St Nicholas' & St Luke's Church Deptford

The Jolly Roger - A home grown flag of convinence?

The famous flag of piracy sent shivers down the spine of unfortunate mariners whenever they came across it.
But where did the flag originate? Legend has it that the flag was based on the skulls which still stand on the gate posts of St Nicholas' Church. Gatepost

For centuries an economic and maritime war existed over the domination of the trade routes between Europe and the Americas, Africa and the Indian sub-continent. This battle of supremacy was mostly contested by Britain, France, Spain and Holland. Much of the conflict was acted out by privateers - ships in private ownership and outside the Royal Navy - whose activities were not fully investigated by the national authorities. The British privateers did not necessarily want to broadcast their nationality when approaching say, a Spanish galleon returning from the Caribbean, particularly if they intended to loot her. So they invented a new flag, one intended to strike fear into the hearts of their victims and also to disguise their true nationality.

These ships were pirates, and many of them would have set off from Deptford - so hence the belief that they borrowed the skull and crossed bones image from their local church.

The sculpted skulls on the St Nick's Church gateposts are actually a symbol of everlasting life, the laurel leaves having ancient meaning - Perhaps the symbolism was lost on the victims of the pirates!

Page last updated: 3rd March 2012