The Civic Heraldry of the Black Country

by Peter Skidmore

Review by Mick Pearson (for email link please see bottom of page)

(Since this book was published the author, Peter Skidmore, has sadly passed away. His contributions to Black Country history will be missed, and the Society has lost a valued member.)

This volume was recently published by Black Country Society. All proceeds from the book will go back into the Society funds to support new projects. The author believes this book is unique in that it is the only publication which contains the civic arms of ALL the Black Country local authorities, which existed before the reorganisation of local government in 1966. None of the three standard works on civic heraldry contain all the Black Country civic arms. In this book all the civic arms of the Black Country are illustrated and described.

Peter has carried out painstaking research into this subject, successfully finding images of some of the arms, which at first proved difficult to track down.

The cover image (see picture below) shows the old coat of arms of the county borough of Dudley (granted in 1957). Former history teacher Peter has spent several years researching this 52 page book and stated that it was a labour of love for him. He believes that the book will help people maintain civic traditions. The book covers the areas of the four current Black Country Metropolitan Boroughs - Wolverhampton, Dudley, Sandwell and Walsall.

To obtain a copy of the book you can either visit a local book shop as it is widely stocked across the region, priced at £6.99.

Alternatively it is available via mail order. If you are in the UK, please send a cheque or Postal Order payable to "The Black Country Society" for £8.00 to the following address:

Mr Alan Pilkington
19 Honeytree Close
West Midlands

Please mention that you saw this article on the Society website.

If you are reading this from outside the UK then please email me so that I can give you payment options and the correct price including postage and packing. Probably the easiest way to pay is via the Paypal service, click on the link if you have never heard of Paypal. If you have access to sterling cheques then please confirm with me the correct postage before sending your cheque

The formation of the current four Metropolitan Authorities came about as a result of the re-organisation of local government by Parliament in 1966 and 1974. Many people living in the Black Country today have no idea about the pattern of local government that used to exist. Each town, for example Bilston, Coseley, Oldbury, Tipton, Dudley etc. had a locally elected council empowered to provide such services as housing, libraries, parks and baths. Each town had its own individual identity and proudly displayed their civic arms on its buildings, documents and vehicles. (taken from the preface to Peter's book)

"In examining the background and the composition of these civic arms the emphasis is on understanding the local factors that influenced their design, rather than on understanding the rules and language of heraldry". As a result that mix of French and English commonly associated with heraldry has been deliberately ignored. There is, however, a brief glossary of heraldic terms, as well as a list of informative books, all easily available in local libraries.

Before 1966 there were 21 Black Country Local Authorities. These had evolved over centuries through a variety of legislation, starting with the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. Further legislation followed, including 1888 (county councils and county borough councils formed), and 1894 (urban district, rural district and parish councils were formed). By the beginning of the 20th century there were examples of each of the types of councils to be found in the Black Country. This pattern of local government was to remain, largely unchanged, until 1966.

The changes in 1966 created 5 County Boroughs in the Black Country - Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley, West Bromwich and Warley. The last change came in 1974 when 5 became 4 and Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton all became metropolitan boroughs, the theory being that better services will come out of the economies of scale of setting up authorities with, ideally, a population of 250,000. I will leave you to decide if the change bought about the desired effect!

One other change came about in December 2000 when Wolverhampton became a city by royal command to commemorate the Millennium. This did not confer any additional powers or functions on Wolverhampton, nor did it entail any change to their coat of arms.

In my opinion the book is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in the history of the Black Country. It is very informative, not only on the granting of the arms themselves, but also some of the history behind the town itself, and how the arms itself came to evolve. There are also sections on Civic Pride, the College of Arms, how to acquire civic arms, an analysis of the themes and symbols used in civic arms and a comprehensive list of the mottoes used by Black Country councils.

If anyone has any questions about the book, please email me and I will pass them on to the author. Remember, by purchasing this book you will be assisting the Black Country Society to continue to achieve it's aim 'to foster interest in the past, present and future of the Black Country' as all proceeds from the book are ploughed back into the society.

Mick Pearson 2nd May 2003

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