Walter Verco

Walter Verco

Sir Walter John George Verco, KCVO (1907–2001) was a long-serving officer of arms who served in many capacities at the College of Arms in London. From humble beginnings, Verco rose high in his profession in the 1950s and 1960s by making himself indispensable to Sir George Bellew, then Garter Principal King of Arms. Heraldic pundits liked to say that Verco assumed the habits of speech and dress of his mentor, even copying the angle at which Bellew wore his bowler hat. Yet while Verco had no great pretensions to scholarship himself, he acquired an unrivaled knowledge of the precedents and procedures relating to its work.

Early and private life

Walter John George Verco was born in London on 18 January 1907. He was educated at Tollington Park Central School in north London, an area in which he was to spend most of his life. While still at school, he was sent one day to the College of Arms with an inquiry. There he met Bellew, then Portcullis Pursuivant of Arms, and impressed him. As a result, he started work at the college as a clerk in 1924. He remained there until the outbreak of World War II in 1939, having gained valuable experience on the Earl Marshal's staff at the state funeral of King George V in 1936 and the coronation of King George VI the following year.

In 1929, Verco married Peggy Bennett, to whom he was married for 60 years. She died in 1989, and together they raised one son and one daughter.

Heraldic career

During the war, he served with the RAFVR in England and the Far East, ending the war in the rank of flight lieutenant. He returned to the college in 1945 as secretary to Bellew, who had since become Somerset Herald of Arms in Ordinary. Verco was next briefly secretary to Sir Algar Howard (Garter King of Arms from 1944 to 1950), and then again to Bellew (Garter King of Arms from 1950 to 1961). It was during this second period that he played a key role in the running of Garter's office.

In 1954 he was appointed Rouge Croix Pursuivant of Arms in Ordinary, and thereafter participated at state occasions in his herald's uniform. This included a red coatee with gold embroidery, black cocked hat with black ostrich feathers, and a satin tabard with the royal arms. He was again on the Earl Marshal's staff for the funeral of King George VI in 1952, the Queen's coronation in 1953, the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965 and the Investiture of the Prince of Wales in 1969. He was also appointed Earl Marshal's Secretary in 1961, an administrative post of some importance at the college and one he proudly held for the remarkable span of 35 years.

As well as being Garter King of Arms, Bellew was Genealogist of the Order of the Bath and the Royal Victorian Order. Thus Verco was involved in the production of stallplates for the chapels of the three orders, respectively St. George's Chapel, Windsor, Henry VII's Chapel, Westminster Abbey, and the Queen's Chapel of the Savoy. He was also involved in commissioning banners and carved crests for the Garter and the Bath; any engraver who made an etching of a copper plate a millimetre too deep soon came to know Verco's displeasure.

In 1960, Verco was promoted to Chester Herald of Arms in Ordinary. Shortly afterwards Bellew retired as Garter and became Secretary of the Order of the Garter, a post created in 1904 for Sir Douglas Dawson, Master of Ceremonies to King Edward VII. Verco did much of the Order's work and once a year would receive a visit from Bellew to arrange all the necessary documents for Garter Day. On the eve of this exercise he would ensure the room was spotlessly clean and the papers all in order.

Verco became Secretary of the Order himself in 1974, having been promoted to Norroy and Ulster King of Arms in 1971. As Secretary, he ceased to deal with the heraldic achievements of the Companions and left this to Garter's staff. Nevertheless he devoted much time and energy to the organisation of the Garter ceremonies at Windsor Castle each June, not always an easy task with elderly knights and youthful pages dropping out at the last minute. He was scrupulous in arranging the seating in the Chapel quire and the procession of the Sovereign and the Companions down the hill; he would sometimes amuse his colleagues with comments such as "I can't have the Queen Mother walking singleton".

Verco was an exacting employer. Like an Edwardian grandee he had the habit of dropping his final "Gs" and was always meticulous in his dress. Having lost much of his hair in early life, he had the remainder severely cropped almost every week for 60 years at a barber's shop near St Paul's Cathedral. When Verco relinquished the post of Norroy and Ulster in 1980, the Earl Marshal made him Surrey Herald Extraordinary. For his ninetieth birthday in 1997, his colleagues gave him a painted carving of his crest - a Cornish chough in allusion to his Cornish surname, the undersides of the wings being "Sable fretty Or", the arms of Sir George Bellew, his friend and patron for so many years.

Honours and appointments

Verco was appointed to the Royal Victorian Order as a member in 1952. He was advanced to the degree of Commander of the same Order in 1970, and was made a Knight Commander in 1981. Verco's appointments also included that of Inspector of RAF Badges, and many of the paintings he certified may be seen in the RAF Club in Piccadilly. He was also Inspector of Royal Australian Air Forces Badges and Adviser on Naval Heraldry. As he always liked to appear even busier than he really was, an unwelcome telephone caller might be rebuffed with an answer such as "I can't speak to you now, I've got three admirals with me."

ee also

*The Heraldry Society
*Officer of Arms

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