One of the objects I have worked on during my time as a HLF ‘Skills for the future’ conservation intern at the National Maritime Museum has been a silk Royal Standard (post 1837). This object had sadly deteriorated to the point where it was difficult to see many of the typical features present in this type of flag. The Royal Standard is flown when and where a monarch is in residence. It has a distinctive layout which has changed over the centuries to include emblems that relate to the formation of the United Kingdom, in this case England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Prior to commencing any work on the object, I carried out a full assessment of its condition. This identified two major concerns regarding the long-term preservation of the flag. Most prominently that the warp threads had disintegrated, and left large sections where weft threads were ‘floating’, or only partially still in a woven structure. This gave the flag a straggly appearance with bundles of fibres twisted and knotted together. The flag is also significantly faded. This is particularly evident in areas which have more saturated colour, such as in the folds of the hems, which can sometimes show the original colour scheme of textiles. The main cause of this type of damage is exposure to light.
The Royal Standard flag (AAA2020) before conservation treatment
The flag had been printed or resist dyed to give it red, blue and gold colouring. The red has faded completely, and the yellow has discoloured giving the flag a uniformly brown colour. The printed areas appear to have deteriorated much more than the unprinted areas. Some historic dyes and pigments contain compounds such as Iron Oxide, that are known to deteriorate over time and damage the materials to which they were applied, and this may be why the printed areas are far more damaged than the unprinted areas.
Royal Standard flag (AAA0809) from the National Maritime Museum collection, showing the intended colour scheme.
The royal lions prior to treatment
The flag was very crumpled and my first priority was to ease out the creases before any stitching could take place to secure it down to a lining fabric. To achieve this without using excessive heat, pressure or water, the best available option available to me was the use of cool moisture through a humidifier, and letting the flag rest under light, flat glass weights until the creases were slowly eased out. Once in this condition, I could place the flag onto a support fabric that I had coloured to match using stable, lightfast dyes. The flag was then secured to the support fabric with rows of couching stitches, and placed onto a padded board. The board provides a rigid but soft support that is suitable for long term storage. A layer of dyed net was used to overlay the surface of the flag, creating a ‘sandwich’ that will keep the fragile fibres aligned and secure for the future.
The flag has been a great project with plenty of challenges. It has enabled me to work through a range of different techniques, that will benefit me greatly in future textile conservation projects.
The Royal Standard (AAA2020) after conservation treatment
We’re very excited to announce that to coincide with the opening of Visions of the Universe – the upcoming exhibition at the National Maritime Museum – Pandemonium Press are publishing The Lowest Heaven, a new anthology of contemporary science fiction.
Each story in The Lowest Heaven is themed around a body in the Solar System, from the Sun to Halley’s Comet. Contributors include Alastair Reynolds, Kaaron Warren, S.L. Grey, Lavie Tidhar, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Sophia McDougall, Maria Dahvana Headley, Adam Roberts, E.J. Swift, Kameron Hurley and Doctor Who’s Matt Jones.
The stories are illustrated with photographs and artwork selected from our world-class collection, while the book’s cover and overall design are the work of award-winning South African illustrator Joey Hi-Fi. Joey has provided us with an exclusive Q&A about how he created the design for the cover artwork.
A limited edition hardcover is available for purchase exclusively through the Royal Museums Greenwich shop at http://bit.ly/17LpKDe.
Find out more about Visions of the Universe and book tickets online at rmg.co.uk/visions
Cover artwork for The Lowest Heaven. Copyright Joey Hi-Fi
The design you created for The Lowest Heaven centres around a map – where does this idea come from?
With The Lowest Heaven being an anthology, the brief was to create a piece of artwork that would tie all the stories together. Since the book features stories based on various celestial bodies in our Solar System – creating a bespoke solar system map seemed like an interesting way to do that.
Plus, having a fascination with all things cosmic (bordering on Kosmikophilia), I couldn’t resist. I used to draw maps of alien solar systems as a kid – peppered with space battles of course. So this is a childhood dream come true.
I was inspired by the wall hangings in the National Maritime Museum collection. These were produced by the Working Men’s Educational Union in the 1850s and based on astronomical themes. The hangings were printed lithographically on cotton, which gives them an interesting appearance. I liked their simple, yet striking design. One in particular (see jpeg) formed the basis of my design.
I just took a more modern approach – if you can call it that. My map has more of a 1950s aesthetic as opposed to one reminiscent of the 1850s.
"Solar System", 1850-1860 Artist: Unknown, Working Men's Educational Union. Object ID: ZBA4550. Copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
The map also has hints or elements from the stories themselves. Can you talk us through these, and how you settled on which ones to include?
I wanted the solar system map to be unique to The Lowest Heaven. So I thought it should not only include the celestial bodies – but elements from the stories themselves.
What would make a map of the solar system even more awesome? Why, Spaceships of course! I decided to include some simple illustrations of the space-faring vessels (as well as an asteroid and a comet) that were mentioned in the various stories.
I had read the entire book already, so I went back through my notes and picked the objects I wanted to include – in the end, I settled on four. I’ll leave the reader to discover which stories they fit. To match the retro feel of the map, all the spaceships (bar Voyager) have a 1950s retro feel to them.
There are two editions of The Lowest Heaven, but this map is the central design for both of them.
For this project I decided to illustrate and design the fold-out solar system map (to be included in the hardcover) first. I felt it would be simpler to work from a full solar system map and then decide how to adapt that artwork to work on the two book covers.
What would work on the fold-out map wouldn’t necessarily work on the book covers, given the change of size and so on.
I wanted the covers to have the same character as the map – but I didn’t want the cover artwork to be exactly the same as the full fold-out. For both creative and practical reasons.
Since a simple crop of a section of the full solar system map wouldn’t work as a cover, it required reworking the typography, changing the design & removing small details while adding others.
Is designing for an anthology different from illustrating a novel or a single story?
It is. This is my first cover for an anthology featuring different authors. I had to approach it in a different way conceptually. Whereas a novel may have one central protagonist, voice, style or tone – an anthology obviously has many. Finding that common thread can be a challenge.
Many of the anthology covers I see tend to be quite generic in terms of concept. Science fiction will have a space ship on the cover, horror a ghoul of some kind, etc. For The Lowest Heaven, having each story based on a celestial body made for a strong central concept, one that was unique enough to steer clear of cover clichés.
I also felt that I didn’t want to focus on one story over another. I wanted to have the various writers all equally represented on the cover.
For more artistically readers: how did you go about making this? There’s so much detail!
I do the basic layout. Then, at night, extra-dimensional space elves materialize and complete it.
Jokes aside – having never designed a solar system map before – It started with much research.
I had to brush up on the orbit of the planets, their approximate sizes in relation to each other and so on. I wanted the map to have some semblance of scientific accuracy. The gaps in my knowledge of our solar system made me realize I should have payed more attention in science class at school – instead of filling my textbooks with super-hero themed doodles.
I then moved onto some rough sketches of the solar system map design (incorporating typography and other additional elements). Once I’d decided on a rough layout/design that I thought would work – I then started on the finished illustration.
Parts of the illustration were done in Illustrator or Photoshop, others by hand (ink on paper). I also scanned in various old paper textures to help give the solar system map that slightly aged / retro feel. I enjoy using a combination of various techniques in the illustration process. It allows me to experiment a bit.
"A Representation of the Meteor Seen at Paddington about 12 Minutes before 11 o'clock, on the Evening of the 11th of Feb. 1850", 1850 Artist: Leggatt, Hayward & Leggatt, Lloyd Brothers & Co, Wyatt, Matthew Cotes. Object ID: ZBA4550. Copyright: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Which was your favourite story?
By Grabthar’s hammer! My illustrator sense foresaw that question coming. Do you want all of the contributors to The Lowest Heaven to hate me – bar one?
Tough question. It’s so hard to choose. All the stories we amazing in some way. But if you insist on putting a phaser to my temple – I particularly enjoyed the tale for Jupiter by Jon Courtenay Grimwood.
Did you want to be an astronaut when you grew up?
Oddly no. I wanted to be a ‘Diver Uncle’. Which was my four year old self’s term for a deep sea explorer. At a young age I was watching Star Trek (plus other 80s Sci-Fi classics) and dreaming of space exploration – but I was equally fascinated by deep sea exploration. And I still am – who doesn’t find giant squid fascinating?
Find out more about The Lowest Heaven and Pandemonium Fiction at http://www.pandemonium-fiction.com/lowest-heaven.html
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.
In my job as Curator of Antiquities I have the great pleasure of looking after the Museum’s fascinating collection of flags. The museum’s collection includes part of an early US ensign, 1600.2 x 1676.4 mm in size. The fifteen star canton survives with two stripes still attached to it. Its construction would appear to be improvised, the bunting being a silk and cotton mixture, the stars linen and the hoist silk. It is all that survives of a flag believed to have been captured by the British in the famous action between Shannon and USS ‘Chesapeake’ on 1 June 1813. The ensign was sold by Debenham, Storr & Sons in 1900 and was said to have been handed down through the family of Lieutenant Samuel Grandy RN who died in 1856. Although Grandy was actively employed in the Navy in 1813, he was not on board ‘Chesapeake’ at the time of the action. After a period in a private museum run by T.G. Middleton at the Edinburgh Castle public house, Regent’s Park, the ensign appeared on the market again in 1908 when it was bought by anglophile American millionaire, William Waldorf Astor for 850 guineas and presented to the Royal United Services Institute Museum. It remained there until the museum closed in 1963 and was then transferred to the National Maritime Museum.
USS ‘Chesapeake’ ensign flag
The capture of ‘Chesapeake’, which took place during the War of 1812, ended a series of actions in which larger and more heavily armed American frigates had captured British opponents.
Fired on by the British in 1807 and scarcely able to retaliate on that occasion, ‘Chesapeake’ already had a reputation as an unlucky ship. At Boston in May 1813, she had just been refitted and had a new commander, James Lawrence. Philip Broke, who saw his chances of promotion dwindling as the war progressed, detached his sister ship to even the contest and issued a challenge to Lawrence. In the event, Lawrence came out of port before he received it. He had been ordered to proceed to the mouth of the St Lawrence and intended to deal with that enemy frigate on the horizon en route.
Boarding and Taking the American ship ‘Chesapeake’ by the Officers & crew of HMS ‘Shannon’
‘Chesapeake’ was wearing three American ensigns in case one or more was shot away and a white flag with the words: “Free trade and sailor’s rights” – a reference to the grievances that had provoked the war.
A seaman asked Broke: “Mayn’t we have three ensigns sir, like she has?”
Broke replied: “No we’ve always been an unassuming ship”.
The 11-minute action ended with the capture of ‘Chesapeake’, not because of Broke’s enthusiasm for long range gunnery, but because of ‘Shannon’s’ superior rate of fire at close quarters and the successful boarding of the US ship by the British. The fact that ‘Chesapeake’ had an inexperienced crew may have decided the issue. Casualties were very heavy on both sides – both Lawrence and his second in command Augustus Ludlow were mortally wounded. Broke, left literally with a hole in the head, and surprisingly survived until 1841. Lawrence’s injunction: “Don’t give up the ship” was widely reported in the press and reproduced on a flag flown at the battle of Lake Erie a few months later.
The museum also holds ‘Chesapeake’s’ signal book, bound with a bar of lead in the spine so it could be thrown overboard and prevented from falling into enemy hands.
On 1 June there was no time to do this.
Signal book of USS ‘Chesapeake’.
Nasty, brutal and short (to misquote Hobbes), this dramatic confrontation between two ambitious commanders ended in personal tragedy. However it became a great focus of patriotism on both sides of the Atlantic during a war in which the United States Navy emerged as a force to be reckoned with.
Command flag, Admiral of the Fleet, RN (before 1801) (AAA0730)
The collections I look after, as the NMM’s Curator of Antiquities, include over 1000 flags. Amongst the most important, if not the most important is Earl Howe’s command flag at the Battle of the Glorious First of June, 1 June 1794. This is a complete example of an 18th- century Union Jack without the red diagonal cross of St Patrick added after 1801.
It’s a very rare survival, although there are parts of captured 17th- century British flags preserved in the Netherlands. Seeing it fully unrolled is quite an experience, because of its size and the fact that it is clearly painstakingly hand-made and so different from machine-manufactured modern flags.
Unfurling the command flag on the floor of the Queen’s House
Since 1977 the flag had been on loan to the museum from the family of Lieutenant William Burgh who had saved it as a souvenir of an action in which he personally took part. Its picture appeared in several publications including Timothy Wilson’s Flags at Sea and it was the star of the TV documentary What the Stuarts did for us. This sea-going ancestor of our national flag was a must-have. If the museum was going to purchase it, timing was important given the fluctuating demands upon a tight acquisition budget. We finally secured it in the face of well-funded competition from North America where there is considerable interest in historic flags. It was felt to be too important to leave the country.
In the news: ‘Oldest Union command flag revealed’, Guardian Unlimited
Would you like to know more about the unfurling of the command flag? If so, click here
View command flag, Admiral of the Fleet, RN (before 1801) in Collections Online.