This artefact, now in the British Museum, passed upon her demise to her nephew, Humphrey, Earl of Stafford. He adopted the knot, henceforward to be known as the Stafford Knot, as his badge, probably just preceding his creation as Duke of Buckingham in 1444 and it appears coloured gold, in abundance on his standard.

Staffs standard

The townsmen of Stafford, “liegemen” of the de Stafford family, also made use of the Stafford Knot badge. As the days of feudalism passed and individual and civic liberties grew, it was gradually adopted by the Citizens, Freemen and Burgesses of the county. Accordingly by 1611 when John Speed published his Atlas of Great Britain, he included a map of the town of Stafford


which featured the de Stafford family arms, gold with a red chevron, combined with the family badge a gold Stafford Knot, as the apparent arms of the town.

The knot has since become the ubiquitous symbol for Staffordshire and its county town, It has been used as the badge of the Staffordshire Regiment


and appeared on the shirts of local nineteenth century football teams, being seen here


proudly emblazoned in a large and clear depiction across the chests of the 1876 Rushall Rovers team, from a mining village near Walsall and again on the shirts of


West Bromwich Albion in season 1881-1882.

Then, as recorded in his 1933 work “Civic Heraldry of England and Wales ” C.W.Scott-Giles writes that the Staffordshire County Council, formed in 1889, was formerly awarded arms in 1931 which are described as “Gold, a red chevron, charged with a gold Stafford Knot…..”

cc arms

With the addition of a blue chief, the council, had seemingly “annexed” the arms originally ascribed to the county town in the seventeenth century, by Speed. But notably the theme of a gold Stafford Knot on a red background was maintained across three centuries. The town of Stafford itself by the twentieth century had received different arms which nonetheless still featured two gold Stafford Knots against a red background


  North Staffordshire Railways was formed in 1845 and used a logo of a gold Stafford Knot against a red background


and was affectionately known as “The Knotty”.

The gold knot on a red background has subsequently appeared on several of the town arms in the county; from left to right below, Stoke-on-Trent, Cosely, and Tipton.

Stoke     COSELEY    Tipton

A gold knot on red background was further used by the Staffordshire Yeomanry


and in the modern era appears on the arms of Keel University


is the logo of Staffordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes


 and is found on the labels and logos of the Staffordshire brewery Marston’s, based in Burton-on-Trent




The county emblem is also the logo of the Stafford Morris Men


This extensive use of the gold on red Stafford Knot by county based organstions makes it the obvious and natural emblem for deployment as the Staffordshire county flag .


The campaign to see this traditional county emblem registered as the county flag of Staffordshire can be found here



There is a traditional design that is available for registration as the county flag of Warwickshire, described here


aditionally however, Philp Tibbetts has aslo created this alternative based upon the colurs of the county regiment and various local depictions.


Warwickshire County Council was granted arms

Warwickshire CC Arms

depicting a bear and ragged staff in 1931 but the device originated as the badge of the Earls of Warwick centuries before. The combination is therefore steeped in local history and is a very familiar emblem for the county being used by many local associations including, from left to right below;

Warwickshire emblems1

Warwickshire Rugby Union; Warwickshire cricket club; Warwickshire local history society,  Warwickshire Police and Warwickshire Football Association. In addition the council makes use of logos incoproating the same motif in a simplified, stylised form

Warwickshire emblems2

Phillipp Tibbetts has thus devised the above potential flag for Warwickshire depicting the bear and staff in blue to reflect the badges of the Warwickshire Police Constabulary, Warwickshire Football Association and Warwickshire County Cricket club. This is charged on a yellow background as yellow and blue were the colours of the Royal Warwickshire Regiments/Fusiliers as demonstrated by these regimental ties




The bear and ragged staff have long been associated with Warwickshire. Their origins are lost in the distant past, but they have been associated with the Earls of Warwick since at least the 14th century. Richard Neville, the 16th Earl of Warwick ( “Warwick the Kingmaker” ) (22 November 1428 – 14 April 1471) made use of a seal bearing a combined bear and ragged staff, to authenticate deeds and letters. His retainers are recorded in 1458 as wearing red coats with separate silver staffs, embroidered front and rear and this colour scheme was similarly used on his battle standard which featured a combined bear and staff emblem in what may perhaps, be the first instance of the emblem obtaining a coloured realisation.

Neville standard

Over the centuries use of the emblem by the Earls of Warwick has led to its association generally with the county of Warwickshire. The 1st Warwickshire Militia regiment (originally raised in 1759, but reorganised under the Earl of Warwick as Lord Lieutenant in 1803) bore the bear and ragged staff as its collar badge until attached to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1881. The Warwickshire Constabulary (founded in 1857) also adopted the bear and ragged staff as its badge, using a red background with a silver bear and staff.

Created in 1889, Warwickshire County Council obtained permission to use the bear and ragged staff as a seal in 1907 before receiving a formal award of arms on July 7th 1931 which included a full depiction of the bear and ragged staff in the white on red colours found on Richard Neville’s battle standard

Warks CC

Many other organisations have since followed this lead such as;

the University of Warwick uiwarks

the county police force in various guises

Warks pol 1  Warks pol 2 Warks pol 3


the modern county council logo

Warks CC1

the county scouts movement

Warks Scouts

the county law society

Warks Law

and a local pub

local pub

The emblem of a white bear and ragged staff on a red field, long associated with the county of Warwickshire and adopted by numerous  county is the obvious emblem for deployment as the county flag of Warwickshire. The campaign to see this traditional county emblem registered as the Warwickshire county flag is found here https://www.facebook.com/WarwickshireFlag?fref=ts


Suffolk is the only county on the east coast without a flag although it is closely associated with the arms attributed to the local saint and martyred king of East Anglia, Edmund,

St Edwho was killed in a hail of arrows; his burial site is located in Bury Saint Edmunds. The arms were ascribed to Saint Edmund in the mediaeval period and reflect his kingship and death.

They were adapted as the arms of the abbey which grew up around his burial site

Sr Ed Abbey Shields

and can also be seen incorporated into the coat of arms of the Suffolk town of Beccles


 as well as the arms of the Suffolk County Council

 Suffolk CC Arms

One design that has been promoted for several years, the creation of local man Bill Bulstrode, combines Saint Edmund’s arms with the cross of Saint George



However, this flag is almost identical to the registered flag of the region of East Anglia East Anglia of which Suffolk of course, is a part, so it cannot be registered. However a less complicated version simply deploys the Saint Edmund arms as an armorial banner – stretching the design from the shield to fill the shape of a flag.




This proposal has been manufactured from a design created by Charles Ashburner, chief executive of the flag manufacturer http://www.mrflag.com/ from whom the flag shown below, was commissioned by a Suffolk resident, in 2014

Flag of Suffolk

The arrow pierced Crown of Saint Edmund has also featured on two further proposals for Suffolk’s flag, both of which feature the locally associated pink shade.

In this proposal from Brady Ells

Suffolk Ells

the field of the flag is pink. As he describes, ‘Suffolk Pink’ is a symbol in itself being a hue strongly associated with the county, Suffolk is famous for its pink-washed houses and cottages.

Suffolk pink houses

Traditionally the Suffolk pink distemper was mixed with buttermilk and pig’s blood and then painted on to the house. The Suffolk Pink concept has now become so popular that a new variety of apple (discovered in Suffolk, of course) has been named after it. The colour pink would be unique among British other county flags, and is already extremely rare amongst all the flags of the world.

In this proposal, whose creator is unknown,  the field is divided into pink and blue stripes. Again the motivation for the colour choice was the famed house colour found in the county.

 Suffolk Stripes

Another proposal comes from James Bowman


 It features the arms of St. Edmund; a blue shield, as in the flag of East Anglia; a pink central field, representing the Suffolk pink wash used to paint render; and blue outer fields, representing the county’s rivers and the sea.



The above proposed flag has been designed by David Nash Ford of the Royal Berkshire History website http://www.berkshirehistory.com/odds/arms.html The overall design is loosely based on the Welsh national flag and the Buckinghamshire flag (and county council arms) which both have depictions of animals overlaid over a bi-colour field. The colours of blue, gold (yellow) and white are taken from the former county council arms

Berks Council Arms

and may also be seen as representing the River Thames and the country’s chalk hills. The emblem on the flag is a golden silhouette of the crest on the former council arms

Berks crest

and refers generally to the forestlands of Berkshire and specifically to the legend of a late 14th century royal huntsman named Herne The Hunter. Legend has it that after various nefarious deeds by his jealous rivals, this one time favourite of the king was dismissed from royal service and distraught, he hanged himself from an oak tree which was then struck by lightning. The white hart is “one of the manifestations of his restless spirit”. The emblem is a variation of the Berkshire badge used by the Royal Berkshire Militia and, according to Drayton’s poem of 1627, a banner with this badge, or something very like it, was carried by the men of Berkshire at the Battle of Agincourt “Barkshire a Stag, vnder an Oake that stood,”  Before its formal award of arms, the Berkshire County Council used insignia depicting the same stag and tree

Berks Seal

Variations of this are used today across the county, examples include;

Reading RFC - Berkshire WanderersReading RFC – Berkshire Wanderers;

Berks scouts   Berkshire Scouts ;

Berks and Bucks Football AssociationBerks and Bucks Football Association;

Berks cricket.Berkshire Cricket;

BERKSHIRE TABLE TENNIS ASSOCIATION Berkshire Table Tennis Association;

Berkshire Local History AssociationBerkshire Local History Association;


bfedBerkshire Federation of Women’s Institutes

The proposed design is therefore a relevant proposal for the county’s flag. It is also now widely available commercially. However, whilst it has been warmly received in some quarters, it has also met with opposition; the flag breaks the rule of tincture by placing a yellow charge partially on a white background making it less visible from any distance. Additionally, the particular form of the central emblem, as lifted from the badge used on a cap by county regiments,

Royal Berkshire

creates a curve in the composite tree and stag emblem that has led to criticisms that it resembles a letter “C”, which misleads some people who thus make no association with Berkshire. For these reasons the flag is unlikely to be registered for lack of compliance with the FI guide to good flag design.


Accordingly ABC member Michael Garber has designed this stag and tree flag for Berkshire. In discussion with Jason Saber and Philip Tibbetts, the colours and elements have been specifically designed to feature the stag and oak tree charges and three colours of David Nash Ford’s original flag. The design thus retains as much of the original symbolism as possible, which, as explained, is considered highly apt for the county but in an arrangement that is felt to be more effective.


A further proposal has been designed by Brady Ells. The design is formed on the basis of the description of the traditional stag and oak emblem which refers to the animal eating from the branches of the tree, as depicted in the old council insignia

Berks Seal

The flag features a front facing stag however, inspired by the coat of arms of Windsor


where a stag forwards facing stag represents the county of Berkshire, a device used in this fashion since 1532 where it appeared on the town’s seal.


A similar forward facing stag also appears on the arms of Wokingham Borough


and Woking Town


To illustrate the stag’s consumption of the oak, the front facing stage is seen munching on a sprig of oak held in his mouth


It may be further noted that an oak sprig has itself been used to represent the county of Berkshire, three examples of this are;

the arms of the Middleton family, granted in 2011,  charged with 3 gold oak sprigs to represent Berkshire, home of the Middletons

Middletons  ;

another example is the Badge of the House of Windsor which also features gold oak sprigs, alluding to the county where their Windsor home is located



and a third example is found in the coat of arms of the old Windsor Rural District Council…

 Windsor Rural District Council

All three previous examples being gold, so is the oak sprig in this proposal.

The field of the proposed flag, colours and form, is of course, based on the Arms of the old Berkshire County Council…

Berks Council Arms

The embattled border taken from those arms makes for a very distinctive design, quite different from other county flags.

Paul Lindsay has contributed three further proposals;


These again feature the blue and white colour scheme as above. These colours also reference the colours of Reading football club, the county’s only professional team, the stripes recalling the shirts in which the team plays and also symbolise the River Thames flowing through the county. The county motif of stag and oak are recalled in the oak leaf clusters and stag heads while the crown alludes to the county’s official name Royal Berkshire home of Windsor castle.



M Fielding Design

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