Coat of Arms

The following article was first published in the Institute Journal ‘IMPACT’ in Spring 1997 (Vol 6 No 1) and explains the significance of our Coat of Arms.


From the formation of the Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators, requests were made of members and friends to produce a badly needed logo. Some 40 designs were received but although many were well thought out, something was always missing: they were not prestigious. Approaches were made to at least one Art College and a promised money donation was given. The results were similar to those produced by our own members, as were the feelings of Council.

A friend of mine relates the following true story. His colleague in the Middlesex Heraldry Society has a son in a law firm that required a logo to express its new corporate image. This colleague suggested that the law firm apply for a Grant of Arms. The lawyers (24 of them), applied instead to a commercial company for a logo or badge to be designed especially for them.

The result was that the capital letter of their firm’s title was redesigned and coloured green, and all for the going rate of only £90,000. Since hearing this story I have heard many similar accounts with equally frightening and unrealistic price tags. Most of our DIY designs would beat that.

Being prompted by that same friend, I proposed to Council that as representatives of a professional corporate organisation, we should go for a unique, recognisable badge, that will be viewed seriously by any professional person having business with, or who has an interest in, the Institute. Historically the most prestigious badge would be a ‘Coat of Arms’. The proposal made on 11 May 1994 was that we apply to the College of Heralds for a ‘Grant of Arms’.

I think it is fair to say that despite having been circulated with the details well before the meeting, Council members were initially shocked at the seriousness of the proposal. However, once discussed, it was probably one of the quickest decisions ever made. Council agreed the proposal and ‘naturally’ the proposer was awarded the task. The first informal enquiries were made to the College of Arms on 24 May 1994.

Following agreement by Council on 7 September, a formal application was made. Dr Richard Lambourn and Mr Les Stilwell volunteered to help and a sub-committee was formed to assist with the design, should we ever get that far. When it came to the crunch, a great deal of assistance was given by a friend of the Institute, Mr Roger Matthews, who has experience in both fields.

Following our application, I was advised that Arms are seldom granted to organisations that have been in existence for less than 20 years, otherwise inappropriate institutions such as ‘boys’ clubs’ that are ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ would be applying. Later however, I was advised that having studied our membership and Constitution, the College of Arms recognised that our Institute was made up of professional people who have already spent many years in their profession and who are well qualified. As a result it was decided that our application would be forwarded for approval.

Why a coat of arms?

  1. A ‘Grant of Arms’ being approved by Her Majesty the Queen, is considered to be the ‘top-of-the-tree and totally upmarket’. You will be aware of the type and variety of private and corporate institutions and similar bodies who proudly display a ‘Coat of Arms’.
  2. To be granted Arms is an honour, which is approved by the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen.
  3. The Institute now joins a historic band that has been in existence since the first true coat of arms (recognised as something owned that can be passed on to descendants) was granted by Henry I to his son-in-law, Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou, in 1127. Azure, six lions, Or. (On a blue background six gold lions.) This same shield later appears on the tomb of Geoffrey’s grandson, William Earl of Salisbury, and it thus acquired a significance that enabled it to become hereditary.
  4. The true purpose for which Armory was intended is obscure but much favoured is the argument that Armory owes its existence to the need for identification in battle. It is known that even in 1066 it was so difficult to recognise individuals, that William the Conqueror had to remove his helmet at the height of battle just to show his men that he was still alive.
  5. An alternative view for the existence of Armory coincides with the 12th century ‘European Renaissance’ when a delight in visual decoration found its way onto the personal shields of the knights. The decorated shields became objects of personal pride, similar to a modern mascot or badge. The ‘tournament’ further stimulated pomp and pageantry and helped to carry ‘Armory’ into modern times.

Perhaps the true reason for the evolution of Armory is explained by both concepts, which have been only briefly outlined above. When applied to a body of men and women such as an army or an organisation like ours, I feel that it is still appropriate to be proud of what we stand for and our achievements, and most of all to be recognised.

Procedure in obtaining our grant

  1. Once approved the Arms are granted by the ‘GARTER KING OF ARMS’
  2. Applicants, whether individual or corporate (as in our case), have to approach the Royal College through an agent, who is one of the heralds or pursivants in our case Henry Paston-Bedingfeld, York Herald. As our applicant was deemed to be worthy, a ‘Memorial’ was drawn up and despatched to the Earl Marshal. (9 May 1995)
  3. On his approval, a meeting with our agent was arranged and ideas were formed as to the contents and style of the Arms. It should be noted that the Arms are granted by Garter King of Arms and, although we may have wanted a particular charge included, if it looks too much like an existing Coat then it would not be granted and it is possible that we could have received a Coat quite different to that requested.
  4. A pleasing ‘Coat’ may have been thought-up, but heraldry is subject to many rules and conventions, un-thought of by the layman. Due to the rules, some ideas are just not possible. For example, a metal (silver and gold) cannot be placed on a metal. A colour such as red, blue, black, green, etc cannot be placed on each other. A colour must be placed on a metal (or fur) and vice-versa. In our case, the York Herald had tried to have ‘Gouttes’ (see description below) included in the lining of the Cloaking or ‘Mantling’, this was not approved by Garter as it would have set a heraldic precedent.

The Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators received written notice on the 2 July 1996 that ‘Garter King of Arms’ had officially approved the designs for our arms, crest and badge. The Institute may now use these designs pending the preparation of the ‘Letters Patent’ which actually makes the Grant.


Argent, Goutte’ de Sang and de Poix, two Lions combatant Gules on a chief potenty, Sable, a Key fesswise wards to the dexter Or surmounted by an Open Book Argnt edged Gold bearing the words festina lente Sable.


Upon an Helm a circlet potenty on the upper edge Or issuing there from an Eagle’s Head Sable beaked Or Langued Gules furnished with a High Court Judge’s Wig proper.

MANTLlNG – Gules doubled Argent

MOTTO – honestas et integritas

BADGE A Key Wards upwards and outwards and a Quill point downwards in saltire enfiling a Circlet potenty on the upper edge Or.

Description and explanation for our blazon

  • The basic colour of the field (background) is argent (silver or white) and this is symmetrically sprinkled with gouttes (pronounced goots) and they depict droplets of liquid. These gouttes are alternately coloured red and black and each colour of goutte has is own terminology. Gules or red ‘Goutte de Sang’ describes blood and sable (black). ‘Goutte de poix’ describe pitch, tar or oil. These represent the scene of a typical road accident where ‘blood’ and ‘oil’ and ‘tar’ often become mixed. The background is white and could be appropriated to a concrete or other light coloured road surface.
  • The main ‘charge’ of the Arms are two rampant (rearing-up) lions facing each other. The lions are heraldically described (blazoned) as two lions combatant gules. The ‘combatant’ lions represent the two drivers after an accident or the opposing sides of the resulting litigation arguing through the Courts.
  • The shield has a chief, this is an additional charge reminiscent of a reinforcing strip, placed across the top one-third of the shield. The colour is sable (black, not from the fur of the same name but probably from the Latin ‘sabulum’ or gravel), again representing a road surface, this time of Tarmac, gravel or bitumen construction.
  • The lower edge of the chief is not straight but is in a manner termed ‘potenty’ (F potent, a crutch), this represents the role of support offered by our members. Look carefully at this and you will recognise the top and bottom horizontal lines are reminiscent of the accepted method of depicting single tyre marks on a plan and its position on changing road surfaces.
  • Upon the chief is an open book surmounting a key. The book represents ‘learning’, ‘study’ and ‘reporting’. The words ‘festina lente’ translates ‘Hasten Slowly’, a pre-requisite of a good forensic investigator. The key denotes that your investigation is to ‘unlock the secrets’ of the case. Please note that the ward of the key reflects the potent division line of the chief.
  • As for the crest (note: what is on the shield is the Arms, and what is on the helmet or helm is called the crest.) This was entirely the idea of the York Herald, combining the ‘eagle eye’ of the investigator with the wig of a High Court judge, as a symbol of justice. The coronet reflects the ‘potent’ division line of the chief.
  • The badge. A key wards upwards and outwards and a quill point downwards in saltire (a diagonal cross), enfilining a circlet potenty (described in d) above) on the upper edge OR (all in gold). The key has been described earlier, and the quill alludes to scribing, or recording and presenting the facts.
  • Our motto ‘honestas et integritas’ (honesty and integrity) was a last minute addition due to a lack of earlier inspiration. When close to our decision deadline, I read that a solicitor speaking at our AGM referred to our members as having ‘honesty and integrity’. The same week one of my students related how a High Court judge had commended his membership of the Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators as being a body that stands for ‘honesty and integrity’ and at a seminar in Coventry I heard a solicitor again use the phrase to describe us. Our own members have used these terms in referring to the standards displayed by expert witnesses. When put to the available Council members, the answer was, ‘ Go for it’. The motto is not actually subject to a ‘Grant’ but is included in the ‘Letters Patent’ making the Grant.

Any heraldic artist will produce the above arms from the ‘blazon’ (heraldic description) which is written below the Grant of Arms. They must all show the described charges and tinctures correctly, but of course, one artistic interpretation could differ from another. The important thing being that any observer will immediately recognise any charge depicted by different heraldic artists, i.e. a lion looks like a lion and a sword looks like a sword, etc.

When the Arms are granted, they are painted by the herald artist, and then passed to the ‘scrivener’ for writing. The Arms are then returned to the college for the great seals to be attached. They will be the seals of the three Kings of Arms: Garter, Clarenceux, and Norry & Alster, Kings of Arms. Also at the top of the Grant will be the Royal Arms with the Arms of the Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal, and those of the College of Arms on either side.

The following is a paragraph taken from a letter written by a well-recognised heraldic expert and dated 20 August 1996:

“Many thanks for your welcome letter, and the copies of the arms of the Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators, which I think are both very apt and heraldically splendid. I particularly like the two lions about to engage in duffing each other up, the drops of blood and the legal eagle. The composition just shows that heraldry can be fun, whilst at the same time adhering to medieval ideas of recognition and pomp. Altogether, I like it. Congrats. I cannot think of a better way to describe ‘heraldic road rage’.”

It must be noted that the full achievement (full Coat of Arms) can only be used on letters from the Chairman or from Council, and only then for official ITAI business, or if the Council approves its use for media display, or publications, etc. The Council will now have to decide when, and who can use the Arms, Crest and Badge.

Written for Impact by Ian Mackenzie

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