The generally accepted description of the arms of Thomas Gledhill of Barkisland is of three white diamonds on a blue background, (or, more correctly, azure, three lozenges in fess argent). However, there is at least two and possibly three very different descriptions appearing in the records of the College of Arms. In order to understand how this occurred it is necessary to start with some background.
The evidence suggests that the Gledhill family of Barkisland was using a design of arms consisting of three diamonds arranged horizontally long before the College was established. Documentation in the College's library dated 1614 shows the pedigree of Thomas Gledhill reaching back some four generations before 1327 (the first date actually mentioned in the pedigree) and shows that the family was using arms at least by that date.
The right to use arms is obtained either by long usage or by a grant of arms from the Heralds. The process by which arms were granted or confirmed is by way of an application to the Earl Marshall to authorize the Kings of Arms to proceed with a grant once they are satisfied that the proposed design conforms with the rules of heraldry and does not conflict with another family's arms.
The College's documentation for the period of the early 17th century is less complete than one might hope. It is clear however, that in 1612 Thomas Gledhill of Barkisland applied for a confirming grant of his family's arms and that this confirmation was issued by Sir Richard St. George, Norroy King of Arms. Unfortunately, the original documentation is now lost and we have to rely on secondary sources, essentially notes, or copies, of what the grant actually showed. There are two such sources (and there may in fact be more). The first source is the collection of that same Sir Richard and is known as St. George Olds Grants. It is this source which is generally considered the most authoritative. It is not possible to access these sources directly and one must rely on reports from officers within the College. One report from the office of York Herald dated 3 November 1987 referring to this source, describes the arms accorded to Thomas Gledhill on 23 December 1612 as
“argent, three lozenges in a fess gules”
(three red diamonds conjoined horizontally on a white background) and gives the crest as
“a cock's head erased argent [ all in silver] with beak and comb or [gold] holding in its beak an ear of corn gold (sic)”
The wording of these descriptions is different from that offered by Rouge Dragon Pursuivant in correspon-
dence dated 3 November 2003 which, quoting the same source, describes the arms as;
“argent, three lozenges conjoined in fess and in chief a cockerel gules”
(three red diamonds and a cockerel over the middle one, all on a white background) and the crest:
“a cockerel's head gutty argent combed, beaked wattled and holding in the beak an ear of corn or”
In other words two different descriptions appearing in the same collection of papers.
The third source, a similar accumulation of papers known as Vincent 110/227v, also referred to in the report of 3 November gives as date of the grant as 24 November 1612 and describes the arms as
“azure, three lozenges conjoined in fess argent”
(as before, but with white diamonds on a blue background) and the crest as
“a cockerel wings expanded gules beaked and combed argent standing on a branch”
(a red cockerel with beak and comb in silver etc.)
From all this it might be concluded that the arms of Thomas Gledhill are three red diamonds on a white background with or without a red cockerel over the middle diamond. The problem is that these are three red diamonds on a white background are same arms as used by the Montague family which numbered among its other titles, Earl of Manchester, and later Earl of Halifax, and whose wealth, political connections and early origins (1066) all outweighed those of the worthy Thomas Gledhill, gentleman, of Barkisland. Did a member of the Montague family contest the grant to Thomas Gledhill? Did Thomas recognize the problem and agree to abandon his family's long usage or did someone in the College wake up to what had happened and decide to remedy the problem by suggesting a change by adding the cockerel to the arms? Or is the generally less reliable Vincent source in fact correct on this occasion? The documentation is lacking and the answer to such questions remains speculative.
This leads to the question of what arms did Thomas Gledhill actually use. There are two pieces of evidence. First, at Barkisland Hall the arms of the family are carved in stone above the door. They show the arms of three diamonds and the crest of the standing cockerel. This does accord with the description in the Vincent records, but of course no colours are shown. The second piece of evidence is a MS from the British Library, (Harl. 4630) compiled as a result of a Visitation of the Heralds to Yorkshire in 1665/6. The MS is very similar to the pedigree referred to above, but ends later with Thomas' son John who “married Sarah daughter of William Horton and who had issue who both died before marriage”. It also describes the second, blue, version of the arms. The inference then, is that the blue version of the arms is the one actually used. There are two further possible line of enquiry. There is reference in an early description of Yorkshire houses to the arms shown in a stained glass window in Barkisland Hall. If the reference is correct and if the window is still in place that is likely to be very conclusive. A second line of research, is based on the chance that some member of the same family as that of Thomas Gledhill also used the family's arms: Samuel Gledhill of Haigh Hall near Wakefield, Lt. Governor of Newfoundland 1719 - 1727 is reported by an early biographer to have used arms. Searches at the College failed to produce a record of a grant to him but given the proximity of Wakefield and Barkisland it is not beyond the realm of possibility that he descended from some common ancestor of Thomas and may thus have used the same or very similar arms.
The uncertainty as to the actual grant is regrettable and speaks as much to the state of the College's records from the early Stuart period as it does to arms themselves. In the meantime anyone with the Gledhill name wishing to apply to the College for a grant could validly request either the red or the blue diamonds with appropriate distinguishing features to suggest a connection to Thomas Gledhill without direct descent.
There remains one interesting aside. The 1614 pedigree held by the College shows that a Henry Gledhill sometime before 1327 married the daughter and co-heir of Peter Barkisland and this entitled him to quarter the Barkisland arms with his own. The Barkisland arms are described as
“per pale sable and gules on a bend or three martlets sable”
In other words, the shield is divided vertically into a black half and a red half with a broad gold diagonal running from the lower right to the upper left with the standing profile of three small black birds on it. When conjoined with the Gledhill arms the resulting shield would be divided into quarters with the Gledhill diamonds in the top left and lower right quarters and the Barkisland arms appearing in the other two quarters. The result is attractive and Thomas Gledhill would have been entitle to use it but from the carving above the entry to Barkisland Hall, he does not appear to have done so.
The writer claims no expertise in this area and will admit to only a small amount of research on this specific topic. There are undoubtedly more authoritative historians whose opinion should carry much greater weight than this account is entitled to, however, it may prompt more detailed survey of the arms granted to those of the Gledhill name, in which case it will have more than fulfilled its intended purpose.
Ian Hamilton Gledhill
Canada, December 2010