The origin of the Vauxhall Griffin

Conversations abut both mythical creatures and cars are a common thing in my house, and I expect quite normal in many places with a four year old. My son likes to point the emblem on the centre of my steering wheel and remind me that it is a jaguar, and also to suggest that I get a car with a prancing horse. Recently, he spotted a car and asked why there was a picture of a dragon or a griffin on it. It was, of course, a Vauxhall, and the story of the Vauxhall Griffin is a much older tale than you might expect.

Sir Falkes de Breauté was a Norman knight who died in 1226, after what was an extraordinary life. He was born either as a commoner or as the illegitimate son of a knight, and his early life is not clear. By 1206, he was in the service of the king, and was sent to France by King John. In early 1207 he was sent to Wales as warden of Glamorgan, and then as constable of Carmarthen, Cardigan and the Gower Peninsula. He was knighted around the same time.

The First Barons’ War – effectively, an English Civil War – started in 1215, and Sir Falkes de Breauté served as King John’s steward. He fought in a number of battles through the war, and was given Bedford Castle after capturing it, and his marriage to Margaret the daughter of the royal chamberlain saw him gaining the Isle of Wight as a dowry, as well as some land near London, which is relevant later in the story. When the king died in 1216, Sir Falkes de Breauté was the executor of the king’s will.

He continued to serve the new king, Henry III, and continued leading armies through the First Barons’ War. He played an important role in the Second Battle of Lincoln – also known as the Battle of Lincoln Fair – which was pivotal in the war.

The aftermath of the war saw various nobelmen trying to settle scores, and to gain advantage in the new hierarchy, with Hubert de Burgh, the first Earl of Kent, taking the ascendancy. de Breauté, along with the Count of Aumale and the earls of Chester and Gloucester attempted to seize the Tower of London, causing the king and de Burgh to flee the city. A peace was agreed, and Sir Falkes de Breauté forfeited much of his land and possessions. He went to exile in France, and after a series of adventures there, ended up in Rome, where he died, rumoured to be after eating a poisoned fish.

So, what does that story have to do with Vauxhall? Among the land and possessions of Sir Falkes de Breauté was a home near London – that had originally belonged to his wife, Margaret – known as Fawkes Hall, and the area around it took the name, which became Foxhall and eventually Vauxhall. The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens may be the origin of the Russian word вокзал – Voksal – which originally meant a pleasure garden but now means a main railway station.

In 1857, Alexander Wilson opened Alex Wilson and Company on the Wandsworth Road in the area, which was renamed the Vauxhall Iron Works in 1897. In 1903, the company’s output moved from marine engines and pumps to include their first car, and as the company grew, they moved to Luton in 1905. As the motor industry took off, Vauxhall Iron Works became Vauxhall Motors in 1907.

When the company were looking for a logo, they decided to use something that was related to their local environs, and chose the heraldic symbol of Sir Falkes de Breauté, the griffin. This remarkable Norman’s legacy continues.