The coincidence of two enquiries today about different aspects of Hannah Brackenbury’s legacy to Balliol prompted an update to our web page about her arms, which appear in confusing prominence in Balliol’s front quad.
These are the arms adopted by Miss Hannah Brackenbury (1795–1873), daughter of James Brackenbury of Manchester. She was a major benefactor of the college; Balliol’s Brackenbury Scholarship is still funded from her endowment, and the rebuilding of the south and east ranges of Balliol’s front quad were largely funded by her. They are still known as the Brackenbury buildings and bear her arms in several places over the doors. Her reason for supporting the college was a belief that she was descended from the founder’s family – a supposition not provable by written evidence, but in which she was much encouraged by the then Master, Benjamin Jowett. The image above shows her shield near Balliol’s front gate on Broad Street.
The blazon (formal heraldic description) is:
i. Argent three chevronals interlaced sable (Brackenbury)
ii. Sable a chevron or between three swords erect argent (this is said, doubtfully, to represent the Balliol family connection. It does not resemble heraldry that has ever been used by the college.)
iii. Argent three bars sables (Illesley)
iv. Argent a lion rampant sable (Denton)
v. Argent a chevron sable between three crosses crosslet gules (Wycliffe – one pedigree records that at some date in the reign of Henry VIII Agnes Wyclif married Antony Brackenbery of Denton)
vi. Or on a chevron sable three stags heads caboshed argent (Ellerton).
Sections ii-vi represent alliances of marriage over a long period. The blazon and notes above are taken from ‘Notes on the heraldry in Balliol College,’ collected by Leonard Hindmarsh, 1949 (Balliol College Archives, Hindmarsh Papers 5.) Hindmarsh concludes from various printed sources that this particular Brackenbury coat ‘goes back to about 1550, possibly much earlier.’
Hannah Brackenbury’s crest, which appears just above the shield shown, is: ‘On a wreath of the colours, in front of an oak-tree vert fructed proper, a lion couchant sable. Motto: Oncques Sans Reculer Jamais.’ This is archaic French and means approximately ‘Never ever give up.’
I think I should call these questions Q & A rather than FAQ, because frankly no question is asked frequently. Some are asked more than once!
Q: is there any heraldry in St Cross church?
A: Not much. The architecture and decoration have been hashed about so many times it’s impossible to say what might have been there. No hatchments or architectural shields survive. There is one 19th century postcard with evidence of shields painted between the arches on the south arcade, but only two are shown (poorly). The only heraldry surviving now is associated with several of the memorials; the survey of memorials, including photos, is currently at the editing stage, and full details will be published on our website – not immediately. But nothing earthshattering.
Balliol’s main site has lots of heraldry, and although it has been surveyed by Hindmarsh and written about by Wagner – we have both sets of notes in the modern papers collections – it’s never been written up. Thesis, anyone?