Is it a Gryphon, a Dog or a Lion? . . . it’s a Lion!

Questions which I’m sure nearly all Sunbeamers have been asked at some stage by an admirer of the badge adorning the bonnet of their pride and joy.

I was lured into delving into the heraldry section of our local library by an article which recently appeared in one of our sister Sunbeam Club magazines. The article flatly stated that the animal depicted was a dog — specifically a talbot (an extinct, large-eared, whitish hound). Warning bells sounded — it certainly doesn’t look like a dog, especially on older, pre-Rootes, Talbot badges which were less stylised. My excursion to the library easily and quickly established that it is feline, not canine. It’s a lion. But lets go back to the turn of the century...

The premier Earl of England, the Earl of Shrewsbury and Talbot, was at the time friendly with a Mr Weigel who was the representative for Clément cars in England. In October 1902 the two formed a company, Clément Talbot Ltd, to import and assemble the Clément in Britain. The first car emerged from the factory in Ludbrook Grove in 1904. Initially they were known as Cléments and then Clément-Talbots. Within a few years however the French connection had been dropped and the name Talbot emerged as a marque in its own right.logo

The emblem of those early Talbot cars was much as we now know it... an heraldic crest of the Talbot family which can be clearly seen on the coat-of-arms shown below. The coronet signifies the rank of Earl, as does the chapeau, or ceremonial cap, on which the lion appears to stand.

Eventually, after overtures from Darracq, and after the loss of his only son on the Western Front, the Earl lost interest and sold the company. Not long afterwards, in 1919, came the merger with the Sunbeam marque from which the STD combine was conceived.

By the mid-’thirties STD’s fortunes were at a very low ebb and the receivers were called in. The Rootes brothers stepped in and procured the Sunbeam trolley-bus business in late 1934; followed by Clement Talbot in January 1935 and the rest of Sunbeam in July 1935. Rootes merged Sunbeam and Talbot. The new company, Sunbeam-Talbot (Sunbeam after the mid-’fifties), continued to use the Talbot family crest, which we are all so familiar with, as their company emblem.

The Earl’s armorial bearings (or coat-of-arms) shows clearly that the two supporters standing on each side of the shield are talbot hounds. However the crest, from which the Talbot, Sunbeam-Talbot and Sunbeam emblems are derived, is of a “Lion statant tail extended”.
I rest my case...

Perhaps this very condensed slice of history will help when an onlooker next ponders on the significance, or the species, of the animal on your car’s badge.

Supplied by Sid Mosdell, June 1995

“The Motor Men" Peter King
“A Complete Guide to Heraldry" A.C. Fox-Davies
“Oxford Guide to Heraldry” Woodcock and Robinson
“Heraldry — Customs, Rules and Styles” Carl-Alexander von Volborth