Friday, 8 February 2019

Three Crowns on the Crest

Hull has in its three gold crowns on a blue background, a very handsome coat of arms. It’s instantly recognisable and very popular; many readers will remember that upwards of twenty years ago the City was re-branded with a ‘cog’ logo which was widely criticised as lacking the antiquity of our coat of arms. After all, our ‘Three Crowns’ date from the fifteenth century.

The crest of the City of Hull

(By the way, while technically the golden regal headgear is described as ‘three ducal coronets’, they represent crowns).

However, unlike many cities, Hull doesn’t have a crest (the arrangement on a helmet above the shield), supporters (figures flanking it), or a motto (generally an apt phrase in Latin on a scroll beneath the shield). It doesn’t appear that we either assumed them or petitioned to be granted them by the Heralds. Their absence has been commented on in the past – Hull’s Edwardian historian JR Boyle was of the opinion that that “the importance of the city of Hull might justly be regarded as entitling it to additions to its arms in the form of supporters, crest and motto.” Sculptors and artists have felt the absence of supporters in the past, and have invented supporters for various representations of the arms. For instance, Roman gods Neptune and Ceres recline on either side of the coat of arms on Brook Chambers at the top of Prospect Street; mermaids act as supporters at the College of Art (now the Northern Academy of Dramatic Art) on Anlaby Road; and lions serve on the former Northern Library.

Concerned by this lack of heraldic frills, at least one heraldry enthusiast has had a stab at designing extras for our coat of arms in the past. A letter of 24 November 1946 to the Town Clerk accompanied this splendid illustration [C TMA/13]. In it, a Mr H Ellis Tomlinson of Thornton le Fylde, Lancashire pointed out that Hull was the only one of the ten principal cities that did not have crest, motto, or supporters. He goes on to offer his services in negotiating between the City and the College of Arms, (apparently he had arranged the grant of arms to the East Riding County Council in 1945) and explains his illustration.

The crest, a medieval ship, known heraldically as a lymphad, is taken from the image on the medieval seal of the Admiral of the Humber which shows a similar ship with the three crowns on its single sail. The supporters are royal lions of England, as appropriate for the King’s Town upon Hull, and are distinguished with black collars bearing the white roses of Yorkshire. The motto, Mare Copia, means ‘Abundance from the Sea’.

The Town Clerk was not convinced unfortunately.

“Dear Sir” he wrote on 5 March 1946 “I have consulted the appropriate authority and have received instructions to inform you and whilst your offer is appreciated the Corporation cannot, at the present time, avail themselves of it.”

And there the matter continues to rest.

Martin Taylor, City Archivist

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