Thursday, 19 May 2011

Berks’ heraldry

I’m sure most people have encountered those business that peddle items emblazoned with ‘your family coat of arms’, determined purely by surname, not by any genealogical research. With the Court of Chivalry no longer sitting, this can be regarded as a harmless bit of fun, appealing to the gullible and the heraldically ignorant (online ones particularly aimed at the American market, it seems, about which I make no further comment) – but on no account should they or their dubious claims be taken seriously.
The Kingston Arms currently has this on its signboard.
When I first saw it, I was puzzled. ‘What has the Duchy of Brabant to do with this pub?’ I wondered. But a little searching reveals that it’s nothing to do with the Low Countries at all: a number of these ‘family heraldry’ companies offer this as the coat of arms belonging to the surname Kingston. No pedigree, no genealogy, just the shield: sable a lion rampant or.
But does it have anything to do with the pub?
Of course not! It took a little intelligent digging (more than went into the selection of this device for the pub, obviously), but I finally found out that the Kingston family entitled to bear these arms were lords of one of the manors of Kingston Bagpuize in far-away Berkshire (Oxfordshire since 1974). The line became extinct in 1515 and the manor was sold out of the family in 1545. Well, at least there’s no one alive to challenge the appropriation of their arms.
The Kingston from whom the street and the pub take their respective names was in fact one Thomas Kingston, known locally as ‘Miser’ Kingston, who owned houses in nearby Sleaford Street. He wore shabby clothes, had a long beard, and frightened children, apparently. He also had a reputation for watering the farm workers’ beer, which is not really the sort of reputation that a self-respecting pub would want to associate itself with, but there you go.
He was not, however, an armiger, so the very name of the pub is a bit fake to start with, a fakery which the present sign compounds.
Gray, R., and D. Stubbings, Cambridge Street-names: Their origins and associations. CUP 2000

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Couldn’t give it away

According to the pub’s web site, ‘The pub got its name from when part of it was a printing press which circulated a free Cambridge newspaper. Unfortunately for them it lasted one issue, but the name survived.’
Exactly when this was it doesn’t say, but there has been a pub on this site, apparently of that name, since at least 1851 (Gardner’s Directory).

Unknown soldier

The first building to go up on what is now Russell Court/Russell Street, in 1835, was a brewery – they had their priorities right in them days! Whatever it had been called before, by 1859 it had been named after the Battle of the Alma (September 20, 1854), which is often considered the first battle of the Crimean War (1853–1856). A new brewery was built behind a few years later, and the old brewery building became the brewery tap (which had been licensed as a beerhouse since at least 1860).[1]
The present sign depicts a British soldier, stood beneath a Red Ensign (which is primarily a non-military naval flag, so I’ve no idea what it’s meant to be doing here), smoking a pipe and surveying the field after the battle. But is it any old soldier?
Well, although not depicted in ay great detail, he does seem to be wearing the uniform of the Royal Welch Fusiliers as it was at the time of the battle. One of their number, Colour Sergeant Luke O’Connor, although himself wounded, continued to carry the Queen’s Colour throughout the battle. For this, and for other actions during the war, he was later awarded the Victoria Cross, the first soldier to receive this honour. So perhaps this is him, the red ensign is standing in for the Queen’s Colour, being rather easier to paint.[2] Sgt O’Connor has no connection with Cambridge, though. But the commander of the 1st Division (Guards and Highland brigades) at the battle was Prince George, the then 2nd Duke of Cambridge (fourth creation, 1801).
If there is an original painting on which sign is based, and if I ever manage to track it down, that may clear up a few things.
[1] Flood, B., Cambridge Breweries, Cambridge Society for Industrial Archaeology and CAMRA, 1987.
[2] See this photograph of a modern reenactment group, including the Queen’s Colour.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

The crux of the matter

The Clarendon Arms, Clarendon Street, Cambridge 
These are the arms of the Villiers family, Baronets since 1619, and from 1776 Earls of Clarendon (2nd creation):
ARMS: Argent on a cross Gules five escallops Or.
CREST: A lion rampant Argent ducally crowned Or.
SUPPORTERS: Two eagles wings endorsed Sable, ducally crowned Or, charged on the breast with a plain cross Or.
MOTTO: Fidei Coticula Crux (The Cross is the touchstone of Faith).
The eagles look more like angry blackbirds to me, but otherwise that’s a pretty accurate representation.
The pub, like the street it’s on, is named in honour of the 4th Earl, George Villiers, a distinguished politician and diplomat – and a Cambridge man, to boot!

Gray, R., and D. Stubbings, Cambridge Street-names: Their origins and associations. Cambridge, CUP 2000

Any Port(land) in a storm

These are the arms of the Cavendish-Bentinck family, dukes of Portland. The blazon is given by Nottinghamshire History as follows (with some tweaks by me) : 
ARMS: Quarterly 1st and 4th, azure, a cross moline argent, for BENTINCK; 2nd and 3rd, sable*, three stags' heads caboshed argent, attired or**, a crescent for difference***, for CAVENDISH.
CRESTS: 1. Out of ducal coronet gold, two arms counter-embowed, vested gules, on the hands gloves or, each holding an ostrich feather argent****, for BENTINCK. 2. On a wreath argent and sable, a snake nowed proper*****, for CAVENDISH.
SUPPORTERS: Two lions double queued, the dexter or the sinister sable.
MOTTO: Craignez honte (Fear shame)
* Purpure in this representation, for some reason.
** Not here.
*** Missing in this version.
**** Looks more like a Morris dancer’s handkerchief to me
***** Here argent. Doesn't look much like a snake, either, so maybe the artist didn't quite know what it was meant to be.
The present neo-Georgian building, designed by Basil Oliver, dates from the 1930s, although there has been a pub of that name on this site since at least 1852. That would correspond with the 4th Duke of Portland:, though why he should be honoured with a pub in Cambridge is anyone’s guess. It may be older, and go back to the 3rd Duke , who enjoyed an illustrious political career and is a more likely candidate.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Any fort in a storm

The Fort had a substantial renovation in 2008, which of course included a new sign. You’d think they might have gone for a picture of the Fort St George (in India), from which the place derives its name, wouldn’t you? But no, that would be too obvious (or require too much research). Instead we are treated to this rather dull image of some curtain walls with a generous sprinkling of mural towers:
Now maybe it’s because of all those Westerns I used to watch as a kid, but that’s not the image my mind conjures up when I hear the word ‘fort’: these are clearly defensive walls of a city or a substantial castle. At first I used to think that it wasn’t based on anything in the real world (and did rather wonder what the sign-painter had been drinking), but then I found a photograph of the walls of Ávila looked strikingly familiar. That’ll be the Ávila in Castilla y Leon, then. In Spain. Not England. Not India. Spain. And so far as I know, it has no connection with St George, either.
Well done, Greene King!
For the record, the sign it replaced looked like this:
The arms and supporters are clearly fanciful (forts cannot be armigerous entities), and the motto is that of a family by the name of St George (who appear to be Irish, so far as I can discover), presumably found in a book or on the internet. It was quite nice, though.