These days businesses and organisations can pay a small fortune to marketing firms to design their brand.

But fifty years ago this month, when St Helens Council showcased its revamped coat of arms, it was revealed that one of their own councillors had knocked up their new logo in his spare time!

The local government reorganisation planned for April 1974 meant that St Helens would be expanding its borders. And so Councillor Gerald Parr was given the task of incorporating representations of the newly acquired areas into the original century-old crest.

The 44-year-old company director from Dilloway Street in St Helens told the media: "I had training in graphic design and I've been interested in heraldry for a long time. When the question of a coat-of-arms came up there was a sort of understanding I should do it."

St Helens Star: Shield as shown on a heraldic postcard c. 1920Shield as shown on a heraldic postcard c. 1920 (Image: Shield as shown on a heraldic postcard c. 1920)

And so Cllr Parr spent three months researching and drawing the new design. Its existing shield bore the red diagonal cross of the Gerard family. Although Cllr Parr chose to retain the cross – along with the horizontal blue bands of the Parrs – it now represented Ashton.

But amongst the additions a ram at the top represented Newton and a black cross on the silver shield symbolised both Haydock and Eccleston. On the shield's bottom left-hand corner was placed the red cross of the Pilkingtons to represent Windle and on the bottom right hand corner was the red crosslet of Billinge.

Cllr Parr was commended for his work by the College of Arms, the country's official heraldic authority, who approved the design upon some changes being made. These included giving more prominence to Lancashire's golden lion and the addition of the black griffin representing Bold, Rainhill and Whiston.

What would in time prove more controversial, however, was the replacement of the Latin motto 'Ex Terra Lucem' (meaning "from the earth light") with 'Prosperitas in Excelcis' ("flourishing well").

St Helens Star: (Credit: St Helens Borough Council)(Credit: St Helens Borough Council) (Image: (Credit: St Helens Borough Council))

That was the existing motto of Rainford Urban District Council, which in the local government reorganisation was going to be abolished.

Ex Terra Lucem had been a controversial choice itself when in December 1875 St Helens Town Council first approved it.

Originally 'Adjurante Deolabore Proficimus' ("with the assistance of God, we have prospered by labour") was proposed – but Richard Pilkington suggested Ex Terra Lucem instead. That he argued was more appropriate for St Helens because the town's material wealth depended largely on its coal.

However, some councillors were opposed to the slogan and the St Helens Newspaper was also unimpressed, accusing the council of "dabbling in lame Latin mottoes".

The paper was particularly concerned about the interpretation of Ex Terra Lucem, writing: "It would appear that the majority of the members, whilst talking and voting about light, fulfilled in their own persons the words of Job: ‘They shall grope in the dark, and not in the light’.

St Helens Star: The coat of arms on St Helens Town HallThe coat of arms on St Helens Town Hall (Image: The coat of arms on St Helens Town Hall)

Should the motto Ex terra lucem ever be allowed to figure on the arms of our Borough, we fear much that those who pass by the way will wag their heads, and conclude that if our lucem be no brighter or clearer than our Latin, our lucem is of a dim and dubious character."

Prosperitas in Excelcis lasted as the town's motto from 1974 until 2013 when Ex Terra Lucem made a comeback. That was after its prominence in the 2012 London Olympic Games, courtesy of Rainhill-born Frank Cottrell Boyce who'd written the opening ceremony. A campaign to restore the slogan followed and the council eventually consented to the switch.

Then in June 2020 St Helens Council launched a rebrand of its coat of arms in what they described as an attempt to "strengthen ties with the distinct towns and villages across the borough" – although the historic crest depicting the borough's constituent parts remained essentially unchanged.

Stephen Wainwright's new book 'The Hidden History Of St Helens Volume 3' is available from the St Helens Book Stop and the World of Glass. Also online with free delivery from eBay and Amazon. Price £12. Vols 1 and 2 are also still available.