Freed slave figure to be removed from Kettering's coat of arms

The new town council took the decision last night

Thursday, 20th May 2021, 11:08 am
Updated Thursday, 20th May 2021, 11:17 am
The council meeting last night and, inset, the old coat of arms.

A figure of a black man with a broken chain will not be on Kettering's new coat of arms after councillors voted to remove it.

The work of William Knibb, who was born in the town in 1803 and campaigned to end slavery, had been represented on both the old Kettering District Council and then Kettering Borough Council crest, since the arms were first officially granted in 1938.

But at the first ever meeting of the new Kettering Town Council last night (Wednesday) - set up after the county's unitary reorganisation - councillors unanimously decided the new coat of arms should not have a figure of a freed black man.

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Instead the new council's coat of arms will adopt the pre-1974 shield and crest without the 'supporters', also known as attendants, which were either side of it. This includes both the slavery abolition figure and the griffin, which represented the Montagu family.

Kettering Black Lives Matter protester Sharlene told councillors it was not about "airbrushing history" but that we should be looking forwards and not backwards.

She said: "The world is a very different place now.

"The image of a free black slave may have been appropriate then, but I do not think it is appropriate now."

She told councillors the coat of arms would represent them everywhere they go.

She added: "Images of people of colour in this way should not be promoted."

Her thoughts were echoed by Cllr Clark Mitchell (Lab, Avondale Grange), who said the symbol "has to change".

He said: "If the attendants on the mayoral mace and chains can cause offence to people, I think we should remove them."

Councillors had been asked to vote on three options for the future of the coat of arms.

The first option was to adopt the pre-1974 coat of arms in full, which was the cheapest option as the old jewellery was ready to be put onto the mace and chains. However the meeting heard the initial reaction from the College of Arms for that option wasn't favourable as most town councils don’t have 'supporters'.

Another option which was discounted was to create an entirely new design, which was the most expensive and would have cost at least £2,000.

The option agreed, to adopt the shield and crest without the 'supporters', will cost about £900 plus VAT.

Cllr Dez Dell (Green, Brambleside), said: "I welcome the unanimous decision to reduce the coat of arms, in line with the College of Arms reaction, to only include the central shield and crest motif.

"If there were any doubts in councillors' minds, the impassioned words from the public speaker surely cemented the decision to remove the ‘supporters’ at the side of the 1938 design."

The arms were officially granted on September 26, 1938 with the pelt representing Kettering's chief industry, the manufacture of boots and shoes.

The heraldic fountains refer to the formation of the Baptist Missionary Society at the Mission House in Lower Street in 1792.

The coat of arms also features martlets from the arms of the Watson family of Rockingham, who with the Montagus are Lords of the Manor of Kettering.

The cross is from the arms of the See of Peterborough with the crest symbolising the iron-ore industry.