One of the items on the agenda of the first meeting of Kettering Town Council was a new coat of arms. As a new council, the previous coat of arms for Kettering Borough Council could not be used.
One of the proposals was that the coat of arms designed in 1938 for previous District of Kettering should be used: a shield displaying various symbols relating to the town, such as a hide linking with the shoemaking industry; and two figures, or supporters, by its side. These were a griffin, representing the Montagu family of Boughton, and a freed slave representing the work of William Knibb to end slavery.
The College of Arms, which has to approve heraldic matters such as this, gave the view that it was unusual for town councils to have supporters in addition to a shield.
Although many people felt that it was important that the work of William Knibb was recognised, there were objections to the way the slave was depicted: the figure was an outdated image that was offensive to people of colour.
The Kettering Black Lives Matter group had commented last year that ‘the coat of arms includes as a supporter the figure of a black man in a loincloth with a broken chain around him, symbolising the fight against slavery of William Knibb. Whilst in 1938, the depiction of a freed black slave in this way may have been appropriate, it is not in 2020 as it reinforces an old fashioned depiction of black people with an imperialistic tone.’
Kettering Constituency Labour Party’s BAME Officer, Kyle Patel said that whilst he recognised that William Knibb ‘is an icon for Kettering and the work he did for the abolition of slavery’, the image represented the colonial past and not the present or future. Kettering Constituency Labour Party supported that view, as did the Kettering Town Council Labour Group, whilst acknowledging that it would have been better to have carried out further consultation on the issue.
At the Town Council meeting, a young woman, a member of the Kettering Black Lives Matter group, born in Jamaica and brought up in Kettering, said that we should be looking forward and not back, and that she would not feel comfortable explaining to her child why there is a picture of a black man in chains on Kettering’s coat of arms in 2021.
The Council was faced with a number of options, the most expensive of which was to redesign the whole coat of arms. Another was to use the coat of arms as it was, but an all party decision was to retain only the shield, excluding both of the supporters.