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Achieving a coat of arms
  1. Bernard Valman

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Shortly after receipt of the charter for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, its executive committee appointed the late Professor David Baum (then president-elect) and myself (honorary archivist) to arrange the production of a coat of arms. I phoned the College of Arms for advice and was put through to the Richmond Herald, who was duty herald for the day. After asking a few questions he said that, provided that we were prepared to pay £7000, there should be no difficulty. I made an appointment to meet him with David Baum at the College of Arms near St Paul's Cathedral. The ground floor contains a courtroom where cases of dispute on heraldic matters can be heard. We went up a creaking wooden staircase lined with framed sheets of parchment containing coats of arms belonging to dynasties long dead.

The Richmond Herald, who with his half moon spectacles resembled a friendly family solicitor (attorney), suggested that we should decide on the concepts that should be incorporated, bearing in mind that the coat of arms should be distinctive and easily recognised. We included the aims of the College, the history of British paediatrics and child health, and some double meanings. Through the college newsletter we asked members for suggestions, most of which were incorporated in the final design, which was approved by the executive committee without change.

The coat of arms was painted on parchment in time for the design to be used on the programme for the first annual general meeting of the new College in April 1997. The members were delighted with the design, apart from some Lancastrians who objected to the rose, which was white. We had chosen a white rose because it represented the City of York, where many annual general meetings had been held, as well as the rose of England. After consultation with the Richmond Herald one of the white roses was repainted red. There were three symbols with double meanings.

The position of the child represents the concept that paediatricians wish to be as altruistic as parents by aspiring that the child should reach a level of attainment higher than their own. The tree of life (oak) represents child development and health and also refers to the first president of the College (David Baum). The tree is placed on a green field, referring to Professor Roy Meadow, the midwife of the College.

Coats of arms began in England in the middle ages, to distinguish indviduals during tournaments. The knight carried his shield, distinctively painted, and wore his helmet with a crest. The idea was not original. In ancient times Jewish, Greek, and Roman families adopted special symbols. Armorial bearings are commonly called a coat of arms but heraldically speaking this term refers only to the devices borne on a shield. The full display of all the devices is called a an achievement. The central element is the shield, which is surmounted by a helmet on which is borne the crest. Mantling, representing protective drapery, flows from the helmet. The figures at the sides of the shield are called supporters.

A more detailed description is found in Valman B, A coat of arms for paediatrics and child health.

Editor's note

I hope non-UK readers are not too bemused by the arcane nature of the process described above. Rather they should be reassured that, despite the pressures of the electronic age, tradition has not totally flown off into cyberspace.

Those of you who dare to admit that they have not read Shakespeare may be puzzled at the reference to Lancaster and York. Please be reassured that the medieval rivalry between these two counties are alive and well, at least on the cricket square.

Finally, to preserve what little secrecy is left to us, the author, as archivist of the RCPCH is unrelated to ADC's Archivist, whose pseudonymous contributions have graced our pages for decades.

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