At Mallards, we always enjoy the challenge of turning a real British icon into an item of bespoke jewellery. This time, we were asked to create an attractive portcullis charm for the Houses of Parliament shop.
The portcullis is the distinctive “gateway” emblem used for official House of Commons business. “Portcullis” comes from the French porte coulissante which means “sliding door”. A portcullis is a medieval security gate, found mainly in castles. These vertically-closing gates were designed to rapidly close off the building against unwelcome invaders. The portcullis would have been operated by winched ropes or chains, and slid down grooves in the building’s walls, safely separating those inside the castle from the intruders. Because of this, the portcullis came to represent strength, safety, and protection.
The portcullis was the heraldic badge of the House of Beaufort, descendants of John of Gaunt and ancestors of the Tudors. Because of its associations with security, it was a powerful image, and Tudor monarch Henry VII used it as one of his emblems. The portcullis appears in the highly decorated Lady Chapel in Westminster Abbey (which Henry commissioned). When the Palace of Westminster was rebuilt after a fire in 1512, the portcullis again featured widely in the décor. During the Tudor period, the Palace began to be used for Parliament rather than the Court, and this was the start of its association with government.
The Palace of Westminster was rebuilt in the nineteenth century. Architect Sir Charles Barry was very taken with the portcullis motif from the old building, even using it as his signature on architectural plans. The new Palace interiors were designed by Augustus Pugin, who used it extensively – even in wallpaper patterns!
Because the portcullis appears so many times in the architectural details of the Palace, it eventually became the symbol of British Parliament. In 1967, it began to be formally used for House of Commons stationery. It now appears on everything to do with the House of Commons, right down to the refectory cutlery.
There have been many variations on the basic design, the most notable being whether it has a crown or not. Sometimes the chains hang straight down, and sometimes they’re in the “flying” position (the Custom and Excise emblem has flying chains). Over the years, the amount of latticed bars has also varied. The official House of Commons emblem has is a crowned portcullis with straight chains, and five vertical bars.
The team at the Houses of Parliament shop approached Mallards to create a sterling silver portcullis charm. Use of the portcullis emblem is strictly regulated, so we worked closely with the House of Commons shop to make sure that every detail was accurate and approved.
We’ve faithfully replicated the official emblem, so our portcullis charm has five vertical bars and four horizontal ones, with a rivet at each join. The vertical bars end in fearsome spikes, in true medieval style! The chains are straight, and the portcullis is topped with a crown (a handy place to fix the pendant’s link). It can be worn as a pendant, or attached to a charm bracelet and can be bought online. Appropriately for this most British of symbols, every stage of the charm’s creation took place in the UK.
Do you have an emblem or architectural detail that you’d like made into a bespoke souvenir? To find out how we can do this, please contact us at Mallards.