My interest in heraldry started about sixty years ago when my dad painted for me a shield bearing a coat of arms I now blazon as “Or, on a bend gules three foxes’ masks palewise or; on a chief embattled sable three hornbeam trees argent.” The seeds of this site were sown when my lad, a historian and author, developed an interest in bench ends. The bench ends in question are carved wooden pew ends found in churches in the West Country, and the oldest date from the fifteenth century. Some of them have coats of arms or heraldic badges on them, which may help to date the carvings or show the political allegiance of those who commissioned them, or just show who was around at the time.
The lad asked me to help identify some of the coats of arms. Being in unpainted wood, these arms have no helpful colours, so I demanded pictures of any other coats of arms in the same place, to help corroborate any identifications.
In my quest for information, I came across a neat book, edited by Sabine Baring-Gould, in which he had transcribed half a dozen manuscripts of heraldic lists from the sixteenth century, augmented to some extent with information from the heralds’ visitations. His transcription retained the original spelling and blazoning of the coats of arms, so finding a particular coat of arms from its description was not satisfactory.
I therefore started by transcribing the coats of arms into one list, using a spreadsheet. I settled, more or less, on one convention for the blazons, used modern spelling, and adopted some common terms where different names had been given to the same thing.
Making it easy for computer searching meant dropping some of the commonly used heraldic names and distinctions. For instance, a plain disc is generally known as a roundel, but each different colour roundel has its own name (or names,) “bezant” for a gold one, “torteaux” for a red one etc. On plain wood, the colour is not known, so for the most part in trying to identify the arms it is more sensible to perform a single search for “roundels” rather than multiple searches for ogresses, plates etc. Where the colour is known, it is as easy to search for a “roundel sable” or a “roundel argent.” Another simplification I used was to drop the distinction between a charge and its diminutive. A little lion is called a lion, not a lioncel; a thin stripe diagonally across the shield is a bend, not a bendlet. The one anomaly I am aware of is that I have kept “fess” and “bar,” (but not barrulet.)
Of course, one thing led to another. Baring-Gould had recourse to the Visitations to give more information on the arms in his lists, but there were arms given in the Visitations that had no counterpart in Baring-Gould’s manuscripts. So I added the Visitations to my list. And there are arms in churches that are not recorded in the Visitations, so I added information from other contemporary sources, and from the works of those who have done the same collating job before me, in their different ways (always with much harder work and more scholarship than I have brought to it.)
Where the lad has found examples “in the field,” I’ve shown those in the list as well. Interestingly, and even surprisingly, some of these are variants not published in any of the major sources and not found blazoned elsewhere on the internet.
The list currently stands at just over 6000 coats of arms, and it offers a computer searchable armory of the western counties, bringing into one place information gathered from several major standard sources.