There’s only one county flag for Sussex
Flags are emotive and powerful symbols which are most commonly used to represent a variety of different types of identity. Such examples include nationalities, local affinities, sexualities, corporate brands or political beliefs. Flags are employed to convey strong messages regarding an individual’s or a group’s identity, personality and character. In general a flag should be flown for what it represents, it should never be flown only because one finds its appearance and colour scheme attractive. Often the greatest designed flags can be those of the most sinister groups. It is therefore absolutely crucial that one is totally aware of the true meaning behind the flag which they are displaying.
One should also be fully aware if they have permission to fly certain flags. A flag’s design could actually belong to an individual or an organisation from whom permission needs to be issued in order to allow one to make use of it.
What one thinks their flag is representing, could in fact be representing something entirely different! This is very usually the case with county council banners.
A modern misconception in the UK is that a county council’s banner, i.e. its coat of arms stretched into a rectangular pattern to create a flag, is a county flag, representing the community. This is untrue. County flags have to be registered with the Flag Institute on the UK Flag Registry, and are freely available to use, so free from copyright. County council coats of arms, and therefore banners are strictly the property of the respective councils and need their permission to be displayed. They are effectively corporate logos of the councils.
In fact, the county councils’ own publication ‘The Arms of the County Councils of East and West Sussex and the Diocese of Chichester’ makes it very clear that these coats of arms exclusively represent, and belong to the respective county councils. Therefore the councils’ arms, including banners of arms, require permission to use and display!…
The status of these armorial flags is also made clear on the College of Arms’ section of the Government website, in reference to the revised flag flying regulations of 2012, stating “It is unlawful to fly or use a flag of the arms of any local authority save on sites or premises occupied by that authority.”
Unfortunately, many of these council banners are being mis-sold as “county flags” on the internet, and now people are littering Sussex with these spurious red and gold-topped flags, instead of the true and blue, registered flag of Sussex, which of course still remains popular. A flag which can be freely flown without planning permission under the revised flag flying regulations of 2012.
The below poster explains the situation further with regards to the red banner commonly sold and flown as the “East Sussex Flag”…
So what exactly is this red banner, and what does it actually represent?
This red banner is the banner of arms of East Sussex County Council. In 1975 a coat of arms was issued to the council from the College of Arms via a Grant of Arms. The red banner is the council’s coat of arms stretched into a rectangular pattern to create a flag, this is a banner of arms.
A grant of arms does not even extend to the wider organisation of a county council, i.e. the civil servants and volunteers who run its services for the public. The coat of arms, and therefore banner, only represents the 50 county councillors, collectively known as the County Council. The number of councillors is only a mere 0.009% of the population that reside within the council’s remit! The same concept applies to the vast majority of current and former county councils. This replicates the earlier practice of medieval times, in which Dukes, Earls and Barons etc. would have run and controlled areas of England. These noblemen would have been personally granted a coat of arms.
The representation of a grant of arms is highlighted by the fact that a council’s banner of arms is only flown outside a county council’s HQ on the days where a full council meeting is proceeding, this is the case for East Sussex County Council in Lewes. The red banner is not flown 365 days of the year when the wider organisation is in full operation, but only when the councillors meet.
The representation is further emphasised by the use of the coat of arms on council letterheads. A letter received from a county councillor will feature the county council’s arms, however a letter from a civil servant working under the direction of the council, will not.
The banner certainly and crucially does not represent the people who live within the council’s remit! As established, permission needs to be sought to use and display it.
It is therefore a surprise to see the council’s coat of arms the entrance sign of very nearly every town and village within eastern Sussex, given that it only represents the council itself.
Whether intentional or not, this practice is suggestive of modern day feudalism! Today, of course, the reality is that the 50 councillors of East Sussex County Council are in fact servants to the public! An emblem which represents the wider county itself and the community should really appear on these signs, the obvious example being the county flag of Sussex!
Therefore it is no real shock that the people who live in these towns and villages incorrectly believe that this red shield represents them! Propaganda?
Thankfully, one Parish Council has repainted the sign welcoming traffic into its village. Catsfield’s sign is now proudly emblazoned with insignia which represents the county and the community!
Another spurious flag is that of the former West Sussex County Council. This gold-topped banner is commonly sold and flown as the “West Sussex Flag”. The poster below explains the reality…
So what exactly is this gold-topped banner, and what does it actually represent?
This gold-topped banner is the banner of arms of the former West Sussex County Council. In 1889 a coat of arms was issued to the council from the College of Arms via a Grant of Arms. Again, this was specifically granted to the collection of county councillors. However in 1974, this county council was legally dissolved as a result of the 1972 Local Government Act. This county council does not exist anymore!
This banner only represents the former county council, nothing else. It most certainly does not represent the people who live within the remit of the former county council, or the differing remit of the current county council!
There is another key fault with the two aforementioned county council banners; the area’s run by the former West Sussex County Council from 1889-1974, and the current East Sussex County Council from 1975 onwards, do not cover the whole of Sussex. See this map below…
There are large swathes of Sussex which have never been administered under either banner of arms! Large towns such as East Grinstead, Haywards Heath, and the eastern side of Crawley weren’t administered by the former West Sussex County Council up until 1974, so were never run by the former council under the banner of arms now commonly mis-sold and flown as the “West Sussex Flag”!
Both Brighton and Hove (shown in lighter red), haven’t been administered by East Sussex County Council, and therefore under its current banner of arms, since 1997.
Unfortunately another council flag was once mis-sold as the “West Sussex Flag”, but this time by West Sussex County Council itself. This flag features the coat of arms of West Sussex County Council, a symbol which was exclusively granted to and represents the county council! Accordingly, by definition, this flag exclusively represents the county council as well. The county council no longer retails this flag.
To see the history of the coats of arms of the former and current councils please see below…
Under English Heraldic Law Coats of Arms can only be granted to the administrative bodies of a county and not the county itself. Coats of arms of councils only represent the council, not the county. Therefore these arms should not be used on the flag of Sussex, and only the emblem of Sussex has historical context to the county of Sussex. Here is a history of the coats of arms of Sussex’s former and current councils and how the traditional Sussex emblem has been interpreted within them. The areas governed by the county councils, former county borough councils and the unitary authority are only administrative regions and are not the same as the traditional, geographical and historical county of Sussex, which the Sussex flag represents. Flag Institute flag registry criteria do state this as well, ‘In the case of county flags, the flag must normally apply to a historical county rather than a modern administrative area’.
The coats of arms of Sussex’s former and current councils also show that a blue field (background) was and is currently used with the martlets to represent Sussex in the east of the county as well as the west of the county, unlike the modern misunderstanding where many believe that blue represents the west of the county and red represents the east of the County, see ‘Martlets in Use’ page for many more examples.
West Sussex County Council
In 1888 the original West Sussex County Council was created as a result of the Government Act 1888, this established elected county Councils and county borough councils. Ever since 1585, Sussex had separate administrations for the east and west of the county, the established county councils simply continued to administer more or less the same territories.
The original West Sussex County Council was the first county council in the United Kingdom to be granted a coat of arms via a Grant of Arms from the College of Arms. The arms were granted on 18th May 1889. The arms used the traditional Sussex emblem with an added gold chief (bar on the top) to difference it from the traditional Sussex emblem.
The Local Government Act 1972 made administrative changes across Great Britain. In 1974 the original West Sussex County Council was abolished as a result of this act, with a brand new West Sussex County Council being established in 1973. For one year there were in fact two county councils simultaneously running western Sussex! The new West Sussex County Council gained areas from a former East Sussex County Council, including East Grinstead, Haywards Heath and the east side of Crawley. The new West Sussex County Council also gained the area around Gatwick Airport under its administrative control from a former Surrey County Council, which falls outside the historical boundary of Sussex. Under heraldic law, any change of area or population by 10% means the coat of arms of a former council cannot be inherited by a new council. A new coat of arms were granted on 14th January 1975 to the new county council, this was based upon the arms of the former council. The line of partition of the gold chief was made indented (zigzag) instead of the straight chief of the former arms. A helmet and blue and gold mantling topped by a Saxon crown were also added. The Saxon crown represented the area gained by the new West Sussex County Council from a former East Sussex County Council, the crown featured on the former East Sussex County Council’s arms. Oak leaves and acorns were additionally added to highlight the area around Gatwick gained by the new West Sussex County Council from a former Surrey County Council.
East Sussex County Council
In 1888 the original East Sussex County Council was created as a result of the Local Government Act 1888. In the years between 1889 and 1937 East Sussex County Council adopted a coat of arms which hadn’t been officially granted by the College of Arms, these unofficial arms were also fashioned into a seal.
The first quarter bore the six gold martlets on blue from the traditional Sussex emblem. The other three quarters each represented the three eastern rapes (ancient territorial divisions, see ‘Rapal Flags’ page), of Sussex, which East Sussex County Council now governed. The second quarter consisted of gold and blue checks from the arms of the De Warenne family who were lords of the barony of Lewes, the third quarter was gold with a blue displayed eagle which derives from the arms of the De Aquila family who were lords of Pevensey, the fourth quarter bore the arms of the Cinque Ports which relates to Hastings being the chief Cinque Port. The usage of the traditional Sussex emblem on this East Sussex County Council insignia also shows that a blue field was used to represent Sussex in the east of the county as well as the west of the county.
On 10th September 1937, the original East Sussex County Council was officially granted a coat of arms from the College of Arms. These arms used the traditional six gold martlets. The gold Saxon crown was used to represent the Kingdom of the South Saxons. A red field was only used to contrast against the coat of arms of the original West Sussex County Council, which had already been granted arms with a blue field 48 years earlier in 1889. A red field is only the colour used to represent the county council, and not the east of the county. A blue field is the only accurate depiction to represent the county of Sussex and its community.
The Local Government Act 1972 made administrative changes across Great Britain. In 1974 the original East Sussex County Council was abolished as a result of this act, with a brand new East Sussex County Council being established in 1973. For one year there were in fact two county councils simultaneously running eastern Sussex! This is highlighted on pages 108 and 109 of “The History of East Sussex County Council 1889-1974”.
In 1974 the new East Sussex County Council lost areas to the new West Sussex County Council, however, the new East Sussex County Council gained the areas governed by the former Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings County Borough Councils.
Under heraldic law, any change of area or population by 10% means the coat of arms of a former council cannot be inherited by a new council. A new coat of arms was therefore granted to the new county council on 29th August 1975. The coat of arms was differenced from the arms of the former county council, using a white wavy bar, representing the sea. This was added to represent the gaining of the coastal areas governed by the former Brighton, Eastbourne and Brighton Borough Councils.
The Local Government Act 1992 allowed the formation of a single tier council in some areas of the United Kingdom, called unitary authorities. On 1 April 1997 a unitary authority was established out of the former Brighton Borough Council and former Hove Borough Council. This unitary authority was independent of East Sussex County Council and later became Brighton & Hove City Council, after Brighton & Hove gained city status in 2001. An independent coat of arms was granted in April 1997 to this new separate council, see below.
County Borough Councils
The Local Government Act 1888, allowed towns with a population of more than 50,000 to be governed by county borough councils. These county borough councils were independent of county councils and had the same administrative powers. In 1889 Brighton and Hastings were governed by county borough councils and later, in 1911, so was Eastbourne.
Brighton County Borough Council’s coat of arms was granted on 14th April 1897. These arms bore two dolphins which have a lengthy history in Brighton, but their exact origin is unknown. The former commissioners of Brighton also used two dolphins as its coat of Arms. The commissioners of Brighton were the administrative body for Brighton in the early 19th Century.
The bordure (border) of the shield is six gold martlets on a blue field, taken from the traditional Sussex emblem. This shows that a blue field with six gold martlets was used in the east of the county to represent Sussex as well as the west of the county.
Hastings County Borough Council’s coat of arms had been used to represent Hastings since 1634. The coat of arms is a variation of the coat of arms of the Cinque Ports, of which, Hastings famously is one. The one complete lion in the centre is said to show Hastings’ status as the chief Cinque Port.
Eastbourne County Borough Council’s coat of arms was granted on 11th January 1928. The coat of arms was based on a previous emblem used before. The double-cotised fess (broad bar with two smaller bars either side) is from the arms of the family of Badlesmere, the stag’s heads are from the arms of the Cavendish family who were Dukes of Devonshire and the rose refers to the Davis-Gilbert family. All these families were landowners in Eastbourne. The seahorse is used to symbolise that Eastbourne is a coastal town.
The Local Government Act 1972 abolished all County Borough Councils. Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings were areas gained by the newly formed East Sussex County Council. Each town was now administered under new borough councils, a tier below the new county council. The new Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings Borough Councils all later inherited the coat of arms of their respective former county borough council.
Brighton & Hove City Council- Unitary Authority
The Local Government Act 1992 allowed the formation of a single council in some areas of the United Kingdom, called unitary authorities. This structure combined the functions of county councils and district councils. Therefore an area would have a single administrative body, independent of county councils and with more administrative power. On 1st April 1997 a unitary authority was created out of the former Brighton Borough Council and former Hove Borough Council. This unitary authority was now independent of East Sussex County Council. On 15th February 2001, Brighton & Hove was proclaimed a city by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. As a result, the unitary authority was renamed Brighton & Hove City Council.
The coat of arms of the unitary authority was granted in April 1997. The coat of arms is based on an amalgamation of the arms of the former Brighton Borough Council and former Hove Borough Council. The two dolphins derive from the coat of arms of the old Brighton Borough Council, these arms had been inherited by the former Brighton County Borough Council. The bordure of the shield features six martlets on a blue field taken from the traditional Sussex emblem. This again shows that a blue field with six martlets is used in the east of the county to represent Sussex as well as the west of the county. The ship that has run ashore on a shingle beach is a 16th century French galley and indicates the French attacks in the 16th century on the coast of Hove, which has been taken from the coat of the arms of the former Hove Borough Council.
Other County Councils
It should also be noted that currently some parts of Sussex are administered by Hampshire County Council (eg. Griggs Green near Liphook), Kent County Council (eg. southern Tunbridge Wells and southern Lamberhurst), and Surrey County Council (small portions in northern Sussex). However none of these councils represent Sussex on their heraldry. A fully interactive map of Sussex from Wikishire, showing the true, historic and traditional county boundary can be found here… Sussex Map.