ACADEMIC PRIZE MEDALS
At the turn of the 19th century, academic and athletic achievement was rewarded with medals that today attract interest from collectors, as Mike Roberts explains
At the turn of the 19th century, academic and athletic achievement was rewarded with medals that today attract great interest from collectors, historians, and the ancestors of those who earned the recognition. Mike Roberts explains more in his latest guide to collecting tokens
What do you do when you’re not collecting coins? Do you sing madrigals, grow leeks, breed highland cattle, run half marathons, or maybe something really dreary, like collecting stamps?
And if you do, are you competitive, and have you ever won a medal? Numismatics is, in this respect, rather unusual. Yes, it’s competitive when we’re sniping on ebay, or rushing up the stairs as the doors open at 11am on the Friday of York Coin Fair, but ‘competitive numismatics’ is not a phenomenon with which I’m familiar. Philatelists, on the other hand, have competitions at local, county, national and international levels, with rules that make Crufts Dog Show appear amateurish, with judges and collectors debating furiously over concepts such as ‘treatment’, ‘development’ and ‘importance’ of competitive exhibits. No-one I know has ever bought a coin with a view to improving his collection from a ‘large vermeil’ to a ‘gold’, but that’s about all that seems to matter to some of my philatelic friends.
Many paranumismatists have collections of medals which have been awarded over the years for academic, creative, sporting, or artistic achievements. Whether they collect thematically (the hypothetical leek-growing numismatist may be attracted to awards handed over in the produce tents of countless local agricultural shows), or geographically (regular readers will know my collections are dominated by pieces from Yorkshire and Cumbria), is a matter of personal choice. So, where to begin? Well, the possibilities are endless, and it’s futile to draw strict lines of demarcation between different areas of collecting which rapidly become blurred, but let’s start with medals awarded for academic prowess.
The first piece illustrated
appears to be in silver, about the size of a florin, and is The Hawkyard Medal, awarded by The Batley School Board
‘For Regularity Industry and Obedience’. It is named to Joseph Thornton in 1891. I am making certain assumptions about this medal, which I have deliberately chosen to illustrate the joys and frustrations of online research. To begin with, it is highly likely to be a West Yorkshire piece, emanating from Batley Grammar School, which was founded in 1612, and is still in existence, becoming the first free school in Yorkshire in 2012. But the school’s website makes no reference to its history, and I have so far found nothing to link ‘Hawkyard’ to the school, albeit that the surname is not uncommon in the vicinity. Also, is it really an award for academic achievement, or might the recipient be the boy who is never going to be top of the class, but tries hard and is liked by everyone? If I could locate an old edition of the school magazine for 1891 all would probably be revealed, but I shall have to wait for the County Archive in Wakefield to re-open to find out. What I do know is that it’s an attractive, albeit simple, medal, quite scarce (I don’t think I’ve ever seen another one) and no doubt gave enormous pleasure to its recipient 130 years ago.
And so to my old school. Huddersfield New College, ‘HNC’, was opened in 1958. Boys of my generation who passed the Eleven Plus, could either go there or to King James’s Grammar School in Almondbury, founded in the early 17th century and regarded as more traditional and ‘posh’ (similarly, on the same campus as HNC was Huddersfield High School, but the first choice for girls was invariably Greenhead High School, renowned for its arcane rules and a headmistress who made Miss Jean
Brodie appear almost common).
I’m illustrating a sporting medal awarded at ‘King Jim’s’ (figure 2) and it might be supposed that there would be more awards issued by the older school than by its upstart cousin. But, unless all these medals have found their way to the melting pot, this guess would be wrong.
HNC was the eventual successor to Huddersfield College which was established in 1839 as a day and boarding school, with premises in New North Road on what was then the perimeter of the town, and with boarders from throughout Great Britain and Ireland. It was established and governed by The Huddersfield College Company Limited, the shareholders being mostly local businessmen and
dignitaries. Within a couple of years, the local MP and the President and Vice-President of the College had contributed funds to sponsor the award of annual prizes of a gold pen, books and medals. New sponsors stepped forward over the years and eventually annual Classical, Commercial, Mathematical, French and German prize medals were awarded. These are all large silver medals, which were made by Alfred Smith, a jeweller in Kirkgate, Huddersfield, and are housed in attractive brown leather cases. The obverses depict either the school arms or a prospect of the College.
The Classical Medal, dating from 1842 was originally given by WRC Stansfield MP ‘for the promotion of classical literature’ and seems to be that which is most encountered, probably because a second prize (being slightly smaller in size) was also awarded in most years. Eventually The Rt Hon Marquis of Ripon became the sponsor of this prize and it is this name which appears on the Midsummer 1874 medal awarded to JH Hastings (figure 3) and the second prize awarded to EB Hastings (his younger brother?) the following year (figure 4). JH Hastings had won second prize in 1873. He was clearly a clever chap as his name also appears on the French medal sponsored by Wm Mallinson Esq, which he won in 1874 (figure 5). An example of the Commercial medal, presented by Wright Mellor Esq, JP to W D Halstead in July 1879 is also illustrated (figure 6).
It would be fascinating to discover more about the recipients of these medals, and the internet will hopefully eventually reveal this information. Most schools are keen to brag about their former pupils. Harold Wilson, Prime Minister in the 1960s and 1970s, is probably Huddersfield’s most famous son, but he lived just outside the Borough and hence was educated at Royd’s Hall Grammar School in the Colne Valley. Perhaps the most prominent old boy of Huddersfield College was William Henry Broadbent, who was born 23 January 1835 at Longwood Edge (where as an HNC pupil I ‘enjoyed’ cross country running), won the Mathematical Silver Medal in 1849 (figure 7), and eventually became personal physician to Queen Victoria. He was created a baronet in 1893. Four years later he gave a large plot of land in Longwood to be developed as a playground for local children, and its opening, involving processions, speeches and, no doubt, hymn singing (he being of good Wesleyan stock) on 7 June 1897 is commemorated in a medal bearing Broadbent’s effigy.
The Huddersfield College medals in my collection all originally belonged to my friend Richard
Law. He, and his brother Edward, carried out extensive research on these medals and managed to trace 29 surviving pieces, eleven of them housed in institutional collections, the bulk of these being in the local Tolson Memorial Museum. Their research indicates that in total just over 200 medals of all types were issued. Richard’s collection was sold by Dix, Noonan Webb in December 2014, following his death earlier that year. Fourteen medals, assiduously acquired over many decades from coin dealers and at local antique shops and jewellers, sold for prices which would have astounded Richard, but they are beautiful and rare
pieces, which must have been keenly competed for by the College students, and cherished by the recipients and their families.
Huddersfield College was clearly held in high regard as one of the best schools of its type in the North of England, so it came as quite a shock when it was announced that its proprietor had decided to go into voluntary liquidation in 1893. The school was closed, the buildings being purchased by the Huddersfield School Board, and, after extensive structural alterations, ultimately became the boys’ college which eventually transformed itself into my alma mater. I am unaware of any further medals being issued for academic achievements. My suspicion is that nationally there began to be a trend away from medals, in favour of books or certificates, as the new century progressed, although I do have two medals in my collection, each 33 mm in diameter, awarded at the College Sports Days in 1923 and 1930. The first, in silver (figure
8), is engraved ‘J LAWTON / SCHOOL SPORTS / 1923 / VICTOR LUDORUM / HIGH JUMP / ¼ MILE / 100 YARDS / 220 YARDS’. The second bronze medal (figure 9) reads ATHLETIC SPORTS / 1930 / A HERON / UNDER 14½ / 1st IN 100 YDS / 2ND IN 220 YDS. After 1958 the New North Road premises were used by Huddersfield Technical College which in turn became part of Kirklees College in 2008.
As indicated at the beginning, medals awarded by schools for academic achievement are just one of a multitude of potential subjects for study. There is far more variety to be seen amongst medals celebrating sporting prowess, both in schools and athletic clubs, and these will be the subject of a future article, although I may first wander off to some local agricultural shows to study the highland cattle, rare breed sheep, exotic poultry and gargantuan leeks.
Further detailed information regarding Huddersfield College medals is available on Edward Law’s website