The flag of Staffordshire was registered on March 28th 2016. Categorised as a “traditional” design because of its centuries old association with the county, the flag was also the winner of an online poll of two competing proposals, held by the Flag Institute. This traditional design, which had been submitted for registration by the Staffordshire Heritage Group, was declared the winner of the poll after securing 566 votes, 355 more than its competitor, the armorial banner of Staffordshire County Council.
The design features a large golden Stafford Knot, against a red chevron, on a gold field. The Stafford Knot has been associated with the county for centuries; indeed it appears as decoration on an artifact amongst the “Staffordshire Hoard”,
the large collection of Anglo-Saxon treasure unearthed in the county in 2009 and estimated to date from the seventh or eighth centuries, demonstrating a linkage with Staffordshire extending back 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 chevron
combined with the family badge, a gold Stafford Knot
The Stafford Knot has since become the ubiquitous symbol for Staffordshire. 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.
The Knot then featured on the caps of the Stoke team which competed in the inaugural football league 1888-1889
In the modern era local son and popular entertainer Robbie Williams, sports a Stafford Knot tattoo on his hand
It is found on police uniform buttons
and is used by the Staffordshire Ruby Union.
The Stafford Knot appears on the logo of the local “community fund grant”
and a clever stylisation of the traditional knot, where it encompasses birth certificates and such like, also exists as the logo of the Burntwood Family History Group from the county
A Knot is proudly emblazoned on all the fittings of the council buildings in Martin Street, Stafford, including the drainpipes!
and a Stafford Knot is the insignia of the organisers of the Staffordshire county show
and the badge of the county scouts.
It also appears as a decorative feature on The Meir Tunnel in Stoke
, is formed from a hedge in a Burton-On-Trent back garden
It is the logo of a local firm specialising in bathroom installations,
and is also seen on this ‘Denbigh’ drilling machine, manufactured in Tipton.
The categorical status of the Knot as the definitive county emblem is demonstrated on the county war memorial in Stafford.
Unequivocally the county emblem, the Stafford Knot has also appeared extensively in the same colour scheme as that found on the Speed map, namely a gold knot on a red background. An early example was the logo of North Staffordshire Railways, formed in 1845
which was affectionately known as “The Knotty”. The rail company’s 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)
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 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 badges 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 today appears on the arms of Keel University
and the logo of Staffordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes
A gold knot on red is further 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
It 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 examples are the usage of gold Stafford Knots on red by two Staffordshire based Twitter sources, distributing local news and information;
As one might expect, the knot is on the sign of the “Staffordshire Knot” pub in Darlaston
again, depicted in gold against a red background.
The gold on red Stafford Knot is also present on this stained glass window
, the ‘Benfecators’ Window’ at “St Peter’s, Wolverhampton, installed in 1947
The preponderance of depictions of gold knots on red backgrounds suggested that such a design
might be registrable as a county flag, on the basis of traditional local usage; indeed a large bold Stafford Knot on a flag, is part of the pub sign of the “Knot and Plough” carvery in Stafford
; it has also been used as a decorative feature, to display the origins of a county coach firm
and such a flag, in the form of a pennant, is already used by the South Staffordshire Sailing Club
The Association of British Counties consulted with the Flag Institute, who agreed that this broad evidence presented a firm basis for registration of a gold knot on a red field, as the county flag of Staffordshire, if sufficient local support for the idea could be secured. Despite consultation with numerous local groups – civic and historic societies, the necessary support for this proposal proved unobtainable.
In late 2015 Staffordshire County Council passed a resolution to release its armorial banner,
the shield from its coat of arms, in flag form, for general public use and subsequently applied to the Flag Institute to register this design as the county flag of Staffordshire. A campaign to make the public aware of this intention, entitled “Knot in my name” was begun by the Association of British Counties and upon learning of the plan, numerous residents and county groups in Staffordshire declared their opposition to this suggestion. There were three principle reasons for discontent with the council’s banner.
- The inclusion of the lion, specifically intended to represent the council and symbolising its authority, which was not relevant on a flag for the county as a whole – such a charge also had no local tradition, the county of Staffordshire as an entity had never been associated with or represented by a lion symbol, it was neither representative of Staffordshire nor remotely unique, being an extremely common charge on flags and arms across the country and the world.
- By contrast, the unquestionable county emblem, the unique Stafford Knot, is minuscule, barely visible on the council’s armorial banner and overshadowed by the lion charge
, it effectively disappeared from view when the flag was in motion.
- Staffordshire County Council actually only administered about 40% of the population of the county. Great swathes of the historic county such as Wolverhampton, Stoke, Walsall and West Bromwich fell under the remit of other local authorities, the armorial banner of Staffordshire county council was therefore an inappropriate design to represent the entirety of the county.
Additionally, although early examples seen on the Staffordshire Hoard and the de Stafford standard depicted the opposite, a local tradition had been established regarding the orientation of the Knot, summed up in the phrase “there are no leftovers in Staffordshire”. The knot on the council’s arms contravened this tradition.
Responding to the evident opposition the Flag Institute agreed that if it received a formal registration request for an alternative design from an eminent county body, it would be given serious consideration.
Further research regarding Staffordshire symbolism was conducted by Brady Ells on behalf of the Association of British Counties and an alternative design was duly proposed with a prominent depiction of the county’s unique emblem, the Stafford Knot, which would properly announce Staffordshire to the world when flying. The arrangement of a Stafford Knot, upon a red chevron, against a yellow background, first seen on the Speed map, had become an accepted Staffordshire pattern by the twentieth century, being informally adopted by the county council, created in 1889, as the focal point of its seal.
The same combination can be found today above the main entrance of Bridgewood House, Earl Street, Stafford
built in 1896 and now student accommodation for nearby Stafford College. An extension on the back of this building was built in 1905 which again features the Chevron & Knot.
As noted, the pattern is a combination of the Stafford Knot and the arms of the de Stafford family, a red chevron on gold. Like the Stafford Knot, these arms have also been an integral part of Staffordshire symbolism. They took prominent positions on both John Speed’s 1611 map of Staffordshire
and Joan Blaeu’s 1648 map
The De Stafford arms appear in a repeated pattern on the city arms of Lichfield,
and are found again in an elaborate variation on the arms of Stafford Borough Council
and as seen, the red chevron is present on the arms of Coseley and Keel University.
These examples underline the entrenched Staffordshire symbolism of the county flag, a combination of two long established county emblems, the Stafford Knot and the de Stafford arms.
The arms formally awarded to Staffordshire County Council in 1931
by the College of Arms, featured the county’s celebrated Stafford Knot in a markedly small depiction and basically amended the traditional county pattern, the combined chevron and knot, with the addition of a blue “chief” bearing a golden lion. This distinguishing charge specifically designated the county council; the lion, taken from the royal Banner of England, symbolising the authority wielded by the council and handed down from the crown. Such an arrangement being something of a template for arms awarded to local authorities, as found on the arms ofHerefordshire
The cause for the original, traditional, design was taken up by Staffordshire groups who had expressed their opposition to the council’s banner, and a formal request from the Staffordshire Heritage Group (SHG), bearing declarations of support from a near twenty local bodies, was submitted to the Flag Institute for registration of this design
The list of Staffordshire organisations declaring their support for the SHG design
- Staffordshire Heritage Group
- Stafford Burgesses Guild
- Stafford Morris Men
- Staffordshire Parish Registers Society
- The Stafford Historical & Civic Society
- Wombourne History Group
- Ingestre and Tixall Local History Group
- Cannock Chase Green Party
- Penkridge Local History Group
- The Penkridge Town Crier
- Stafford and Mid-Staffs Archaeological Society
- Codsall and Bilbrook History Group
- Landor (Local History) Group
- Staffordshire Industrial Archaeological Society
- National Trust Staffordshire Centre
- Ridware History Society
- Stafford Freeman’s Allotments
- The Haywood Society
With receipt of this second registration request for Staffordshire, the Flag Institute, in an unprecedented move, decided to hold an online poll to allow residents of Staffordshire, including those living outside the territorial remit of the county council but within the historic boundaries of the county, to express their preference from the two designs. The Flag Institute liaised with the Staffordshire Heritage Group to perfect the realisation of the chevron and knot flag so that it matched the latter’s preferences and accorded more closely with traditional local depictions, including the appearance of the rope, and the size and orientation of the Knot.
The poll was announced in a press release,
“The Flag Institute has received two applications for a County Flag for Staffordshire, one from Staffordshire County Council (SCC) and the other from the Staffordshire Heritage Group (SHG), an umbrella organisation for many cultural groups in Staffordshire. Both applications meet the Flag Institute’s published criteria for applying, and both designs meet the Institute’s design guidelines, so the Flag Institute has decided that the only fair way to choose between them is to give the people of Staffordshire an opportunity to vote for the design they like best.”
Staffordshire County Council subsequently chose to withdraw its registration request but having formally relinquished control over use of its armorial banner, the design’s inclusion in the online poll was maintained by the Flag Institute to enhance the legitimacy and democratic credentials of the winning design. The SHG submission duly won the competition with 72.8% of the vote.
Prior to the registration, Staffordshire Council’s banner was sold commercially but inaccurately described as the flag of Staffordshire – it was not, it represented and continues to represent, just the body which administers a part of the county of Staffordshire and should only be flown by that body. Subsequent research has further revealed that the council’s arms in flag form would probably have been ineligible for registration. The gold lion ‘passant guardant’ which appears on these arms is a specific royal symbol, as found on the royal banner of England, whose use is much restricted, being granted only via a specific Royal Warrant whose terms of usage would not allow for this emblem to be used outside of its specific original remit, that is, as anything but the coat of arms of Staffordshire County Council.
The county flag was seen across Staffordshire on the inaugural county day, May 1st 2016. A Co-op store in Burntwood was decorated in county flags for the occasion
The flag flew over Saint Lawrence church in the village of Gnosall,
was displayed with pride on the Trent & Mersey canal
and it was seen with county Morris Men in Cannock Chase
by the Shropshire Union Canal
and at Moseley Old Hall, Wolverhampton
where John Edwards, of the Staffordshire Heritage Group, who finalised the design of the flag with the Flag Institute, proudly wielded the county flag.