Leeds boy's three swords school crest history quest at Kirkstall Abbey

A curious Leeds schoolboy went on a quest back through the centuries to discover the story behind his school’s crest.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 4:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 5:48 pm
Xander Hill at Kirkstall Abbey Photo: Bruce Rollinson

Eleven-year-old Xander Hill was puzzled by the three swords he spotted on the Kirkstall St Stephen’s Primary School emblem and decided to see if he could find out the symbol’s origins.

Xander worked with staff at Abbey House Museum to learn of the legacy left by the monks and aristocrats who founded Kirkstall Abbey

Xander said: “I decided to find out why my school crest has three swords on it and the only other place I’d seen it was on some gates and a litter bin, both at Kirkstall Abbey.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Xander Hill at Kirkstall Abbey Photo: Bruce Rollinson

"I guessed there must be a link, so I looked at the history of the Abbey.”

Xander learned that Kirkstall Abbey was founded in 1147 to 1152 when 12 monks from Fountains Abbey and their prior Alexander took over a site at Barnoldswick, funded by aristocrat Henry de Lacy.

In 1152 they relocated to Kirkstall with help from Henry de Lacy, who was given the land by William Peitivin.

Xander wanted to take his mission further, but needed more information from those with inside knowledge of the abbey, so he asked his mum Suzie to help.

“Because of lockdown I couldn’t get in the abbey visitor centre or anywhere to research further," said Xander. "My mum asked for some help via twitter and Kirkstall Abbey staff kindly sent me a picture of a fireplace at Abbey House.

“From the fireplace, I could tell that Kirkstall Abbey’s crest was clearly not based on the De Lacy family crest.

"So I looked into it a bit more and found that the crest was actually based on the Pietivin family crest, who had donated the land.

“Interestingly, Barnoldswick Town FC also has the three swords on their crest which shows their link to Kirkstall Abbey, as they were its first site.”

Having discovered the origin of the three swords, Xander’s quest was seemingly over, but he still wasn’t satisfied, and is asking local history buffs to help him find the final piece of the puzzle.

He added: “There are so many different spellings for the Pietivin family, so I have struggled to get a picture that I can be sure is their original crest, so if anyone else can help that would be brilliant."

Although the abbey and visitors centre is currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, the abbey grounds can still be explored.

Kirkstall Abbey is one of the country’s most well-preserved monasteries.

Anyone who can help find the original Pietivin family crest can tweet @KirkstallAbbey

Coun Mary Harland, Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy and culture, said: “It’s fantastic to see that one of our historic sites has helped inspire this young person to use his imagination and ingenuity to discover an important part of the city’s story.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have a beautiful location like Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds and it’s always good to know that a new generation of history lovers is enjoying and appreciating the abbey and its unique heritage.”