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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A Horseshoe has been used to represent the county of Rutland since at least 1784 when the emblem appeared on “A New Map of the Counties of Leicester & Rutland, Drawn from the Latest Authorities” by Thomas Conder, 1784
 Rutland Conder
 Rutland Conder Map

It seem likely that this symbol became associated with the county as a result of the local tradition that visiting royalty, peers of the realm and noblemen would present a horseshoe to the Castle Hall in Oakham, which now houses a large and unique collection!



By at least 1837, the colour scheme of a gold horseshoe on a green background had become fixed. A gold horseshoe appears in the corners of this Grandfather Clock, given to new Oakham Workhouse in 1837, as part of a “seal of Rutland



This seal was later adopted by Rutland County Council, as described in the 1894 work “The Book of Public Arms” by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies and M. E. B. Crookes…

Fox-Davies Rut
By 1908 Rutland Police were wearing horseshoe cap badges.
In 1950 Rutland county Council was awarded arms which again included a gold horseshoe against a green field, the latter described as representing the county’s agriculture, especially its rich pasture land.

Since then many county organisations, clubs and businesses have made use of the traditional Gold Horseshoe on Green to represent the county of Rutland on their insignia, labeling, and even transport!

Rutland images 2

Rutland emblems 2
Rutland emblems 3
Rutland emblems 4Rutland emblems 5
In light of this extensive and long established tradition of representing the county by a gold horseshoe on a green background, this was the obvious emblem for deployment as the county flag and following approaches from the Association of British Counties in 2015 the Rutland Council contacted the Flag Insitute to confirm that it wished to release the design form its own arms, to the public and to have it registered as the county flag of Rutland
It is also interesting to note that the traditional depiction of horseshoes in the United Kingdom is with three nails on one side of the shoe and four on the other!


With thanks to Brady Ells for his extensive local research on this topic.


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 Caithness flag competition was held between May and July 2015. The competition attracted 327 entries and was a joint venture between the Highland Council, Caithness community councillors, the local newspaper The John O’Groats Journal and the Flag Institute, sanctioned by the chief Scottish heraldic authority, the Lord Lyon. The public voted on these four designs, each of which, the John O Groats journal reports,  “… drew on elements from more than one entry.” rather than being individual submissions.

 Caithness quartet

The winning design is set to be announced at a ceremony held at Caithness House in November 2015.







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 organisations, 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



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 .



M Fielding Design

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