School crests, arms, or badges featured in a number of cigarette cards issued from the earliest years of the twentieth century through to the 1930’s. Wills cigarettes issued a series of cards featuring the arms of public schools and Carreras issued a series of ‘school emblem’ cards with their Black Cat cigarettes. The Black Cat ‘school emblem’ cards featured school caps from a number of public schools along with the, allegedly, ‘better’ county schools. The reverse of the cards provides a brief description of the school, covering such information as the founding of the school and an explanation of the origins of the school crest and/or motto. The school emblem, or badge of my alma mater, Northallerton Grammar School was, inexplicably, omitted from this series. This post will resolve this oversight.
Unlike the heraldic school crests of long established public schools, crests or badges of state schools are relatively recent yet nevertheless “mimic the tradition of heraldry” (Synott and Symes, 1995: 142). Here, Synott and Symes (1995) draw on the ideas of Hobsbawn (1983) in his introduction to The Invention of Tradition. Hobsbawn (1983) identifies some invented traditions as “those establishing or symbolizing social cohesion or the membership of groups” (p. 9) and, of course, the socialising function of things such as school uniforms, which the badge forms part of, is already well considered in the social sciences (Meadmore and Symes, 1996).
In short, school emblems, badges and crests serve to convey a message. They are a symbolic representation of values and ideas which seek to enrol members into an imaginary of tradition:
“the badge represents a symbol of invariance, an emblem of educational values that stand out against the passage of time; it serves to join one generation of learners to another; it constitutes an ideological and axiological constant in the fluxion of time” (Synott and Symes, 1995: 143)
A St. Cuthbert’s cross, a reference to the long association with the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral sits in the centre of the former Northallerton Grammar School badge forming quadrants. Each quadrant contains an image designed to symbolise the heritage and values of the school.
Two white roses of York, correctly orientated, sit in diagonally opposite quadrants as if to reinforce the geographic location, in case you were in any doubt as to where the school was located . It is in Yorkshire, by the way. Whilst the white rose has come to symbolise Yorkshire as whole there is no ignoring its historical use, symbolising Yorkist forces in the15th century civil war, or War of the Roses. Aside, the whiteness of the rose is significant, as in Christian symbolism represents light, innocence and purity. It is as if the badge is saying we are proud to be located in God’s own county. Yet, the white rose has been used symbolise Jacobitism, this too is an invented tradition, but one which the Northallerton school probably overlooked when the bagde was designed in the early twentieth century.
The beehive, a visual representation of the school’s motto ex opera felicitas or ‘from work hppiness’ (not, thankfully, wrought into the school gates) was used to suggest to us that the fruits of our hard work will be happiness. Alternatively, I invite you to consider what a Marxist analysis has to offer here. The beehive represents a social hierarchy where worker bees and drones propping up the Queen who can’t survive without them. Socialised to be alienated from their species being pupils, as a future labour force prop up the upper layers of the hierarchy who reap the benefits of our hard work. Raised to accept this as legitimate, we can be forgiven for believing that work produces happiness. You might be happy in this state, but you will still be alienated.
In the top right quadrant is an object which must never be mistaken for a trolley with a pennant on it. This is the twelfth century standard that was charged across the fields outside of the town on the 22nd August 1138 in the Battle of the Standard during The Anarchy. It represents the defeat of barbarian Scots by the chivalrous, and much smaller English contingent. The mere sight of the standard with its Christian symbolism made the Scots retreat along the A167 towards Darlington. Admittedly, this account may be lacking in the finer details of accuracy. Nevertheless, legends of the Battle of the Standard live on, embedded into the ‘symbolic architecture’ of the town such as the town crest, a light industrial estate, and a pub. Therefore, it is entirely consistent that generations of Northallerton school children should have had the death of 12000 Scots emblazoned across their hearts.
A very large cigarette card would be needed to convey this interpretation.