IN 1842 Manchester was granted its coat of arms. 

For almost a century after that date architects and their clients fell in love with it as a decorative motif. They put it up complete, or they twisted and broke it, using the component parts to add richness and texture to their work.

Confidential asked the Council if people wanting to use Manchester’s coat of arms had to apply for a licence. They didn’t think so – odd in this age of brand and image tyranny. 

Surprisingly they not only did this on Manchester Corporation (today’s City Council) property but on their own commercial premises.

It was almost if businesses, and not just Manchester-owned businesses, wanted to underline how proud they were to build in the city and work with its people. The coats of arms were literally badges of honour.

My favourite is the stylised terracotta shield and globe from the coat of arms, in a beautiful warped Art Nouveau design high on St George's House (formerly The YMCA) on Peter Street. This dates from 1907-11. 

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Then it all stopped.

It's a struggle to find any post-World War II buildings, civic or commercial, that display the coat of arms.

Why is this?

Had the civic force weakened, had the desire to be connected to the community slackened as the international significance of Manchester and its manufacturing powerbase diminished?

Or maybe as the International Modern movement and Brutalism became the architectural styles of choice, designers found it difficult to incorporate rich decoration on their glass, concrete and iron structures. Although, it would have been easy to do so if they'd really wanted, with etched glass, tile, mosaic and so on.

By the nineties and noughties building boom, architects seemed to have forgotten that Manchester's coat of arms had ever been such a decorative paradigm. 

But a couple of non-City Council organisations still sport the city coat of arms proudly, and one of these doesn't technically lie within the city boundaries.

United BlazerUnited BlazerManchester United, when playing in overseas competitions such as the Champions League, carry the city crest on their blazers because they are representing the whole of Manchester and not just the club. If it were simply the latter then they'd use their own coat of arms.

Manchester City of course, wear the shield of the coat of arms on their shirts as part of the regular kit. But this isn't quite the same because that represents the club specifically, not the whole city. 

Maybe it’s time for a resurgence in Manchester's coat of arms being designed onto buildings. Local pride, and pride in working in a locality, is good, and helps build self-esteem.

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There's no need why it can't happen again.

And it's maybe easier than we think. 

Confidential asked the Council if people wanting to use Manchester’s coat of arms had to apply for a licence. They didn’t think so – odd in this age of brand and image tyranny.

We also asked them when was the last time a coat of arms had been used in Manchester on a building. They didn’t know.

So let’s get busy. 

What does the coat of arms mean?

Granted in 1842, the three bands in the shield are derived from the arms of the former Lords of the Manor of Manchester, the Gresleys.

At the top there's a ship in full sail, symbolising international trade and enterprise. The three bands on the shield are said to represent the three rivers in the city centre, the Irwell, the Irk and the Medlock.

The coat of arms is crowned by a globe covered with bees. The worker bee - Manchester was often described as 'a hive of activity' - is Manchester's symbolic animal, and is shown covering the globe. This is because the city's industry, its scientific acheivements, and its political credo of Free Trade, had influence over the whole planet. 

The supporters, an antelope and a lion, come from the arms of King Henry IV, Duke of Lancaster - Manchester is traditionally in Lancashire. The lion is an obvious symbol of authority, bravery and strength.

The antelope, complete with a chain to mark Manchester's industry, is a symbol of harmony, polity (negotiation is better than conflict) and peace. 

This marries perfectly with the city motto; Concilio et Labore.  The latter Latin tag means 'Through council and hard work' or 'By working together let's acheive great things'.

This is derived from a Biblical phrase in Ecclesiasticus 37:16 : 'Let reason be the beginning of every work and let counsel go before every action'.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

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