Nick Brewster, University Archive Assistant, writes

This summer I did research for the Google Arts and Culture online exhibition on the gryphon and sphinx, and the latter’s part in the heraldic history of the University of Leeds. I came across several versions of the heraldic coat of arms of the University in bold white and green, often with a helmet above the shield and, beneath the wreath and the red crest.  One of the most intriguing versions was the one shown below.

Illustration of the university crest from The Gryphon: Second Series, Volume 4, Ten Pictures, LUA/PUB/002/GRY/154. Image credit Leeds University Library.

The design rang a faint bell, but I could not place where I’d seen it before, and there was no information with it that helped. A couple of weeks later, out of the blue, a colleague emailed me, full of enthusiasm about a digital copy of a 1920s black and white film he’d seen, called ‘The University of Leeds’.  I’d seen it too, a couple of years ago.  It had been digitised by the Yorkshire Film Archive.  

The film was made circa 1925 to highlight the University’s grand fundraising appeal, towards paying for new buildings which would later be constructed as part of the Lanchester, Lucas & Lodge prize scheme.  This was the mid-1920s plan for the expanded University campus in the classical style with white Portland stone facades built late 1920s-1950s. Examples include Chemistry, Mining [now part of the new Physics development], and the Sir Michael Sadler Building. 

At the very end of this fascinating film, showing the interiors and exteriors of University buildings and events such as registration at the start of the academic year, the final illustration was this very same image of the University shield with the two frond quill pens! That appeared to explain the origin of that particular design – it seemed that it had been drawn up for the film.  I knew, however, that the two ‘quill pens’ didn’t form part of the official blazon of the University’s coat of arms. 

Because of lockdown, I hadn’t been able to look at the scroll which was the original Grant of arms, made and given by the College of Heralds to the University in 1905.  I’d seen it once, very briefly, some years ago.   When at last a colleague was able to retrieve the scroll and copy it for us, we had a second surprise. The official coat of arms drawn by the College of Heralds was almost identical to the one in the film, frond quill pens included!    

Close-up of the official University of Leeds Grant of Arms. LUA/ADM/001. Image credit Leeds University Library.

The online exhibition ‘The Sphinx and The Gryphon’ along with other exhibitions using items from the University of Leeds Archive will be live on our Google Arts and Culture platform from tomorrow, 19 November 2020.