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Somerset, England

Traditional English County

Last modified: 2021-02-27 by rob raeside
Keywords: england | somerset | griffin |
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[Flag of Somerset County, England] certified image by Graham Bartram, Flag Institute Chief Vexillologist (source)

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Introduction: Somerset County

Somerset county is in South West England. It borders Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Dorset, and Devon. It touches both the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel, and the Avon River runs along its borders with Gloucestershire. The county has two cities, Bath and Wells, and 30 towns. Its county seat or town is Taunton. It is considered both a traditional and ceremonial county. Its boundaries have remained very similar to how they were in medieval times.
The origins of the settlements of Somerset are lost in time but go back to the Paleolithic and Mesolithic eras. As early as 12,000 BCE there were cave dwellers in the area. The Sweet Track, one of the world's oldest known engineered roadways dates back to 3806 BCE. A Neolithic Stonehenge-like stone circle is located at Stanton Drew and there are numerous Iron Age hill forts located in the county.
During Roman times the Second Legion Augusta invaded Somerset in AD 47. The county remained part of the Roman Empire until AD 409. A variety of Roman ruins dot the county perhaps the best known being the Pagans Hill Roman temple in Chew Stoke, the Roman Villa in Low Ham, and the Roman Baths that gave their name to the city of Bath.
Although the Anglo-Saxons arrived around AD 600, the native Britons in Somerset remained independent until King Ine of Wessex (c. 689-726) pushed his boundaries far enough west to include Somerset.
After the Norman Conquest, the county was divided into 700 fiefs, and large areas were owned by the crown, with fortifications such as Dunster Castle, to maintain control over the county by the invaders. As time passed Somerset county went on to play a significant part in Alfred the Great's struggle to save Wessex from Viking invaders. Much later the people of Somerset, largely Parliamentarian, played a significant part in the English Civil Wars, with key engagements being the Sieges of Taunton and the Battle of Langport. In 1685 the Monmouth Rebellion played out in Somerset and neighboring Dorset. The rebels hoped to capture Bristol and Bath, but they were defeated in the Battle of Sedgemoor which was the last pitched battle fought in England.
The Industrial Revolution in the Midlands and Northern England ended most of Somerset's cottage industries, but farming continued to flourish. As time passed the medieval weaving industry also declined, replaced by the manufacturing of bricks and clay roof tiles. Coal mining became an important industry in the north of Somerset especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. The Somerset Coalfield reached its peak production by the 1920s and now the pits have been closed. Bridgwater developed during the Industrial Revolution as the area's leading port.
Today, Somerset has few industrial centres, but it does have a variety of light industry and high technology businesses, and has become an important supplier of defence equipment and technology, along with traditional agriculture and increasingly tourism has become a major industry.
Pete Loeser
, 19 February 2021


Description of the Somerset flag

The flag depicts the traditional dragon emblem of Somerset, a design first promoted as the county flag by Ed Woods in 2006. The red dragon has been used for the last century by the local county council as their coat of arms but it is ultimately derived from the banners borne by Alfred the Great and his kinsmen during the era of the Viking Wars, which were variously described as bearing red or gold dragons or wyverns. Further research suggests a potential linkage with the county that reaches further back to Celtic use of a dragon symbol itself ultimately derived from use of the Draco symbol by the Roman military during the Roman occupation of Britain. In essence therefore, the flag is a traditional design with a pedigree of over a thousand years. In 2013 the design was submitted to a county flag competition which it duly won.
Sources: ABC Flag Blog and Somerset Flag on Facebook.
Jason Saber, 4 July 2013

"The Somerset Flag is a community flag proclaiming the unique identity of this historic English county."

  • Flag Type: County Flag
  • Flag Date: In Antiquity
  • Flag Designer: Traditional
  • Adoption Route: Public Vote
  • UK Design Code: UNKG7437
  • Aspect Ratio: 3:5
  • Pantone® Colours: Red 186, Yellow 109, Blue 300
  • Certification: Flag Institute Chief Vexillologist, Graham Bartram
"In May 2013, the Somerset County Gazette, along with a local law firm, Pardoes, organized a county-wide competition to choose a county flag for Somerset. The competition was won by Ed Woods who submitted the traditional emblem of Somerset, which he himself had been campaigning to be registered since 2007. The design is similar to that of the County Council, where the dragon carries the council's mace."
Source: The Flag Institute UK Flag Registry: Somerset
Valentin Poposki, 2 July 2020

According to the "The Story Behind The Somerset Flag" published online by the Somerset Day Community Interest Company: "Immediately following the flag hoisting ceremony in Taunton, the Chairman of Somerset County Council and guests were flown by Merlin helicopter to the Irish Sea to join HMS Somerset so they could present the new County flag to the Commanding Officer. The new flag was flown proudly from the yardarm as HMS Somerset made her way through the Irish Sea and entered her homeport of Davenport."
Source: Somerset Day.
Pete Loeser, 19 February 2021


Somerset County Flag
Prototype Variant

[Prototype Flag of Somerset County, England] image by Jason Saber, 4 July 2013

Well-known vexillographer (flag designer) Jason Saber provided this original prototype design of the Somerset County Flag. It differs slightly from the design later approved by the UK Flag Registry in that the dragon's skin is more detailed in his prototype.
Pete Loeser, 19 February 2021

Commercial Variant

[Somerset County Flag - Commercial] image by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021

This commercial manufacturer's variant of the Somerset County flag features yet another interpretation of the Somerset dragon.
Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021


Somerset County Council Flag

[Somerset County Council Flag] image by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021

After the Somerset County flag was registered with the Flag Institute Registry in 2017 the Somerset County Council adopted this flag as their official flag differing from the county flag only in that the dragon carries the council's mace.
Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021


Somerset County Council Logos

[Somerset County Council Logo #1]       [Somerset County Council Logo #2]
images located by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021

The most common logos used by the Somerset County Council feature the silhouette of the Somerset dragon in either white or red on stationary, publications, and their website.
Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021


Previous Somerset County Council Flag (unofficial)
Also used as the Somerset County Flag prior to July 2013

[Flag of Somerset] image by Pete Loeser, 19 February 2021
Based on this photo located by Col Barscushy, 20 May 2003

The flag shows a red dragon. It is being used a lot in the county of Somerset (southwestern England). It is popular with trade fairs, local parishes and cricket clubs. It has a long heritage as it is represented on the coat of arms and flown in most council buildings.
Col Barscushy, 20 May 2003

From the [Somerset] County Gazette article "A brief History of the Somerset Council Flag." (source)

"For several years after the creation of Somerset County Council in 1889 they had no official coat of arms. In 1906 the council unofficially adopted a variation of the Wessex wyvern, in this instance it became a four legged dragon, as their crest. The dragon was golden on a red background, just as the old wyvern of the Saxon Kingdom of Wessex had been. When Somerset County Council finally applied to the College of Heralds in 1911 for an official coat of arms, it became a red dragon on a gold background holding a mace as a symbol of office. They became the official arms of the Council on the 2nd December 1911.
The motto Sumorsaete Ealle means "All the people of Somerset" and is a line from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 878 when they rose up under King Alfred the Great to liberate Wessex from the Danes. A modified version of the arms was adopted by the Council in 2004. Dragons have been associated with Somerset for many centuries, with their adoption as standards by the Saxons, Romans and Celts alike. The stories about them are legion. The West Saxons were using a golden dragon standard by the mid 8th century and it was carried into battle against the Mercians in 752 and the Danes in 1016. Its final use in battle was at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, by which time Wessex had long since become a part of England. There is a difference between a dragon and a wyvern. A dragon is the creature on the Somerset flag, having four legs. A wyvern on the other hand has only two legs. The Somerset flag does not have a wyvern on it, despite it often being called that."

Quoting Claire Ward-Willis, in the Somerset County Gazette, 5 September 2006:

A Langport man has launched a campaign to try and create a united flag for the whole of Somerset. He wants to use the red dragon from the Somerset County Council flag, but without the mace, which is legal property of the council...
Ed Woods said: "I think a flag is of great interest in this county though as we are still divided up into three parts, so what was needed was a symbol to unite the country from Porlock to Portishead...
I think that a lot of people are unaware that Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset are part of the county of Somerset, imagining them to be separate counties of a sort...
Although not a part of the administrative county, they are still very much part of the historic and ceremonial county. (source)

And on the Somerset Flag Forum page:

"A few suggestions as to possible official usage of the flag have been made. Doug Bailey has proposed that the flag should be flown in Taunton on St. Botolph's Day, 17th June, and for a fair to be held on that day as there were up until the early 1900's. There is also St. Dunstan, a Somerset man and the nearest thing we have to a patron saint, who's feast day is on the 19th May. The various towns and villages around Somerset could fly the flag on the feast day of the saints that their local churches are dedicated to, perhaps holding their own fairs. I think St. George's Day should be reserved for the national flag however. That is perhaps a throwback to the Middle Ages, but it would mean that there could be an even spread of fairs around the county all year round. If that seems too religiously based, perhaps the flag could be flown during the Carnival Season or at other traditional even."
Ivan Sache, 6 September 2006

This flag is typical of many local authority flags in England: it exists, it is flown, but it is flown only in one place - the County Hall, Taunton - and it isn't necessarily flown every day. It has no general use. There are similar types of flag for Bristol and for Birmingham (though these are rather more attractive Banners of Arms) and no doubt there are many other examples.
One interesting example was when the map of local authorities was redrawn in 1974, the new County of Avon was invented to take in Bristol and parts of the surrounding countryside which had hitherto been in southern Gloucestershire and northern Somerset. A Bristol man was in the habit of flying a black flag from his house on the anniversary of the new County of Avon to mourn the loss of Bristol's "independence". He died some years ago and this "ceremony" no longer happens. In any case, local authorities were reorganised again, and Avon is no more.
André Coutanche, 7 September 2006

Somerset Council Flag Variant (Questionable)

[Commercial Flag of Somerset Council] image by Pete Loeser, 19 February 2021
based on this photo image.

This commercial variant was shown available on the internet, but its existence is questionable. It looks like a button was laid on a Flag of England.
Pete Loeser, 19 February 2021


Somerset County Council Coat of Arms

[Somerset Coat of Arms] Coat of Arms      [Somerset Arms] Arms
Coat of Arms located by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021 - Arms image located by James Frankcom, 13 October 2003

Apparently, in Somerset and Wiltshire at least, the symbol is a "dragon" and not a "wyvern". A wyvern would make more sense because the red dragon is very definitely the symbol of Wales. The arms of Somerset I include and the motto Sumorsaete Ealle means "All the people of Somerset" and is a quote from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 870 when Somerset was first mentioned historically. The arms were granted in 1911 and to make the arms distinctive the "dragon" supports a civil mace to show that it is the arms of a local council and not that of Wessex.
James Frankcom, 13 October 2003

The creature is a dragon both in the flag and the coat of arms. A griffin has an eagle's head, whilst a wyvern only has two legs and a fish's tail.
Adam Thomas, 29 September 2005

"The arms were officially granted on December 29, 1911, the supporters and crest were granted on October 14, 2003. The arms show a dragon from the attributed arms of the Kingdom of Wessex. The Wessex dragon also features in the arms of the neighboring counties of Dorset, Avon and Wiltshire. To make the design distinctive, the dragon supports a civic mace. Thus the arms show that this is a local council in Wessex."

Official Blazon

  • Arms: Or a Dragon rampant Gules holding in the claws a Mace erect Azure.
  • Crest: Out of a Saxon Crown Or a demi Ram Argent armed and unguled Gules holding in the mouth a Cheddar Pink Flower slipped and leaved proper; Mantled Vert doubled Or.
  • Supporters: On the dexter side a Stag Gules attired unguled and gorged with a Saxon Crown Or and on the sinister side a Bull also Gules armed unguled and gorged with a like Saxon Crown Or; all upon a Compartment composed of a grassy Mount proper semy of Cider Apples Or.
  • Motto: Sumorsaete Ealle means "All the people of Somerset."
The Origin of the motto is based on this extract from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:
A.D. 878. This year about mid-winter, after twelfth-night, the Danish army stole out to Chippenham, and rode over the land of the West-Saxons; where they settled, and drove many of the people over sea; and of the rest the greatest part they rode down, and subdued to their will; - ALL BUT ALFRED THE KING. He, with a little band, uneasily sought the woods and fastnesses of the moors. And in the winter of this same year the brother of Ingwar and Healfden landed in Wessex, in Devonshire, with three and twenty ships, and there was he slain, and eight hundred men with him, and forty of his army. There also was taken the war - flag, which they called the RAVEN. In the Easter of this year King Alfred with his little force raised a work at Athelney; from which he assailed the army, assisted by that part of Somersetshire which was nighest to it. Then, in the seventh week after Easter, he rode to Brixton by the eastern side of Selwood; and there came out to meet him all the people of Somersetshire, and Wiltshire, and that part of Hampshire which is on this side of the sea; and they rejoiced to see him. Then within one night he went from this retreat to Hey; and within one night after he proceeded to Heddington; and there fought with all the army, and put them to flight, riding after them as far as the fortress, where he remained a fortnight. Then the army gave him hostages with many oaths, that they would go out of his kingdom. They told him also, that their king would receive baptism. And they acted accordingly; for in the course of three weeks after, King Guthrum, attended by some thirty of the worthiest men that were in the army, came to him at Aller, which is near Athelney, and there the king became his sponsor in baptism; and his crisom-leasing was at Wedmor. He was there twelve nights with the king, who honoured him and his attendants with many presents.
This is the first written reference to the county.
Source: Heraldry of the World: Somerset.
Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021


Avon & Somerset Constabulary (Police)
Flag, Badge and logos

[Avon and Somerset Constabulary Flag]       [Avon and Somerset Constabulary Badge] ASC Badge
images by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021

The Avon & Somerset Police are the territorial police force responsible for law enforcement in the county of Somerset and in four districts that used to be part of Avon County (Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire). They can be traced back to the start of the modern policing system and the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. They were created in their present configuration as the Avon & Somerset Constabulary following the implementation the Local Government Act 1972. In 1974 the Somerset & Bath Constabulary, the Bristol Constabulary, and the southern part of Gloucestershire Constabulary where joined together to form the ASC/ASP.
Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021

ASC Logos

[Avon and Somerset Constabulary logo #1]       [Avon and Somerset Constabulary logo #2]
images located by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021


Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service
Flag, Badge and logos

[Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Flag]       [Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Badge] DSFRS Badge
images by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021

Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue Service is the largest non-metropolitan fire and rescue service in England. They cover both the county of Devon (including the cities of Plymouth and Torbay) and the whole rural non-metropolitan county of Somerset. The service, however, does not cover North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset, which are covered by the Avon Fire & Rescue Service.
Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021

DSFRS Logos

[Avon and Somerset Constabulary logo #1]       [Avon and Somerset Constabulary logo #2]
images located by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021


Somerset Light Infantry Regiment
Prince Albert's Own

[Somerset Light Infantry Regiment]       [Somerset Light Infantry Regiment]
images by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021
based on this image and this image.

The Somerset Light Infantry Regiment (Prince Albert's Own) was a light infantry regiment of the British Army, which through various reorganizations and names served the crown from 1685 to 1959. Under its various names it served in the Jacobite Wars (1685), Nine Years War (1694), War of the Spanish Succession (1701), Anglo-Spanish War (1727), War of the Austrian Succession (1742), The American Revolutionary War (1775), The Scottish Uprisings (1783), French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793), War with the United States (1812), First Anglo-Burmese War (1823), First Anglo-Afghan War (1837), Crimean War (1854), The Indian Mutiny (1857), Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885), Second Boer War (1889), First World War (1912), and Second World War (1939), to name a few.
The name of Jellalabad on the Regimental flag refers to the Battle of Jellalabad, which took place in Afghanistan in 1842. An isolated British outpost garrisoned by the 13th Foot (later known as the Somerset Light Infantry) came under an Afghan siege. The Jellalabad outpost was located about 80 miles east of Kabul. The siege was finally lifted after five months when a British counterattack routed the Afghans. Their stubborn defence of Jellalabad made heroes of the regiment.
"It is reported that as the relieved regiment marched back through India to return to Britain every garrison fired a ten gun salute in its honour. Queen Victoria directed that the regiment be made Light Infantry, and carry the additional title of "Prince Albert's Own" and wear a badge depicting the walls of the town with the word "Jellalabad" from that time on." The initials "PA" located atop the horn stand for "Prince Albert."
The army barracks in Taunton, the county town of Somerset, was named Jellalabad Barracks after the battle and that area of the town is still known as Jellalabad today.
Note: These two flags are not regimental colors, but commercial flags honoring the regiment.
Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021


Somerset County Cricket Club
Originally the Somerset Sabres 1875

[Somerset County Crocket Club Flag] SCCC Flag     [Somerset County Crocket Club Crest] SCCC Crest
images by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021
club flag based on this photo.

The Somerset County Cricket Club is one of eighteen first-class county cricket clubs in England and Wales. Founded in 1875 it represents the historic county of Somerset. Somerset gained official first-class status in 1895 after 20 years of existence. Since 1891 it has competed in the County Championship and played in every top-level domestic cricket competition in England. The club was first named the Somerset Sabres, but now only referred to as Somerset. (source)
Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021

SCCC Logos

[Somerset County Crocket Club logo #1]       [Somerset County Crocket Club logo #2]
images located by Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021

The club calls home the historical town of Taunton and its Cooper Associates County Grounds their home stadium.
Pete Loeser, 20 February 2021