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What's in the Name?

Above: The White Cliffs of Dover

The Albion breed is one of he most recent cattle breeds, only begun in 1916 with the Blue Albion Cattle Society beginning in 1921, celebrating the centenary last year. We know that the original aim was to have a breed of blue roan cattle which is why they originally were called ‘Blue’ Albions but why did they settle on the name Albion? (They did not understand genetics at that stage, that when trying to breed roan cattle, there would also be white Albions as well as black ones arising, leading to nowadays, the society now being called simply ‘The Albion Cattle Society’.)

Most of us know of a pub called ‘The Albion’ and definitely a football team, plus many place and road names, in fact it’s important to add ‘cow’ or ‘cattle’ when ‘googling’ for Albion cattle..

Albion is an ancient, pre-Celtic word for Britain. Albus means white in latin, leading to the theory that the white cliffs of Dover & along the south coast, which explorers saw when sailing over from the ‘mainland’ gave rise to the name Albion.

Albion is also a poetical word and was used in mythical story of how Britain came to be. Albion was a giant son of Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea. Albion founded a country and ruled there and many giants descended from him which were later all killed by Brutus of Troy. (Albion himself was later killed by Hercules.)

The Dance of Albion by William Blake.

More likely, Albion descends from Albiorix, the name of a Gaulish god, probably meaning king of the land. The Celtic base of Albion , like in latin, seemed also to mean white. It probably denoted the world above ground, illuminated by the sun, as opposed to the dark underworld. This is what is believed to have given rise to the original celtic name of Albion for Britain.

When the romans took over, they called the country Britannia and after this Albion began to be used as place names with toponymic features including chalk and cliffs. Many of these places were along the coast in Sussex. Some ships

were called ‘The Albion’ which led some early pubs near the ports to be named after the ships; they were called The Albion and the original picture on the pub sign was a ship. Other pubs signs for the Albion depicted a knight with the red cross of St George on his shield, obviously thinking of the original name for Britain.

Brighton Hove Albion football team was an original football team to use ‘Albion’ and they are down on the Sussex coast on chalk downs, near white cliffs. However, so was West Bromich Albion; here the suffix was derived from an old foundry district where several members lived. This was either then copied by other teams that liked the name or they too felt that it was a good British word. Now there are at least 13 teams using the word Albion and this term has become customary in the established practices of the football industry.

So, the word Blue Albion could pose a juxtaposition; how could you have blue and white in the name when the original aim was to breed blue animals? But obviously what they meant was a truly British breed and if ‘Albion’ was named after the white cliffs of Dover, then it is really special that there is a herd of Albions within 4 miles of the cliffs! The Speckles herd of Albions and this is where this year’s herd visit is on 8th/9th October.


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Blue Albion Cattle; The History       (With kind permission of Mr A. Cheese.)

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