Embroidered Oxford college badge: Lady Margaret Hall


Badge of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.

What a week! The US Presidential Election inches towards its conclusion, while we in the UK go back to tighter pandemic restrictions.  I stayed up until 4am on Wednesday morning to try to understand the US’s arcane election practices but after nodding off over my knitting I realised the result would take days (some say possibly weeks) but definitely not hours and that bed was a better option. At 8am when my husband came up with a cup of tea, I was so not of this world that in a curious burst of energy I knocked the cup off my bedside chest of drawers and cascaded hot liquid all over me, bedlinen that was clean on the day before and a good deal of the rug and carpet beside the bed. Grrrr. Nothing is guaranteed to wake one up sooner than the spilling of a cup of tea – unless it’s a cup of coffee, which stains more, or, the very worst, a cup of Heinz tomato soup which will bleach colour out of anything, as I found to my cost when getting soup on an evening dress I was embroidering (problem solved – embroider over the bleached spot.)

At this time of year it is always difficult to blog things I’m making as many of these things will end up as Christmas presents for the family. I suppose I could warn them not to look at the blog but then that’s rather like knowing your mother stores your Christmas presents on top of the wardrobe … and being unable to stop pulling up a chair to have a look when her back is turned!

Detail of Lady Margaret Hal badge, showing embroidered talbots and portcullis

The plus side of lockdown tidying has been the unearthing of things I never knew I had – in spite of 3 house moves in the last 4 years. One of the things to appear is this rather nice embroidered badge which I think my mother must have bought when I went up to Oxford in 1970. I remember she’d done the same thing 7 years before when my brother went up to Jesus College Cambridge and strangely my Lady Margaret Hall (Oxford) badge was in the same packet as a Cambridge University badge. You used to be able to buy these badges for all the colleges in local shops. All hand embroidered, they were originally meant for blazers I suppose then, but now if you trawl the websites for what’s available it’s all lapel pins or machine embroidered badges on sweat shirts, T shirts, hoodies and college scarves (does anyone even wear college scarves any more?). Hand embroidered ones are available but need to be individually ordered but I have to say they are incredibly well priced for what looks like hand embroidery.

Examining the badge more than I ever did 50 years ago, it is interesting to pick out the heraldic details. The college was founded in 1878 and was the first college to open up an Oxford education to women. It was named after Henry VII’s mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort and she is represented on the crest by a portcullis. Today the portcullis is best known as the symbol of the British parliament, but it began life as one of the symbols of the Tudors, appearing just as often as the now much more well known Tudor Rose. (See the wonderful carving above the Beaufort Gate of St John’s College Cambridge where both the Tudor emblems can be seen together. Lady Margaret Beaufort founded 2 Cambridge colleges, St John’s and Christ’s. That is, she actually bequeathed money for their foundation herself whereas in the case of Lady Margaret Hall, the foundation was more in honour of her memory as she had been dead for 370 years by then.) The two animals are talbots (dogs) and these represent Bishop Talbot, one of the founders and Warden of Keble College at the time. The bell comes from the Wordsworth coat of arms and represents Dame Elizabeth Wordsworth (great niece of the poet) who was the college’s first principal).

Original college crest of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford
from stonework in the college.

Lady Margaret Hall’s Facebook page points out that this crest was in fact not the college’s first choice. The original one shows three daisies carved in stone wit the motto “Ex solo ad solem” meaning somewhat cryptically “From the earth to the sun”.  Perhaps, lovely as the daisy crest is, it was thought to be a bit too greenery-yallery and fey for an establishment urging women to seriousness of higher education. Crest and motto were duly replaced – the latter by “Souvent me souviens”, the motto of the Beaufort family, meaning  “I remember often”  or “think of me often” both of which perhaps remind one to remember one’s alma mater but offer no further guidance as to, say, life’s journey or the human condition. Probably I expect too much from a motto!

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  1. Posted November 7, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

    I think you’re right to expect something from a motto – I remember my mother and myself having a long discussion about the school motto of the school I was about to go to: “Honour Wisdom”. Was it an imperative, or was it an indication of the two qualities the school demanded of the students?
    I never found out what the school thought. It was never mentioned!

    • Mary Addison
      Posted November 8, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      I agree, though the mission statement every institution seems to have today is so much worse than the simple – even if somewhat ambiguous – message of a motto!

      • Posted November 16, 2020 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Usually, I would agree. But my husband has a tale of when, in the early days of the buyout, he and his colleagues were feeling pushed towards something that made them all uncomfortable. He looked up and saw the mission statement they’d thrown together under duress the previous week, and realised it gave them all the reason they needed to make the more moral, longer term, choice….

        • Mary Addison
          Posted November 16, 2020 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

          Well that’s a heartening story – and anyone taking a more moral,longer term choice gets my respect.

          • Posted November 17, 2020 at 11:17 am | Permalink

            Absolutely. But it says something (I’m not sure what) that they were being so pressured in a direction they weren’t comfortable with.
            The company is still going strong, by the way, and this year they’ve been able to give bonuses.

          • Mary Addison
            Posted November 17, 2020 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

            I’s good to hear the company’s doing well. Sympathy about being pressurised. Modern life is not easy.

  2. Elizabeth Ashby
    Posted November 8, 2020 at 8:38 pm | Permalink


    My teacher daughter reminded me the other day that Margaret Beaufort was actually Henry VIII’s grandmother, not mother. We live near Collyweston, Stamford, where excavation of one of her palaces has started. Hilary Mantel, in the last of her Cromwell trilogy, states that, as a descendant of Edward Tudor, she gave credence to her son Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne.

    • Mary Addison
      Posted November 8, 2020 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      That’s right Henry VII’s mother and Henry VIII’s grandmother.
      All these Roman numerals make one’s head swim when the print’s so small!
      Stamford is lovely.
      Hope there will be some interesting finds in the excavation.

  3. ceci
    Posted November 12, 2020 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    I will be fascinated to see your Christmas gifts when you are ready/able to share them; I am having a very uninspired year of it and fear I will end up writing dull (but useful I’m sure) checks.


    • Mary Addison
      Posted November 13, 2020 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      I’m fortunate in that my family actually ask for me to make them something. I have plenty of ideas but things do get a bit panicky round about now as begin to notice there might not be enough time to realise those plans (last year I had to resort to giving sketches of what I was going to make!).

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