Historian gives fascinating insight into history behind town's emblem

A historian has given a fascinating insight into the history behind a town’s emblem.

Friday, 9th October 2020, 2:41 pm
Updated Friday, 9th October 2020, 2:42 pm
Standish's emblem

The owl and rat symbol can be seen on several buildings as you walk round Standish, including on the old water tower at Prospect House, the Boar’s Head pub, and St Wilfrid’s Church on the top of the church spire.

In every sense it is the accepted symbol of the village and used today by both residents’ group Standish Voice and Standish Community High School.

But there is a mystery about this ancient heraldic symbol of the Standish family, as until the early 18th century the rat was quite clearly upright.

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The emblem

Standish Voice historian Stan Aspinall said: “When St Wilfrid’s Church was re-built in the 16th century, Ralph Standish was a major benefactor. His crest can be seen today on the ends of the pews in the Standish chapel and on the pulpit; the rat is quite clearly upright.

“Browsing the houses for sale in Standish I recently came across “a most desirable gentleman’s residence on the old Standish Estate, dating to the late 17th century”.

“One of the publicity photographs showed a stone owl and rat in the garden…the rat upright.

“However, since the early 1700s, every rat on the crest is on its back, up-ended, legs upright. What caused the change?”

The emblem

And Stan said there is “strong circumstantial evidence” to suggest Ralph Standish changed his family crest to reflect his own fallen circumstances.

He said that an event took place in 1715 which almost caused the family’s ruin, the loss of the family estates and the execution of Ralph Standish himself.

Stan believes, that, maybe, to mark his survival and that of his family he changed the family crest to signify his submission to the new Georgian Dynasty.

He said: “The evidence for this is a change in an ancient heraldic crest such as the owl and rat could only be achieved by a request from the head of the aristocratic family involved.

“It had to be authorised by the Herald’s Office in London.

“A letter in the Wigan Archives dated July 1725, written by Ralph Standish to his son (also called Ralph), in London, contains the sentence: “We have a little job to beg you to do at the Herald’s office for us before you leave town, if I can gather up the materials I will send them.”

The historian then delved into what the event could have been which almost ended the Standish family’s tenure in the village they had practically owned since the 1200s.

In November 1715, he sad that Ralph Standish led a contingent of volunteers and supporters to join the invading Jacobite army at Preston, intent on restoring the Stuart dynasty.

He said the timing couldn’t have been worse, as soon after their arrival two government armies under the joint command of General Wills, surrounded the town and engaged the rebels.

The Battle of Preston which followed resulted in the unconditional surrender of the entire Jacobite Army. Standish was amongst the 300 gentlemen prisoners escorted under armed guard to London to await trial for High Treason.

Stan said: “He ended up in Newgate prison and was incarcerated there for almost two years before being released under The Act of Grace in 1717: essentially a general pardon from the newly installed German King George I, for all the imprisoned Jacobite gentlemen.

“A direct and very humble petition to the King by Ralph asking for the restoration of his forfeited estates was successful (helped by his wife’s powerful family) and he rejoined his family and resumed his life, by then a much wiser man.

He added: “So, the changing of the crest may have been part of that plea for forgiveness - an act of supplication - from a man once accused of treason.

“Of these photos of the crest, two show the rat upright and two with the rat upturned.”