I love Poole in Dorset (where my mother was born) and have always been intrigued by the place’s coat of arms, with its heraldic dolphin and three shells – I thought they were cockles, as the town history trail is called the cockleshell trail, but Wikipedia says they are scallop shells. So I thought I would write a post about it, and share my images of three “sightings” of the arms.
Most of the following “facts” about the coat of arms are from Wikipedia.
The wavy bars on the coat of arms (black and gold in modern versions) are the sea, while the dolphin represents Poole’s maritime history. The dolphin is considered to be the “king of the sea”.
I thought the shells were just a reference to the sea, too, but apparently it goes deeper than that. In the Middle Ages many Christian pilgrims left from Poole Harbour on their journey to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northwest Spain. The symbol of St James is the scallop (or coquille in French – there doesn’t seem to be a similar word in Spanish). The pilgrims wore a scallop shell on their hats.
I have written more about cockles and scallops on this blog post: Words – cockles of my heart.
St James is the patron saint of the parish church in the centre of old Poole. I always think of it as the fishermen’s church and it has a fish on its weathervane.
But back to the coat of arms. The design originated in a late 14th century seal, long before the setting up of the College of Heralds in 1484. It is also so old that it “got away with it” in 1417 when King Henry V said no one could bear a coat of arms without royal permission.
The Poole coat of arms was first recorded by Clarenceux King of Arms during a heraldic visitation of Dorset in 1563 and again in 1623, but neither visitor bothered to take a note the colour scheme.
Much, much later, in June 1948, the College of Arms confirmed the design and officially recorded the colours. At the same time the crest was granted, showing a mermaid supporting an anchor and holding a cannonball, although it had been used unofficially since the 18th century.
When local government was reorganised in 1974, the 1948 arms transferred to Poole Borough Council. In 1976 the borough council received the grant of supporters, the figures on either side of the shield. The supporters were a gift from Oscar Murton, then Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, to commemorate his time as a councillor and MP for Poole.
The supporter on the left is a golden lion holding a long sword, representing William Longespee, the lord of the manor who granted Poole’s first charter in 1248. On the right the supporter is a dragon, derived from the royal arms of Elizabeth I, who granted Poole county corporate status in a 1568 charter. The royal dragon is red, as it is the dragon of Wales honoured by the Tudors, but Poole’s is gold (just for heraldic effect) and holds a silver oar. The oar is part of the civic regalia of Poole’s mayor, who is also called “Admiral of the Port of Poole”.
The dolphin on the coat of arms is no longer a heraldic dolphin but a more realistic one. That changed in 1976 and the council’s simple modern logo also reflects this.
The Latin motto – “Ad Morem Villae De Poole” means “According to the Custom of the Town of Poole” and comes from the town’s great charter of 1568.
Now then, where will you find the three representations of the coat of arms?
I love the Poole Arms, which dates from the 16th century. The bar is traditionally old and dark with low beams and photographs of fishermen on the walls. They do fresh seafood meals from lunchtime until 11pm and my particular favourite is a great crab sandwich or salad for lunch on a hot summer day.
Poole’s lifting bridge was built in 1927 and takes a road across from Poole Quay to Hamworthy, at a point where the waterway narrows between Poole Harbour and Holes Bay. It used to open up around 6,000 times a year to let through taller vessels and I loved watching it and hearing the regular ringing of the warning bells.
But I am not sure about its status at the moment. Cracks were found and I think rebuilding work began in September 2016, after my last visit to Poole, so it may be closed until this summer, 2017. I just hope they aren’t knocking down the decorative towers! I expect one of my followers in Dorset will be able to tell me how it’s going.
I noticed this coat of arms for the first time back in the summer, when we went to the top floor of the town museum and sat in the balcony cafe for a coffee. From there, you can’t miss it, and I just had to take a picture.
We had been to the museum before to explore my ancestors’ fishing heritage, but the place is even more attractive now the tourist information centre has moved to the ground floor of the museum from its separate shop on the Quay.
Ah, memories… I can’t wait to get back to Poole again for a holiday!