Pub signboards have been a feature of the English landscape for centuries but, being exposed to both the elements and changing fashions (and the lifetime of the pub), each board tends to have a fairly short life. Several years ago, noticing some familiar old signs had been replaced, I began a photographic ‘archive’. I then became intrigued about what or who they depicted. The signs described here are mostly from South Cambridgeshire, because that’s where I live.
Sitting as it does opposite Shire Hall, the name requires no further explanation. But what caught my eye, and both inspired my interest in signboards and what they depict, and rekindled a boyhood interest in heraldry, is that the arms on the board and the arms on the bracket are different. I wanted to find out why.
And the reason? The arms of the county have themselves changed over the years.
First, the arms on the signboard. These are the present arms of Cambridgeshire County Council, granted in 1976 following the incorporation of Huntingdon and Peterborough in 1974. The full blazon is given on Civic Heraldry of England and Walesas follows:
ARMS: Or three Palets wavy alternating with two Palets Azure a Bordure Gules flory on the inner edge Or; the Shield ensigned by a Mural Crown Or.
SUPPORTERS: On either side a Great Bustard proper the exterior leg resting on a closed Book Gules garnished Or pendent from the neck of the dexter by a Cord Argent two Keys in saltire wards uppermost and outwards Gules and from the neck of the sinister by a like Cord a Hunting Horn mouth to the dexter Or.
MOTTO: 'Corde Uno Sapientes Simus' – With one heart let us be men of understanding.
The wavy lines (which you have have to look pretty hard to see any waviness to on this representation) represent the three principal rivers of the county (the Cam, the Nene and the Ouse). The alternating straight lines represent the many straight man-made fenland drains.
The fleurs-de-lys (‘flory’) in the border are a relic of the earlier ‘double tressure flory counterflory’, derived from the Royal Arms of Scotland, representing the fact that the earldom of Huntingdon was held by Scottish monarchs in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. (Henry of Scotland, son of King David I of Scotland, inherited the title in 1130 via his mother, Matilda, daughter of Waltheof, 1st Earl of Northumberland and 1st Earl of the Honour of Huntingdon and Northampton. The title was then settled on his descendants until the line became extinct with the death of John of Scotland in 1231, when it was annexed to the Crown.)
The great bustard was for a long time extinct in England, but has recently been reintroduced. The books these supporters stand on represent the University of Cambridge. The cross keys hanging round the neck of the left-hand bird represent the Keys of St Peter and stand for the Soke of Peterborough; the hunting horn hanging from the neck of the other supporter is a canting reference to Huntingdonshire.
The motto combines the earlier motto of Huntingdon and Peterborough City Council (‘Cor Unum’) with that of the Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely County Council (‘Sapientes Simus’).
The arms on the bracket are now in a rather sorry state, but depict the original arms of Cambridgeshire County Council, in use from 1914 to 1965.
Arms: Azure, an Bend wavy Or overall a double Tressure flory counterflory Or.
Motto: Per Undas Per Agros (‘By waves and by fields’)
The gold wavy line on blue represents the River Cam and the wealth of the trade it bore to Cambridge. The double tressure and the bustard supporters have already been mentioned. Why it has a helmet with crest and mantling, I know not.