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Up In Arms: Manchester's Badge On Buildings

Jonathan Schofield looks up and around

Published on April 7th 2014.

Up In Arms: Manchester's Badge On Buildings

IN 1842 Manchester was granted its coat of arms. 

For almost a century after that date architects and their clients fell in love with it as a decorative motif. They put it up complete, or they twisted and broke it, using the component parts to add richness and texture to their work.

Confidential asked the Council if people wanting to use Manchester’s coat of arms had to apply for a licence. They didn’t think so – odd in this age of brand and image tyranny. 

Surprisingly they not only did this on Manchester Corporation (today’s City Council) property but on their own commercial premises.

It was almost if businesses, and not just Manchester-owned businesses, wanted to underline how proud they were to build in the city and work with its people. The coats of arms were literally badges of honour.

My favourite is the stylised terracotta shield and globe from the coat of arms, in a beautiful warped Art Nouveau design high on St George's House (formerly The YMCA) on Peter Street. This dates from 1907-11. 

Exquisite and clever coat of armsExquisite and clever coat of arms

Then it all stopped.

It's a struggle to find any post-World War II buildings, civic or commercial, that display the coat of arms.

Why is this?

Had the civic force weakened, had the desire to be connected to the community slackened as the international significance of Manchester and its manufacturing powerbase diminished?

Or maybe as the International Modern movement and Brutalism became the architectural styles of choice, designers found it difficult to incorporate rich decoration on their glass, concrete and iron structures. Although, it would have been easy to do so if they'd really wanted, with etched glass, tile, mosaic and so on.

By the nineties and noughties building boom, architects seemed to have forgotten that Manchester's coat of arms had ever been such a decorative paradigm. 

But a couple of non-City Council organisations still sport the city coat of arms proudly, and one of these doesn't technically lie within the city boundaries.

United BlazerUnited BlazerManchester United, when playing in overseas competitions such as the Champions League, carry the city crest on their blazers because they are representing the whole of Manchester and not just the club. If it were simply the latter then they'd use their own coat of arms.

Manchester City of course, wear the shield of the coat of arms on their shirts as part of the regular kit. But this isn't quite the same because that represents the club specifically, not the whole city. 

Maybe it’s time for a resurgence in Manchester's coat of arms being designed onto buildings. Local pride, and pride in working in a locality, is good, and helps build self-esteem.

Coat of ArmsCoat of Arms

There's no need why it can't happen again.

And it's maybe easier than we think. 

Confidential asked the Council if people wanting to use Manchester’s coat of arms had to apply for a licence. They didn’t think so – odd in this age of brand and image tyranny.

We also asked them when was the last time a coat of arms had been used in Manchester on a building. They didn’t know.

So let’s get busy. 

What does the coat of arms mean?

Granted in 1842, the three bands in the shield are derived from the arms of the former Lords of the Manor of Manchester, the Gresleys.

At the top there's a ship in full sail, symbolising international trade and enterprise. The three bands on the shield are said to represent the three rivers in the city centre, the Irwell, the Irk and the Medlock.

The coat of arms is crowned by a globe covered with bees. The worker bee - Manchester was often described as 'a hive of activity' - is Manchester's symbolic animal, and is shown covering the globe. This is because the city's industry, its scientific acheivements, and its political credo of Free Trade, had influence over the whole planet. 

The supporters, an antelope and a lion, come from the arms of King Henry IV, Duke of Lancaster - Manchester is traditionally in Lancashire. The lion is an obvious symbol of authority, bravery and strength.

The antelope, complete with a chain to mark Manchester's industry, is a symbol of harmony, polity (negotiation is better than conflict) and peace. 

This marries perfectly with the city motto; Concilio et Labore.  The latter Latin tag means 'Through council and hard work' or 'By working together let's acheive great things'.

This is derived from a Biblical phrase in Ecclesiasticus 37:16 : 'Let reason be the beginning of every work and let counsel go before every action'.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

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23 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Jacket of legsOctober 9th 2012.

You have brightened a dull afternoon, great article!

Any chance of numbering the pictures so that we can have a go at guessing??


AnonymousOctober 9th 2012.

The badge on the sports kits at MMU also features the badge.

AnonymousOctober 10th 2012.

Glorious good guiding article JS!

UrbaneFoxOctober 11th 2012.

Fantastic article!

Ziyad Thomas shared this on Facebook on October 11th 2012.
Poster BoyOctober 11th 2012.

Good stuff JS.

Uncle MalcOctober 12th 2012.

Good article, let down by one thing. When MUFC play in Europe they are representing MUFC, not the whole of Manchester and certainly not me. Those club blazers are not just worn for European trips either so you're being a touch disingenuous because of where your loyalties clearly lie. I've been told that if either City or United want to wear the coat of arms on a cup-final shirt, the Blues can do this by right as they are based in Manchester while the out-of-town Reds have to ask for permission. Don't know whether this is still true but perhaps you can enlighten us.

Jonathan SchofieldOctober 12th 2012.

Uncle, I've never seen Ferguson wearing one in a Premier League match but if I'm wrong I stand corrected. Wasn't the original plan for a European competition - way back when - for one between cities?

JamesOctober 13th 2012.

Pride in the city is important and there should be a willingness to use the coat of arms amongst designers

SmittyOctober 15th 2012.

Great article! We should all send you pics of where else we see it, eg the bridge on New Quay St, which has both Salford and Mcr's, which is quite sweet...

James KayNovember 12th 2012.

Antelope? It looks more like a Unicorn! Every day's a school-day!

Jonathan SchofieldNovember 12th 2012.

Unicorn's have only the one pointed horn....these beasts a lovely pair.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Mr GrammarNovember 12th 2012.


AnonymousApril 8th 2014.

Look up when you enter Manchester Town Hall and there is a fantastic coat of arms on the ceiling just above the statue of James Joule.

BenbrierlyMay 4th 2014.

Manchester isn't traditionally in Lancashire.It is still actually in Lancashire.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Wuce BraneMay 4th 2014.

No it's not. It was removed in 1974. Whether or not you acknowledge that changes makes no difference.

Mark FullerMay 5th 2014.

My understanding is that the new metropolitan counties like Greater Manchester and Merseyside were not intended to replace the historic counties like Lancashire, which have existed for hundreds of years. Greater Manchester is just an administrative area, and a very nebulous one at best. If you go to Wigan, Bolton, Bury or Rochdale.You will find that the Lancashire identity persists, and no amount of fake amnesia from political, cultural and media elites is going to destroy it. Manchester was not removed from Lancashire. How can you extricate a city from over 700 years of history?The attempt to do so is crude and Orwellian. Could you imagine people in Leeds pretending that they are not in Yorkshire?It would appear that they have more pride in their identity and history than we do.Back in 1986, the government abolished the metropolitan counties,whereas the historic counties were never abolished. Despite the misinformation Manchester is in Lancashire.

Wuce BraneMay 5th 2014.

The Lancashire to which you refer does not exist in any meaningful sense. It is the administrative boundaries which you are so dismissive of that matter and that all decisions are based on. Whether you like it or not makes no difference. Places change. Local identities change. This is life.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMay 5th 2014.

I regard Manchester, and my home town of Urmston, as being in Lancashire. Plenty of people I know regard Warrington as a Lancashire town, and not Cheshire. Strictly speaking, since unitary authorities came into being, York is not in any part of Yorkshire and Derby is not in Derbyshire, but surely only a pedant have this odd point of view.

Wuce BraneMay 5th 2014.

Doesn't matter what you, or the Friends of Real Lancashire, or anyone, 'regard as Lancashire'. If I regard Manchester as being in Middle-earth, it doesn't mean it is. Those in power set the boundaries, whether they're ancient kings' traditional counties or Westminster-decided administrative areas.

DavidMay 5th 2014.

Lancashire Cricket ground is in Manchester.I don't see why Manchester cannot be in both Greater Manchester and Lancashire.Trying to make people give up an identity that matters to them is the problem,it's very intolerant.

1 Response: Reply To This...
FactcheckMay 5th 2014.

Lancashire cricket ground is not in Lancashire in the same way that Manchester United is not in Manchester. It's not relevant.

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