Dressed Crab

After all of the gloom of murder and execution from the last blog, I thought I would look at something a little more light hearted for this entry.

The picture below shows the frontispiece from volume 1 of John Paul Rylands’ unpublished book “Rylands Notes”. This book, running to eight volumes, consists of transcriptions of large numbers of historical documents from across the country. Each document mentions a person with the name Rylands or a name similar to Rylands. Many of the records have been copied out by associates of John Paul’s who live near to the collections holding the original and then sent to John Paul to assess and copy into his book.

The reason I have chosen this image to talk about is not deep or intellectual, I just liked the crab at the bottom of the page. It looks somehow fat and jolly. There is, however, a bit more reason than that alone for me to post the image. After chuckling about the podgy crab balancing at the bottom of the page, I thought to myself ,“Why is there a crab there at all?” Out of all of the decorative images you could choose, why a crab?

The Rylands family have nothing in particular to do with the sea. Neither at Warrington, nor the place of the family’s origins in Westhoughton. Before wire-making and after farming, the family had, for a time, produced sailcloth, though not very successfully. Could this be the reason for the crab? The records in the volumes didn’t relate to that side of the family’s work, and sailcloth making actually had very little to do with the sea in any direct form, being made inland.

Perhaps the crab is a tasty treat? John Paul’s favoured food, or part of a recipe recorded in the book? Neither possibility was suggested by the contents of the volume.

A last possibility struck me… John Paul had two obsessions in life, genealogy and heraldry. Could the crab have some symbolism, or heraldic meaning?

There are no crabs in the Rylands coat of arms, and John Paul had noted and copied many, many variants of the family’s arms, so we can be pretty sure. But, with a little research, it turned out that the crab was part of the Bridger coat of arms and, as the frontispiece states, many of the records included within the volume were sent to John Paul by Charles Bridger. The crab it seems is a symbol of tenaciousness, once it locks its claws onto something, it doesn’t let go. Not a bad symbol for heraldic purposes, but rarely used.

So our jolly crab has a purpose, or should that be porpoise?








This article was originally posted on Friday, December 5th, 2014.