Did you walk around Plymouth today, on your way to work? Perhaps you strolled along the Hoe and admired the view out across the Sound. Did you notice the City Coat of Arms anywhere? Well, you might not have noticed it – but it was certainly there! Here is an explanation of it’s design or ‘blazon’, and some examples of where you might come across it.
There are several main elements.
The shield bears the Cross of St Andrew, with a castle tower in each of the four quadrants of the cross. St Andrew is the patron saint of the city, with the Mother Church being dedicated to him. He is also the patron of fishermen and ropemakers – highly appropriate! It is easy to imagine the days of Drake, with low buildings leading from Plymouth town up on the hill down to the Pool at Sutton – the ‘South Town’ – and the boats in the harbour, dominated by the tower of the Church.
St Andrew was martyred for his beliefs by crucifixion; he would not allow the use of a Christ-cross as he did not feel worthy of that honour, so demanded a ‘saltire’ cross.
The castle towers symbolise the four towers of the old castle that protected the City and Sutton Harbour until Tudor times; it stood on Castle Hill above The Barbican – which is so-named after the tower and gate closest to the water. It was demolished when Drake built a better fort where the Royal Citadel now stands.
In Heraldic language, this is a shield of ‘argent (silver), with a saltire vert (green), between four towers sable (black)’.
Above the shield is a Naval Crown in azure (blue); you can see the warships under sail and the lanterns clearly in the design.
A red (‘gules’) anchor is gripped by a lion’s fist (‘gamb’) ‘fessewise’ (‘on it’s side’), above the Crown, symbolising the presence and importance of the Royal Navy as well as remembering the older arms of Devonport.
Two fierce lions support the shield; they also wear (are ‘gorged’ with) Naval Crowns as collars, from which hang red ribbons bearing silver boar’s heads. These are seldom noticed, but they symbolise the link to Stonehouse and the dominant Edgcumbe family.
Then we have the motto – ‘’TURRIS FORTISSIMA EST NOMEN JEHOVA’’.
This Latin text means ‘The Name of the Lord is the Strongest Tower’, and echoes the castle and concept of God and Plymouth being defensive to the Nation and Empire.
So there we have it; the Three Towns merged into one, the Navy, and the Crown – all under the guidance of God. And where will you see it today?
On the Tamar Bridge look up at the towers as you enter Devon from Cornwall; at the old pier on the Hoe; on the memorials tablets beside the Mayflower Steps, on the old City Buses – and in a modernized form, of the logo of the City Council!
How many versions can you spot on your daily travels?
Plymouth is a City worth Embracing, and it has a Coat of Arms to suit!
(Contributed by Mike Kinsey)