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Flag Institute Spring Meeting report

Last Saturday saw the annual Spring Meeting of the Flag Institute, the UK’s leading body on flags and their use in all aspects of daily life. The Institute, funded entirely by members and organised events, consist of some of the most passionate and enthusiastic vexillologists (those who study flags and flag-flying) in the country. Their Spring Meeting is an excellent opportunity to meet up in the fine weather of May and discuss recent news, current activities, and future planning which help shape laws, attitudes, and the commercial flag-making industry in our country.

Imperial College London. Source: Vinceesq
Imperial College London. Source: Vinceesq

The Spring Meeting was held in the Huxley Building of Imperial College London, a maze-like venue to the uninitiated but with a sense of prestige and a buzz of academia; even on a sunny Saturday dozens of students and faculty were walking the campus.

The meeting started off with a welcome address by the President of the Institute, Malcolm Farrow (OBE FFI), who praised the impressive turnout and diversity of this meeting (drawing in several members of the public as well as regulars).

Malcolm then introduced an Institute alum Geoff Parsons, who gave a photo presentation on the International Congress of Vexillology (ICV) held in Sydney in August 2015, which he and others had attended. The photos included some impressive sights, including the large flagpole atop Australia’s Parliament House in Canberra (pictured below), as well as some of the historic flags used during WWII, the first flag designed in Colonial Australia (the Bowman Flag), and many others. Geoff’s presentation also covered the various talks given by the speakers during the 5-day event, which encompasses attendees and topics from across the whole world.

Flagpole atop Australia's Parliament House
Flagpole atop Australia’s Parliament House. Source: Ryan Wick

After a brief tea and coffee break, Institute Chairman John Hall (FFIAV FFI) talked about the upcoming ICV27, the 27th incarnation of the International Congress of Vexillology due to take place in London in August 2017. The last time the ICV was held in the UK was in 2001, and so the Flag Institute are eager to bring it back again, with plans to put on an elegant and distinctive display honouring the heritage of the event and the UK’s commitment to continuing the legacy of vexillology tradition.

With the programme of the ICV27 yet to be confirmed, what we do know is that the venue will be Imperial College (coincidentally the room next to the one for the Spring Meeting), held on the 7th – 11th August 2017, will include an exciting excursion on Wednesday (we can’t spoil the surprise yet we’re afraid!), and a closing banquet befitting the Conference. Early Bird tickets are already on sale for a discounted price, so if you’re looking to attend what will be the stand-out event in the vexillological calendar in 2017, book early!

Following up after John Philip Tibbetts, the Institute’s Communities Vexillologist, on the latest flag resgistrations. There were two new completed registrations lately, from Staffordshire and Caithness (shown below). Philip also brought the group up to speed on pending registrations from around the country, including Denny & Dunipace. He was also kind enough to share some of the more interesting rules and facets of a successful flag registration, which could be put into a blog post all of its own!

The final 4 proposed flags for Caithness. Source: John O'Groat Journal
The final 4 proposed flags for Caithness. Source: John O’Groat Journal

The winning Caithness flag
The winning Caithness flag. Source: Caithness Flag Registered

Staffordshire flag. Source: Wikipedia
Staffordshire flag. Source: Wikipedia

After a lunch break whereby the assembled attendees scattered around the various campus cafeterias, we were treated with back-to-back talks on some of the more detailed aspects of vexillology.

First, John Cartledge gave a presentation on (seemingly) all of the uses of red flags, both in the metaphorical and literal sense, and how a red flag had been used for a variety of different – and often contradictory – meanings. John also offered some in-depth examples and suggestions on how and why a red flag had come to its current usage in popular culture. Psychologists in the group would not have been disappointed with the insight into the psyche that this presentation unveiled.

Fisheries Pennant. Source:
Fisheries Pennant. Source:

After John was speaker Tom Adams, another Institute member, talking about the wide-spread use of the Fisheries Pennant on international ships. Although its meaning and purpose seems to be shared by the vast number of countries who adhere to the Pennant’s use, Tom and many others in the vexillology world have been unable to find any mention in history or law to explain the Pennant’s origin or intended use. “The exact origins of this flag would be a fine mystery to be solved”, Tom said at the end of his talk.

Next up was a welcome refill of tea and coffee, and a chance to stretch our legs, after which Geoff delivered his second talk of the day on the history of the Square Tower in Portsmouth, focusing on the flags (what else?) used throughout its history up to today. Much like his earlier presentation on ICV26 in Australia, Geoff’s talk included a slideshow of photos illuminating some of the rich history of Portsmouth and its Square Tower (for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, history claims Lord Nelson walked past the Square Tower onto the nearby jetty on his fateful voyage to Trafalgar).

The final talk of the day was from Bob Bradley, who shared a personal story of his upbringing in Cyprus, and the deep community divides between the Christian and Muslim communities there, and what shared sense of identity could be achieved with a shared symbol – such as a national flag. Bob recounted part of Cyprus’ history and gave us un-enlightened folk an explanation of why it was difficult to come up with a flag which could be shared and seen as equally Christian and Muslim, and even offered a design of his own creation which looked rather remarkable, in our opinion. Bob has promised more on this topic in future, and we eagerly look forward to it!

The closing address by Institute President Malcolm Farrow was a great end to the day, thanking all for attending and congratulating the members on a successful Spring Meeting which was as entertaining as it was informative. Malcolm also echoed a call for volunteers to help the Institute carry out its activities – especially for help with the upcoming ICV27, which in our opinion is a very worthy cause. All in all the Meeting was thoroughly enjoyable, and very illuminating into the world and history of flags. You don’t need to be a vexillologist to appreciate flags, or their place in history, and we heartily recommend attending future meetings to one and all!

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Flagmakers are one of the UK's longest established flag makers, specialising in hand-sewn and digitally printed flags, all manufactured here in the UK.

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