The flag has just returned to the National Maritime Museum following extensive conservation treatment on outside contract through a very generous grant made available to us. The flag was recently acquired by us on behalf of the nation and the grant enabled the conservation of the flag to proceed soon after.
The union flag is a very rare example of the pre-1801 pattern which was made before the saltire of St. Patrick (the red diagonal cross) was added when the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was formed in 1801. It was the command flag of Richard, Earl Howe (1726-1799) as Admiral of the Fleet; it was flown on his flagship Queen Charlotte at the Battle of the Glorious First of June 1794.
It is very irregular in design and is made from a total of 31 different pieces of loosely-woven wool bunting all stitched together by hand using linen thread to form the pattern of the flag. It has a linen hoist with a rope running through it which was used to fly the flag.
The flag has lots of holes throughout, many with fraying edges; the damage is likely to have been caused by insect attack and through wear and tear. Some holes have been patched with other fabrics where people have tried to repair it in the past.
After careful documentation and photography the flag was very lightly surface cleaned with low powered vacuum suction. Following testing to ensure the dyes were fast and that the flag would benefit from the treatment it was decided to wet clean it. This is a huge undertaking with an object this size, measuring in at 4.5m x 5.81m!
A wash-bath was made up using polythene and 3″ square beams which would accommodate the flag when folded in half lengthways, over a roller. Two PVC drainpipe rollers were provided to roll the flag during washing. Special detergents are used in a very shallow bath of softened water, followed by very thorough rinsing in softened water with a final rinse in de-ionised water to ensure there is no detergent or hard water salts left on the flag.
After washing the flag was laid out, face down onto a bed of soft-board covered with plastic sheeting, it was pinned along all the seams aligning the weaves and the design a section at a time starting from the centre out and then allowed to dry.
Lengths of a very fine nylon bobbin net were dyed to match each of the three colours of the flag, it was then applied to each section while it was still laid out flat after
drying, aligning the weave of the wool bunting to the grain of the net and stitched into place.
The flag was rolled onto a large roller to enable the flag to be worked on a frame. All the weak areas and holes in the wool bunting were stitched down onto the net support using a laid and couched stitch.
When all the stitching was complete the flag was placed face-up and the upper layer of net was applied in sections to match the bunting. More lines of stitching were evenly spaced in a vertical and horizontal grid through all the layers of net and wool bunting so that the flag is fully supported. All the seams and edges were neatly finished.
At the top and lower hoist edge, where the bunting had pulled away from the hoist edge, added support was introduced in the form of patches of dyed cotton muslin applied to the reverse of the bunting and stitched into position.
We hope to display the flag at some time in the future in which case Velcro would be stitched along the top edge allowing the flag to hang evenly from a wooden batten fixed to a wall.
We would like to thank the funders as well as the conservators, Annabel Wylie and Poppy Singer for all their hard work in undertaking the conservation of this very large and complex project and for making such a good job of it! The flag looks wonderful and can now be seen in its true colours and will be preserved for many future generations to enjoy.
As Curator of Ship Models, I need to ensure that the Museum collects examples of vessels of historical and technical importance to expand our world-class collection of over 3000 models. As well as historical models we are always looking for examples which keep pace with current developments in shipping.
LNG Carrier Methane Heather Sally (ZBA4653)
One of our most recent acquisitions is the Liquid Natural Gas Carrier (LNG) Methane Heather Sally, kindly presented to the museum by the BG Group in 2009. As the UK’s natural gas reserves are diminishing, the gas supply companies have to import gas from abroad. Carrying this commodity in bulk – economically and by sea – is certainly challenging as the gas has to be refrigerated at a temperature of minus 161 degrees centigrade. The NMM’s ship model collection already includes examples of the earliest ships to transport this cargo, dating from the 1970s onwards, and this fine, full-hulled example brings the story right up to date. It is slightly unusual in that the hull includes a cut-away section showing the internal layout and construction of the gas cells.
As you can see, the port side towards the bow shows the various colour-coded layers of the membrane containment system which comprises stainless steel, glass-fibre cloth and an aluminum foam wood sandwich. The volume of gas carried by the vessel, once expanded from its liquid form, is 145,000 cubic metres, which is enough to power over half a million American homes for a month!
This vessel is also typical of modern shipbuilding, with most vessels designed with the greenest credentials and the ability to re-cycle the hull materials at the end of their working life. Some of the more notable green features on the Methane Heather Sally include:-
- Using the boil-off gas to fuel the boilers for both the main engines and electrical generators, rather than using additional energy for refrigerating the LNG
- Burning gas rather than heavy fuel oil, which reduces CO2, NO2 and SO2 emissions
- A waste oil incinerator and rubbish re-cycling and compactor
- A safe water ballast transfer system which prevents the movement of invasive marine species to undesired locations
These ships are theoretically able to circumnavigate the world around the zero meridians in about 44 days at an operating speed of 20 knots. They will be operating in and out of a new handling facility currently under construction at Milford Haven.
This month the NMM has released a cute and cuddly batch of historic photographs on Flickr. The new set depicts a variety of animals that travelled onboard ship around the world, keeping sailors company.
The mascot of HMS Renown
The images can also be found in a charming book of the same name in the Museum’s shop which tells some of the tales of these animals and the feelings that their shipmates had for them.