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The College of Arms

January 14, 2011 1 comment

The College of Arms sits on an island between Dickensian and post-Blitz inner London, stuffed between St Paul’s and the stiff thick Thames. They keep heraldic beasts chained in threes in the capacious undercellars, and an army of wardens, former Thames Boatmen and equerries to the Chief Freemason to a man, feed them on mythical cuts of raw meat. From there Roman catacombs run in all directions to everyplace a Chief Somerset Pursuivant might be required: Buck House, St Stephen’s College in the Palace of Westminster, Traitor’s Gate, Wong Kai’s Soho Noodle House. The wardens occupy private apartments within the handsome, brick-built seventeenth-century house; but upstairs are the offices of the heralds themselves, behind doors marked ‘Private’ sit tight, fusty men, sharp and procedural. The speak only Blazon, an ancient dialect formed solely of heraldic terminology: have you a beast azure in a bend or tinged with argent and three ermines means, can I borrow some sugar for the tea, if it’s not too much trouble. At night comes the Taming of the Coats, when new arms, the gold leaf drying on the parchment, emerge from the Design Rooms in the garret and meat the beasts themselves, to parade a lobster garotte in the courtyard without. Some of this is true.