Council Flags

no council flags 2

There’s only one county flag for Sussex

A modern misconception 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. 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!…

council-book

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. The below posters explain the situation further…

escc flag poster small

wscc flag poster small 2

There is another key fault with these two county council banners; the area’s ran by West Sussex County Council from 1889-1974, and East Sussex County Council from 1975 onwards, do not cover the whole of Sussex. See this map below…

Sussex Council Map

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 West Sussex County Council until 1974, so therefore were never ran 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.

wscc 2008 flag poster small

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 exclusively represents the County Council! Accordingly, by definition, this flag exclusively represent the County Council as well. 

To see the history of the coats of arms of the councils please see below…

Council Arms

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 are only representing the Council and therefore 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 Councils and how the Sussex Emblem has been interpreted within them. The areas governed by the County Councils, County Borough Councils and Unitary Authority are only administrative regions and are not the same as the traditional, geographical and historical county of Sussex, of which the Sussex flag is representing. 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’. These Coats of Arms of Sussex’s Councils also show that a Blue field (background) is 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

west sussex council arm

In 1888 West Sussex County Council was created as a result of the Local Government Act 1888. West Sussex County Council was the first County Council in the United Kingdom to be granted a Coat of Arms from the College of Arms. The arms were granted on 18th May 1889. The Arms used the Sussex Emblem and used a Gold Chief (bar on the top) to difference it from the Sussex Emblem. 

The Local Government Act 1972 made administrative changes to County Councils across Great Britain. In 1974 the administrative boundary between East Sussex County Council and West Sussex County Council moved eastwards. West Sussex County Council also gained the area around Gatwick Airport under its administrative control from Surrey County Council, which falls outside the historical boundary of Sussex. Under heraldic law, any change of area or population by 10% means a previous Coat of Arms can no longer be used. The new arms were granted on 14th January 1975. The line of partition of the Gold chief was made indented (zigzag) instead of the straight chief of the previous Coat of Arms. A helmet and Blue and Gold mantling topped by a Saxon crown were also added. The Saxon Crown represented the area gained by West Sussex County Council from East Sussex County Council, as it was used on the East Sussex County Council Coat of Arms. Oak leaves and acorns were also added to represent the area gained by West Sussex County Council from Surrey County Council. 

East Sussex County Council

east sussex council arm

In 1888 East Sussex County Council was created as a result of the Local 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 and these new County Councils carried out the same functions. 

Between 1889 and 1937 East Sussex County Council adopted a Coat of Arms which hadn’t been officially granted by the College of Arms and therefore isn’t really a Coat of Arms. The first quarter bore the traditional six gold martlets on blue from the Sussex Emblem. The other three quarters each represented the three eastern rapes (ancient territorial divisions, see ‘Rapal Flags’ page),  of Sussex, of 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 derive 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 Sussex Emblem on this East Sussex County Council emblem 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, East Sussex County Council was officially granted a Coat of Arms from the College of Arms. The 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 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. Blue is the only colour which should be used to represent the County of Sussex. 

The Local Government Act 1972 made administrative changes to County Councils across Great Britain. In 1974 the administrative boundary between East Sussex County Council and West Sussex County Council moved eastwards. East Sussex County Council also gained the areas governed by Brighton County Borough Council, Eastbourne County Borough Council and Hastings County Borough Council. Under heraldic law, any change of area or population by 10% means a previous Coat of Arms can no longer be used. The new Coat of Arms was granted on 29th August 1975. The Coat of Arms was differenced from the previous Coat of Arms by white wavy bar, representing the sea. This was added to represent the gaining of the coastal areas governed by Brighton County Borough Council, Eastbourne County Borough Council and Hastings County Borough Council. 

The Local Government Act 1992 allowed the formation of a single council in some areas of the United Kingdom, called Unitary Authorities. On 1 April 1997 a Unitary Authority was created out of Brighton Borough Council and 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. 

County Borough Councils

county borough council arms

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. The Arms bore two dolphins which have a lengthy history in Brighton, but their exact origin is unknown. The 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 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, which Hastings famously once was. 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 represent that Eastbourne is a Coastal Town. 

The Local Government Act 1972 abolished County Borough Councils, and Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings were gained by East Sussex County Council and turned into Borough Councils. Brighton Borough Council, Eastbourne Borough Council and Hastings Borough Council all retained the Coat of Arms of their respective County Borough Council. 

Brighton & Hove City Council- Unitary Authority

brighton hove city council arms

The Local Government Act 1992 allowed the formation of a single council in some areas of the United Kingdom, called Unitary Authorities. This was instead of having a County Council and a District Council. 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 Brighton Borough Council and Hove Borough Council. This Unitary Authority was independent of East Sussex County Council. On 15th February 2001, Brighton & Hove was proclaimed a city by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Unitary Authority then became Brighton & Hove City Council. 

The Coat of Arms for 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 Hove Borough Council. The Two Dolphins come from the Coat of Arms Brighton Borough Council, the Coat of Arms which had been also used by Brighton County Borough Council. The bordure of the shield features six martlets on a blue field taken from the 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 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.