English School Badges: Genuine Heraldic Arms

Figure 1.--s.

The more elaborate school badges often resemble genuine shields of arms. In Scotland early in the year 2001 Sir Malcolm Innes, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, ruled that school badges with coats of arms had to be officially registered, with a registration fee of £830: 'If they are not registered,' he, 'the school … must cease using them,' otherwise it will be in breach of the Lord Lyon King of Arms Act of 1672. Scotland is much stricter in this respect than the rest of Britain, where the use of 'bogus arms', as they are known, is considered improper but is not punishable under law.

Oficial Shields

Some schools, especially though not exclusively old-established institutions, do have an official shield of arms granted by the College of Heralds (for England and Wales) or by the Lord Lyon (for Scotland) or else display that of the school's founder ('arms of adoption'). When St Augustine's Roman Catholic Grammar/Technical School, Wythenshawe, Manchester opened in 1965 (it closed in 1977), it devised an elaborate shield of arms for its badge, heraldically blazoned as: Sable, a cross Argent, in the first quarter a pastoral staff, erect, Or, ensigned with a cross patée of the second, surmounted by a pall of the last, in the second quarter a lily slipped Argent. The white cross on its black background symbolised the Christian faith brought to the country by St Augustine of Canterbury, to whom the school was dedicated; the gold pastoral staff symbolised Augustine's status as a bishop, the silver pall his status as an archbishop, and the gold lily with its stalk his status as a monk. Of the two principal independent schools in Cambridge, the Leys, founded in 1875, received its grant of arms in 1914, whilst the Perse, founded in the sixteenth century, adopted the arms of the Perse family: Sable, a chevron ermine between three dragons' heads erased Argent. However, the school rejected the family's French motto ('En Dieu est ma fiance') in favour of the Latin 'Qui facit per alium facit per se', the last two words of which form a pun on the name Perse.

Adopted Shields

In other cases, schools have taken over or adapted an existing shield of arms. Grammar schools (and some others), for example, might take over the arms of the town or city in which they were located: thus, the City of London Boys School has taken over the arms of the City (Argent, a cross Gules, in the first quarter a sword in pale, point upwards, of the last) and Boston Grammar School, Lincs. did the same with its town arms (Sable, three coronets, each composed of crosses patée and fleurs-de-lys, in pale Or), although whilst City of London includes the crest and supporters, Boston omits these. Maidstone Grammar School, Kent uses the arms of the Borough of Maidstone (Or a fess wavy Azure between three torteaux on a chief Gules a lion passant guardant Or) with the mural crown Or of the crest but without the other elements of the crest and without the supporters. Oakwood Park Grammar School in the same town has a badge consisting of two shields of arms, that of the Borough of Maidstone and that of the county of Kent (Gules a horse forcene Argent); centrally above the two shields is the mural crown Or which appears in the crests in both sets of arms.

City and Town Shields

Others adopted the city or town arms with a little modification: King Edward VII Grammar School, King's Lynn, Norfolk used the town arms (Azure, three dragons' heads erased and erect Or, in the mouth of each a cross-crosslet fitchy of the last) but on a navy-blue background rather than on the heraldic Azure. The former Cambridge Grammar School for Boys took over the elaborate city arms but changed the three ships ... Sable to three brown ships and the two roses Argent to two pale blue stars; it kept the sea-horse supporters but omitted the crest. The badge of Chingford Foundation School, Essex includes some elements of the arms of Waltham Forest, the borough in which the school is situated, but omits others: the three oak trees at the top of the borough shield are not present, but the stag's head and crown are retained and to them have been added a wavy band, suggested by the chief wavy of the borough arms and symbolising the River Lea, and an upright scimitar, derived from the three seaxes fesswise (three horizontal scimitars) which appear on the arms of Essex County Council. Highams Park School, also in Waltham Forest, again uses the stag's head but places an open book (for learning) between its antlers and two crossed oak sprigs with leaves and acorns (symbolising the forest) beneath the head.

The former Tulse Hill Comprehensive School, in the London Borough of Lambeth, had a badge derived not from the borough's shield of arms itself but entirely from the crest above it. The crest consists of an Agnus Dei, signifying the fact that the Archbishops of Canterbury have had a residence in Lambeth since the thirteenth century, above a blue and white wavy bar, symbolising the River Thames. The school put the wavy bar within a shield shape and placed the Agnus Dei above it, the whole placed on the black background of the blazer and school cap). Arms might also be taken from other sources, often without permission - 'usurping arms', as they are termed. My own grammar school at Luton took over the (defunct) arms of William Wallingford, Abbot of St Albans, 1476-92: Gules, a chevron between three clusters of wheat each containing three ears Or, although the school badge as worn on the navy blazer and school cap had a yellow bordure (border) not present on the original. Dartford Grammar School, Kent adopted a modified form of the arms of the See of Canterbury (Azure, an archiepiscopal staff in pale Or surmounted of a pallium Argent fringed of the second and charged with four crosses patty fitchy Sable) for displays on stationery and the like and devised a much simpler form of the same arms for use as a blazer (and formerly cap) badge; the last employed a 'spade'-shield, a favourite form in the 19th century, and added the letters DGS in Gothic script beneath the shield.


With rather more justification, schools actually affiliated with a cathedral may adopt the arms of the See, as at King's School, Rochester, Kent (Argent, on a saltire Gules an escallop Or) or those of the Dean and Chapter, as at the Canterbury Cathedral Choir School, Kent, now absorbed within St Edmund's School, Canterbury (Azure, on a cross Argent the letters I/X Sable: the letters are the initials of Jesus Christ in Greek: IESOUS CHRISTOS).

Terence Paul Smith

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Created: April 29, 2002
Last updated: April 29, 2002