"Henfield, on the edge of the Sussex Downs, has become the first mainland village in England to be granted its own coat of arms, an honour normally associated with cities and towns". So began, in 1992, an article in The Daily Telegraph.
Inspired by seeing 'impressive' roadside coats of arms, and wishing to express pride in its heritage, the Parish Council petitioned the College of Arms for one of its own. The original idea of a simple, village logo was expanded by Henfield's Roman Catholic priest, a heraldry expert, who suggested a coat of arms; and, importantly, provided the necessary funding.
Granted by the College of Arms after approval by Norroy Ulster King of Arms, the insignia comprised shield, helmet, crest, motto and mantling, and was presented with due pageantry by the Lord Lieutenant of the County.
But what is it that makes Henfield so special? Only that it was the first village to be so honoured, for there is no reason, save being demonstrably ignoble, which prevents any village from petitioning for arms. Historical reasons why they have not can be traced to their origins as manors, for the Lord of the Manor of the day would not have taken kindly to villagers producing their own coats of arms.
The right to bear arms is controlled by the three offices of arms which exist in the British Isles - London, Edinburgh and Dublin. Although there is no means of preventing anyone from devising their own coat of arms, nor from using anyone else's, it is wrong to do so, for in England it defrauds the College, and in Scotland, the Treasury, where it is regarded as a crime.
In Studley, on 1st October, 1900, its Parish Council 'unanimously' passed a Resolution that they "deemed it necessary to provide themselves with a Common Seal for the purpose of sealing documents or other instruments relating to the Parish Council". The six Councillors present at the meeting - Messrs Turner, Wood, Ingles, Bennet, Faithful and Hodges - agreed that the Seal was to be chosen, and the price approved, by the Chairman and the Clerk: it cost three guineas, paid from the General Fund on 22nd October.
On 9th May, the year-end Accounts were presented to the District Auditor, R H Harrington, who declared illegal the payment to a Mr H B Sale, for the provision of a Seal, which he considered to be unecessary under the terms of the 1894 Local Government Act. A surcharge was made for the three guineas upon Mr J G Green, Council chairman between 1901 and 1907, and George Hodges, the two Councillors who had signed the order for payment.
Green and Hodges promptly wrote to The Local Government Board in Whitehall, appealing for the payment to be allowed, " for the undermentioned reasons, viz:- That the Council are of firm opinion that it is a legal requirement, and that not being perfectly associated with the rules of the Section (of the Act) concerning this particular expenditure, executed the same in every good faith". They were wrong, of course.
In their reply of 8th June, The Board confirmed The Auditor's decision and upheld his action. However, in the "exercise of the equitable jurisdiction conferred upon them", they agreed to remit the surcharge in this instance. They stated, also that they had been advised by the Law Officer of the Crown that a Parish Council has no power to adopt and use a Common Seal. That should have been the end of the matter.
It cannot have been, for reproduced below is a copy
of Studley's Seal, taken from a 1920 Conveyance. The writer has been unable to discover
how it came about, to identify who was responsible for the design, nor indeed to locate
where it is now. Certainly, today's Parish and District Councils have no knowledge of it.
Rouge Dragon Pursuivant, of The College of Arms, confirmed that a search in the official registers of Arms showed that Studley Parish Council has not had a Grant of Armorial Bearings. He explained that the device of the Seal is curious, showing as it does, two 'coats of arms' impaled, that is, placed side by side. Such a marshalling of arms denotes a marriage, with the arms of the man
on the dexter side (on the right when viewed from behind) and his wife on the sinister: it can also refer to the holding of an office Since neither display is appropriate to a Parish Council, it suggests that the device was designed by an amateur heraldist.
Here, then, we see a public body, inventing its own coat of arms, and using it without authority. But although it breaks the rules of Heraldry, the design does incorporate elements of Studley's heritage, for it includes hides, mill-rinds, needles and fish-hooks - allusions to tanning, milling and the more familiar needle-making for which the village became world-famous. Indeed, a 'marriage' of rural and industrial trades.
In 1992, Parish Council discussion on the provision of a Coat of Arms for Studley was adjourned sine die: the College of Arms' fees for such an undertaking stood at £3900, a quite unjustified use of public money, particularly in these straitened times. The 1920 example, therefore, appended to the deed conveying the land for Studley's war memorial from the Diocese to the Parish, should be valued for its uniqueness, if not for its correctness - unless or until a Studley benefactor believes otherwise.
Autumn 1996 Index