I first became curious when admiring the unusual architecture of Greatfield’s Brooks Avenue. Between the first and second storey of each block (and partly obscured by the odd satellite dish) was a framed plasterwork shield with the words ‘Progressio cum populo’ floating below it. It appeared to feature a ship, what looked like a shepherd’s crook, and even better – was that a cheeky sun with a face peeping out from behind it? And on the left – were those…ice creams?
A short while later the shield came into my life again, appearing on a disused electrical box next to the Elim Church on Geoffrey Gardens. This time, being a keen GRA blog elf, I naturally had to know more, if only to find out why East Ham had apparently been decorated with multiple Mr Whippys.
A bit of rooting around in history books soon told me that I had in fact been looking at East Ham’s very own ‘coat of arms’. In inverted commas because it isn’t an official coat of arms: only obtaining a rather grand-sounding ‘grant of arms’ from the College of Arms can bestow that honour. Instead, our efforts extended to those of a rather naughty surveyor at East Ham district council who simply made the design up in 1896. East Ham and West Ham were administered separately before being merged to create Newham (‘New’ ‘Ham’ – geddit) in 1965, and our man more or less copied West Ham’s proper, official coat of arms. An official apology to West Hammers for that.
It also turns out that East Ham has no particular links to ice cream production and those are, in fact, torches of progress – rather disappointing, but also a good thing I suppose. The ship is, of course, representative of the docks and shipping industry; while that shepherd’s crook turned out to be a crosier – that is, a bishop’s staff – representing the borough’s links to either Stratford Langthorne or possibly Westminster Abbeys.
Our friendly sun was copied wholesale from the West Ham coat (shown left), and symbolises the ‘rapid rise and growth of the borough'. As for ‘Progressio cum populo’, or ‘Progress with the people’, this motto seems appropriate for a working-class borough with strong ties to the Labour Party and such figures as Keir Hardie and Elizabeth Fry.
Some other instances of the East Ham coat of arms, on the town hall and college, are shown below. We think it is delightfully insouciant and really rather fetching, much like the area itself. Maybe we should get some headed notepaper made up.
1 Scott-Giles, C. Wilfred. Civic Heraldry of England and Wales. JM Dent & Sons, 1953.
2, 3 Gurney Benham, W.. Essex Borough Arms and the Traditional Arms of Essex and the Arms of Chelmsford Diocese. Benham and Company, 1916.
4 Lewis, Jim. East Ham and West Ham Past. Historical Publications, 2004.