Staffordshire is associated with an emblem of some antiquity, the Stafford Knot
This anicent local emblem is present on an artefact amongst the famous Staffordshire Hoard, unearthed in July 2009, suggesting a link with the county of some twelve hundred years!
Another early example of the knot is on the shaft of an Anglo-Saxon stone cross located in the churchyard of Saint Peter Ad Vincula (Stoke Minster)
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.
The Stafford Knot later appeared 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.
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 locality
which featured the de Stafford family arms, gold with a red chevroncombined with the family badge, a gold Stafford Knot
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 – a precedent for a large, simple knot being used to represent the county of Staffordshire – and again on the shirts
of West Bromwich Albion in season 1881-1882.
Unequivocally the county emblem, there also appears to be an obvious colour scheme associated with the Stafford Knot, namely gold on red, as appeared on the Stafford family standard and as depicted on the Speed map, a gold knot against the red chevron of the de Stafford arms.
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”. Its adoption of the Knot seemingly reflects a general acceptance of its status as the county emblem, as described by heraldic historian Arthur Charles Fox-Davies, in his 1894 work “The Book of Public Arms” (page 744)
In confirmation of this, by 1904 the Staffordshire County Council, which was formed in 1889, was making use of a seal that featured the Knot in combination with the chevron, as had appeared on the 1611 John Speed map of the county, as the focal point of the design.
Then, as recorded in his 1933 work “Civic Heraldry of England and Wales ” by C.W.Scott-Giles, the council was formerly awarded arms in 1931 which again were “Gold, a red chevron, charged with a gold Stafford Knot…..”
This long attested pattern of red chevron and gold knot, associated with the county since at least the seventeenth century, was specifically amended for the council with the addition of a blue chief, a top panel, to symbolise the authority of the council, a practice also employed elsewhere, for example Norfolk, where a similar chief bearing a lion had been added to the recognised county emblem, for that county’s council in 1904. Notably the theme of a gold Stafford Knot on a red background was maintained across three centuries.
The county town of Stafford acquired formal arms in the twentieth century which again featured two gold Stafford Knots against a red background
and a gold knot on a red background has subsequently appeared on several of the arms of towns in the county; from left to right below, Stoke-on-Trent, Cosely, Tipton and Eccleshall.
It also appears today on the club badge of the football team from Lichfield and the rugby team from Willenhall
The same device in gold on red, was further used by the Staffordshire Yeomanry
and 14th Staffs & Shropshire Batallion Mobile Defence Corps
and in the modern era appears on the arms of Keel University
and the logo of Staffordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes
The gold knot on red is also found on the labels and logos of the Staffordshire brewery Marston’s, based in Burton-on-Trent
The county emblem in gold, on red, is also the logo of the Stafford Morris Men
and local newspaper, the Staffordshire Guardian
and further appears on the badge of the Stoke-On-Trent, South Division, Girl Guides troupe.
and on the badge of the Stafford and District, Richard III Society
Further evidence of the general acknowledgement of gold on red as the normal depiction of the county symbol, is its usage by two Staffordshire based Twitter sources distributing local news and information;
As one might expect, the knot appears on the sign of the “Staffordshire Knot” pub in Darlaston
again, depicted in gold against a red background.
This extensive use of the gold on red Stafford Knot by county based organisations, makes this an obvious pattern for consideration as the Staffordshire county flag.
This design of a large bold Stafford Knot on a flag actually appears on the pub sign of the the “Knot and Plough” carvery in Stafford.
and such a flag, in the form of a pennant, is already used by the South Staffordshire Sailing Club
There is a school of thought asserting that the left end of the rope should pass under the the curve, highlighted by the phrase “There are no leftovers in Staffordshire” ! However there are clearly numerous examples above, including its depiction amongst the Staffordshire Hoard and the de Stafford Standard, where a reverse configuration is deployed.
WHAT ABOUT THE COUNCIL’S BANNER?
The “flag ” that is flown by Staffordshire County, is the council’s coat of arms
rendered on a piece of cloth. Legally, these arms, either as a shield on a static wall or when flown from a flag pole, belonged solely to the council as the armiger or arms-holder and represented only that body. In late 2015, Staffordshire County Council applied to the Flag Institute to have its armorial banner registered as the county flag, offering to remove the legal sanction against public use of its banner, despite the fact that the council’s remit does not include large swathes of Staffordshire territory such as Stoke, Walsall, West Bromwich, and Wolverhampton. By definition, this council insignia cannot represent the whole county, whilst the above proposed flag is intended to represent the county to its fullest extent.
As noted the county has a very clear and distinct emblem, with which it has been associated for several centuries, the Stafford Knot , yet this obvious county emblem is greatly reduced on the council’s arms so that it looks like an afterthought and from any height or distance effectively disappears from view However, the design does include the large lion passant, indicative, as previously noted, of the council’s authority but not in any way symbolic of the county; such a lion is far from unique, it appears on the arms of many county councils, for example
as an emblem of the authority derived from the crown, being found of course on the royal banner of England. The lion on the Staffordshire council arms is therefore neither distinctive nor representative. Unlike a plain Stafford Knot, the council’s banner fails to announce the county to the world, but rather merges with the broad range of similar civic and corporate arms.
The county flag of Norfolk
features the acknowledged county emblem of an ermine bend on a yellow and black field. This same pattern appears on the arms and armorial banner of the Norfolk County Council but is amended with the addition of the lion passant, specifically to highlight the council’s authoritative position. Similarly the flag of Somerset features a red dragon on a gold field
whilst the council arms include a blue mace in the grasp of the dragon, again as an indication of the body’s authority.
The Stafford Knot per se, is also much older than the Council Arms which were awarded only in 1931; it is an ancient local tradition and a genuine, general county emblem, perfectly suited for deployment on the county flag.
A POSSIBLE COMPROMISE
One possible option is to remove the blue chief with the lion representing the council’s authority from the arms of Staffordshire County Council to create a simpler county flag.
This in fact would be a return to the pattern featured on the 1611 John Speed map of the county, where it was shown as a shield.
This pattern is evidently much older than Staffordshire County Council’s coat of arms and makes a better flag, graphically as well as symbolically.
There are several precedents for such a procedure, as the “chief” in County Council arms has been removed to create the county flags of Buckinghamshire, Monmouthshire and Norfolk. Removal of this element allowed the traditional, original, county emblems and patterns which sit below, greater prominence producing bold, less complicated designs, that work well as flags.
The same practice could apply in Staffordshire.
By removing the chief, the traditional Red Chevron on Gold from the De Stafford coat of arms is retained and the position of the Stafford Knot, as a focal point is enhanced. Without the top element that specifically references the County Council, the design, whilst still clearly linked with the council’s arms, is a more meaningful flag for the county, with a centuries old heritage.