Heraldry and medieval towns were very much linked as towns and cities used heraldic devices to express characteristics associated with them. Some heraldic shields show the story associated with that town – such as Colchester, Stepney and Bury St. Edmunds.
Towns with a strong link to abbeys or monasteries had heraldic shields that reflected this, many incorporating a mitre or cross.
London had a sword on its shield and this represented the sword that killed St. Paul, the patron saint of London. Stepney, to the east of the City, had two tongs on its shield along with a ship that indicated the importance of shipping to Stepney. The tongs were those used St. Dunstan to pinch the nose of the Devil.
The heraldic shield of Colchester had a rough cross on it with three crowns – one at the base of the cross with two either side of the horizontal branch of the cross. The crowns demonstrated the town’s loyalty to the monarchy while the cross was a reference to Helena, the daughter of Coel (who gave his name to Colchester), who discovered the cross of Christ while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Helena built a church in Jerusalem to preserve the cross and for this reason was effectively commemorated in the heraldic shield of Colchester.
Bury St. Edmunds heraldic shield had three crowns on it with two arrows going through each crown. The crowns represented the last king of the ancient kingdom of East Anglia – Edmund – while the arrows represented his death at the hands of the Danes when he refused to give up his Christianity.