Poke around your town, village or local archive and you’ll find a coat of arms somewhere. Here’s a look at what some of them represent.
Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk – Civic Heraldry
Civic heraldry in Britain dates from the late 12th or 13th century when town officials used emblems of local significance on their seals. Nowadays properly authorised civic arms can be very complex and contain more charges than the most overblown personal arms in attempts to convey historic and contemporary features of a civic authority.  The arms of St. Edmundsbury Borough Council, for example, are far more complex than the arms of the Town Council. You can see the coat of arms of Bury St. Edmunds town in a number of streets, here for example on the Eastgate area sign outside the Fox Inn, Eastgate Street.
Eastgate sign, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk
The arms are blazoned Azure [blue] three pair of arrows in saltire each pair environed by a coronet Or [gold]. The crossed arrows represent the martyrdom of St. Edmund, said to have been killed by Hingwar the Dane’s men in 869 or 870. Edmund was King of East Anglia and rather than renounce his Christian faith, he was murdered with arrows and later beheaded. The story goes that when his followers discovered the body they we unable to find the head until they heard the King’s voice crying out, “Here I am”, directing them to a spot where a wolf was guarding the head. A wolf and King Edmund’s head feature in the crest of this coat of arms (not depicted on the Eastgate sign).
There is confusion in the Bury St. Edmunds area about which public body is responsible for which particular public services – Bury St. Edmunds Town Council or St. Edmundsbury Borough Council. The coat of arms of the Bury St. Edmunds Town Council is a result of the need for a new identity following the re-organisation of local government in England and Wales in 1974. Under the Local Government Act 1972, four local authority areas were combined to become the district of St Edmundsbury with effect from 1 April 1974, these were the Borough of Bury St Edmunds, the Urban District of Haverhill, the Rural District of Clare and the Rural District of Thingoe. On 15 May 1974 the Queen granted a charter conferring borough status upon the new district. The original four local authority areas all had their own coats of arms or official badges but none of these were appropriate to identify the new Borough of St Edmundsbury  so the new Borough Council petitioned through the College of Arms for a new grant of armorial bearings. This was duly granted and the ancient Town Council arms became redundant.  In 2004 it became apparent that the change had left the town without any specific civic representation or identity of its own and so a new Town Council was set up. In 2006 the Town Council petitioned the College of Arms asking that as it was now the natural successor of the original Bury St Edmunds Town Council, the coat of arms of that body be re-granted to the new body. It was agreed and confirmed by royal license in 2006 and the same arms as those originally given by King James I in 1606 were granted. Bury St. Edmunds Town Council now has strict rules about the use and reproduction of its civic arms.
Litcham, Norfolk – Thomas Felton
There is no guarantee that historic personal arms seen in towns and villages are portrayed with accuracy. Litcham village sign in Norfolk has a coat of arms and the following text:
“The coat of arms is that of Sir Thomas Felton, K. G. the last resident Lord of the Manor of Litcham. He fought at Crecy & Poitiers and died in 1381.”
Coat of arms, Litcham village sign, Norfolk
Text plate, Litcham village sign, Norfolk
Sir Thomas Felton was a younger son of Sir John Felton of Litcham, Norfolk, and grandson of Sir Robert Felton killed at the Battle of Bannockburn on its second day, the 24th June 1314.
Sir Thomas enjoyed a stellar military career, rewarded for his service to the Black Prince with election to the Order of the Garter in January 1381, just a few months before his death in April 1381. His son, Thomas, and his sons-in-law pre-deceased him and his widowed daughters became nuns. The demise of his name was among those recorded in the lost east window of the Augustinian friary at Norwich erected by Sir Thomas Erpingham in 1419 to commemorate families in East Anglia that had died out in the male line. Sir Thomas’ Garter shield is preserved in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, and the Arms described by Beltz, “Gules [red], two lions passant in pale Ermine, ducally crowned Or [gold]. The Crest is described as, out of a ducal coronet Or two wings inverted Gules quilled of the first [gold].
‘Felton (Litcham, co. Norfolk; Sir THOMAS FELTON, son of Sir JOHN and grandson of Sir ROBERT FELTON, both of same place, attended the Black Prince to Bordeaux, 1355, witnessed his marriage, 1361, and served under him in the French wars; elected a Knight of the Garter, 1381). Gules [red] two lions passant. in pale ermine ducally crowned Or [gold]. Crest – Out of a ducal coronet Or, two wings inverted gules quilled gold.’
And what of the knight’s helmet? According to Burke,
‘The helmet of Knights and Baronets is the full-faced steel helmet with the visor thrown back and without bars.’ 
On the Litcham sign the helmet is thrown only partially back and clearly shows six bars.
According to Boutell the ducal coronet was not depicted in a fixed way until the late 16th century when a circlet of eight strawberry leaves became represented by four leaves shown in three whole- and two half-leaves.
Felton’s accurate arms, colours and helmet details clearly do not match the version painted on the Litcham village sign where a blue field (background) replaces the warrior’s red and the lions are painted gold rather than ermine. At some point the correct colours, if they ever were depicted correctly on the sign, have been replaced with contrasting colours thus avoiding the red wings against the red shield, perhaps considered more aesthetically pleasing but with less regard for heraldic accuracy. Further research might involve eliminating the possibility that the arms depicted on the sign are those of an individual other than Sir Thomas Felton and making enquiries regarding the history of the village sign and its adornment in local and county archives.
In the records – the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers
A bricklaying apprenticeship diploma issued by the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers of London bears the Company arms.
Arms of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers of London
These arms are blazoned
A more recent paper, however, blazons the arms thus,
“Azure on which is a gold chevron, in chief there is a fleur-de-lys Argent and on either side of the fleur-de-lys are two gold brick-axes in a vertical position. In base there is a gold brush”
This is, according to Hoffman, a “modern interpretation dated 17th June 1965 by The Lord Sinclair, York Herald, of the Grant of Arms dated 3rd February 1569”. So what is at the base of the shield? Is it a brush or a bundle of laths and why has the confusion arisen?
The Company received its first Royal Charter in 1568, although its roots go back to the fifteenth century. On 3 February 1569 arms were granted by Sir Gilbert Dethick, Garter King of Arms; Robert Cooke, Clarenceux King of Arms; and William Flower, Norroy and Ulster King of Arms. The original patent however has not survived and the blazon now has to be based on later records which has caused the confusion regarding whether the charge in base is a brush or bundle of laths.
The brick axes on the arms clearly represent the brick workers. Brick axes are now rarely used (Richard Bartram pers. com. August 2016) but were a popular choice of Tudor bricklayers who used the axes with great skill to cut and shape fired bricks rather than simply laying the bricks whole with a trowel. Putting the axe on the shield rather than a trowel underlines the unique skill of the brick-workers.
How are the tilers represented on the coat of arms? Could it be that the charge in base is supposed to indicate some kind of tiler’s tool and if so which has the most significance a brush or a bundle of laths? All tiles, whether they are fixed with nails or pegs, are hung on to wooden battens, also called laths (Richard Bartram, pers. com. August 2016) and it would appear that laths would have far greater significance to tilers than would a brush. Smith maintains that it is likely that the “brush” on the coat of arms arises from a misinterpretation of a drawing of the bundle of laths tied in the middle and quotes Bromley and Child, “In the trick (annotated sketch) in the College of Arms the ‘brush’ is drawn so that its outline resembles that of the brick-axe”, the tie around the middle bowing the bundle.
Why the fleur-de-lis? Fox-Davies remarks that, “Few figures have puzzled the antiquary so much as the fleur-de-lis. Countless origins have been suggested for it… and the lily has always been the emblem of the Virgin Mary”. The single fleur-de-lis in chief [near the top of the shield] in the Company’s arms may have some religious significance, given the motto of the Company, “In God is all our trust” and the fleur-de-lis is often seen in in ecclesiastical heraldry.
Ely, Cambridgeshire – ecclesiastical heraldry
Ecclesiastical heraldry is mainly concerned with bishoprics. My local diocese is Ely from where the earliest case of arms attributable to an English bishopric comes. Woodward blazons the arms, ‘Gules [red] , three open crowns, two and one, Or [gold]‘ and William of Louth (de Luda), Bishop of Ely 1290-1298 used them on his seal. The arms are those said to be attributed to the founder of the original 7th century abbey at Ely, Etheldreda, Queen of Northumbria, in whose honour Ely Cathedral is dedicated. The three gold crowns in the arms represent her ruling status and also the Holy Trinity. The arms are seen in many of the Ely diocesan churches, for example in a window at Hildersham church in South Cambridgeshire but also incorporated into the modern branding of some Ely-based groups and societies such as the Ely Bell-ringers.
Ely diocesan arms, nave window, Hildersham, Cambridgeshire
 Friar, S. and Ferguson, J. Basic Heraldry, London, The Herbert Press 1999 p.132
 http://www.westsuffolk.gov.uk/Council/civic_information/coatofarms.cfm (accessed 16.08.2016)
 Lovell, R.D. The original armorial bearings of the town of Bury St Edmunds http://www.suffolkheraldry.org.uk/suffolkarms.html (accessed 16.08.2016)
 Papworth J.W. An alphabetical dictionary of coats of arms belonging to families in Great Britain and Ireland forming an extensive ordinary of British armorials Vol.1 London, T. Richards 1874 p.9
 Morgan, P. ‘Felton, Sir Thomas’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, O.U.P. online edn, Jan 2008 (http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/9275, accessed 17 July 2016)
 Beltz, G.F. Memorials of the Most Noble Order of the Garter from its Foundation to the Present Time London, Pickering 1841 p.279
 Burke, B. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales; comprising a registry of armorial bearings from the earliest to the present time. London, Harrison and Sons 1884 p.345
 ibid. p.xxxiii
 Boutell, Charles English Heraldry London, Cassell, Petter and Galpin 1867 p.143
 Burke, B. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales; comprising a registry of armorial bearings from the earliest to the present time. London, Harrison and Sons 1884 p.122
 Papworth, W. An Alphabetic Dictionary of Coats of Arms belonging to Families in Great Britain and Ireland Forming an Extensive Ordinary of British ArmorialsVol.1 London, T. Richards 1874 p.420
 Hoffman, T. The rise and decline of guilds with particular reference to the Guilds of Tylers and Bricklayers in Great Britain and Ireland Guildhall Historical Association 2006 p.1
 ibid. p.1
 http://www.tylersandbricklayers.co.uk/about-us/history/chapter-2-consolidation-1468-1571?showall=1&limitstart= (accessed 15.08.2016)
 Smith, T.P. ‘A brush or a bundle of laths? A Problem Concerning the Arms of the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers of the City of London’ in Bricklaying Issue, Information, 90 British Brick Society 2003 p.10
 ibid. p.11
 Bromley, J. and Child, H. The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London London, Warne 1960 p.248
 Fox-Davies, A.C. The Art of Heraldry: An Encyclopædia of Armory London, Bloomsbury edition 1986
 Baker, R.C.F. A Course of Study in Heraldry Lecture 1: What is Heraldry? I.H.G.S. 2016 p.14
 ibid. p.14
 Woodward, J. A Treatise on Ecclesiastical Heraldry Edinburgh and London, W. & A.K. Johnston 1894 p.180