Call To Arms For Buckinghamshire's Royal Swan (30 November 1973)
This is about the proposed coat-of-arms for the Milton Keynes District Council and how I don’t like it very much and why.
I am not complaining about the draughtsmanship, but about what is draughted – presumably on the advice of those who ought to have known better.
First of all, the outstanding historical fact about the district is that for about 1,000 years it has been first in the Anglo-Saxon shire and then in the Norman county of Buckingham. Even in the last few years it has taken part in the defeat of a proposal to place it otherwise.
Compared with the county’s millennium, the Roman occupation lasted only 400 years; the local district councils have lasted hardly 80 years; the development corporation is getting on towards half its projected life-span and is not concerned with all the new district. The county council remains in being and I trust that the new district council has a long and distinguished future.
The county – which is not to be confused with the county council – is therefore the historical crux of the matter.
The proposed arms take note of this, but in the form of two rampant stags, which we are asked to note are bucks, either by way of an allegorical pun or under the delusion that that is the source of the county’s name. Moreover, the said stags or bucks have both been branded with what looks like the ownership mark of the development corporation! Crime upon crime.
Ordinary folk like you and me know better, don’t we? There is only one sign that spells Buckinghamshire to us, and that of course is the sign of the swan. Nobody knows exactly how old is this sign, but Michael Drayton, writing of the Battle of Agincourt, which took place in 1415, said:
“The mustered men of Buckingham are gone
Under the sign of the Swan, the arms of that old town.”
Since that time at the latest the swan has been the sign not merely of town patriotism, but of county patriotism. That is why, looking around us today we find the Old Swan at Bletchley, the Swan at Fenny (dating from 1474 at the latest), the Old Swan at Woughton and the Swan at Milton Keynes village itself.
Amid that display of county patriotism where are the stags, except for the occasional White Hart? If you are of a facetious turn of mind, you will probably reply “Inside the Swans,” but that only proves my point – like the swans on all the badges and medals worn by the county’s sportsmen.
The only possible excuse for omitting the swan from any proposed arms relating to North Bucks could be prior information that for reasons of their own – such as duplication – the College of Heralds would not allow it.
Pictorially, I have nothing against those well-drawn stags. They could remain purely as shield supporters failing anything better – but not with those brand marks, though the corporation’s double axe is admissible somewhere.
If the suggested arms do not have that right royal bird, the swan, what they do have is a quite nasty-looking Roman imperial eagle. And for why? Because it is common to the arms of the Bletchley urban and Newport rural council and just begging to be plucked.
The proposed arms suffer from the not-unusual fault of trying to include too much. The Cahaines (Keynes) shield itself is a three-colour complication. Superimposed on that in the proposed arms is an oak tree with five branches representing prosperity for the five constituent areas of the new district. But instead of making that suffice for the lot, the arms show the mutual eagle of Bletchley and Newport, a collar of W’s round the eagle’s neck for Wolverton and Winslow, and the embattled round tower from the Newport urban crest, a feature which it is now coyly stated can also be taken as an incidental allusion to the square embattled architectural folly at Wavendon which surmounts the headquarters of the development corporation, no less. Plus a helmet with plumes which, though very well drawn, are remarkably reminiscent of a certain kind of seaweed.
The authors now have a right to ask what I would do. I will tell them.
First I would do away with the stags alias bucks and replace them as shield supporters with stylised swans – and unmarked ones need I add? One such swan is a supporter on the present county arms.
Next I would keep the basic shield, but would dispense with the helmet and plumes and place the Newport urban tower directly atop of the shield.
I would then take the oak tree from the shield and make a version of it issue from the tower as the head of the crest.
The Bletchley urban and Newport rural eagle I would then place on the shield, complete with the Wolverton and Newport neck-chain. And in the point of the shield I would be tempted to place in black the city’s double axe – in black only because it would contrast most effectively with the colours already there.
I would leave the scroll and amended motto as they are – and here I commend the authors for using good plain English instead of Latin or antiquated French.
So there you have it. All it amounts to is a substitution of swans for stags, a scrapping of the helmet and plumes and a re-disposal of some of the other features. You may disagree if you like, but you cannot say my criticisms are not constructive.