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Is Heraldry important

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

Many family historians and indeed many local historians tend to avoid heraldry on the grounds that it is largely irrelevant. The prevailing view seems to be that, as the majority of our ancestors came from very humble origins, there is little to be gained from a knowledge of heraldry. Furthermore its obscure terminology is often seen as totally incomprehensible to all but a few misguided enthusiasts.

Whatever view one takes there is no denying that Heraldry exists and the tangible evidence is abundantly visible. It may be in the form of decoration on buildings, monuments, household objects, weapons, buttons, livery, flags, military and civic uniforms, badges and symbols of office, trade marks and tokens, etc. Important documents often bear armorial devices and seals which, in themselves, can provide valuable historical information.

I inherited a selection of military buttons and badges which confirmed my grandfather’s service as a Bombardier in the Royal Garrison Artillery over a century ago.  Some of us in the course of our research may come across school or regimental neck-ties bearing heraldic devices which we need to be able to identify. Many especially those living in rural communities who were in the service of the local squire or rector may well have worn liveries with buttons, shoulder knots or cockades displaying the devices and colours from the master’s shield.

heraldic shield

Skilled craftsmen in London and other major cities would have been obliged to join the appropriate Livery Company to gain the right to practise their trade where they lived. This was likely to involve their displaying the distinctive symbols at their place of work and wearing the company livery on special occasions.  Mayors and other Civic dignitaries have always flown flags and worn specific livery and chains of office featuring the Armorial Bearings of their Borough.  In London, each Ward had its own characteristic symbols usually manifested in the form of the ceremonial maces carried by the Beadles. The advent of police forces and other public service bodies, which needed specialist uniforms continued the tradition of distinctive liveries and civic symbols. This was further developed within municipal transport services, fire brigades, etc.

genealogy conference

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