ELEPHANTS have, for longer than most of us can remember, been associated with Bolton but why they are has not always been clear.

We asked in a recent Looking Back for help in solving this mystery and it was lovely to hear the views of our readers and also local experts.

Many of us can recall the colourful elephants being on display in Newport Street.

If you study further you will find the elephant, with a castle, is on the Bolton coat of arms.

In fact according to one reader, Juliette Bradbury, there are elephants all over Bolton town centre “if you know where to look” and have featured in the coat of arms of the various Bolton councils since 1799.

Juliette says she believes there is no definitive answer as to why Bolton chose elephants.

“I have read that an elephant was seen as a symbol of strength and of Christ’s redemption for the human race. The Bolton elephant has towers on its back to show how strong it is.

"The symbol of the elephant has been used in Bolton for a long time and one of the first recorded uses was in the official stamp of the Clerk to the Board of Trustees in 1799. The Trustees of Great Bolton adopted an elephant and castle as the town’s emblem long before the incorporation of the borough in 1838.

“Many theories have been put forward.”

The story of the elephants can be read on a plaque close to the Octagon Theatre.

Juliette has investigated the mystery of Bolton’s elephants and discovered they are not only on the town’s shield but in other spots around the town.

As they feature on the coat of arms they are an integral part of the town hall.

There is one on the outside in the sculpture above the ceremonial entrance at the front of the town hall on the shield held by the central figures, she explains.

The majority of the elephants inside are fixtures but some are on items such as chairs in the banqueting hall and on the mayoral insignia, including chains and badges.

There are elephants in various halls and rooms in the town hall, explains Juliette.

Steven Hartshorne, the Information and Enquiry Services Officer at Bolton Library, says there is some circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Great Bolton Improvement Trustees used the elephant as a heraldic device in the 1790s but there is no documentary proof to back this up.

“However, we do know that by the 1820s the Elephant and Castle was regarded semi-officially as the local emblem.

“In 1818 the Great Bolton Gas Light Company adopted it as an official stamp and seal and it also appears as “The Arms of Bolton” on a map of the town in 1824.

“The Council of the Borough of Bolton, incorporated in 1838, chose the Elephant and Castle as its official seal and stamp and included it on coats of arms.

“In 1890 the County Borough of Bolton registered a new coat of arms with the College of Heralds.

“Its designer, Major Ottley Perry, used the Elephant and Castle as a crest citing the rather spurious reason that it was derived from the arms of the City of Coventry and that Bolton was, at one time, part of the Diocese of Coventry and Lichfield.”

Elephant mystery in the town — can you solve it?

He says there are, however, three slightly more likely theories including the fact the emblem was taken from 18th or early 19th century cloth bolt stamps used by a local textile manufacturer to signify trade with Africa and the Indies. A second theory is that the emblem was taken from cloth bolt stamps of the same period which were used to designate the strength and quality of the cloth.

The third theory, he says, is that it was pun on the word “Moors”. “The former name of the town was Bolton-le-Moors. Moors was also the word to describe people from North Africa hence Africa, and elephants. “The elephants would represent the Moors and the castle would be the town itself.”

See next week’s Looking Back for more on the famous Bolton elephants.