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NEWS > 1574-2024 Anniversary Features > The School Arms and Colours

The School Arms and Colours

The 1914 Patesian takes a deep dive into the history of the School Arms and Colours.
Detail from the front cover of the 1907 Patesian magazine
Detail from the front cover of the 1907 Patesian magazine

For several years the School Colours – red and blue – adorned the border of the cover of the Patesian; this was discontinued and then, commencing with the last issue, the School Arms were emblazoned in colour on the cover, a change which on artistic grounds alone, met with universal approval. As both these School Colours and School Arms are so frequently in use and so little generally seems to be known about them, a few remarks as to their origin and object may be worthy of record.

Much might be said about School emblems, ancient and modern, and any discussion of the subject is naturally of a two-fold nature, firstly, how and whence they arose, and secondly, their use at the present time. Although it was not until comparatively recent times (less than 30 years ago) that the School Colours were adopted, and that the School cap in red and blue was designed, these colours have their ancient history and were ecclesiastical in origin, the red first blending with the blue on October 17th, 1501. This was in the days of Henry VII (who was famed for his ability to raise funds), when people and churches were bereft of funds without even the formality of a disendowment bill. One of Henry VII’s agents was Richard Foxe, whom he made Bishop of Winchester, and on the date mentioned he took possession of the temporalities of the See. He was however installed by proxy, and never visited his cathedral; the revenues of the office he drew in person and, as Winchester was then one of the richest bishoprics, this was no sinecure. Nevertheless, he made good use of his money, endowed several grammar schools and on March 1st, 1516, founded Corpus Christi College, Oxford. On September 24th, of the same year, there was born in the village of Minsterworth, near Gloucester, one Richard Pate, who 16 years later entered the newly founded College as a Scholar.

Harking back to the subject of School Colours, when Foxe was made Bishop of Winchester, he took the customary armorial bearings of a bishop, viz., the arms of the See impaled side by side on the same shield with those of the bishop’s family. The arms of the See of Winchester consist of a sword and two keys of silver and gold on a red background, and those of Foxe’s family exhibited a golden pelican on a blue background, so that the two distinctive colours red and blue appeared on the arms of the new bishop, and here was the origin of the red and blue of the School Colours.

Richard Pate rose by his own exertions from poverty to eminence; he became Recorder of Gloucester and was five times M.P. for that City. He was successively  employed as a commissioner by Henry VIII, Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I to value and report upon lands confiscated from the Church. Acting in this capacity he reported to Henry VIII the state of the Church lands in Cheltenham, the absence of a School, and the advisability of establishing one there. However, nothing further was done on the matter until in “the spacious times of great Elizabeth” Cheltenham Grammar School came into being.

Here we might notice that the date of the foundation of the School is usually given after the motto in the School Arms, and given as 1578, though the most frequent alternative is 1574. Both dates are right but should not be confused:  on Thursday January 7th, 1574, Queen Elizabeth (who desired to be known as the Foundress of the School) signed the letters patent at Westminster making a royal grant of lands to Richard Pate and directing him to establish a Grammar School at Cheltenham; but it was not until Monday April 28th, 1578, that the actual foundation stone was laid by Richard Pate. So that the date 1574 is associated with the royal foundation of the School by Queen Elizabeth, while 1578 is associated with the actual performance of this good work by Richard Pate, and necessarily follows his motto, Patebit tum quod latuit, (that which is hidden shall be revealed) which has been adopted by the School, and which bears the name of its original owner.

Cheltenham Grammar School having come into existence adopted for its arms and motto those of its founder, Richard Pate, the full emblazonment being the shield surmounted by an esquire’s helmet, showing the degree of the founder. To adopt the arms of the founder is an almost invariable rule amongst ancient academic institutions. Corpus Christi College, Oxford, adopted the arms of the founder, Bishop Foxe. These are of course surmounted by a bishop’s mitre. The garter and motto, Honi soit qui mal y pense, is added because Foxe was Prelate of the Order of the Garter. A knight’s helmet surmounts the arms of Balliol College (founded by Sir John de Balliol) and a cardinal’s hat those of Christ Church (founded by Cardinal Wolsley) and so on.

For many years the School Arms were the only School emblem that existed in days when School Colours were not thought of or needed; the only School cap was the Oxford University academic cap or mortar board which the members of the School had every right to wear, for Richard Pate left his School in the care of Corpus Christi and signed an indenture with the President and Scholars whereby the School became part and parcel of the possessions of that College, and consequently to a certain extent of Oxford University, and entitled to wear the Oxford cap.

This point was practically demonstrated at the time when Cheltenham College came into being. The School at this period after more than 250 years of existence fell on rather evil days. Owing to the fame of its waters Cheltenham had changed from a village into a town (its population increased 1,000% in less than 50 years), but the school, unable to modernize so rapidly as the town, became a sort of useless appendage of the past and eventually, in 1848, had to be closed. Something had to be done to meet the educational requirements of the growing population, and a few enterprising gentlemen floated a company in which there were to be 650 shares of £20 each, and with this capital they started what is now known as Cheltenham College. This venture was a success, and in less than 20 years the original shares of £20 were worth £100, and now, of course, are very valuable. It is interesting to note that one of the original promoters has left it on record that in his opinion there would have never been a College if the Grammar School had taken its start on a modern basis “only a few years sooner”.

The proprietors of this new school wanted the pupils to wear the academic cap with a black tassel; but on May 1st, 1852, Cheltenham Grammar School had reopened on a modern and efficient basis and it now asserted that as “legally belonging to Oxford University” it alone had the disputed right to this cap. The proprietary school had to give way to the ancient and royal foundation, and they adopted instead a cap with a red tassel, a practice which has been since followed by all the private academies in Cheltenham who adorn their caps with many coloured tassels.

The School then until quite recently had no other emblem than its ancient coat of arms, black and silver, rather funereal, and the cap with a black tassel – more funereal still. So that when it became necessary to have colours for athletic and other purposes, the red and blue colours of the Oxford College to which the School was so closely affiliated, were adopted; for Corpus Christi had taken as its colours, red and blue, the predominating colours of its coat of arms.

Such is the history of our School Colours and our School Arms; Cheltenham Grammar School has a unique tradition in having both Arms and Colours of ancient origin. Many schools and colleges have ancient coats of arms but their colours as a rule are adopted only recently either because they look pretty or because there is a cheap line in those colours. A few, such as Corpus Christi, take the two principal colours in their Arms, but this is not usual. It must be borne in mind that these heraldic designs were originally those painted on the shield of the warrior used in battle. Such shields are invariably made of metal, and consequently the metal is always predominant in the heraldic representations used at the present time. Only two metals are used In heraldry - silver and gold – and only five colours – red, blue, black, green, and purple. So that the choice of colours from arms is very limited, the more so because it is also an invariable rule that if the background of a shield is of a metal, the designs thereon are in colour; if the background is coloured the designs are all of metal. In Richard Pate’s arms we have black designs on a silver background; in Richard Foxe’s arms we have a golden pelican on a blue background. Corpus was able to get blue and red from their arms because, as already explained, they have two coats of arms side by side on the same shield, and they took the red from the one and the blue from the other.

To complete the story of our School emblems we must say a few words about the badge on the School cap – an unhappy attempt to combine the Arms and the Colours. The School Arms – the only public Coat of Arms not a 19th century creation and the only memorial of antiquity (except the Parish Church) in Cheltenham – would have been more in keeping with the dignity of the School, as a badge for the School cap, especially as we have the Arms everywhere else, on the buildings, books, notepaper, etc. Directly the School Colours were introduced on the Arms, they ceased ipso facto to be a Coat of Arms because the colours were not on a metal background. “Surely” says a leading authority “even those who affect the greatest contempt for heraldry will admit that if arms are to be borne at all, it should be according to the laws of arms”. But “there’s comfort yet”; the mistake could be easily rectified by ordering a different colour enamel, and, moreover, the inside lining of the caps has a representation of the Arms in black and silver, and those who object to the exterior may take courage and look inside – and then contemplate on the joys of consistency.

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