It was a great privilege for me to be invited to follow, as your Patron, the late much lamented Admiral of the Fleet, the Earl Mountbatten of Burma, murdered by the I.R.A.
After fifteen years and, at the age of 86, it continues to be my pleasure to meet, every year, so many members of Cambridge University Heraldic and Genealogical Society and find such a thriving interest in heraldry (my own much loved hobby) among young students and artists in this country as well as in Italy and even in Russia and Japan.
Your Excellency, Garter, Ladies and Gentlemen!
We are greatly honoured that His Excellency visited us this year, too. It is not easy to come such a long way from Switzerland and, taking the trouble is extremely kind of His Excellency and we all appreciate it.
We too have to travel a long distance, in time, if we want to recall the birth of this Society. Forty years ago the Heraldic and the Genealogical Societies of the University came under a “personal-union”, and soon merged into CUHAGS. This all happened under the Presidency of Dr Peter Spufford – of course he was not a Dr at the time – now Vice-President of the Society.
For a long time the Senior Treasurer of the Society had been Freddy Brittain whom I am too young to have been able to meet personally, but he has been a remarkable friend of the Society, and a great character.
The Society has enjoyed – and still is enjoying – the patronage of His Excellency, Archbishop Bruno B. Heim. His Excellency is a great expert on heraldry, and heraldic artist, apart from supporting the Society with great enthusiasm. The Library of the Society recently has been restored, including a magnificent selection of books donated to the Society by his Excellency, including his Excellency’s own volumes.
It is always a pleasure to have two great supporters, Alice and Honorary Vice-President, Cecil Humphery-Smith, with us (I realise that I am not careful enough: for the moment please concentrate on the non-heraldic meaning of “supporter”). They keep a healthy, good spirit in the Society, help in all sorts of matters, with suggestions that can be really helpful.
In Hungarian there is a saying: “Madarat tolláról, embert barátjáról”. This literally means “Bird of its feathers, man of his friends”, that is: you recognise a bird by its feathers and a man by his friends. The Society is extremely lucky to have as friends Mary and Henry Paston-Bedingfeld. Henry, York Herald of Arms, and an Honorary Vice-President, has addressed the Society on a number of occasions and then have entertained the Committee for a lovely meal every year in recent times in their family house at Oxburgh.
Despite practical difficulties, the Society flourishes. We had some fascinating talks this year and a recent visit to Westminster School. Regrettably, due to some unforeseen boat-race, I was unable to attend this visit and I have heard I missed really a lot. Last year we launched a new publication, The Escutcheon: most of you should be familiar with it by now. It appears termly, that is three times a year, and includes short articles by members of the Society, so please feel encouraged to contribute.
Finally I would like to greet Peter Gwynn-Jones, Garter Principal King of Arms. He was Bluemantle Pursuivant, then Lancaster Herald until he was appointed recently as Garter. This is not his first visit to Cambridge, in fact, he is a graduate of the University – in particular a college right around the corner opposite the Post Office next to Heffers. He kindly agreed to address the Society on this special occasion, so now I would like to hand over the word to him.
Thank you very much.
László Á. Kóczy
Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I have to confess to having some reservations about speaking in Clare. Some years ago I spent five nights in Clare Memorial Court taking a scholarship exam in physics and chemistry. I recall attempting to time ball bearings falling through pots of treacle in the Cavendish Laboratory. Unfortunately I overheated the treacle and had to let fly with the liquid oxygen. This in turn produced some tiresome air bubbles; and my ball bearings would insist on impinging themselves on these bubbles instead of dropping regularly to the bottom of the treacle pot.
I glanced across at my neighbour and saw that his graph was neatly per bend sinister twelve roundels in bend sinister. Heraldically my graph was much more exciting. It was pily semy of roundels. I was not invited to take part in the subsequent chemistry practical!
My cribbed neighbour passed into Clare; possibly because of his graph or possibly because of his threatening Crest of a demi lion rampant with bow and arrow at the ready. He became a colourful Clare character, holding splendid port and poker parties. I recall that he also had a copy of Boutell’s Heraldry which I glanced at with mild interest. It never for one moment crossed my mind that one day I would return to Clare as Garter King of Arms.
My days at Cambridge were spent at Trinity where I read history, but I often dined in Clare where the food was a distinct improvement on that of my own College. Trinity had an inexplicable obsessioin with braised celery. However, I think that our cellar had an edge on Clare, although after this evening I may have to revise this opinion. A typical evening was dining in Clare and then repairing to Trinity for further imbibing where I had a staging post by courtesy of Argent a Cross engrailed Gules in the dexter Canton a Bell Or. Eventually I would wend my way back across Magdalene Bridge to my digs in the tangle of streets in that part of Cambridge. The tedium of the journey home was alleviated by courtesy of Messrs Cadbury who had conveniently installed a chocolate vending machine on my route home. One evening, feeling peckish and possibly needing a supplement after braised celery, I fished into my pocket and found a piece of loose change. I duly inserted it into the chocolate machine and to my delight a bar of chocolate popped out. To my even greater delight, and surprise, the coin popped out as well. It was, I believe, an Indian rupee and thereafter it became one of my prized possessions. Every evening I would insert the coin into the chocolate machine and every evening the coin duly returned to its owner. Alas, there came an evening when the chocolate machine disappeared; Cadburys had clearly realised that something was amiss. I do hope none of you this evening have shares in Cadburys as the compound interest due might be considerable.
Such was the food at Trinity that some of us decided to stage a revolution. Master-minded by one who was destined to become High Sheriff of Hampshire we decided to remove the temporary kitchens of Trinity into Trinity Street. As Trinity was endlessly decorating its kitchens, temporary kitchen arrangments were installed in a portacabin. It was this portacabin which we conveyed across the Great Court where it became lodged in the gateway. Police appeared from nowhere and we all scattered. I fled down the backs with a friend who suddenly froze and took up a strange posture. The police approached him and enquired “Sir what do you think you are doing” to which he replied “Officer I am pretending to be a tree”. Well there is a limit to which one can support friends so I fled. I took refuge here in Clare. I got away with it. Somehow the tree got away with it; but the future High Sheriff of Hampshire spent, I believe, a night in jail. This morning I looked up the tree in Burke’s Landed Gentry. Although he features therein he remains non-armigerous. I feel there is scope for future design in a future grant of arms.
I was not aware of the existence of any Heraldry Society during my years at Cambridge, but there were certainly white tie dinners. However, they were not always as well behaved as you have been this evening. If my first memories of Cambridge consist of those wretched ball bearings, my last memories are of a white tie dinner on my last night. The memories are somewhat hazy, but I recall plenty of smashed glass and a broken table. Late at night, I went back to Trinity with Azure a Bend Or who came for another nightcap in my rooms. An hour or so later Azure a Bend Or attempted to climb the spikes at Bishop’s Hostel in order to return to Selwyn. He was dressed in a hunt tail coat and would insist upon blowing his hunting horn from the top of the spikes in the early hours of the morning. The porters were most indulgent and eventually we coaxed him over to the far side and thereafter he went off to become a monk. Not surprisingly it was discovered that he was not monk material and ultimately became a barrister.
Ladies and gentlemen, heraldry and Cambridge are both timeless and both have qualities which are characteristically British. I would like to end by thanking the Cambridge University Heraldic and Genealogical Society for bringing both together this evening and for providing such an enjoyable occasion. It is with delight that I ask you to raise your glasses and to toast CUHAGS.
Cecil R. Humphery-Smith
When I came up to sit a test in Little Schools in 1946, my childhood hobby of heraldry prevented my remaining in Cambridge for the remainder of my formal education, for I had spent the summer holiday cycling around the churches of Sussex recording coats of arms on monuments and glass and taking brass rubbings, rather than revising chemistry. Heraldry and an overdose of confidence filled my young brain. After all, I had won school prizes in science for a couple of years running.
Within a few hours, in deep depression, I wandered the city and, delighted but temporarily confused between my intended college gate and Christ’s, I questioned a passer-by who took me to Jesus for a cup of tea. His interest in brass rubbing and heraldry exceeded my own and he knew the R.C. chaplain would get some of the men together from time to time to discuss such matters. He entertained me with tales of gallic symbolism and wished me well.
There were no grants in those days, father paid; there was no offer of an alternative faculty. Though with soldiers promised places in preference to school leavers, I had to set out for London the following year. I have found that hospitality at Cambridge has never flagged. A postcard invited me some three years later to Fisher House, and some memorable claret. In 1954, after giving several talks there, I was asked to become a Vice President of Cambridge University Heraldic Society. Since Alice and I had lived near the late Wilfrid Scott-Giles with whom I served on the Council of the Heraldry Society, there was soon some involvement in work towards the publication of The Cambridge Armorial and pleasant soirees held at Kew and Sunbury-on-Thames.
In 1955, while dividing my time between sorting out the archives of the late Marchese Bernardo Patrizi at Gernetto and the diseases of tomatoes in the Valley of the Po, my obituary appeared in the Corriera della Serra, the morning after a sheet had been stretched over a bed on which I lay in the municipal hospital in Piacenza. The newspaper report had much to say about the piccolo ponto into which I had rammed my millecento and little about il chemico inglese – who miraculously recovered to continue his interest in heraldry.
My boyhood efforts with salvage for the war effort (1938–40) had taught me the rudiments of palaeography: a while in Perugia provided improvement. An early realisation that genealogy was essential to the study of heraldry brought an introduction to George Sherwood and kept me from paying any subscription to the Society of Genealogists until the day he died. He was truly an example of generosity with his facilities, knowledge and time. Hugh Stanford London had also taken me under his wing as my work on heraldry had been contributed to the New Papworth. His sound advice prevented me accepting the kind invitation to join the College of Arms, engineered by the then Richmond Herald, (Sir) Anthony Wagner in a letter which arrived for my twenty-first birthday. John Brooke-Little’s call in the Boy’s Own Paper to the inaugural meeting of the Society of Heraldic Antiquaries in 1947 took me to the shadier area of London to meet a dozen other enthusiasts and good fortune which placed me in post-graduate studies at the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine close by the rear entrance of the British Museum Library and a short walk from El Vino’s wine bar ensured the continuity of the passion.
The first lecture I gave for London University after graduating was about heraldry. The next was a course on family history, as I had modified the approach to ancestry tracing to study the social and economic background of characters on the family tree.
Almost annually, and sometimes more frequently, I visited the Society of variable growth and disorganisation in Cambridge to show my paintings or lantern slides (hand-coloured three-inch squares, at first). Such encouragement as I could give to those who were increasingly younger and less knowledgeable than I was imparted enthusiastically and, with some struggling, heraldic interest among Cambridge undergraduates survived.
Then, forty years ago, three gushing, enthusiastic and highly organised young men with equal passion for genealogy proposed the amalgamation of the somewhat thinly supported heraldry society with the relatively new genealogical society. Members of the latter were the more reluctant; they had difficulties in dealing with heraldry which did not appear to have any bearing on the ancestry of the common man. Few attended subsequent meetings when the subject was heraldic; but a splendid formula has ensured the survival of CUHAGS and the prospect of continuity is as strong as ever.
It will remain my pleasure and privilege to endeavour to entertain you with matters related to heraldry and genealogy, for I am proud to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of meeting the late Freddy Britain, accidentally. I am a little less happy about the fate of Monsignor Gilbey’s amanuensis for which I was partially responsible a few years later. As for the years, they have passed most pleasantly, if all one has to remember is the claret, good fare, good company and CUHAGS.
Congratulations – Ad multos annos