Something Flagged Up

https://www.flaginstitute.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/1988lpool-01.jpg

Regular readers know by now that I am a keen heraldist and am always on the lookout for new – hopefully free – material on the subject. Indeed, I am rapidly closing in on my nine hundredth armorial illustration for Wikimedia Commons. I have not written so much about vexillology, although of course the topics frequently intersect. Earlier this week I was trawling through EventBrite to see if there were any more events coming up soon by the Heraldry Society and instead found an advertisement for the fiftieth birthday of the Flag Institute.

After the standard Zoom introduction by Chairman John Hall, President Malcolm Farrow lectured on the development of the institute itself and of British flag culture more generally over the past fifty years. “The flag institute is instrumental in slowly changing the culture of Britain from a nation which rarely flew flags, to one in which flying flags is becoming the law.” An overview was given of how local and regional flags have proliferated over the past two decades, having rarely if ever seen use before.

Andrew Rosindell MP gave a speech about his efforts to change public attitudes surrounding flags, in particular his campaign – including a personal conversation with The Queen – to have the Union Flag flown over the Victoria Tower throughout the year instead of only when Parliament was sitting. He also mentioned the recent erection of three new flagpoles in New Palace Yard.

There was also a lengthy preview of the documentary Look Away, Look Away by Patrick O’Connor about last year’s change of state flag by Mississippi. Unfortunately the video feed cut out midway through and had to be restarted after some awkward fumbling.

Later a guest asked if the “All-party” Parliamentary Group on Flags & Heraldry could really be called that when six of the ten officers were Conservatives with Labour, SNP, DUP and Crossbench contributing just one each. Rosindell reassured as that there were plenty more within the rank-and-file, but sadly it was hard to make out his words as his audio feed was suddenly plagued by feedback noise. I think he said that anything so traditionalist in nature was bound to disproportionately attract those of a conservative outlook but that there were still plenty of others who recognised the importance of flags and/or held a deep patriotism.

Here it would be prudent to make a distinction between heraldry and vexillology: A coat of arms, even when displayed on a flag, must represent a person. That could be a natural person (Betty Boothroyd, Johnny Hon, Desmond Wilcox) or a legal one (The Association of British Neurologists, Guy’s Hospital, Totnes Town Council). Flags cover a much broader remit, and can represent such abstracts as religions, ethnicities, and political ideals. Another important difference is that arms are only properly borne by their owners (though heralds can wear their masters’ arms and badges can be worn by servants or soldiers) whereas flags unless specifically restricted can be flown by anyone. It is only natural that use of flags is much more prevalent than that of arms, and also that any particular flag is a lot more likely to cause a stir than any particular escutcheon.

There is a prevalent line of thought which deems too overt an invocation of British patriotism to be distasteful and thus, in itself, anti-British. Another related line says that nations more generally are not a meaningful affiliation and that flags – along with their natural companion, anthems – are a distraction for feeble minds. Attitudes toward our national insignia are quite sharply polarised by partisan affiliation and by demographic divides. HM Government has been conspicuously campaigning over recent months for greater use of the Union Flag in both public and private, resulting in praise from some quarters and mockery from others.

It doesn’t look as if there will be any more from the Flag Institute for some time, but the Heraldry Society will be back on 14th May with Crosses and Crossings – Huguenot Heraldry. That the banner heading shows a star looking to be by Sodacan and a coat of arms by Rs-nourse is intriguing by itself.

EXTERNAL LINKS

21st Century Scots Heraldry with Gordon Casely

Left: Casely finishes his speech. Right: Lyon models his hoodie.

Today I attended another Zoom lecture, this time arranged by the Heraldry Society of Scotland. This one went rather more smoothly than the one six months ago, though I still think that putting it on YouTube or similar would be more practical in the long run.

Our main speaker today was Gordon Casely, described as “a freelance journalist, heraldist and piper” by the host Edward Mallinson (the Society’s Social Secretary). His presentation was on what he perceived as a rise in grants of arms and interest in heraldry more generally. His anecdotal evidence for this was that he had attached a new hard drive to his overloaded computer for all of his hi-resolution heraldic images – a problem I too have encountered since last summer. More objective information was provided in the form of grant and matriculation records from the Lyon court in certain years: fourteen for the year 1720, four each for 1820 and 1821, then thirty in 1920. He described these as appalling output figures, which would shock any work study manager or time & motion engineer. Later in the session Dr Joseph Morrow – on the seventh anniversary of his appointment as Lord Lyon King of Arms – confirmed that in modern times the norm is between fifty and sixty-five new grants per year as well as matriculations, and that about 10% of the court’s business is from the commercial sector. He also said that in the last year, due to people having more time on their hands for such things, the court had seen a 50% increase in new petitions, though all of them had to be managed by electronic correspondence rather than meeting in person.

Casely told us of the records for time taken to complete an application, the longest being Banchory Community Council (thirty-seven years) and the shortest the Aberdeen Association of Civil Engineers (twelve minutes). He complimented the latter’s multilayered symbolism – simultaneously it represented a bridge over water, a stream, a cross section of a pipe half-filled with water, the sweep of a bend in a road, a ditch and a mound, as well as the letters ACE.  He was less happy with the arms of Gordon District Council, describing them as “how not to design a coat of arms, unless you’re in the Clydesdale Bank school of heraldry”.

He sang the praises of the late Anthony Maxwell, his longtime colleague. He drew attention to a commission Maxwell had done of the arms of Dr Tom Tait on the side of a carriage at a railway heritage centre in Derbyshire. He confirmed to “those anoraks who are watching” that it was the only British Rail Class 119 Diesel Multiple Unit in preservation. I did a little searching and can now say more specifically that it is DMCB 51073 on the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.

After the main talk had ended there was an opportunity to ask questions, though on this occasion I couldn’t think of one – and indeed I wasn’t sure that my microphone was working. When the structured questions and answers concluded the session moved to informal chatter among the veteran members with occasional interjections by outsiders. This included showing some rather garish heraldic tattoos that they had seen, and then Lyon putting on a heraldic hoodie that he had received as a novelty gift.

A few more heraldic zoom lectures are scheduled for later this year, including a Canadian one that, for Brits, begins at midnight. That could prove an interesting experience!

Lecture on London Livery

No Wikipedia editors… yet.

Today I attended a virtual lecture by The Heraldry Society – Arms of the City of London and its Livery Companies. The content was much as said on the tin. Obviously there wasn’t time to laboriously describe each company’s achievement in detail, but a broad overview was given of the city’s municipal and corporate heraldry with a few favourites picked out for closer inspection.

The meeting, as with so many these days, took place over Zoom. I found the arrangements less than satisfactory: We were emailed the link at 2pm, with the lecture itself running from 6pm to 7pm. Household and family distractions were hard to navigate. There was no function to pause or rewind, and the video was not recorded. The email told us:

Several persons have asked us if we are going to record the lecture. The answer to that is, we are sorry to report, a no. The Heraldry Society’s Council has discussed the implications of recording lectures at considerable length, evaluated all the pros and cons and taken an very well informed and conscious decision not to record lectures. This decision is unlikely to change as the topic has been thoroughly discussed and explored from all angles. The drawbacks outweigh the advantages at present.

That said, the Society has a plan to bring more content to the digital realm, so keep and eye open (and and ear tuned in) for news in the coming months.

Last month the society held a lecture on English Tudor Heraldic Glass in Philadelphia, which I missed completely due to these sub-optimal arrangements. Next month is one on Heraldry in the Battle of Barnett 1471 which I could well also end up missing depending on what circumstances prevail by then.

There were other problems – for the first couple of minutes there was no sound as the audio was not linked properly. Then someone drew a squiggle on the screen using the annotation function, which stayed there for nearly half of the lecture and was the subject of several digressions before the host figured out how to remove it. The chat section repeatedly flashed and popped up in an irritating manner.

The entire experience contrasts unfavourably with that provided by the Royal Armouries in their virtual lectures this summer. These were done on Microsoft Teams, a platform which proved far smoother and more versatile at least so far as concerned this format. As I have lamented before, heralds and heraldists are not prone to making their material easily available – presumably because they would then have no means of garnering funds – and so even in these times will go to lengths to keep access restricted by using conference calls and other semi-private environments instead of uploading the lecture to a video-sharing platform. Admittedly Lyon has made some moves this way in recent months but overall the picture in this regard is bleak.