Debate remains over who prefers the ‘heavy’ Spanner or ‘slim’ Spanner… but one thing is certain: both do the job after dark.

Past incarnations:

Spanner I (1937), Spanner II (1961)

Current version:

Spanner III (1964)


City and Guilds College Union




Wooden Spanner (inviolate)

Details and dimensions:

Spanner III is a 64lb brass spanner manufactured to perfectly fit the bolts on London Bridge. A recently surfaced, lighter Doppelgänger is constructed of wood.

Made-for-telly history:

Exactly what job after dark is Spanner said to accomplish? Unhinging London Bridge, of course! Although unscrewing the spans of London Bridge today is strongly ill-advised (thanks, MI6) you cannot help but admire the slightly subversive nature of the students who created Spanner in the early 1960s.

Heavy, hefty Spanner is meant to convey one thing: don’t mess with the brass!

Will any alumni from the turbulent 1960s step forward to discuss how and why they made a spanner their mascot?

That all changed in 1974. The first female Guilds President, Jenny Jones, was elected to office. Petite Jenny was unable to lift 68lb Spanner over her head during CGCU’s chant “Boomalaka!”.

(“Boomalaka, boomalaka, boomalaka!” goes the chant for minutes on end. Frankly, not all of CGCU’s men could pump heavy Spanner up and down over their heads for the duration of the chant, either.)

It was decided that a wooden replica would be made.

Brass Spanner was taken to student Philip Northey’s hometown of Plymouth. There he set about measuring and cutting a replica Spanner out of wood. He painted it so that both versions were identical.

“From a distance, it was difficult to tell [them] apart. However a look at the person holding the Spanner would quickly reveal which one was which. (The one hoisting the brass one usually sweating, shaking and with bulging veins on the temples!)” says alumnus, Philip Northey

Today, Wooden Spanner is inviolate, which means it would be considered theft if stolen… so better to pinch the real thing (if you can manage to capture it) if you’re planning a caper after dark.

First violated:

1960-something – anyone out there know? If so, please tell us in the comments.

Last violated:



None that are fit to print. Really.


Thanks to Mr Northey paving the way, replica Spanners marking 30 years after graduation were expected. In 2011, CGCU looked forward to the next Spanner incarnation courtesy the class of 1981. Was it be knitted of leggings and discarded tapes? (Note: ‘tapes’ were a form of music transfer commonly used between ‘records’ and ‘CDs’. Ask a history student.) Is there any news about Spanner 2011?


The ‘new’ wooden Spanner was collected from alumnus Mr Northey’s home by then CGCU President He-in Cheong on 12 September 2010.


Live! 23 September 2010

Do you prefer ‘real’ Spanner or Wooden Spanner, and why? Share your comments below.



  1. Ah the day (in around 1991 or 2) we walked into the security office of the Hyde Park Hotel after the C&GU ball and simply asked for the spanner and bolt. We even got the names of the real bearers wrong and they still gave them to us! (Big) Andy Pearson and Dave (Face) Gray are legends.

  2. I was City and Guilds Union President in 1953/4. The Spannert was wooden then and was stolen by the Royal College of Science Union people. I organised an ‘after dark’ party to search for it – mbut that search was unsuccessful.

  3. Sometime during my time in EE (73-76) a (presumably replica) spanner was spotted behind one of the UCL bars. No-one seemed to know A lunchtime expedition was launched to retrieve it. Somehow, a large number of us entering, buying drinks and standing in front of the bar, to defend if necessary, seemed to raise no suspicions.

    Suddenly, the SWAT team burst through the door into the serving area, snatched the spanner and rushed out. We all innocently joined in with the natives wondering what had just had happened, supped up, and returned to South Ken.

    Job done.

  4. I well remember how in 1962 or trhereabouts some villains from RCS stole the spanner and hung it down from the roof onto the eastern end face of the RCS buiildng thereby offending all viewers from the adjacent Rowland Hill building where I was studying Aeronautical Engineering.
    There must be a photo somewhere??

      • Well John, you have indeed shed light on a new twist in Spanner’s illustrious history — as you can see it’s had a shady past. The Spanner we currently have in our possession at the College today has “January 1964” engraved upon it’s brow. But with your recollection, we did a bit more digging and discovered according to Felix, issue June 1961, there was a “new” spanner made. So deductive reasoning means we must be on Spanner III by now (1964). Anyone know what happened to poor Spanner II (1961)? And how Spanner III (1964) came to be?

        Felix June 1961:
        On Thursday May 25th a Guilds Union Meeting was held on the roof of the R.C.S. Chemistry Building. It was thought that this unusual location would give rise to some sport with the inmates, but they were all hard at work and did not notice the two hundred or so Guildsmen walking through the building. The meeting was opened with due ceremony: Norman Greaves declared the meeting open, the house roared the traditional response “Late!” and the Vice president hoisted an article of ladies* underwear to the top of the flagpole to appreciative applause. Assisted by the President and encouraged bv the house the Secretary deciphered the minutes written in the Under-secretary’s illegible scrawl, gave up half-way, and they were passed as read. The only correspondence was a letter from the Dean refusing the request for a half holiday on the occasion of the Field Cup Race.

        With moving eloquence the President recounted the adventures of the old wooden Spanner and bade it farewell, and then the new Spanner was introduced to the Union, This is of metal, cast and engraved with the name of the College, and weighing between 20 and 200 lbs.; the exact figure cannot be disclosed. It is an exact replica of the wooden Spanner which was used as a pattern, and considerably less portable, indeed the President could hardly lift it. It was baptised with a bottle of Final Selection, and strong men were seen to weep as the beer dripped to the ground. The new Spanner was put to good use right away, a sweepstakes being held to guess it’s weight in pennies, and this raised £3.15.0 for OXFAM. The weighing designed and built by the College and was done on a special portable balance consisting mainly of a plank and a bottle. The President attempted to explain the scientific principles behind this instrument, but the house remained invincibly ignorant of these, despite his visual aids in the form of band-waving, etc. The President closed the meeting with the traditional Boomolaeka. and in attempting to wave the new Spanner as he had been wont to wave the old one, he nearly “overbalanced backwards off the roof. The Vice-president then proposed John White as Guardian of the Spanner, as he seemed to be the only man capable of carrying it. To this the President insisted that he had already closed the meeting, in spite of attempts to convince him that he had only adjourned it, so that this had to be held over until Tuesday’s meeting. On the way out, the Guildsmen were pleasantly surprised to find some members of the R.C.S. Executive holding the door open for them, assisted by a Black Belt Judo, a very courteous gesture which was much appreciated.

  5. Something swallowed some of my comment. Should have read “No-one seemed to know where it came from or how it got there”.

    On another occasion, the miners took spanner ransom when the blood transfusion service were on campus. 200 pints of blood were demanded as ransom. Unsuspecting guildsmen and women were dragged kicking and screaming from lectures to meet the demand.

  6. The large end of spanner is said to fit the bolts on Tower Bridge. The small end is the same size as the wheel nuts on Bo. The legend is that before spanner, Bo was violate and it was the drivers job to fight off potential violators with the largest tool in his toolbox which happened to be the wheel nut spanner.

  7. I remember a bunch of RCS students (including yours truly) stealing Spanner (brass one) around 1963. An RCS student had, by chance, seen some C & G students carrying a bag that could only contain Spanner into the main C & G building after a C & G union meeting. They timed how long they were in the building and passed the info on to Dick Conn and friends. We reasoned that in the time the C & G students were in the building they could only have gone a short distance and hidden Spanner in some easily accessible place – like a personal locker on one of the first three floors. We felt we could find that locker.
    The next morning (a Saturday) about 6 of us assembled outside the C & G building. On the way there I had rented an enormous pair of bolt cutters and I had them in a big bag.
    So, how to find the locker that held Spanner? We deduced (we were science students, remember) that Spanner would be in the locker, standing up, leaning against the back wall of the locker. We proposed that we lean every group of lockers forward, until we found one that emitted a loud clunk as Spanner fell forward and hit the door. So we split up into groups of two, one group for each floor. We soon found a locker that developed an outward dent in the door after it had been leaned forward. I brought up the bolt cutters and made short work of the padlock. There, Lo! and Behold! Spanner.We carefully replaced the now-broken padlock with one of our own, stuck Spanner in the bag and left the building.
    Eventually C & G paid a ransom and got Spanner back – painted very expertly in RCS colors. He looked much better than in dreary C & G colors. I have a couple of photos of Spanner while in our possession.

  8. I’m puzzled about the suggestion that a new spanner appeared in 1964! I took an enforced break in the ’63 – ’64 academic year, but for a lot of ’64 – ’65 Spanner hid under my bed at home – and it hadn’t changed as far as I could tell from the year before – nor did anyone say anything about a change.

    So I’m inclined to discount it as a typo, myth, whatever – I’m sure it was the same beast I first saw in the Guilds Union meeting in the Unwin building in autumn ’61.

    Hugh Ainsley

    • HI Hugh,

      Well as you know, we have always said the stories around the mascots are indeed a murky lot. We got the 1964 date from a 14 February 1994 Felix article: “The current 641b Spanner was made in 1964 by the Mechanical Engineering Department. It was cast out of the brass from spent cartridges which the Rifle Club collected over three years.” Can you shed any light on this as we’d love to know. See page 2 of the issue:

  9. I can confirm that the small end of spanner does NOT fit the wheel nuts on Bo’… or at least it didn’t during the time I was at IC (2004-2008)

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