Devon’s flag, dedicated to Saint Petroc, was registered on July 23 2003. The colours of the flag are those popularly identified with Devon, appearing on the shirts of its Rugby Union team
Exeter University sports teams
and Plymouth Argyle football club
Historically, it is also accounted that Viscount Exmouth (the title being the name of a significant Devon town) flew a dark green flag with white circles at the Bombardment of Algiers in 1816. Specifically the green is held to represent the rolling lush Devon hills, black the high windswept moors of Dartmoor and Exmoor, while the white represents both the salt spray of Devon’s two coastlines and the China Clay industry. Notably, the juxtaposition of the green and black colours breaks the heraldic rule of tincture that is generally applied to flag design to help to distinguish the darker and lighter shades in a flag, particularly when seen from any distance.
The popularity of Cornwall’s flag inspired neighbouring Devon to seek its own. Many Devonians had long felt that their county was in need of an easily recognised icon to help promote Devon products and tourism. In an interview on BBC Radio Devon in 2002, the county scouts, attending the 20th World Scout Jamboree, enquired if any of the listeners knew of a flag for the county. The notion was raised on the BBC Devon website and the local radio station took up the search for a flag for Devon, asking the public to send in ideas. This led to a shortlist of a dozen designs submitted by Devonians home and abroad and a web-based poll to select the county flag from amongst them. Bob Burns, an exiled Devonian and one of those who initiated the original debate, cited the visibility of the Cornish Flag as one of his motivations “Devonians are only too aware of the ubiquitous Cornish Flag, which can often be seen in the form of car bumper stickers, on vehicles entering Devon from Cornwall. Until now, there has been no way that Devonians could similarly express their pride in their own County of Devon.”
Most of the designs used the traditional Devon colours of black, green and white as described and the notion of a black edged cross appeared six times amongst the shortlisted proposals, several of the submissions being all but identical, varied only by the degree of thickness of the black edging of a white cross. Four of the ideas included the coat of arms of the Devon County Council; these are the property solely of the county council and could not have actually appeared on any other flag.
The result of the first vote was so close
14%, 21%, 4.8%
2.3%, 0.3%, 11.9%
4.6%, 11.9%, 1.5%,
that a second poll was carried out to remove any doubt. The most favoured design topped both the original BBC Devon poll with 21.3% and the follow-up vote with 49%. It was designed by student Ryan Sealey. Bob Burns, commented “When Devonians were given the opportunity of selecting a flag for Devon, they voted in their hundreds and chose a design which all Devonians should be proud of.” The Devon Flag Group set up to promote the Devon Flag is made up of individuals who helped in the design, selection and initial promotion of the flag. Kevin Pyne, a founder member of the group observed “The flag emphasises the county’s history, especially it’s Celtic roots which are very strong….It’s a flag for everyone with Devon in their hearts, a unifying symbol, not just for people born, raised or living here.” Another of those closely involved in selecting the flag was Paul Turner, “We are in the process of registering the Flag with the Flag Institute…we have contacted Devon County Council and whilst they have not formally endorsed the flag, they have said that if anyone asks them about a Devon flag design they will refer to this flag.” The Chief Executive of South West Tourism, Malcolm Bell, said a flag for Devon would re-enforce the strong regional identity. “You see what it’s done for Scotland and Wales, as well as Cornwall,” he said. “It gives the idea that somewhere is special, and it gives the feeling of a sense of place. It says that this is a place that’s proud of where it is and is proud of itself.”
The creation of the flag drew criticism from Cornwall with claims that the move was an attempt to “hijack” Cornish culture. The term “Devonwall” was coined to describe what was seen by some as an attempt by Devon to hijack Cornish identity. Leading Cornish nationalist John Angarrack commented. “Promote Devon all you want, but do not denude Cornish distinctiveness in the process…Devon is a county of England despite any dodgy marketing ploy like the Devonshire flag.” This attitude reflected the convention that the Celts were forced out of Devon, and into Cornwall by the Anglo Saxons, rendering the county as English as Surrey or Kent. Passionate Devonian Paul Turner argued however that the Cornish were “feeling threatened” by Devon’s new found Celtic pride. Dr Mark Stoyle, a Devon historian further observed that “People are quite aware in Devon that the Cornish make political capital by claiming to be different…besides, it’s fashionable to be a minority.” And Bob Burns accused the Cornish of “distorting history” in a bid to carve out a separate identity from their neighbours. Cornwall’s leading historical scholar, Prof Philip Payton, in turn accused Devon of “wanting to invent traditions…The idea of naming the flag after St Petroc is gratuitously offensive,” Petroc was born in the sixth century probably in South Wales and is associated with a monastery at Padstow in Cornwall, which is named after him, Pedroc-stowe, or ‘Petrock’s Place. He has associations across the south west, such as the Devon villages of Petrockstowe and Newton St Petroc but has traditionally been considered a Cornish saint.
However in spite of the controversy it engendered the Devon Flag quickly gained popularity, “In a few months it has achieved the sort of popularity that takes years or decades for most regional flags,” observed Charles Ashburner, of Mrflag.com. In October 2006 it gained “official” recognition when Devon County Council raised the flag outside County Hall. Councillors are seen here preparing for the event.
In April 2004 Rodney Lock of Ottery St Mary in East Devon was threatened with legal action for flying a Devon flag in his back garden, as he required planning permission to fly non-national flags. Then Minister for Housing, Keith Hill, announced that local authorities could officially “turn a blind eye” to the practice of flying the county flag. Subsequent legislation means that this is no longer an issue. After winning the Minor Counties Western Division title in August 2006 The Devon County Cricket team gathered by their county flag
It is seen in profusion outside the Dartmouth tourist centre
and flies here
beside the Grand Western Canal in Tiverton. On Babbacombe Downs it is raised alongside the flag of England
and is prominently displayed on the helicopter
of the Devon Air Ambulance service. A row of Devon flags fluttered at the Devon County Show in 2004
and the flag has been displayed at High Willhays
the highest point of Dartmoor and the summit of Devon.
The Devon Flag Group has suggested a large number of dates to fly the flag. Most of them are either the days of local events such as the Devon County Show or the feast days of Devon’s saints or those who have a special association with the county, others celebrate some famous maritime events. Saint Petroc’s feast day of June 4th is naturally amongst the list as is for example September 26 the Anniversary of Sir Francis Drake’s Circumnavigation of the World and June 21/22 June – Midsummers day as well a great deal of other suggestions. The group produces and sells a large range of items bearing the Devon flag
Another notable development was Tesco’s decision to include the Devon flag on the packaging of local produce
Hopefully this practice might be extended nationwide with the appropriate county flags appearing on respective county produce.
In addition to the registered county flag a banner of the arms of Devon County Council
has been marketed as the Devon flag. This banner is formed from the arms
that belong to the council alone and no one else may raise it. It is not the county flag. A group exists, Bring Back The Devon Flag, promoting the use of the banner as the flag of the county. The campaign’s name indicates a misapprehension regarding the council’s armorial banner; it cannot be “brought back” as the county flag because it has never been the county flag! Additionally, stylistically, the armorial banner is not an effective flag, the waves and ship elements found on the arms could have made useful charges on a distinct flag but as a whole the arms are both rather too detailed and insufficiently distinctive – red lions are hardly a unique charge – to serve as an effective flag. Another campaign, North Devon Flag, promotes a flag specifically for the territory of north Devon per se.
The green of this flag represents north Devon’s beautiful meadows and valleys; purple reflects the rugged moors and hills; yellow the sandy coast and blue its sparkling seas. Finally the Devon town of Newton Abbot has produced its own flag based on the registered county
flag design. The flag was adopted by the town council in 2009 and incorporates a depiction of In the ancient tower of St Leonard or “The Clock Tower” as it now more commonly known by locals.It is thought that building work for the Church started in about 1220 according to a reference regarding the foundations of a building sited on the meeting place of 3 roads. The flag is accordingly also held to symbolise this ancient town cross roads.