Down a side street in the corner of a shabby entrance to a car park can be found a grand coat of arms. What’s that doing here?
The car park is owned by Westminster City Council, but the coat of arms is the one used before 1965 when it was the Metropolitan Borough of Westminster.
The arms of Westminster represent two monarchs, closely associated with the City. Edward the Confessor, who rebuilt Westminster Abbey, and Henry VII, who added a chapel, within the Abbey.
The portcullis and rose emblems are derived from the Tudor dynasty, from which Westminster first achieved its status.
Although the portcullis is most commonly associated with Parliament as it’s their primary symbol, it was actually the badge of John Beaufort, Marquess of Dorset and Somerset, who was subsequently adopted by his great-grandson, Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) whose mother was Lady Margaret Beaufort.
As Tudor monarchs, the Henry’s adopted their family badge for their government, and used the badge extensively, not just in Westminster but also in places such as King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.
While ancient, the device only came into common use following the rebuilding of Parliament following the 1834 fire, and even then they only started using the badge as it’s own brand icon extensively in the 1960s, and only formally approved by the College of Arms in 1996. A reminder that what looks like an ancient tradition can sometimes be very modern.
One difference is that Parliament has a crown above its portcullis to signify a Royal Palace, whereas the City of Westminster does not.
The supporting lions on the Coat of Arms are adopted from the Cecil family, who have had a long association with the borough. The arms were first granted in 1601.
The motto Custodi Civitatem Domine, is translated as O Lord, watch over the City.
The Coat of Arms was changed in 1965 when the merged City of Westminster was created from Westminster, Paddington and Marylebone, and as the car park was built in the early 1960s, this could well be the last time it was used in this scale on a municipal building.
The car park that the coat of arms can be found in sits next to a cinema, and above is a block of residential flats known as Huguenot House.
There are plans to redevelop the site – replacing the upside-down T shape structure with a larger block, which would include offices as well as flats. The cinema and car park would be retained but as rebuilt structures.
It’s possible that the replacement car park will still have the Coat of Arms by its entrance, but maybe not – so if you want to see this relic of local authority power, now’s the time to visit.