A vexillological issue arose in Penarth Town Council ‘s policy and finance committee last night when it was revealed that the council had been – apparently inadvertently – supplied with a Penarth Town Flag in the wrong colours.
The revelation was made at the outset of the meeting by Cllr Anthony Ernest (Conservative Plymouth Ward) .
Cllr Ernest asked the chairman, Cllr Mike Cuddy (Labour St Augustines), if he could raise a “slightly controversial” matter regarding the payments of council accounts. He noted there had been a payment to “Mr Flag” for £87.36 for the supply of a replacement Penarth Flag – but that the new flag appeared to have a white background [ PDN Note: the correct vexillological term is “field” ]
Cllr Ernest said “The town council flag used to have a blue background – together with the shield/coat of arms – but now has a white background.” He wondered how that “fundamental change of design” had come about.
There was puzzled silence from the committee. Deputy Town Clerk Keri Hutchings said he didn’t really know how this had happened.
Cllr Ernest said the flag should comprise the familiar traditional emblem of the “three bears” against a background of blue .
The Town Clerk Emma Boyden said the council had not used a different flag-supplier.
From the chair the Mayor Cllr Mike Cuddy said the council had once considered going to the College of Heralds for their advice but it would have cost so much it had been decided to continue with the existing design. He was, however unable to throw any light on the change of colour to white and would “raise the issue” with the suppliers.
Cllr Ernest – who said he was “a bit of a traditionalist” – said he hadn’t intended to suggest challenging the payment, but if the flag was wrong perhaps the suppliers could correct it .
The official Penarth Town Flag design carries the Town Crest – comprising a bear’s head above a shield emblazoned with a Welsh Dragon and a sailing ship.
Two further bears obligingly stand on their hind legs on either side of the shield, supporting it. Beneath is the Welsh inscription “Cynghori er Llesiant” (Counselling for the Common Good).
The original 140 year old embroidered crest of Penarth Urban District Council is displayed in the Council Chamber – but there are varying accounts of quite how the design came to be conceived.
One version says it was originally drafted by “the town’s architect in 1875 from a detailed brief prepared by the Town Board” (the Penarth Local Board of Health – established in 1875 – was a forerunner of the Penarth Urban District Council and later the present Town Council).
Another version of the story also says the Penarth Board originally instructed its “surveyor” to design a seal which was to include a bear’s head.
Welsh purists claim the inclusion of the bear (in fact all three bears) is a gross and perverse mistake – and came about because the name “Penarth” was “wilfully mis-translated” as “Pen” ( meaning “head” or “top” ) and “arth“ – the Welsh word for “bear” – whereas in fact the actual derivation is from “Pen” (meaning “top”), and “garth” (meaning “promontory” or “ridge”) . The “g” of “garth” disappeared over time, through usage ,– hence we’re left with “Penarth”.
However it seems the Victorians, or Edwardians, or whoever concocted the crest, may have actually been pulling everyone’s leg.
Veteran Cllr Janice Birch (Labour Cornerswell) recalls being told many years ago that the design might been the result of a late-night after-dinner “jest” when there was a competition of sorts to come up with an amusing design, conceived as something of a joke, or play-on-words.
In 2014 the Town Council refused permission to a souvenir manufacturer who had applied for permission to “re-work” the design of the crest
That depicted only two bears – sticking-it to each other with lances . It also replaced the central “bear’s head” with a mediaeval armour helmet surmounted by a Welsh dragon.
Councillors rejected the design because it was thought to be “too aggressive”.