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The Story on the TWO different Coats of Arms

First Visitation

Transcribed from: 


Heraldic Visitations were tours of inspection undertaken by Kings of Arms in England, Wales and Ireland in order to regulate and register the coats of arms of nobility and gentry and boroughs, and to record pedigrees. They took place from 1530 to 1688, and their records provide important source material for genealogists.


By 1530 the English civil war was over and William Gilpin had lost Kentmere Hall, Kendal parish, Westmoreland, England and had disappeared to places unknown. The remaining Non-heir family, the Gilpin family of Scaleby Castle, was the Gilpin family who was recorded in the first visitation. This COA has become known as Richard the Rider's (Richard deGylpyn) Coat of Arms, but it was not.  Richard's COA has an Oak tree in it, as shown by  Bernard Gilpin's Tomb and the entrance hall to Levans hall.


First visitation record provided by Elizabeth Howard my English Friend..


The First Visitation - at Scaleby Castle


See article on use and abuse of COAs:


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First let me explain...The Arms on the left is copied from a picture Jonathan Gilpin on the Gilpin forum board added as a response to my posting about the article here. You can see the original at

It is on the outside wall of Houghton Le Spring Church, he did not name the town/county in England...Add in : Both Jill and Peter from the Westmorland mailing list wrote and told me where this church is...they added Houghton-le-Spring is a small town in County Durham about 10 miles north east of Durham Town itself, and about 5 miles from the east coast of England. Bernard Gilpin, whose uncle was Bishop of Durham, set up his free school there.... Nelda


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 This is a newspaper article dated 1929


Old Legends of the Wild Boar.


 There has recently been some correspondence as to the correct arms to be ascribed to the ancient family of Gilpin of Kentmere.  In this article it is proposed to give the gist of the old legends explaining the origin of the wild-boar, which, it is universally agreed, is the chief charge on the escutcheon and to give the writer’s grounds for believing that the wild-boar pure and simple, as generally shown nowadays, is scarcely a complete representation of what the old Gilpins regarded as their true coat.  Much might be said as to similar legends and arms, particularly in the case of the Scottish family of Gordon, but that must await another opportunity. 

Two brothers, Walcheln and Josceln De Gulespin, or De Gylpin, according to the old family tradition, took their surname from a place in Normandy, and of course came over with William the Conqueror in 1066.  A descendant of one or other of them, Richard De Gylpin, in the reign of King John (1199-1216) slew a ferocious wild-boar which infested the forest between Kendal and Windermere, having its den in the neighbourhood of the well known as Scout Scar. 

We are told that the inhabitants were never safe from its attacks, and that pilgrims from Kendal to the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin, on St.Mary’s Island in Windermere, shuddered with fear, for tales of the monster’s malignant aspect and unwonted ferocity were circulated far and wide.  Worsworth mentions in his “Guide to the Lakes” that in his time there were still to be seen the ruins of the Holy Cross at Plumgarths, and it was here doubtless that travellers and pilgrims from Kendal to Windermere paid their devotions before entering upon their perilous journey through Crook and over Cleabarrow. 

At last a true and valiant champion, the before-mentioned Richard, determined to free his neighbourhood from the pest, and went out to attack the savage monster.  He tracked it through the thickness of the forest, and at last found and slew it, after a terrible fight, near to the present site of the well-known Wild Boar Inn, on the banks of the little stream, ever since known as the Gilpin, which, rising as a bubbling spring on the side of the hill named Grandsire, half a mile to the east of School Knot, Windermere, passes Outrun Nook (Toove o’ th’ Torne in 1600, and Toutern Nook in 1800), Gilpin Bridge, Crook Foot, Starnthwaite, Crosthwaite Green and Lyth, till it joins the estuary of the Kent near Poulshaw. 

Gilpin, it is said, after this exploit, took as his arms “Or a Sanglier Sable passant, armed and tusked Gules”: in other words a golden shield on which a black wild-boar is pictured as walking, its hoofs and tusks being red.  

Farish, a Hawshead schoolboy, and afterwards a clergyman in Carlisle, in his “Minstrels of Windermere” (1811)- a perfect storehouse of South Lakeland folklore, tradition, and legend-albeit quite hopeless as poetry-finishes his account of the combat thus:- (2009 - I now have the entire book the poem is just a section . It is oddly written as if it were a play. ..nlp)

“De Gylpin having killed the boar

A pine-brand o’er his helmet wields;

A Sanglier in a field of OR

Armed and tusked Gules adorned his shields.”


George Carlton, Bishop of Chichester (1619-1628), who wrote a life of his relative the famous Bernard Gilpin, says that Richard Gilpin “slew a wild boar raging in the neighbouring mountains like the boar of Erymanthus, brought great damage upon the country people, and was as a reward for his services given the manor of Kentmere by the then Baron of Kendal.”  This however was not so, for although the Gilpins were owners of Kentmere Hall and its appurtenances, they were never lords of that manor.

So stands the usual tradition.  But there is another story not quite so dramatic. It is to be found in Marshall General Platagenet-Harrison’s “History of Yorkshire” vol 1., where there is a pedigree of the family of Gilpin of Sedbury, a branch of the Kentmere clan. 

Here the original Richard de Gilpyn is described as “hogbird to Sir William de Strikland, knight, who gave him a cottage and four acres of land in Strikland Ketell before 24 Henry 111 (1240) for some special service which, according to tradition, had reference to a pig, which his descendants afterwards adopted as their ensign or arms.

Now it is quite certain that there were Gilpins who held property in Stickland Ketel.  The Sizergh Stricklands also were land-owners in the same township, but were never lords of the manor.  Their name was not derived from this Strickland, but from Great Strickland in the ancient parish of Morland, North Westmorland.  The marriage of Elizabeth Deincourt, heiress of Sizergh, with William Strickland (through which he and his family came into possession of Sizergh) took place in 1239. 

So 1240 was rather early for him to be giving away his father-in-law’s property.  But the whole of the latter part of the gallant Marshall-General’s version of the Gilpin pedigree is a mass of absurd nonsense.  Students of his pedigree of the Washingtons of Warton will fully appreciate the value of any unsupported statement of Plantagenet-Harrison’s, and will wholly disregard his Gilpin efforts. 

From all this traditional lore it would therefore appear that the black boar on a golden shield, as shown on the Bernard Gilpin memorial brass in Kentmere Church, is the correct rendering of the family arms.  But archaeologists who are not always contented with what they read in books, and who like to investigate for themselves, know better.


In or about 1489 the Redman family, who had owned Levens Hall for three hundred years, sold that property to Alan Bellingham of Burneside.  Alan’s wife was Elizabeth Gilpin, daughter of William Gilpin of Kentmere Hall. 

This marriage is commemorated in the entrance hall at Levens by an impalement of the Gilpin arms, “a wild boar leaning against a tree,” to use the words of Nicolson and Burn; apparently quoting from Machel, who visited Levens in 1692.  And so it remains to this day amongst a perfect blaze of heraldry; and in quite recent years the very same words have been used to describe the Gilpin half of the shield.  But the boar is not exactly “leaning” against a tree.  It is doing anything but leaning. 

In the Bellingham Chapel of Kendal Parish Church is an altar-tomb of the Bellinghams which was restored about the middle of last century, and some of the matrices were re-filled with new copies of escutcheons which had been destroyed or stolen.  The Gilpin arms are amongst the restored ones, and are just as at Levens. 

Some one in 1850 evidently knew that the boar pure and simple was not the correct arms of the old Gilpins.  The Reverend Bernard Gilpin, “the Apostle of the North,” was born at Kentmere Hall in 1517, and died as Rector of Houghton-le-Spring in the Bishopric of Durham in 1583.  In that church there is a noble altar-tomb to his memory.  On this tomb there is a very finely carved escutcheon of the Gilpin arms, showing as the principal bearings a tree and a boar.  The whole attitude of the animal shows very distinctly that it is rubbing its right shoulder against the trunk of the tree, and so vigorously is it doing this, that the tree is more than half “eradicated”, that is, torn up by the roots.  On the left flank of the boar is a small crescent “for difference” as a younger son.  According to Nicolson and Burn, Bernard was the fourth son, so the crescent tends to show that the two brothers between him and his eldest brother had pre-deceased him.

The reader may very reasonably ask the meaning of all this.  From the very earliest ages there has been a traditional belief that the wild-boar, before entering a fight, was in the habit of rubbing his sides against trees in order to thicken the skin and render it less liable to fatal wounds.  In Aristotle’s “History of Animals” we read:- “About this season the wild boars make wonderful fights against one another, preparing themselves for battle, and purposely making their skins as hard as possible by rubbing against trees.”  (  Virgil (Georgics 111.,255 ff.) writes:-

“Ipse ruit dentesque Sabellicus exacuit sus Et pede prosubigit terram, fricat arbore costas

Atque hinc, atque illinc, humeros ad vulnera durat.”

(“Even the Sabellian boar rushes and whets his tusks, and with his feet tears up the ground, rubs his flanks against a tree, and on this side and that, hardens his shoulders to wounds.”)


Ovid (Metamorphoses) mentions the whetting of the tusks; and it is noticeable that the famous Twentieth Legion, which had so much to do with the North of England, had a wild-boar as its ensign.  At Chesters and Chesterholm on the Roman Wall there are altars showing the boar; and at Lanercost there is one on which a boar is represented as rushing towards a tree. 

The old heraldic writers are very insistent on the point.  Gerald Legh, who published his “Accertens of Armory” in 1562, says:- “The Boar is the right esquire for he beareth both armor and shield and fighteth sternely.  When he determineth to fight he will trot his lefte shielde the space of half a day against an Oke, because that when he is stricken thereon with the tuskes of his enemy he shall fell no griefe thereof.”  Aaron Crossley (“Signification of Heraldry” 1728) says:- “The Boar though he wanteth horns is in no way defective in his armour.  He is counted the absolute champion among beasts for that he hath both weapons to wound his foe, which are his strong and sharp tusks, and also his target to defend himself; for which he useth often to rub his shoulders and sides against Trees, thereby to harden them against the Streak of his Adversary.”  In reference to the “Target” or shield it is interesting to see that Darwin (“Descent of Man”) has something to say on the matter:-

“Although wild-boars fight desperately, they seldom, according to Brehm, receive fatal wounds, as the blows fall on each others’ tusks, or on the layer of gristly skin covering the shoulder, called by the German hunters, the shield.”  A somewhat similar idea about the wild-boar is found among the Chinese and Japanese.  In reply to an enquiry by the present writer, Mr.K.Minukata, the famous Japanese antiquarian, sent one of two quotes from old native writers of the eighteenth century. 

The first is as follows:- “In the gloomy dales occur the mighty tracks of the wild-boar; along these one observes big pine-trees disbarked by friction, and spots of fresh earth turned up by whom unknown.  The true explanation is that the wild-boar daubs its body with the resin which oozes from the pines, and then rolls in the soil to harden its skin.” 

This is from a Japanese writer; a Chinese author writes to the effect that the boar gathers the resin from the trees and then rolls in sand or mud, so besmearing its body with the mixture. 

From all this it is clear that the coat of arms in Kentmere Church is defective in respect of the tree.  It would be quite easy to rectify this omission, and it’s to be hoped that the necessary steps in this direction will be taken at the earliest opportunity.

One of the letters asked what Bernard Gilpin’s arms were.  Somebody replied giving the arms of the Scaleby Castle Gilpins.  But that was no answer to the question, for those Gilpins belonged to a younger and much later branch of the family.  Those very worthy, but quite unromantic people having, no doubt, seen a domestic pig rubbing itself against a tree or post, and mistakenly thinking the wild-boar used to do the same thing for the same reason, felt somewhat ashamed of the old arms.  So they removed the tree from their shield, and at the same time also removed the whole of the interest and romance associated with the old and genuine coat of their ancestors.

H. F. Wilson.

This article was donated to the site by Peter Cowles of England on 13 April 2003, with the permission of the Westmorland Gazette.

Peter's email to me... 

Hi Nelda.

Good news. I have got an e-mail from the newspaper giving permission to include the article on your website.

It could be some time before I get the scanner working, but I re-typed the article into a file. It is quite long, but I am enclosing it as an attachment.

The only thing the newspaper asks is that you put "With permission from the Westmorland Gazette" with anything you use from the article.

They would also like to see the website once you have incorporated the article. I will keep checking, but I am going on holiday to Portugal on Thursday 15th for 1 week.

Best regards,


Leslie Gilpin Brown - COA
Pictures of Arms