The Griffin’s Tale

THE DICTIONARY DEFINES A GRIFFIN (WITH A SMALL G) AS A MYTHICAL WINGED BEAST WITH AN EAGLE LIKE HEAD AND THE BODY OF A LION - FROM THE 14TH CENTURY OLD FRENCH, ‘GRIFON’

This fine creature below is the Griffin, and for more than a hundred years, the Griffin (with a capital G) has been Vauxhall’s proud symbol. This latest face is all new but the story of how it links with Vauxhall’s roots begins long, long ago……..

The journey to discover how the griffin came to symbolise Vauxhall takes us back to the 12th century, and the days of the Plantagenets.

In an age when strong branding could save your skin. Fulk Le Breant, an English knight, sported the griffin as his heraldic device. Fulk lived a colourful life, as a soldier of fortune for King John - famous for Magna Carta, but deeply unpopular in medieval England.

Fulk was made Sheriff of Oxford and Hertford, and was granted the Manor of Luton. He also married Lady Margaret de Redvers, a member of the rich and powerful Fitzgerald family. The marriage brought Fulk another large house and estate on what was then the outskirts of London, at Lambeth. And that house became known as Fulk’s Hall.

Fulk himself fled to France when Henry III succeeded King John, but the house survived. Its name evolved as Fawke’s Hall, then Fox Hall. In 1661 its grounds were opened as a private park, The New Spring Gardens, and the area became known as Vauxhall. Later still, it would become the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. Its emblem was still Fulk’s griffin.

Pepys and Thackeray wrote about it, Charles II, Nell Gwyn and the Prince Regent all visited, before it fell into decline in the 1800s.

Now leap to 1857, when Scottish engineer Alexander Wilson set up an ironworks nearby, making everything from refrigeration equipment to steam engines for pleasure boats - and even for fast Royal Navy boats for the Admiralty.

By 1894 the area was being swallowed up as London grew: but the Vauxhall Ironworks survived and in 1903 it built the first Vauxhall car. When it needed a badge, what could be better than the Griffin?

In 1907, Vauxhall the car maker moved north - to Fulk’s old estate, the Manor of Luton. The Griffin went with them to be the proud emblem of every Vauxhall vehicle ever since and still leads Vauxhall into the future.

(With kind permission of Vauxhall “V” magazine)