English School Uniform Garments: Crests or Badges

Figure 1.--Blazer and cap crests or badges are another item primarily associated with English and British schools in general. These school crests come in a wide variety of designs.

Blazer and cap badges are another item primarily associated with English and British schools in general. Most schools in England have adopted a badge in order to distinguish themselves from other schools. The badges may be seen on notice boards in front of schools, at various locations within schools, and on stationery, including, quite often, pupils' exercise books. They have also been displayed on items of school uniform: on blazers and school caps and, less frequently, on pullovers or ties. In those few schools where a straw boater has been worn, the badge has sometimes (but not always) been displayed on the ribbon hatband.


Most schools in England have adopted a badge in order to distinguish themselves from other schools. The badges may be seen on notice boards in front of schools, at various locations within schools, and on stationery, including, quite often, pupils' exercise books. They have also been displayed on items of school uniform: on blazers and school caps and, less frequently, on pullovers or ties. In those few schools where a straw boater has been worn, the badge has sometimes (but not always) been displayed on the ribbon hatband. Typically, the cap (or boater) badge is a smaller version of the blazer badge, although there are occasional exceptions to this. The case of Bedford Modern School will be mentioned in another connection below. Other examples include a London school, where the shield-shaped blazer badge has the motto WISDOM & FAITH across its middle and the name of the school, ST MARY'S SCHOOL CLAPHAM on a small scroll beneath it, but the cap badge has the same shield badge without either the motto or the school name; Benedict House Preparatory School, Sidcup, Kent has a blazer badge of a shield enclosing the Gothic letters BH above a manuscript and quill pen and the name BENEDICT HOUSE on a scroll beneath the shield, but the cap badge simply has the Gothic letters BH within the shield without either the manuscript and quill or the school name. Where a grey suit (with either short or long trousers) is worn as part of school uniform, the badge may be placed on the breast pocket. Forest School, Walthamstow, north London provides an instance, and the former Canterbury Cathedral Choir School once provided another. The inset jacket pockets, however, are less suited to the purpose than the patch pockets of blazers, and more commonly suits do not display the badge. At Riverston Preparatory school, Lee, Kent, for example, the fairly elaborate badge appears on the left chest of the (optional) grey pullover, a simpler monogram of R and S appears on the black and red school cap, but the grey short trouser suit does not display the badge. Similarly, if a sports jacket is worn instead of a blazer as part of school uniform - as at the Leys School, Cambridge and at Mill Hill School, north London - it is rare for it to bear the school badge.


HBC note that in England, it is common to use the term badge for the crests or shields discussed here. Terrance has used the term "badge" for his informative essay here and the term is widely used in Britain. This causes some confusion as the boys wore a wide range of other badges for as awards for sports, to indicate prefects, and other puposes. These school badges are discusses on a separate page. To avoid confusion we will rfer to the badges discussed here as shields or crests.


The badges are normally embroidered using coloured threads, although they sometimes incorporate sections of flannel, ribbon, satin, or other fabrics for the larger patches of colour - the 'fields' in heraldic terms. My own red and yellow Luton Grammar School blazer and cap badges, for example, were made in this way: whether the red field was of flannel, ribbon, or satin depended on the particular school outfitters from which they were purchased. As in coloured illustrations of heraldic arms, in the fabric or embroidery threads of heraldic school badges gold (Or) is represented by yellow and silver (Argent) by white. In order to give sufficient 'purchase' for the threads, especially on soft blazer cloth, the badges will usually have a backing material. Badges which can be purchased separately for sewing onto garments (see below: 'Purchasing the Badges') usually have a backing of buckram or other stiffened fabric, although sometimes a softer cotton or, nowadays, artificial fibre material will be used. If the badge is embroidered direct onto the blazer pocket or school cap, then the backing materials will often be of one of the softer materials. This will commonly be hidden by a lining to the blazer pocket and always by the lining of the cap. In the days when the school cap was the only uniform item, the cap badge was sometimes of metal sewn onto the front segment, and some schools continued later to have a metal cap badge. Henry Williamson, thinly disguising his own Colfe's School in south-east London as Colham School, writes of the 'black caps with identical silver badges sewn above the peaks' (Dandelion Days, revised edition 1930, 14); this was c.1910; the thriller writer, Eric Ambler recalls from a few years later that the badges at Colfe's were 'of silver or silver plate' ('Here Lies Eric Ambler', paperback edition, 1986, 38). The poet Edward Thomas relates how, as a pupil at Battersea Grammar School, south London, c.1890, he 'polished up the silver falcon crest shield, which all of us wore on our caps, with mercury' (The Childhood of Edward Thomas, written 1913; first published 1938; paperback edition, 1983, 86). And at Queen Mary's School, Basingstoke in the 1920s John Arlott 'wore the black cap with its small silver metal dove - symbolising the Holy Ghost - with pride' (Basingstoke Boy, 1990, 35).

Purchasing School Badges

The badges for some schools may be purchased as separate items from the official school outfitters or, increasingly these days, from the school itself and sewn on to the blazer or (much less often nowadays) the cap. In other cases, official outfitters will sell only garments with the badge already embroidered onto them, and these garments have necessarily to be purchased from the official outfitters. In the late 1950s and early '60s the blazer badge of my own grammar school in Luton, Beds. could be bought separately and sewn onto a navy blazer obtained more cheaply elsewhere, but the cap badge could not be. The regulation school cap, with its badge already in place, had to be bought from one of the two (later three) official outfitters - or from a local shop which specialised in second-hand school uniforms. The badges of independent schools are less likely than those of state schools to be available separately. If the blazer or cap is trimmed with ribbon or cord or if the cap is made up of segments or half-segments of different colours or if both blazer and cap are of striped material, then it is virtually certain that the badges will not be sold separately.

Purposes of Badges on School Uniform

Displaying the badge, like the rest of school uniform, was intended to impart a sense of belonging and of pride in the school. It also had the advantage (though not from the boys' point of view!) that if boys were misbehaving in the street or simply playing truant (hooky) from school, their school could be easily recognised - especially in the days when the badge was displayed prominently on the front of a school cap. The late Sir Dirk Bogarde describes how, when skipping school in the 1930s, he would stuff his school cap in his pocket, remove his school tie, and arrange a handkerchief in the breast pocket of his blazer so that it flopped over and obscured the telltale school badge (A Postillion Struck by Lightning, London, 1977, 170).


Although some schools have badges dating from an early foundation, often in Elizabethan times, sometimes even earlier, others adopted such a device much later. As items displayed on school uniform the earliest date from the introduction of the school cap (at first the sole item of uniform) in the second half of the 19th century. Many more, however, date only from the 20th century, when most schools came into existence. In the heyday of blazers and school caps, in the middle decades of the 20th century, there were thousands of different school badges on show each school day throughout England, and a great many may still be seen. (The same is true of the rest of Britain, and indeed some examples in what follows are taken from Welsh and Scottish schools.) In recent decades there have been changes to the British educational system and many grammar and technical schools have ceased to exist. Some other schools have closed or amalgamated and yet others have abandoned or changed the form of the school uniform. For this reason, the past tense is often used in what follows.

Designs: From the Simple to the Elaborate

The nature of the badges varies widely. Unless they are heraldic or pseudo-heraldic devices incorporating several colours they are usually in one or more school colours. Occasionally they incorporate house colours, British schools usually being divided into one or more houses, most commonly four in number, for the purpose of sports competitions and the like. Chatham Grammar School, Kent, for example, has a large sanserif letter C, in one of four house colours, enclosing the white horse emblem of Kent. In the same county, Dartford Grammar School has a shield badge in one of four colours to indicate membership of a particular house: D'Aeth (yellow), Havelock (red), Vaughan (green), and Wilson (blue).

Some badges are simple monograms (or cyphers) of the school's initials, sometimes within a shield, a circle, a triangle, or some other shape, sometimes not. Or there may be a single initial combined with a symbol: the former Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Carmarthen, Wales, for example, had a rather ornate capital letter E topped by a crown in pale blue on the navy blazer and cap. The badge of Chatham Grammar School, combining a letter C with a white horse, has already been mentioned. Occasionally a single initial has been used, either on its own or within a shield or other shape. Oakfield Preparatory School, Dulwich, London, for example, had a single letter O in grey on a maroon background. Holmshill Secondary School, Boreham Wood, Herts. had, unusually, a single sanserif capital H on the plain school tie and a seriffed H within a shield as the blazer and cap badge. Other badges include religious symbols such as a cross (in one of many forms, simple or elaborate), an Agnus Dei (Lamb of God: a haloed lamb bearing a banner with a cross on it), the Chi-Rho (a monogram of the first two letters of 'Christ' in Greek), the crossed keys of St Peter, a dove, a bishop's mitre or crozier, a Jewish menorah or, more recently, the crescent moon of Islam. St John's College School, Cambridge has a blazer and cap badge, in black on scarlet, of an eagle rising from a crown, the eagle being the emblem of St John the Evangelist. Others have a secular symbol such as a bee or a beehive (for hard work), an owl (for wisdom or for vigilance), or a book or beacon (for learning). An anchor sometimes appears and may be regarded either as a Christian symbol (of hope) or as a secular symbol (of succour in extremity). Rather more unexpected was the badge of Warboys County Primary School, Hunts., which showed a witch on a broomstick with the name WARBOYS to the right of her pointed hat and with the school's initials, C. P. S., underneath her - almost an anticipation of Harry Potter! Others again combine various symbols on pseudo-heraldic shields, sometimes of elaborate and colourful designs. The badge of Poundswick Grammar School, Wythenshawe, Manchester, for example, depicted a sailing ship, symbolic of Manchester's status as a port, above two open books, symbolising learning, one each side of a tree of knowledge. The elaborate badge of The Pointer School, a co-educational preparatory school in Blackheath, London, is unusual in that it includes not only a monogram of the school's initials, P and S, an open book with the Greek letters ? and O on it, and a galleon in full sail, but also a boy and girl dressed in their school uniforms. Sometimes a pun is involved. Thus, Sevenoaks School, Kent has a badge showing seven acorns in white on a black background. The blazer and cap badge of Sevenoaks Preparatory School also shows seven acorns, although they are differently arranged and are in yellow on a maroon background. Similar puns occur elsewhere: Forest School, Walthamstow has a sprig of oak leaves and acorns, as did Oakwood Technical High School, Rotherham, Yorks., though differently arranged from Forest School. A different pun was involved in the badge of Cross Gates County Secondary School, Leeds, which depicted two five-barred gates in yellow, one above the other on a red background, with a blue saltire cross placed over them. The badge of Ravenhurst Road County Primary School, Leicester depicted a raven - though in blue rather than black - beneath the initials R. R. C. S. Millfield school, Somerset has a genuine shield of arms which includes windmill sails on the shield itself and a complete windmill on a mound in the crest.

Sometimes too a proper rebus (a visual echo of the component syllables of the school's name) is used, as at my own junior school - Harthill School, Luton - which had a blazer and cap badge (and a beret badge for the girls) of a hart standing on a hill, all within a shield, in yellow on brown. Less obvious as a rebus was the former badge (it later changed) of St John's Secondary Modern School, Sittingbourne, Kent: the badge, in red and white on black, showed a swan and a tree - perplexing until one learns that the school is situated in Swanstree Avenue.

Genuine Heraldic Arms

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.

Badges Derived from Heraldic Arms

School arms are not always worn as badges on uniform. The arms of Magdalen College School, Oxford, for example, are taken from those of the school's founder, William Waynflete (like those of the Oxford college itself): Lozengy Ermine and Sable, on a chief of the last three lilies close couped Argent; but the badge worn on the red-trimmed black blazer (and formerly on the black school cap) is just one of the lilies taken from the shield of arms, in white with green stalk and leaves. King's College School, Cambridge uses a single fleur-de-lis, in white on purple, taken from that which appears as part of the college arms, although there it is gold on blue (Azure). Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, Canterbury uses for its blazer (and former cap) badge the lion (passant guardant Or) which appears in chief (that is, in the top third) of the arms of the City of Canterbury but places it on a maroon background rather than on the brighter red (Gules) of the original.

The town of Bedford provides interesting examples. The arms of Bedford Modern School are adopted from those of Sir William Harpur (1497(?)-1574), the school's founder. When a school cap was introduced in the 1870s the badge was an eagle displayed ( that is, with legs and arms outstretched) in white on a red shield on the black cap. The eagle is taken from the arms, where it appears three times on the shield and once in the crest. This led to a dispute with Bedford Grammar School, which also had a white eagle as its cap badge, though on a dark blue background. It could be fully justified on the grounds that the eagle is also prominent on the town seal of Bedford. Despite protests from the Modern, the Grammar continued to display its badge. In 1951 the Modern changed the cap badge to a red eagle embroidered direct onto the black material of the cap, without a shield. A further curiosity is that until 1935 a different badge was worn on the school blazer, except by boys awarded 'colours' - that is, an award for school sport. For other boys, the blazer badge was a shield showing a small eagle displayed each side of a bend (a diagonal bar) bearing the school's initials, B. M. S., all in red on a white background.


A motto often appears under the badge, and that of the Perse School, Cambridge has already been mentioned. Often the motto is shown on an unfurled scroll, although this is not always the case. Poundswick Grammar School had the Latin motto NISI DOMINUS FRUSTRA on a scroll beneath the elaborate badge (see above); these words, meaning 'In vain without the Lord' are a contraction of the first line of Psalm 127: 'Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it'. The former St Augustine's Grammar/Technical School at Wythenshawe, Manchester had the motto, on a scroll beneath the badge, ANGELORUM COHEREDES. The words, meaning (a little grandly perhaps!) 'Inheritors with the Angels', are taken from a passage in the Venerable Bede's 'Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation', written in the eighth century. My own grammar school at Luton had the Latin motto UBI SEMEN IBI MESSIS on a scroll beneath the badge, the idea being that learning was the sowing of seed, which in due course would yield its harvest. ORA ET LABORA is a common Latin motto, as are certain single Latin words such as FIDELIS. St Edward's College, a Roman Catholic secondary school in Liverpool, abandoned its Latin motto in 1998 in favour of the English equivalent: COURAGE THROUGH FAITH. Sir Walter St John's School, Battersea, London has always had an English motto: RATHER DEATHE THAN FALSE OF FAYTHE, and many other schools too have (or had) an English motto. At other times the motto may be in another language, French being fairly well represented, for example the VOULOIR C'EST POUVOIR on a scroll beneath the badge of Hillhouse Technical Secondary School, Huddersfield, Yorks. and the GRACE ADIEU on a scroll beneath that of Shooters Hill Grammar School, south-east London. Greek is much less common, although Exeter School, Devon has (n Greek characters in the original) CHRYSOS ARETES OUCH ANTAXIOS ('Gold is not worth as much as virtue') as its motto; St Andrew's School, Eastbourne, Sussex has a genuine shield of arms with, as its motto, the name Andrew in Greek characters: ANDREIS. In parts of Britain other than England the local language may be used: Brynteg School, Glamorgan, Wales for example, has as its motto the somewhat gnomic Welsh A VO PENN BID PONT ('Let him who would be leader be a bridge').

School Names

Although a school's initials have quite frequently formed a part or the whole of a school badge, either intertwined as a monogram or placed singly, it has been less common for the actual name of the school to appear in the badge. There are, however, a number of instances. That of Warboys County Primary school with its badge of a witch has already been mentioned. Ardwyn Grammar School, Aberwystwyth, Wales had a simple picture of a towered building with the name of the school, ARDWYN, on a scroll above it, in white on green. The blazer and cap of Harenc Preparatory School, Sidcup, Kent have the name HARENC SCHOOL at the top of the shield-shaped badge. Lakenham Secondary School, Norwich had the single word LAKENHAM, in red on white, above an embattled red background on which was a white dragon, all within a shield. Larkhill Academy, Lanarkshire, Scotland has the school name on a scroll beneath the badge. Carlton Grammar School, Bradford, Yorks. had the name on a scroll crossing the bottom of the flaming beacon badge. A Bolton, Lancs. school had the full name on two scrolls beneath the shield-shaped badge: WHITE BANK / COUNTY SECONDARY SCHOOL, whilst a Staffordshire school had its full name partly above and partly below the badge of three knots, all within a shield and shown red on black: JUNIOR TECHNICAL SCHOOL / STOKE-ON-TRENT. A school in Strood, Kent has both the full name, CHAPTER SCHOOL, on a scroll beneath the shield-shaped badge and the school's initials, CS, overlying a tree within the shield itself.

Occasionally a badge may display both the school name and a motto, as at Malmesbury Grammar School, Wilts., which had scrolls surrounding the shield-shaped badge: on the side and top scrolls was the name MALMESBURY / GRAMMAR / SCHOOL and on the bottom scroll was the motto: CARPE DIEM. In Blackheath, the full name of THE POINTER SCHOOL appears on a scroll above the elaborate badge and the motto THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD on a scroll beneath it.

Foundation Dates

It is extremely unusual for the foundation date of a school to be included in the badge, although there are a few examples. Barnard Castle School, County Durham has the date 1883 on a scroll above the two shields of its badge. Baines Grammar School, Lincs. had the date 1717 placed to the upper right of the badge. The Episcopal Secondary Modern school, Exeter, Devon reflected its origins as a different type of school (secondary moderns came in only with the 1944 Education Act) in the date 1709 beneath the appropriate badge of a bishop's mitre.

A Sense of Pride?

In the 1950s, the British boys' paper The Rover often pictured school badges on its covers and invited its schoolboy readers to send in their own. Many boys (and a few girls) did so, evidencing that sense of pride which was mentioned earlier - and, incidentally, providing a useful source for the historian of school badges, many of which have now disappeared. I did not send in my own, since I did not take that particular boys' paper. I was, nevertheless, proud of the red and yellow Luton Grammar School badge which was displayed on my navy blazer and school cap and, later, on my dark blue Sixth Form tie. That pride could even be exhibited after leaving school, since the former pupils' association ('Old Lutonians') had a similar blazer badge, though of red fabric and gold wire, and a tie which had small versions of the badge embroidered on it. As a schoolboy, I also wanted to find out about the origin of the badge. In fact, the information I gleaned was erroneous in one respect, although I did not discover that until decades later. But the interest in the nature and history of school badges, and of other items of school uniform, developed: one consequence is this contribution!

Schoolboys, however, have not always taken such interest in their school badges: Don Haworth recalls his own 'cap with three chessmen on its badge, symbolising I know not what...' ('Bright Morning: Images of a Lancashire Boyhood', 1990, 123); the same attitude is nicely captured in a children's story by Jan Mark: Andrew has changed schools and his former school badge is described as having 'a lion and three bottles on it; at least they looked like bottles and he had never discovered what they were meant to be' ('Thunder and Lightnings', paperback edition, 1978, 27). In a semi-autobiographical novel, Paul Bailey has his protagonist, Gabriel Harvey, speak of the arms of the founder of his school, 'which I bore on the breast pocket of my blazer', as 'a mysterious affair involving two stars and a shield and the profile of an eagle' - clearly no great interest there (Gabriel's Lament, paperback edition, Harmondsworth, 1987, 19)

The Situation Today

Some English (and other British) schools, in the 21st century, still retain the badge on the breast pocket of the blazer and a few, mostly preparatory schools, retain the school cap with badge. The latter is also found at some Jewish schools, where a head covering is required for religious reasons, for example at the Menorah Grammar School, Golders Green, London. These days, however, the badge is just as likely to be seen printed as a logo on a school tee-shirt, sweat-shirt, or tracksuit top, or embroidered on a pullover or polo-neck shirt which is worn without a blazer. Occasionally, it may appear at the front of a baseball cap, allowed though not, usually, insisted on as part of school uniform.

Reader Crests

Several HBC readers recall the crests on their school blazers with some affection. Other readers have sent along especially interesting crests. We will post some of these crests here.

Terence Paul Smith


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Created: April 29, 2002
Last updated: November 22, 2003