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Northumbria (England)

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[Northumbria] by Thanh-Tâm Lê

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About the flag

Northumberland exists as a county and the flag is based on the arms granted to the Council in 1951. In 1996 it was said to be flying in 200 locations within the county.
David Prothero, 22 June 2001

The following information appeared on the website of Northumberland County Council:

The Northumberland flag is based on a traditional flag which is probably the oldest known flag design in Britain. The Venerable Bede, England's first historian, records a banner of purple and gold which hung over the tomb of St Oswald, the 7th century king of Northumbria. The flag for this ancient kingdom is now generally regarded as having 8 alternate stripes of red and gold. Later, in medieval times, the colours were adopted by the first Earl of Northumberland. The present pattern was granted to Northumberland County Council as its own banner in 1951. In November 1995, the Council took the historic decision for its own flag to become the flag for the modern day County of Northumberland; and it has rapidly been adopted as a symbol for the County by a wide range of businesses and individuals.

Thanh-Tâm Lê, 13 March 1999

The following item appeared in the Newcastle Journal of 1 February 2000:

The flag of Bernicia has eight stripes alternating red and gold and as Mr Wilson points out, Bernicia was the ancient Angle Kingdom which stretched from the Tees to the Forth.

The Northumberland flag however, used the traditional flag as its model to create a new flag which can only be flown in the present, modern County of Northumberland. This flag was granted to the council as part of its arms in December 1951, and on 15 November 1995 the county council made the historic decision to permit the flying of this flag anywhere within the present county and to register this 'new' flag with the United Kingdom Flag Institute.

It fulfils a 1,200-year tradition in which the county has been associated with the colours red and gold.

As described in the history, the Northumberland flag should only be rightfully flown within the present administrative County of Northumberland (e.g. not Newcastle or Whitley Bay). It should not, for example, be flown by a Northumberland company at their distribution depot outside the county. The flag may be flown on any appropriate flagpole within the county by businesses, voluntary organisations and individuals.

COUN. PETER HILLMAN,
Spokesperson for Community, Services,
Northumberland County Council.

David C. Fowler, 1 February 2000

According to an article by William Crampton in Flagmaster 083 (1996) the flag has the traditional pales of Northumberland interlocked to represent the stones of the Roman wall. Each pale should be outlined separately, but in practice this is rarely, if ever done.

David Prothero, 25 September 2001


Use of the Northumbrian flag

Herewith the text of a (fairly long) article in this week's Economist.

"PUT OUT MORE FLAGS

"Yorkshire has the white rose: Lancashire has the red rose. But what does the North-East have as a regional symbol? The question is beginning to worry some north-easterners who reckon that a regional flag might gain them more respect in the outside world, as well as serving as a rallying point for the Geordie nation.

"The search for symbols is taking them back a long way into the past. In the 6th century, there were two northern kingdoms east of the Pennines - Deira, which roughly corresponds to modern Yorkshire, and Bernicia, from the Tees to the Scottish border. In the 7th Century, they united into one kingdom from the North to the Humber, hence the modern name Northumbria. Some reckon that the ancient divide between the two kingdoms partly accounts for the differences between Yorkshire and Geordie accents.

"Now some north-easterners are proposing that the ancient eight striped red and gold flag of Bernicia should be hoisted once again as the region's symbol. A few locals are enthusiastic. Bill Lancaster, a cultural historian at Northumbria University, says he is astonished at how fast a modern version of this flag has popped up all over the county, from factory flagpoles to car bumper stickers in the last five years. (The article is illustrated with a black and white photograph of a car bumper sticker).

"But Richard Berg Rust, chairman of the Northumbrian Association, thinks that the flag of Bernicia is only popular north of the Tyne. He suggests that the cross of St Cuthbert, abbot of Lindisfarne when it was a European centre of Christian learning in the 8th century, has a wider appeal because it was also adopted by the Prince Bishops of Durham.

"The Northumbria Tourist Board agrees. It is incorporating the symbol, a pale red cross with splayed out tips on a white background, into its new logo. Others, however, like David Fleming, director of Tyne and Wear Museums, worry that such an overtly Christian symbol is inappropriate in the modern multi-faith north east.

"But Mr Fleming has no doubt that some symbol from the past will emerge. He has been struck by the huge queues of people (many wearing the Newcastle United colours) (black & white) generated whenever the Lindisfarne Gospels, a richly illustrated 8th century bible produced by Lindisfarne monks but now kept in London, have been on show in Newcastle.

"He reckons that the peculiar fanaticism of local football fans and the interest in local historic symbols are part of the same thing: a deep rooted desire for a cultural identity which reaches back to a time when the region was great and powerful, coupled with a certain resentment towards the south. Mr Rust fantasises that there may come a day when both the Newcastle and Sunderland (red & white) football teams run out with shirts emblazoned with St Cuthbert's cross. That would be great for regional identity, no doubt, but probably a little confusing for the referee."

This all put me in mind of a short pamphlet put out about 20 years ago by the Flag Institute which recommended a series of regional flags for England. The flag suggested for Northumbria was different again from the above two. William Compton's idea was for a flag with a field divided blue over red by a gold Scandinavian cross. At the same time WGC suggested another seven flags for other regions of England. Unfortunately, having travelled extensively around the UK in the last few years, I have never seen one of them in use.

Stephan Hurford, 6 March 2000

As far as I have been able to find out the only flags definitely relevant to Northumbria and Northumberland are the traditional banner of the Kingdom of Northumbria (eight vertical stripes alternately gold and purple) and the flag of Northumberland County Council (shown above on this page). Drawings of flags with St George's or Scandinavian crosses in various colour combinations were just ideas that seem not to have been adopted as no one wanted them.

David Prothero, 22 June 2001


Variant size

[Northumberland] by Marcus E.V. Schmöger

The Northumberland flag is also seen in the dimensions 1:2.


Flag lore associated with the Northumbrian Flag

One of the more colourful legends circulating about this flag:

The Northumbrian flag was first flown by the Percy's, Dukes of Northumberland. It was flown in battle against the Scots. The modern design comes from the old Northumbrian tradition, started by the Percy's of flying a Scottish Lion Rampant flag (yellow and red) torn into shreds at the head of the Northumbrian Army. It was a way of reminding the Scots what happened last time, and what would doubtless happen again!
Dave W, Northumbrian piper, 20 August 2006

The problem with this, of course, is that the flag isn't purple and gold, it is red and gold... and, just to confuse matters further, the coat of arms of the Percy family (the Earls of Northumberland) is blue and gold - originally azure a lion rampant or. I agree though that Dave W's explanation sounds like an after-the-fact legend.
James Dignan, 21 August 2006