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Manchester City Council’s coat of arms were granted to the borough of Manchester in 1842. The arms were described thusly:

Arms : Gules three Bendlets enhanced Or a Chief Argent thereon on Waves of the Sea a Ship under sail proper.
Crest : On a Wreath of the Colours a Terrestrial Globe semee of Bees volant all proper.
Supporters : On the dexter side a Heraldic Antelope Argent attired collared and chain reflexed over the back Or and on the sinister side a Lion guardant Or murally crowned Gules each charged on the shoulder with a Rose of the last.
Motto : Concilio et Labore

At the time, the industrial revolution was in full swing and the bee is an ancient symbol of industry, appearing on a number of coat of arms over the years – it is in fact the most common insect to appear on coat of arms. Their placement on a globe highlighted Manchester’s global links at the time. “Semee” translates as sprinkled or strewn, “volant” is french for flying and “all proper” means with in flight with wings aspread.

So far, I’ve been unable to discover the exact reason why seven are depicted. My presumption is that they represent the seven continents, but as the number seven has a number of symbolic features, I might well be incorrect. In recent years, a single bee has been depicted on the globe.

Other design elements include references to Lancashire, primarily the red rose and antelope and lion, which are taken from the coat of arms of King Henry IV. The main shield is taken from the coat of arms of the Grelley family, who were medieval lords of the manor of Manchester. The three stripes are symbolic of the holy trinity. The boat just above them represents trade links with the world, and the motto underneath, Concilio et Labore can be translated as “By wisdom and effort” and comes from Chapter 37, Sentence 16 of the Book of Ecclesiasticus.

The coat of arms can be found adorning exterior and interior of buildings across the city centre, either in full, or broken into elements as displays of civic pride. I recommend having a look at the Map to see the extent of its use.

Interestingly, usage of the Manchester coat of arms sparked an unusual court case in 1954. Her Majesty’s High Court of Chivalry has jurisdiction over matters of heraldry and has been in existence since the fourteenth century. The last time the court convened was to assess the case of Manchester Corporation v Manchester Palace of Varieties Ltd over use of the Manchester coat of arms. What was unusual was that the court itself had not sat for 200 years and had to first rule whether it actually still existed.

The court proceedings were regarding the Palace Theatre’s use of the coat of arms both inside the building and on its seal. The council felt that this implied a link which did not exist and requested that the theatre stop using the arms, which the theatre refused. In the end, the court ruled in favour of the Corporation.


  1. S

    We always understood the three lines are the three rivers – Irk, Irwell and Medlock.
    Maybe the 7 bees were something to do with old boroughs or mill owners who were councillors?

  2. garethhacking

    I found the following research on Manchester City Council’s website:

    “We can trace our heraldic routes back to the 13th century with the Lord of the Manor of Manchester Roger de Grelley. In 1301, when the city was granted its first charter that gave its townspeople certain rights and privileges, the feudal lords, the de Grelley family simply applied their own shield. This shield is described as ‘Gules three bendlets enhanced or’, which simply translates as ‘on a red shield three diagonal stripes in gold’. Heraldry allows interpretation and so many variations of this can be found. A popular myth is that the three Bendlets or stripes represent the three rivers, but no historical evidence supports this view.”

    Also, there’s four Manchester rivers: there’s the Tib as well.


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